Friday, December 12, 2008

Youth Development through Empowerment

Youth empowerment is quite possibly the best method of achieving youth development.  Self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness of youth are all issues that need highlighting in development within the community.  Youth become unattached, insecure, and have a sense of personal failure when they lack direction in their lives.  Too often, individuals are lost in the grander scheme of things and they feel as if they have no guidance.  By spending the time and effort to empower youth, we can begin to facilitate the ability to achieve great action within themselves and, shortly there after, the community.  

I have been spending a lot of my time building relationships with the youth in my community for the purpose of building self-esteem, self-
confidence and self-awareness within these youth.  Despite the presence of teachers, many of the students feel, often times, alone in their daily routines.  By establishing a connection with the students, I can build relationships with them that are supportive and create positive reinforcement.  

Many of these youth have disciplinary issues or perform poorly in school because they are without proper guidance.  The limitations of a teacher are obvious in the St. Lucian classroom.  Not only do a great portion of St. Lucian teachers lack on positive disciplinary methods, but they have classes that are larger 
than typical classrooms in other areas of the world.  Many of the classrooms have 25+ students and, therefore, the teacher to student ratio is out of control.  In order for education to be more effective, the student needs a good amount of one-to-one academic time.  Of which, the particular students that I am working with receive slim to none.  I am attempting to spread the idea of working with individuals more often outside of the schools when possible.  In order for this to happen, parents need to be more involved in their childrens' educational lives, tutoring and community workshops need to be instilled and maintained, and after 
school programs should be offered for homework help and positive role modeling.  

With Gros Islet Primary School, I have been spending my time on literacy, numeracy, arts and crafts and sporting.  Working in small groups with the children that need more individual attention has been my primary goal.  Taking these students outside of the classroom is sometimes difficult, as the teachers have a certain agenda.  Often times, I end up substituting or watching over the classroom while teachers get other agenda items completed.  For my own personal growth, this is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I have been given.  This is because the longer I work in St. Lucia with the Primary School, the more I think about getting my teaching certificate after Peace Corps service.  However, I make it clear to the school that I am not a certified teacher and, therefore, should be the last resort if needed.  

In addition, I also have been doing arts and crafts with the students in spare time as a reward for working hard.  I find that most of the students have some sort of artistic talent, and when they sit down to draw or color they are generally much more well-behaved.  Art allows the students to express the creativity that they often times do not get to expend during normal classtime.  

    With Grow Well, I recently began teaching an IT/English class with a program called "Thinking Reader".  This program allows the student to interactively hear and read a book through the computer.  The program is great because the levels of learning are much different with the second-chance program students.  Each student can move at their own pace, while being tested at each interval and learning how to read successfully in six different strategies.  I am allowed to access the progress made by the students over time and at each interval.  At the same time, they are learning how to type and use the computer software available, which proves to be extremely valuable in the lives of St. Lucian students after their education.  IT is important to teach in developing countries because IT changes so frequently, and being ahead of the game rapidly increases job opportunities in the technological field.  

   The after school club is my primary concern (along with creating a sports program) at Grow Well.  Because of the need for an after school program, the sports program may take a little longer to get going.  However, in hopes of coordinating with the secondary school, I will be introducing volleyball and either tennis or track and field shortly after the new term begins.  In order to do this, work with the ministry of social transformation; youth and sports needs to take part and coordinating a schedule with the secondary also needs to happen.  The after school program is one of the new initiaves for Gros Islet as I am finding out.  Grow Well has been wanting to implement an after school program for quite awhile and, thus, I am their catalyst for now.  Beginning after the new term, as well, we will be combining library and the club to focus on
 homework help, games and recreation, healthy guidance, and arts and crafts.  Along down the road, we will hopefully introduce club-building activities including but not limited to:  Evironmental Club, Community Activities Club, Photography and Arts Club, Volunteerism Club, and others as options.  Grow Well is hoping to put in a joint bid with the community to secure a larger plot of land which can be beneficial in creating a more sustainable community centre offering an after school program.  For now, we are trying to get the ball rolling so that the students have a place to come.  

If you have any ideas or questions, feel free to let me know!!!   I have been nervous a good portion of the time, because I really want to be successful in these areas but I can never tell for sure if they are going to happen.  First thing is first, though, and that is getting these students to start believing in themselves as individuals and that often takes a good amount of time!   Spending time with these youth, in a variety of ways, is the best way to help this process and it may take the entire two years to help them along their way!  I have the time
 and energy to commit to them, however... whether it be through sports, arts and crafts, Girl's Circle, or whatnot, I am trying to reach them anyway I can.   What I have learned over the last four months, is that love and compassion can guide anyone to success.  And these children, and every child additionally, deserves individual attention and guidance to help them along their way.  It makes all of the difference.  

Thanksgiving in Another Country

Thanksgiving Away from Seattle

When I commited to my service in the Peace Corps, one of the things that I had to contemplate was whether or not I was prepared to survive the holidays away from Seattle.  Never having lived outside of Washington, I have never had the challenge of spending a thanksgiving away from home.  Knowing that this was one requirement when moving to St. Lucia, I tried to prepare myself fully beforehand.  Of course, there is no way to fully prepare oneself when it comes to holidays in a new country.  There is only experiencing it firsthand, and adapting to the environment as it happens.  

     I thought about the turkey and the stuffing, I thought about the football game, I thought about family, and of course I thought about the stuffing.  Yes, I said stuffing twice in that
sentence.  Cranberry sauce and stuffing are my favorites by far.   Certainly I was afraid that I would have to live through a thanksgiving or two without cranberry sauce and 
stuffing...but I was not prepared for what Thanksgiving actually was like!  You would never guess that, in actuality, Thanksgiving in St. Lucia was very much like Thanksgiving in Washington.  

       There were about 30-35 of us PCVs and PC Staff that attended the Thanksgiving dinner in
 Dennery this year.   Mary Ellen was nice enough to host us all that day.  We began with a traditional "PCV turkey bowl", which my team dominated.  It was a lot of fun, and for a minute, I forgot that I was in a different country for the holidays.  


 After the "turkey bowl" we showered up and prepared the dishes in preparation for eating around 1 o'clock.  We had soooooo much food!!!  And yet, we managed to eat every single bite of it!  Hallie cooked amazing pilgrim hat cupcakes, Ashley cooked Key Lime pie and every one each brought a fantastic dish that included turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, tortillas and spicy salsa, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and much more.  The desserts were plentiful, and almost all of us needed a sky helicopter to lift us out of there.  

     The company was nice to have, and the conversations were great.  It was hard not to miss family, however.  I tried to keep my mind off of family by watching the football games on tv...but with the Seahawks playing the Cowboys it made me think of family even more!  I don't think that I will ever take advantage of having family around on the holidays ever again after spending one away from them. 

    After most of the PCVs and the staff took off, a few of us stayed around Mary Ellen's to play card games and lime a little bit.  It was a lot of fun to just relax with friends for a night!  I was taught a new game, which I still can't remember the name of for the life of me!  Andy and I taught Hallie and Greg to play cribbage, and they actually enjoyed it after a little while.  Perhaps I will have more cribbage buddies from now on!  Overall, it was a good Thanksgiving and quite a learning experience in my heart.


We Survived the Sorceress.

Surviving the Sorceress Mountain....

  There is an old myth that whoever attempts to climb the "Sorceress mountain" aka La Sorciere, in Patois, would never come back.  Their spirits would be taken by the sorceress, who lives at the top of the mountain, and their bodies would never been seen again.  Apparently, there are men who have climbed the mountain and were never heard from again.  We were told this only while hiking the fourth tallest peak on St. Lucia and never once before the hike. Luckily, I am not superstitious when it comes to myths like this one.  Hiking in broad daylight up a mountain that is smaller than most trails we have in Washington is not exactly the most mortifying experience.  However, I did see flashes of Blair Witch repeating in my mind at times during the hike.  

    We began hiking through the rainforest on the backside of Babonneau.  We were dropped off by the van near a water container with a set of steep stairs.  As we climbed the stairs, we were second guessing our decision, as many of us were tired from the longevity of the week.  Regardless, we knew we were going to have a great day ahead of us and pushed on strongly.  The rainforest trail was plush and green, nowhere near bare or unsightful.  I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh smell of the forestry that we passed through and embraced every moment of the scenery.  Though there were only few openings to a view, the scenery was refreshingly beautiful.  Green, green, everywhere and not a spot of city life.  

As the trail we went on disapated into greenery, we slowly began to make our own pathway.  We continued through the rainforest until we reached the path to Louvert beach.  We decided a little late to hike the La Sorciere, as we had passed it more than a mile back.  However, we decided to reverse our steps and hike up the mountain before heading to Louvert.  As we climbed up the steep mountain, we were in charge of creating our own way.  There was no trail and we found ourselves bushwhacking most of the way upwards.  We relied on marking the trees for rememberance of our path back and, fortunately, we actually used them upon the return.  We bushwhacked through vines and razor grass as we climbed up boulders and slippery slopes. 

        Razor grass was all through out the hike; however, when you are climbing upward it tends to get you more most often.  This is one thing I will never understand.  Razor grass, for those unaware of what it is exactly, is a type of grass that grabs you and slices you just like a bad paper cut.  At first there is slim to no pain.  The next moment that you know it, you are in irritating, stinging pain with a slight, long red mark in evidence that you are freshly a victim.         

 As we reached the top of the mountain a few hours later, we became aware that we will not surrender to the sorceress.  In fact, not only would we not surrender, but we were going to make it back down; indefinitely.  Perhaps the sorceress sleeps during the day and we were lucky.  I guess we will never know where she was that day that she let us slip through her fingers.  The way down proved to be harder than the way up due to the enormous boulders that stood in our way.  I was fortunate enough to be carrying a walking stick with me that allowed me to move from boulder to boulder faster than usual.  Though, I wouldn't say this was an easy task for a short person like me.  The more challenging the better when it comes to hikes though!

     After returning to the base of La Sorciere, we moved on to Louvert beach.  Louvert is on the backside of Babboneau.  The Atlantic ocean is in control of the water at this point.  It was a rather clear day when we reached Louvert, yet the waves were rough and out of control.  I can understand why it is that no one swims in this water, as the current is much too fierce.  The sight of the waves crashing down on each other was an amazing sight!  

     Along the way, we stopped in at a little abandoned park office nearby.  There were pictures and objects that made it appear that someone was living there but we saw no one.  Perhaps this is where the sorceress remains when we do not see her.    Lenin tried to bobby pin his way into every room, and he actually succeeded.  I was waiting for someone to pop out every time the door swung open but, alas, it did not happen.

After spending a few hours at Louvert, sightseeing, meditating and drinking and eating fresh coconuts, we moved on our way.  

After about 2 hours of hiking back we still had another 2+ hours to go and it was getting dark.  We continued hurriedly along our way back to Babbonneau centre and we eventually made it after dark nearing 830 pm!  We were all dirty and tired, but we were feeling good.  There is nothing quite like spending the day tiring ourselves out from a long hike in the rainforest!

     We found a beautiful crab along the way that had colors that enveloped us for at least 10 minutes.  The crab was shy for the first five, but finally allowed me to take the portrait.  

   On the way back home, I managed to snap a few of my favorite photos.  One of two butterflies mating for a long time.  I expected them to move away from each other when I came closer and closer to them to take a picture.  However, they were so involved that they did not move away from each other at all.  Rather, they continued to mate and I continued to stare in awe.  There is something so beautiful about the process of butterflies mating that I just cannot describe in words.  They are distinct and focused.   They have one partner for their lives and live to mate with that partner.  I can only admire this mating ritual and hope that humanity can one day mirror this lifestyle.  Apparently, St. Lucians have a long way to go in the faithfulness department.