Friday, January 29, 2010

A Peace Corps Timeline: From Applicant to Volunteer

I’ve been meaning to post this for a really long time (since training last year) and am finally getting to it. This is really intended for those interested in Peace Corps service and want to know how long the process is, things you need to complete, etc. I want to note that the time frame is different for every applicant – everything here is based on my personal experience. Cheers!

  • April 25, 2008: Submitted online application and references to the Peace Corps
  • May 10, 2008: Graduated from LMU
  • May 15, 2008 (morning): Interview with Shane, Peace Corps recruiter at the Los Angeles Regional Office
  • May 15, 2008 (afternoon): Received a call that I was nominated to a French-speaking post in sub-Saharan Africa, expected departure date is June 2009 and the field is Youth Empowerment/Community Development
    • Note: nominations can be done this quickly or can take months. It really depends on the recruiter, the skills of the applicant and the needs of Peace Corps posts around the world.
  • May 16, 2008: Receive Medical Kit in the mail
  • June-August 2008: Traveled with family in the Caribbean and the Philippines for several weeks**
  • September 5, 2008: Mailed completed Medical Kit to the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
    • Note: very long and detailed process. It required me to go to the doctor’s office about a dozen times!
  • November 7, 2008: Medically and legally cleared for Peace Corps service
  • December 15, 2008: Sent in a Skills Set Addendum and official college transcript to the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
  • January 5, 2009: Checked my status online – am officially invited to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
  • January 10, 2009: Received the huge invitation packet and assignment description in the mail from the Peace Corps – sent to Burkina Faso as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment (GEE) volunteer, slated to leave on June 8, 2009!
  • January 15, 2009: Called the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to officially confirm and accept my invitation
  • February 10, 2009: E-mailed my Aspiration Statement and Résumé to the Peace Corps Burkina Faso staff
  • May 2009: Dentally cleared for Peace Corps service
  • June 8, 2009: Fly from San Francisco to Philadelphia for Staging
  • June 9-10, 2009: Staging with the 31 other Peace Corps Burkina Faso trainees in Philadelphia
  • June 11, 2009: Fly from Philadelphia to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (stopovers in Paris, France and Niamey, Niger [had to stay an extra night in Niamey due to plane problems during refueling])
  • June 12, 2009-August 24, 2009: Pre-Service Training (PST) in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso
  • August 25, 2009: Swear-In Ceremony as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the US Ambassador to Burkina Faso’s residence, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
  • August 26, 2009-August 2011: Two years of Peace Corps service as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment (GEE) volunteer in Burkina Faso

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alphabet project, baby weighings and such...

To quickly recap the past couple of weeks:

The beginning of January was pretty difficult. In some respects, it felt like September all over again – feelings of loneliness, sadness with tinge of depression and homesickness. I guess the transition from vacation back to the “real world” at site was harder than I thought. A lack of structure and loneliness are two things that I’ve been struggling with most in the Peace Corps and boy, did I feel it!

But two weeks ago, things changed for the better (I’m not trying to scare anyone but I swear, sometimes, Peace Corps service can be such an emotional rollercoaster. I mean, I expected this when I applied but man, when you’re living the day-to-day life, it’s completely different!). I observed CM2 (the U.S. equivalent is 5th Grade) and they are the oldest students at the Ecole Primaire (Primary School). There are only 27 students but it’s interesting to note that the girls outnumber the boys. In any case, Madame Bambara, the Director of the school, is also the CM2 teacher and I could tell she was little pressured to teach as much information as possible to prepare her students for the CEP Exam (what you take after completing primary school to continue to middle school). I presented her my Action Plan in French and she seemed really excited that I’d be doing all of these projects as way to make sure the kids succeed in school – a really motivating factor for me!! Fortunately, I live next to the Office of the Inspecteur (person in charge of all of the primary schools within a district) and a couple of days later, I presented it to him as well and he seemed excited as well!

One thing to note about Burkina Faso is that being in authority positions is considered very important to Burkinabè. For Peace Corps Volunteers, when starting projects, protocol dictates that you need to notify authority figures in your community of any project you start, most especially as a sign of respect.

Some of the younger kids on my porch. Through the Worldwise Schools Program (WWS), I'm doing a letter exchange with Ms. Mahoney, my French teacher from high school, and one of her French classes. They recently sent me letters and included a comic project they did in French. The kids love the drawings!

The past week, though, has been full of good stuff – especially with me finally starting some work!

Last Sunday, Kyle and I went with Jalila, our Belgian Ph.D friend who’s doing research with women’s groups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, to a theatre sensibilisation (awareness session) on malaria and female genital mutilation (FGM or excision). It was put on by the women’s association here in Gaoua in a village about 15km away. While everything was in Lobiri (a language I barely understand with the exception of the most basic greetings), it made me realize again how useful theatre/plays are to raise awareness about important social issues. Hopefully I can replicate some of these things within my two years here!

Kyle dancing away au village. This lady had a special thing for him, haha!

Jalila and I with some of the women in her women's association. Note the calabash in my hand filled with dolo (millet beer...the Burkinabè's drink of choice). Mmmmm.

The part on female genital mutilation (FGM)...a very touchy subject but important to raise awareness on because it happens all too often here.

And on malaria prevention and the importance of using a mosquito net when going to bed. The women were excellent actresses!

I also got to start my alphabet and numbers project with the students of CP1 and CP2. I thought it would be too easy for CP2 but it turns out it’s right at their grade level. Surprisingly, this project is very difficult for CP1 students so I had to simplify my activity significantly. It starts with me coming into the classroom and introducing a couple of letters each session. I have them copy it as seen from my drawing onto their little chalkboard slates, then I have a basket full of items the either begin with the letter or have the letter within the word’s spelling. They identify the objects, I write them on the board, and ask students to individually come up and show me where the said letter is in the word. And, thanks to friends and family that have sent me little prizes, I’ve given out little stickers as rewards, which they love!

Seems simple enough, right? Well, not so much. Like we learned in PST, things don’t go as planned so you just have to roll with the punches and see where it takes you. I’m glad I’m starting small and I have something consistent to do for a couple of days every week!

Starting this past Thursday morning, from 8:00 to 12:00, I go to the CSPS (village medical center) and help with baby weighings! Women come in monthly to weigh their babies and get the appropriate vaccinations, all for free. The day before, I met the Majeur (head nurse/doctor at the CSPS) thanks to Jon’s counterpart, Papa, and seemed on board to me helping every Thursday. A great secondary project for me and something’s that’s consistent every week. While it was pretty chaotic, I helped weigh more than 90 babies! Malnutrition is a big problem down here and they do many sensibilisations to combat this in the neighboring satellite villages…so I’m hoping I’ll get involved in those too, perhaps introducing Moringa? Ahhh, we’ll see! I love that the ideas are constantly flowing and are slowly manifesting into actual work. Excellent!

Jon with a little kid named Seuss, one of my favorite kids at Jon's site!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Everyone: meet Demetrius.

Hello friends!

I'll be posting a more thought-filled blog entry soon but right now, I shall spoil you all with pictures!

Long story short, there's this kid named Demetrius that lives in my village/town. I don't quite know how old he is but I'm guessing around 4 or 5. He came by my house one day back in September/October and seriously, he's become one of my favorite kids! He doesn't speak much French except for: bonjour (good morning/hello), ca va? (how are you?) and donne-moi un Bic/un bonbon/un cadeau/etc. (give me a pen/candy/a gift/etc.). So he'd come fairly regularly to just chill on my porch. I figured, why not teach him a little French so I informally taught him how to say words such as une porte (door), une fenetre (window) and other simple things to keep him up to speed so that when he finally starts going to school, he'll have a little more knowledge.

In any case, after a week or two of coming by almost everyday, he stopped coming and I hadn't seem him since...until this past week! As you know, the one New Year's Resolution I have is to take more pictures of my community and man, do the kids sure love taking pictures. Demetrius kept asking if I could take pictures and since Armel was there, I was like, thi

Meet Demetrius! Enjoy!

Our normal picture.


I love this kid!

Notice how Demetrius' face always changes in the pictures while mine remains constant.

This photo best describes my reaction to Demetrius everytime he comes by.


Armel and Demetrius!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back at site with an Action Plan!

Ahhh yes...back at site. After being around Americans for so long (IST, Ghana and New Year's in Ouaga) plus enjoying hot showers, toilets and the like, it's a definite change being back at site. Don't get me wrong -- it feels good to be back!

I was welcomed home with this chalk drawing on my door. I'm going to take a wild guess (sarcasm) and say it's a drawing of me...doing karate. Oh, the joy of living right across from the Primary School! I still love the kids though. Haha!

I guess getting back into the flow of things is probably the hardest part. And now that I've finished my first three months at site, I keep asking myself, like anyone else in my GEE training group, what next?

During our IST, we were asked to make an Action Plan which details what we'll be doing in the next few months at our sites. While most activities you list won't go as planned, it's a great guide to have at site since we have no structure in our daily routines. Plus, translating it into French gives you an actual document to present to the Director of the school or the Inspecteur (in charge of all the primary schools in a certain district; like the boss of all the school directors within a school district). I showed it to Jean, my homologue (assigned counterpart in the community) and it was just good to discuss my future plans and see if we can implement them elsewhere if it works.

I've thought of about 6 activities I'd like to implement from now until May, two of which I want to at least start this month (January): 1) completing Clay's World Map and 2) doing alphabet and number drawings for CP1 and CP2 classes. I figure starting small is the best idea, plus it'll give me more motivation to take on the bigger projects/ideas that I have in my Action Plan.

Clay, the volunteer I replaced, painted this incredibly detailed World Map on one of the big walls at the Primary School across my house. It's so well done! When I first arrived at site, many people, especially teachers, asked me "When are you finishing the World Map?" I looked at it and asked what was unfinished, and they said that not all the countries were listed. So I figured, why not name all of them to help students with their geography, plus add a few other things (a compass, the Peace Corps logo, a "Carte du Monde" [Map of the World] title, a list of the 5 major oceans and the major the way, the education system here teaches students that there are only 5 continents while in the US, we were taught there are 7. Interesting, eh?). It'll be a good initial project to get me out of my house and doing something productive. Just need to buy the paint and translate all the countries in French. Let's go!

An idea I got from an older GEE Volunteer was doing alphabet and number drawings for CP1 and CP2 students (the equivalent of Kindergarten and 1st Grade). It not only helps students with literacy but can make the classroom a little more decorative and conducive to creative learning. The idea is to write/color the letters individually on regular sheets of paper. I'd come in to the class a couple of times a week and present a few letters, have kids repeat them, write them on their little chalkboards, write words on the big chalkboard and ask them to identify the letter, and possibly do drawings of objects that have the discussed letter in them. In the end, I would tape these letter and number drawings/letters around the classroom and teach them the alphabet song to ensure proper pronunciation and memorization. Hope the kids are receptive to this! I've noticed that there isn't much (rather, any) creativity in the lesson plan and I'm hopng this will spice it up a bit and motivate kids at an early age. We all know this -- literacy/education is key to having a successful and productive life, and in a country that has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world (if not the lowest), this small activity is one small step to changing that!

On another note, I'm not one to make many New Year's Resolutions, partially because I never really follow them. But if there's one that I definitely want to stick with, it's this: take more pictures of your community, the people you live with and where you live!! I regret not taking more pictures of kids during my first three months at site. I was afraid they'd view me differently if I just whipped out my camera but I realized that they love pictures, plus before I know it, my two years will have passed and I would have no pictures to show for it!

A little girl named Aneq. I thought she was at least in the eauivalent of Kindergarten but she's not old enough to go to school.

Aneq, Armel, Karem and another young kid (it's hard to remember everyone's names) on my porch. You can see the Ouattaras' house in the background. Armel is one of the first kids I met and has helped me out a lot. Also, this picture is a perfect example of the age hierarchy here...look at how Karem is about to hit the little kid to get out of the picture! Oyy vey.

Wish me luck and please, please, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!