Monday, October 29, 2012

Update on my Goddaughter

I have an update on the girl who entered the children's home last December. Unfortunately, it's not a very cheerful update.

She's never fully settled in to life in the Home. She never really settled in here in my site either. From what I can tell, she misses her mom, who generally treated her well. But her mom is mentally unwell and not at all able to care for a 9-year-old daughter. Besides that, nobody's sure where she is, and there's conflicting reports about whether she's even still alive.

Generally, my goddaughter is missing her family, so she insists that she wants to go back to live with her grandmother. She's smart enough to know that if she insists enough (and misbehaves enough), eventually they'll have to let her go. However, the grandmother was abusive and remains unwilling to take her in. Workers from the children's home drove to her house yesterday, and she wouldn't even go visit, instead sending her 13-year-old daughter. If she can't be bothered to visit for a day, surely she won't be much of a parent for the next ten years.

I toyed with the idea of adoption before finding the Home, but that's sounding even less possible now. The social workers aren't really considering that option because they're worried about what she might do in a new family.

And there aren't many other options. The host family here won't take her back, because her behavior is so problematic. We haven't been able to contact any other relatives. Nobody except the children's home is willing and able to take her, but she can't stay there unless she changes her mind (and her behavior). I hope that an encounter with her grandmother will make her change her mind, but the grandmother refuses to visit, and the rule is if a child leaves, they can't come back (otherwise they'd be dealing with lots more misbehavior to get extra vacation time).

Prayers are very welcome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cleft Palate

I wasn't actually very involved in this, but it's a story with a happy ending, so I'll share it anyway.

Almost a year ago, I was walking through the community with another PC Volunteer, the PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) of the education sector, who had come to see my site. A woman called us over and said her grandson had just been born with a cleft palate, and wanted to know if we could help. Fortunately, Jean, the PCVL, knew of the Garrity Medical Mission that came to the country every year and performed the corrective surgery for cleft palate. I sent in some pictures and helped the family make an appointment for the upcoming February.

The family was very proactive, and found another opportunity for the surgery at a local hospital. Unfortunately, the initial checkup appointments conflicted, and they missed the chance with the Medical Mission, and the other group decided they couldn't help. They were going to wait until February of next year to try again with Garrity, but managed to find someone else willing to do the surgery.

The boy's grandmother sells snacks in the school during recess, so I got updates every week from her, and it sounded like the date kept getting pushed further back. But after after about ten months of appointments, they successfully did the surgery this month!
When I visited, the boy was giving his new smile a lot of use.



I've seen pictures like this before, but it was extra neat to see it right here in my community. And I almost had a hand in making in happen!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Teaching Reading in 3rd Grade

I know it's been forever since I updated this blog, and I'm sorry. It's not forgotten, it's remembered.

My main project here in the Peace Corps has been children's literacy, and this school year I've been extra busy, joining the 3rd grade class whenever it's in session. I've worked in 3rd grade the past two school years, but the first year I was only around for a month, and last year I had other projects and only went in once a week. I didn't see many results last year, so this year I'm focusing in and going every day.
    I'm also actually organized this year. I made a list of all the students and their reading levels, which helps me chart progress and know what to practice with each student (it also helped the teacher prepare her roster and do her own literacy reporting).
    There are over forty students enlisted in the 3rd grade class, and about 36 of them come regularly. They're at all difference reading levels, but at most two or three of them can truly read fluently. The Dominican educational system has a lot of problems, one of which is a law that doesn't allow anyone to be held back in first or second grade...this means 3rd grade can include students who aren't even ready to be in second. Also, there are a lot of students and not enough funding or teachers, so each student only goes to school for half a day, either the morning session (8-noon) or the afternoon session (2-5:30). This year, for the first time, there's only one 3rd grade session, which is in the afternoon. The same teacher gives 1st grade in the mornings.
    My main struggle is trying to teach 30+ students to read in only 3.5 hours a day (significantly less time in practice, with recess every day, PE three days a week, and inefficiency constantly).

    This is my view as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I sit in the back and call kids over one by one. I have a few different activities, but mostly I work from simple reading textbooks that can be bought in any supermarket. I try to focus on the kids who need the most help, but everyone wants their turn. A lot of time is spent shooing other kids away so my current reader isn't distracted.

I set up a camera on the shelf next to my table, so I can have a record of some of the kids' progress. The quality isn't great, but you can get an idea what class is like.

Being a Catholic country, our days start with a prayer. Here, a student is leading the class in the Lord's Prayer/Our Father.

 These are a couple clips of students reading from the first few pages of the books. The girl is reading 'Papá ama a Pepe' (Dad loves Pepe), and the boy is reading a few simple 'P' words.

The kids are almost always eager to take a turn reading and generally focus really well while they're with me. But I don't want to give the idea that they're a bunch of model students...chaos and noise are a defining part of my experience. There's no way my little camera can capture the level of noise echoing around those cement walls, but it did capture a couple things in the background:

Off to the left you can see a minor fight. It's been a while since I was in elementary school, but I don't remember these being common in my classes. Here, there are several of these every day, and this one wasn't big enough for anyone to bother getting involved.


Then there was this guy, near the center of the video. I didn't notice him at the time, and it's too blurry for me to tell who it is, but I have a few guesses!

My camera wasn't hidden. For the most part, the kids ignored it, but this girl called me out. She's kind of a troublemaker, but I like her. I spent extra time reading at her friend's house this summer, and she was often around for that. When I tell her I'm recording, she says, "Ay, no!" and then wants to see the clip. Later that day, I was mobbed by kids who watched themselves on fast-forward and laughed hysterically. I have a fun job.