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.
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!
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.
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!