July 26, 2013

Campo Data

Cards from some of my students
Eres la mejor profesora que yo [h]e tenido en mi vida" Translation: You are the best teacher I have ever had in my life.

That line comes from a note one of my students wrote to me. It also included a smiling heart and a flower. My last post was a little on the negative side about my students so I'd like to clarify that they can be really sweet and kind, sometimes they just get a little too rowdy.

This week has been much like the past month, I have been teaching in the morning, and in the afternoon I have been finishing up my interviews for my community diagnostic. I have also been going through the data the last Volunteer collected during her community diagnostic. Community Diagnostic is the term Peace Corps uses to describe the research Volunteers are supposed to perform during their first three months at site. A typical community diagnostic includes interviews, participation in community meetings, and observations in local institutions such as schools. At the end of the three months Volunteers attended a conference and present their findings along with a representative from their community. Everyone discusses the work together and then the Volunteer and community partner plan out their projects for the next year. I have my conference in three weeks.

I've already begun to prepare my presentation so I'll give you all a sneak peak. The following are graphs based off the information collected by the previous Volunteer. She did a survey of 124 houses in the community - by my count there are 145 houses in the community.

Average Income in my community is $6,233 pesos monthly, or $135 US dollars. I make about twice that, and I only have to take care of myself - not four people, which is the average family size here in my community. Luckily, it seems everyone here either works in agriculture or has family who does, so hunger isn't that big of an issue here.
Monthly Income in my community
Another positive is housing structures. There are only three houses in my community made entirely out of zinc, and about a third of houses are made out of cement and cinder blocks - nice and sturdy for those pesky tropical storms.

Housing Materials
 I have mentioned in the past that there is no running water in my community. So where do we get water from? Rain (Lluvia), Wells (Pozos), Rivers (Ríos), or we buy it (Comprar). I was surprised by how few people said they collected rain water. The questionnaire left water sources open ended so I think people forgot to write that they collect rain water because they just assumed that it was redundant to write down what everyone uses. I have yet to meet someone who does not use rain water.

Water Sources
Before I left for the DR, I spoke to my Church's youth group about my decision to join the Peace Corps. We also talked about my potential living situation. When I mentioned that I might have to use a latrine one boy asked why I couldn't just use a port-a-potty. We then had a discussion about the logistical difficulties of giving everyone with a latrine a port-a-potty. Since I have arrived in the DR I have only had to use a latrine during a visit to another Volunteer's site. In my current house I have to walk outside to use the bathroom but it does have a toilet. Since there is no running water here, I do have to bucket flush (pour water in the bowl to manually flush) but it definitely beats a latrine. Anyway, here in my community I am in the minority. The majority of families use latrines, and some do not even have those. Note, the Volunteer before me installed 7 eco-latrines, so the number of people without latrines is inaccurate in this graph. My best guess would be there are three or four families lacking bathroom facilities. Also, for the non-Spanish speakers: Inodoro = toilet, Letrina Individual/Colectivo = Latrine Individual/Shared, No Sanitario = No bathroom.
Now wasn't all that exciting and interesting! At the very least I hope you appreciated the colorful graphs. When my presentation is completed I'll make it available to all you data loving nerds - warning it will be in Spanish. A question for my data loving nerd friends, do any of you know of any good papers that discuss the relationship between frequently reading, having access to books, and adult literacy? If so send them my way!

July 19, 2013

School's IN for Summer

 Rotten mangos are gross, especially when one is thrown into your classroom.

This summer I have been spending three mornings a week teaching Summer School. The program is for students who are behind their peers in reading and writing. I have 20 students who have shown up over the past month. The majority of my students have attended sporadically. I sometimes ask where they have been and the responses vary from, "I was sick" to "I needed to braid my hair." The summer rain storms have not helped. One rainy week attendance was as follows: Monday - 5 students, Tuesday - 3, and Wednesday - 7.

Some of my students need more help than others; I have 3rd graders who can't write their names, 1st graders who know the alphabet, and frequently students bring their toddler siblings with them to class. Irregular attendance and skill levels has made teaching a juggling act. I regularly have three different activities going on at the same time. Needless to say, things can get a little crazy at times.

All of my students crave attention and approval. Mostly it is a lot of shouting, "Susie, Susie, look what I did." But sometimes the kids act out on each other. Last week one boy hit a girl, and while I was telling the class that they know better than to hit others, another boy smacked a different girl with a pencil. It, sadly, has become clear to me (and other volunteers in similar situations) that nothing I can say will change my student's behavior because instead of growing up with a dread of disappointing adults, they have grown up with the belt.

This week I tried the carrot approach, I didn't let the kids draw until the end of class on Monday. This worked OK until students for my next class arrived. The first class was staring to rowdy  so  I told them that their class time was over and I would see them the next day. Most American kids would immediately run out of the school with shouts of freedom. Instead, my students were upset that I was kicking them out. I suppose I should be flattered that my students were having so much fun they didn't want to leave but their actions just made me annoyed, and dare I say it, angry.

Seven students wouldn't leave the school and kept trying to re-enter the classroom. I closed the door and they shouted through the window to let them back inside and they promised not to be a distraction. I ignored their requests so they began to throw trash and leaves into the classroom (you can open the windows from the outside). One child even threw a rotting mango through the window.

I was peeved. When I walked home I told the parents of the two top offenders what their kids had been doing. That was a mistake. One grandmother told me that she would not allow her grandson to go back to school. I then tried to tell her that I wanted her grandson at school but my pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears because neither of the two boys showed up for the rest of the week. Ooops.

On the bright side because the trouble makers were not in class I was able to give more specialized attention to the other students. However, I am sad that the boys are not at school because they are two of the students that need the most help. One of the boys was just starting to write his name without help.
Fellow Volunteer, Julie, with our orderly students from training.

If there are any teachers reading who have ideas on how I can better control my students please send me your suggestions! The director of my school told me that next time my students cause trouble I should lock them out of the school.

Outside of the classroom I have been spending my summer meeting everyone in my community. I basically walk around, stop by houses of people I have not met, introduce myself, and then chat with them for an hour or so. I am often given juice or coffee during my visit and some fruit to take with me when I leave. It's not something I could ever accomplish I the States. People back home are too wary of strangers, and generally can't pick a pick fruit off their trees. During my visits I have also been interviewing families for a community census - no one knows how many people live here.

I have so far done 119 household interviews. I only have 10-12 houses to go! Hooray! My next step will be to put all the info into Excel and pick out the important info to present at a conference I have next month. One thing I have already noticed is that most adults have not completed primary school. Until 17 years ago it was difficult to go to school past the 4th grade. Upper levels of school were all located 5km away in town, and only accessible by a dirt road. Today students still have to travel to town for high school but the road is paved and transportation is better (students still have to pay for transportation). Also, most families do not have books in the house (if they have one it is the Bible). These two factors make me wonder what is the literacy rate of adults in my community. Most adults have not been reading much since they left school. (Almost every family here farms, which isn't a job that requires heavy reading.) I, therefore, think it will be important for me to find books that are for adults but at a basic reading level. In other words, while Don Quixote is an important book I doubt that many adults in my community are up to the challenge of reading it - not many Americans would want to read it either. I need to find books that will encourage my community to continue reading, instead of alienate them.

Other things of note:
A community member has done construction work for the reality show Survivor! He has worked for the show here in the DR but also in Panama and in Istanbul. Crazy. I had to ask him to explain his job to me again just to be sure I understood him. He said Istanbul was really cool; he visited a church is Istanbul which has diamonds in the ceiling.

The DR got it's first tropical storm of the season, Chantal. She apparently caused a lot of flooding along the southern coast of the country but here in Samaná we didn't even get a full day of rain. Apparently storms don't tend to cause too much damage in the region. However, 8 years ago Hurricane George hit Samaná hard and a lot of people went hungry in the following months because all their crops were destroyed.

Gutters are useful during tropical storms
My group lost our first Volunteer, she will be missed. Peace Corps sent her packing after it received reports that she was riding motorcycles without her helmet. The DR is the only country where Peace Corps permits Volunteers to ride motorcycles so they have strict safety rules. A Dominican actually asked me yesterday if I was a volunteer because I was carrying my helmet; not many people aside from Volunteers use them here.