Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Actual Hands-On Learning

Last week was probably the best week I have had of Pre-Service
Training. Now that we are winding down, we are actually able to leave
the classroom and do some stuff hands-on. On Monday, we spent the
morning at an orphanage, simply playing with small groups of kids. My
group had the little ones, like ages 2-5 which was extremely
challenging since they cannot infer what you are attempting to
say/explain through your developing Portuguese, like the older kids
can. But they were so darn cute that it didn’t really matter. One of
the orphanage employees taught us how to play the Mozambican version
of Duck, Duck, Goose, so we made it work.

On Tuesday, when I left at 7:15am, some girls showed up to braid my
host-mom’s hair. When I returned at 7:00pm, they were still there. And
not even close to being done. Probably because I was staring at them,
they asked if I knew how to braid hair, which I don’t since they were
making a weave, so they said I should learn. They showed me and then
made me do a braid. It looked terrible, and I do not think that it
stayed together so I am just waiting for the day when I see the braid
I made fall off of my host-mom’s head. But they brought us an ata
fruit, which is I believe indigenous to Mozambique and probably the
most delicious fruit ever. Too bad ata trees are super rare so you
have to know someone who has an ata tree and practically beg them to
give you one since they do not bear much fruit.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday, we learned probably the most useful
thing we have learned since arriving here: perma-gardening. A subset
of Perma-culture, perma-gardening is a way of planting food to
maximize production in minimal spaces. By using locally available
tools everyone uses in their machambas (fields- everyone here pretty
much is engaged in some sort of subsistence agriculture), and locally
available seeds/seedlings (no imported, genetically modified anything
needed), this method can quadruple the output while utilizing an
eighth of the space. Essentially, you dig the plant beds doubly deep
so that healthy roots can be established, plant the seeds or seedlings
in a bio-intensive pattern, and enhance the soil with compost, manure,
the usually thrown-away charcoal bits at the bottom of the bag (most
everyone uses charcoal to light their stoves here), and the ash from
the bottom of the stove. Also, there is a way to divert and
effectively store the rain that comes in droves one day, drowning
plants, and then is non-existent the next, starving the plants. I had
no previous gardening experience but could probably pull this off,
meaning that people who have grown up around machambas (aka everyone),
will be great at it, if they can wrap their head around not planting
in rows and putting in the extra labor at the beginning (though it is
comparably less work in the long-run). The guy who taught us, by
having us in groups of 20 each actually create a garden, works for
Peace Corps Tanzania, and has taught this technique to groups in 15
African countries. He is trying to really build this up as a method of
empowering people by showing them how to maintain their own food
security. And it is 100% sustainable.

And on Saturday, in lieu of language class, we had a cool cultural
exchange and went to visit a curandeiro (I guess the best translation
is a traditional witch doctor?). Ironically, my 101 degree fever was
clouding my ability to listen to the curandeiro’s Portuguese and glean
any info about traditional healing techniques. I did catch, however,
that there are 120 curandeiro’s in Maputo province alone (of the nine
total Mozambican provinces), and considering there are only 600
doctors in all of Mozambique, that is a pretty high differential.

And finally, after devoting my whole weekend to watching almost the
complete series of Arrested Development due to having the flu, we
started Model School on Monday. My lessons went well I think, though
the eighth grade did not make much of a showing and I only taught to 6
students in each class, different than the average of perhaps 70 I
will most likely have. The next two weeks should be very interesting.
Already I have seen what teaching here may be like. Even with only a
limited number of students, I can see that there is a significant
discrepancy in previous knowledge and ability due to so many students
being passed along to meet Millennium Goals and continue to receive
outside funding. The students do not have books so they have to copy
everything from the board into their notebooks, both meaning I must
devote class-time to have them do this, and also, I must create an
organized, pseudo-textbook chapter section on the board every rank.
There is a lot of emphasis in the school-system here on rote
memorization and less on independent thinking, so students can spout a
definition at you but may not really understand it and most likely
will not be able to explain it in their own words. But its still a
good time.

Hope you are having a fabulous week before Thanksgiving!

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