Peace Corps volunteers are assigned primary projects which are intended to be their main responsibility during their Peace Corps service. My primary project is education (SUPEP). Josh’s is Community Economic Development (CED). I spend the majority of my time here at site (where we live) at school teaching and involved in school.
Our second year of service our primary project load is supposed to be reduced so we have time to devote to secondary projects. My first year of teaching I taught 220 learners and had 28 classes/week. This year I teach only one English class (44 learners) and six BIS classes (which only meet once a week). Having a reduced teaching load has given me more time to put energy into secondary projects.
Secondary projects are intended to fulfil a need in your community or school that they have specifically requested. On the Peace Corps volunteer form my school requested for a volunteer to start either a girls club, drama club, computer lab or library.Toward the end of the first year of my service a close friend and colleague of mine started a Girls Club at our school. Girls anywhere in the world face many challenges, but we felt like here in Kavango life seemed especially hard and we wanted to give girls a chance to interact with one another outside school. The Kavango region has the highest teen pregnancy and one of the highest HIV/AIDS rate in Namibia. Alcoholism is also a peer pressure and problem.
Miss Immanuel and I met with the girls once a week to discuss these types of topics. The girls acted out dramas, met in small groups, asked questions and spoke openly about what otherwise might be sensitive topics at home. We also gave some of the girls an opportunity to lead and present on topics they felt were important.
The biggest secondary project I took on was getting our library set up and running. Before independence, my school was the “white school” in town. Because of this reason, we had a big classroom set up for the library, but it had been lying dormant. We even had some old books that were still in decent shape.One of the challenges of having a school of 1,100 learners is handling the massive volume of kids. I was afraid of how challenging it would be to keep track of so many books that would be lent out. Luckily a smart colleague of mine came up with the idea to create library cards. Learners must get permission slips signed by their parents to get a card and borrow books.
The learners really enjoy having ownership of their own card. Most carry their card in the shirt pocket. Some even wear it on their shirt proudly!
With some elbow grease from the learners and myself, we got the library cleaned up and in order. Thanks to some very generous donations from friends and family back home as well as Books for Africa, our library has great, new books and has been operational since late January. Our hours are break time Tuesday-Friday (9:50-10:20) and Tuesday and Thursday after school from 1-2.When our library opened it was greeted by a lot of enthusiastic learners. It’s been a great place for learners to read quietly and study. It has also given 20 learners the opportunity to learn some leadership skills by being library “prefects” or helpers. Our library prefects are a dedicated bunch of learners who are “on-duty” during library hours and perform the many duties critical to keep a library functional.
I opted not to use the Dewey Decimal system for our library – it would have been too hard to manage. Non-fiction books are organized by category, fiction by author’s last name, and the children’s books are not in any order. The children’s section by far is the most used so we just do our best to keep it neat. We have book pockets in the back that hold borrower’s slips as well as date sheets in the back. All of the aforementioned items were obtained from Namibia’s Ministry of Education. It is one of the goals of the Ministry of Education to get more libraries in schools and get learners excited about reading.
Last term 217 learners signed up for borrowers cards and we lent out 1,116 books! I am pretty proud of that number. Any learner is allowed to come in and use the library but to borrow books you need a card.
This term I’ve been bringing the little ones, the grades 1-4, into the library to show them how the library works. I teach them about the titles of books, authors, the spine of books and how to shelve books. I also read to them. The little kids come up and hug me often after using the library at break. It’s sweet. I love sharing my love of reading with the learners at our school.
As with any development project, seeing your work continue after you leave is a concern. With Girls Club, my counterpart is interested in continuing the club and I hope she does. With the library, I have a few colleagues who are committed to keeping the library open and helping where they can. I also have full faith the library prefects can do most of the work for the library to keep it operational. I’m doing my best to train them in all aspects of the library so they feel confident in taking over next month when I leave.
Some of my favorite memories of my Peace Corps experience have involved my secondary projects. As a teacher it’s been a great way to interact with my learners outside the classroom and see a different side of them.