XII. Pen-Pals & A Muddy Sunday

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Greetings from the Mountain Kingdom,

The pen-pal letters have arrived and so has the end of the rainy season. The first exchange between Form E students at Thaba Tseka High school and World Cultures students at Maine West High School has been completed to the delight of everyone involved. The monsoon season subsided but not before stranding a few others and myself. The solution was communally inspired and created quite a memorable experience.

Maine West High School – Thaba Tseka High School Pen-Pal Exchange

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Form E2

The eagerly anticipated letters from World Cultures students at Maine West High School arrived on March 17th and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to disseminate them amongst the 100 Form E (Grade 12) students. The excitement was shared by the students as well; the announcement was met with joyous applause and banter. The teacher and former colleague I’m working with on the project also included some candy in the package. Fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls to be specific. The students happily accepted the letter and piece of American candy as I jotted their names down on the pairing sheet. I also handed them the instructions to the correspondence reply, of which I derived from the Maine West teacher’s handout:

Instructions for American students writing to Lesotho: browser | PDF
Instructions for Basotho students writing to America:  browser | PDF

At this point the only thing left to do was wait for the replies. I gave my students a week to craft their responses but soon realized they would need some extra time as it became clear that they were putting a lot of effort and creativity into their work.  Per the instructions, the American letters contained some sort of artifact included with each letter; such as a coin, candy wrapper, or photographs. My students desired to reply in kind so it was very interesting to see what they came up with. Each and every letter is a work of art in its own right. Which is exactly what we were hoping to inspire. Have a look at a few:
http://imgur.com/a/QWW39

Moving forward with this correspondence project is going to be great. I informed my students that after a few back-and-forth replies, the plan is to have them all make email accounts and continue their exchange via modern means (ie. the internet). I figure that’s the best way to tie it into the Computer Studies curriculum and also an effective method to compare and contrast communication methods of old and new.

On a side note, we’re well within the second unit and the syllabus I’ve been developing is starting to take a nice shape. Depending on how it shakes out, I might submit the final copy to the Ministry of Education in November to see if some of the content can be put into the official government technology literacy curriculum, which happens to be from 2005 and is very outdated. Below is the working draft:

Form A-E Computer Syllabus: browser | PDF

Stuck in Mud

The 16th started out like any other Sunday. The town was quiet as most people attended their respective church and accompanying 4-hour masses. Liverpool was playing Manchester United in the afternoon, so I decided to tag along with a local friend while he did some surveying for the electric company in the morning to pass time. With him being an engineer and knowing good English, I’ve taken quite an interest in his work around the camptown and we’ve naturally became close friends.

Monsoon season (as I call it) was just ending. I would estimate that in the month of February, it rained for 25 of the 28 days. This pattern of daily rain continued into mid-March. As a result, the rivers were flowing rapidly and ground was heavily soaked. The gravel road we were on ended and from began a dirt road. For all intents and purposes.. best we call it a mud road. The key was navigating around the deep mud; to which he was successful for a brief period. The luck ran out and we soon found ourselves immobilized in 12-inch mud.

IMG_20140316_080846~01So here we have a problem that is sometimes encountered in the United States- usually with snow where I’m from. The options to resolve a stuck car situation are numerous in most cases. This wasn’t the first car quandary I’ve witnessed here in Lesotho. They tend to occur more often for various reasons. However, what really enthralls me is the fascinating perspective gained by observing how a different culture handles a familiar problem. The first thing we tried to do is toss some rocks in front of the tires in an attempt to gain some traction. The worldwide go-to first attempt for dislodging a stuck car wasn’t working for us on this day. He then phoned a friend who also owned a pickup truck. The plan was to have him tow ours out with a rope. As we waited for his arrival, random townspeople from the immediate area began showing up.  Before long, there were at least 15 men standing around the vehicle analyzing the situation and discussing possible solutions. There was even a teenage boy who offered up a suggestion to the approval of Bo_N’tate. I found all of this to be very captivating.truck

After about 20 minutes, the friend with the truck could be seen arriving in the distance- reggae music blaring and a few extra guys in the flatbed. As he approached my friend yelled to him to avoid a certain patch of mud but the message was ignored or never received. He drove straight into what could only be described as quicksand and his truck quickly descended to the axels in a giant mud patch. I felt the urge to burst out in laughter since I knew this goofy Rastaman from around town. Not surprisingly, the rest of the townspeople began laughing at the sudden unexpected misfortune and irony. There wasn’t a single bit of negativity or distress among everyone involved. Joking and laughing prevailed even as it became apparent getting these two trucks out wasn’t going to be an easily achieved task.

Eventually my buddy decided to call “the big truck” which is owned by the electric company. He was trying to avoid this since it was Sunday and none of his colleagues were on the clock. However, he had no choice at this point and so began the 2nd wait for assistance. Eventually we could hear it roaring up the hill from behind us and I screamed out “The cavalry has arrived!”. Unfortunately the reference was lost among this particular group. Seeing the vintage Mercedes beast pull up was a great sight. One could really appreciate the ingenuity put into this legacy machine which has stood the test of time. It made easy doings of the two trucks. We ended up catching the Liverpool game and celebrated the accomplishments over lunch and a cold one. What began as an average Sunday ended up much like one. Except on this Sunday I witnessed a collective gathering to resolve a familiar problem… and that experience alone is one for the memories.

Photos:
http://imgur.com/a/A7QEL

Video:

 

Khotsofalang! motse_musafa

XI. Unit 1 Tests, Project Development, & A Birthday Surprise

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Lumelang Bo_’M’e le Bo_N’tate,

The new year keeps rolling on and I can honestly say it seems like the time here is flying. March 7th will mark 9 months in country with 18 months to go. To be a third of the way through service serves as a nice milestone but also a gentle reminder that time is of the essence, especially with project goals and other aspirations on the line.

Unit 1 Tests

With the first unit in the books I was finally able to assess the level of understanding amongst all the grades (8-12). Teaching the same material to five different levels presented some unforeseen challenges. I knew coming in that the Grade 8s (Form A) will have a more difficult time grasping the material as their English isn’t nearly as strong as the Grade 12s (Form E). Nevertheless each grade managed to average an A or B as a whole, so I was thoroughly impressed. This entire curriculum is being developed as I go, so it’s nice to have some flexibility to be able to adjust as we continue on. Here’s the test breakdown by grade: marks

And the test itself: Web | PDF

Unit 1 was all about understanding the components of a computer. Unit 2 and beyond is about learning how to use the components. The lab is almost ready for use by the students; 20 brand-new networked virtual computers plus two servers to control them. This is state-of-the-art equipment and I’ve spent all week stressing that to the students. Most schools in the US don’t have such a sophisticated setup so it’s important to take full advantage of current year technology.

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The peace that is test day

The lab was donated by a Dutch company before I came and ever since has been gathering dust.The Universal Power Supplies failed (probably due to the dust and/or power surges) so this required the school to purchase 20 new power cords from Maseru. Those finally arrived and I feel like we should have the lab open by mid-march. I have an entire unit devoted to learning how to use the mouse and how to properly type using the “home keys” instead of “chicken pecking”. As I’ve stated in my previous posts, this is my only full calendar year in Lesotho (which coincides with the fiscal school year), so I intend to go full force into creating a modern, comprehensive, and sustainable curriculum that sets the bar above standard computer literacy for these students. If even half of them can type 20 words-per-minute and know how to create a résumé, I will consider the program a resounding success. And so far it’s looking like that could be a definite possibility.

 

Project Development

The week of February 17th had us HY 13s traveling to Hlotse, Leribe for a workshop regarding project design and management (PDM). The premise of the weeklong conference was about the various methods to create or bolster sustainable projects in our communities. This includes designing the project, assessing benchmarks, and securing funds. This is critical information for any volunteer that plans on doing side projects based on the community’s needs. I was particularly interested as I’ve already identified a couple projects to pursue here in Thaba Tseka.

The first of these two projects is to hold film screenings at the youth center I currently live at, Matheko. On the final day of the workshop, they had an organization called Sesotho Media come and do a movie showing for us. The film they showed was called “Inside Story”, a relatively new movie that combines many elements of education and entertainment. The story is about a gifted football star whose journey to soccer stardom is complicated when he learns that he is HIV-positive. It is a very relatable movie for most of the youth here. We plan to stop the movie every 20-30 minutes for a brief discussion on the plot and the messages being portrayed by the characters. Here is the project description: Web | PDF

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Sunday afternoon district league football

The second project is to help a very close friend of mine grow his modest hair salon business. He is an electrical engineer for the national electricity company but also rents a small building on the strip of the camptown. From there they provide haircuts, shampoos, and sell a small stock of hair care accessories. Currently he operates in the red; however, he’s a very motivated individual and wishes to get the business back on track. I think with the assistance from the other PCV here and myself, there is a great potential to for him to build a profitable business. More about these projects in a later post.

 

Birthday Surprise

The end of the workshop happened to fall on my birthday and we had to return to our sites. This was fine as everyone made sure the previous night was a grand hotel celebration. The journey was about 5 hours from Hlotse to Maseru and then back to Thaba Tseka. Per usual, another volunteer and I tried our hands at finding a hitch on the outskirts of Maseru instead of being crammed into a sweaty taxi for the entire ride. After rejecting a few stoppers based on the quality of their vehicle, we saw a shiny Lexus SUV approaching and began to flash the international hitchhiking sign of pointing at the road. Luckily for us he stopped. After doing the standard greetings in Sesotho, this older gentleman began speaking almost perfect English to our surprise. As we continued to converse about our jobs in Lesotho, where we lived, and our country of origin, I began asking him the same. He started by saying he had been to the United States in the 1970s to train with the military. I became very inquisitive at this point and asked which state he trained in, to which he replied Texas. Fort Bragg! I continued probing and it finally came out that he was a retired Major General for the Lesotho Defense Force. At this point I was in awe of the luck to share a 4 hour ride with such a distinguished individual. He then asked us if we’d like to meet his wife to which we happily obliged. It was a couple hours out of the way but that didn’t matter. As we drove along we could see the various infrastructures he had built around his remote town which included schools, foot bridges, and irrigation systems. It was clear he was a genuine man who has dedicated his life to serving the people of his community and country. After having sharing some biscuits and juice with his wife and seeing his impressive farm, we continued on toward the original destination of Thaba Tseka.

We arrived back home around 7pm. I thanked him for the ride and inquired if I could have his name and number in case I’m ever in the area of his hometown. He was pleased to offer it and we went our separate ways. Later that night I decided to Google his name (N’tate Justin Lekhanya) to see if there was any information about him to be found on the web. I was surprised to find a Wikipedia article and upon reading it, I realized not only did we get a hitch from a retired Major General, but also a former Prime Minister and all around badass! Thus making my 26th birthday certainly one to remember.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Lekhanya

 

My next post will be covering the first World Wise Schools pen-pal interaction between students from Maine West High School and Thaba Tseka High School. The package containing the letters hasn’t arrived yet but I’m anticipating it this week.

Sala Hantle!

X. New Years in Cape Town, New Semester, & Future Projects

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Mohlohonolo a selemo se secha (Happy New Year)!

Homemade Guitar

The homemade instruments here are works of art

I certainly hope 2014 will be one to remember. This will be my only full calendar year spent in Lesotho and I intend to take full advantage of the limited time to accomplish some sustainable projects. A brief vacation in Cape Town was a proper way to bring in the new year. Teaching started back up soon after getting back to Thaba Tseka and I’m happy to say I’ll finally be working full time here in country. In addition to teaching I have a few projects currently ongoing and also some aspirations for others.

Back to School

I began teaching Computer Studies at Thaba Tseka High School in the middle of last term. They squeezed in a single class, Grade 8, to last the final 6 weeks of the semester. This couldn’t have worked out better for me. Having never formally taught a class before, I really had no idea what I was doing. Although the lack of experience could have been a hindrance, I found myself very comfortable in front of these wide-eyed Basotho children. They were very eager to learn the subject material and their final marks quantified that. The class average was 82% on a sliding curve towards the 90 percentile. I was certain it was going to be a bell curve as the material I was instructing wasn’t exactly easy for them. Taking this limited experience, I knew I was ready to begin the new term that began on January 13th.

This term I am teaching grades 8-12, Monday through Thursday, with a total of 10 class sessions. Working full time has been great. I feel like I’m finally able to contribute my full worth here. These first two weeks have gone splendidly. My Sesotho has advanced to the point where I’m almost conversationally fluent. This goes a long way with the Basotho. When they see a foreigner learning and speaking their language it garners a new level of respect. So I leave 5-10 minutes at the end of each class and usually say something like “Okay students, today I have taught you about computers. Now it’s your turn to teach me some Sesotho”. They absolutely love it. The strategy is sound because each class will give me a new word to learn and I ask them to quiz me on it the following week. This week’s words were “khoto” (mouse), “fesetere” (window), “mohaisane” (neighbor), “motšeare” (late), and “Mokhokhothoane” (Tuberculosis). They think it’s funny to give me big words but the jokes on them… long words tend to be easy if you break down the syllables. Like Tuberculosis = Mo-kho-kho-tho-an-e.

45 students per class means 450 tests to grade come exam time. I always get excited to see their marks but grading that many tests is going to be daunting to say the least. However, that spreadsheet I previously posted is going to be an interesting perspective with a plethora of data.

Cape Town

What a wonderful city this is. The contrast to Lesotho is almost indescribable. I travelled along with 9 other volunteers from my Healthy Youth group. The bus ride from Bloemfontein took 14 hours but fortunately we opted for a luxury liner instead of a sweaty kombi taxi. Upon arriving it was a bit rainy but that soon gave way to clear skies which lasted for the duration of the trip.

My first order of business was getting some McDonalds. I almost ordered the left side of the menu. I never really ate it back home (Chipotle is the go-to), but after not having had any type of fast food for 7 months it was heaven. Of course, my stomach wasn’t exactly up to the challenge and I went catatonic for a couple hours soon thereafter. We arrived at the hostel in the morning and immediately hit up a farmer’s market style event that had the best international variety of food I’ve ever seen. And it was all fresh. I ended up getting a delectable Mediterranean style pita thing that made my knees buckle. Every night was spent on the famous Long Street (very similar to Bourbon or Canal Street). The bars and clubs were filled with people from all over the world. Not just tourists but expatriates as well. The city is a true melting pot. And of all the people I met, only one couple was from America.

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Teeing off the famous 7th hole at Mowbray

The highlights of the trip were playing the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen and also watching the sunset over the ocean on top of Table Mountain. The first course I played was Mowbray Golf Club which was built in 1886. This historic course had an old school feel to it but unfortunately due to some inclement weather patterns it wasn’t in the best of shape. Nevertheless it was great to get back on the links again. And the scenery was incredible. The same could be said for the second course, Royal Cape Golf Club. I was paired up with a British couple and a Scottish lad. We did some match play and it was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played. After not swinging a club for 8 months and using rentals, I thought I was going to dog it out there. However, that wasn’t the case and we had a very competitive match. The Scottish guy and I edged them out by 1 hole. I almost eagled a 490 yard Par 5 as well. This course was in the upper echelon of courses so it was very well maintained. Below is an album of the entire trip, including the golf courses and Table Mountain:

 

In the Works

Aside from teaching I’ve been trying to get a few other projects going. The largest of these initiatives is spearheading the creation of a volunteer technology committee for Peace Corps Lesotho. There are various committees in each respective Peace Corps country with specific roles/tasks. For example one might be focused on providing tuition assistance to top-tier students that PCVs interact with either through teaching or their host organization. I’ll have more information about the Lesotho ICT committee in future posts. In the meantime, check out the draft proposal (which has been unofficially approved) to get a better idea of what we intend to focus on here in Lesotho in regards to information communication technology:

http://pcharpoon.com/pc/lct/ict_committee_draft_proposal.pdf

Another project I’m very excited about is beginning a pen-pal program with World’s Cultures classes at the high school I used to work at, Maine West High School. This is for the World Wise Schools [link] program I have mentioned in prior posts. I plan on having my Thursday Form E2 (grade 12) class participate in this exchange as they have the best English and can fully engage in some cross-cultural discussion with students 8,500 miles away. If all goes as planned, we’ll even be able to have a few Skype sessions. Connecting two classrooms so far apart would be an amazing sight to see.

As always thanks for reading. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with their families and friends. Here’s to a safe and prosperous 2014!

IX. Happy Holidays from Lesotho!

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The holiday is upon us as people from all around the world gather to celebrate amongst family and friends. This is the first Christmas in 24 years which will not be spent at my Grandparent’s house with immediate and extended families. While I surely miss them and the traditions therein, I feel very grateful to have made such close friends here in Lesotho that it shall not be spent alone. The Basotho are predominately Christian and Christmas is a big holiday here. My closest Mosotho friend here in Thaba Tseka invited me to his family’s house for a modest feast complete with traditional Basotho food and drinks.

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Steak, Papa, Cabbage, & Chakalaka

Despite the context of it being summer, this turned out to be a great and almost familiar Christmas celebration. Much of that can be attributed to the Christmas music collection I brought with. I’m actually writing this with the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack (Vince Guaraldi) in the background.

2014 is shaping up to be a promising year. My service ends in August of 2015, so next year will be the only full year I spend in this wonderful country. Therefore my resolution is to make the most of every single day. Set lofty goals and work diligently to achieve them. I have high aspirations and only a focused commitment will allow them to be realized. I will further discuss the road map I have in mind in later posts.

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Sharing some of the Christmas feast with the neighbor kids

I’ll be bringing in the New Year in Cape Town, South Africa. The 7 day vacation is going to be amazing; I already know it. I have tee-times at two very pristine golf courses, Royal Cape Golf Club and Mowbray Golf Club. It’s going to take a few swings to shake off the rust but needless to say, this golfer is more than enthusiastic to get back out on the links. Sharing a couple rounds with some Afrikaners should be delightful as well.

I’d also like to take a moment to express how grateful I am for all the support received through this blog and elsewhere. While it’s been difficult to respond to each comment, be sure that I do read all feedback and greatly appreciate the kind words offered by so many. Your continued support provides that extra motivation to produce inspired results.

Happy Holidays! And here’s to a safe and prosperous New Year to all!

VIII. Exams and Thanksgiving

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Ho Sharp, Ho Joang?

It was great to reunite with my PST village group and teachers

It was great reuniting with my PST village group and teachers

Summer is here and the semester is winding down ahead of Christmas break. The students have the entire month of December off and return the 2nd week in January. I’ve been busy creating a computer curriculum from scratch; basically taking it day by day as I teach my only class of 85 eighth graders. Thanksgiving marked the second major American holiday to be celebrated here in Lesotho which happened to fall under Phase III training back in our training villages. Much like 4th of July, our group had a wonderful afternoon at the country director’s house alongside the newly arrived ED ’14 group.

Unit I

I began teaching at Thaba Tseka High School in the middle of the semester therefore it was rather difficult to slot me into the already full schedule. The principal managed to find a 40 minute timeslot every Monday from 12:20-1:00PM teaching Form A (8th graders). TTHS has never had a computer class before, so the students were eager to pilot the new course. Just the same I was excited to begin laying foundation of knowledge that will hopefully lead to a successful computer program. I began creating lesson plans starting the first week with the intention of introducing the absolute basics of computers. Over the course of 6 weeks we covered topics such as the different components of a computer and what their purpose is. I knew this was going to be very difficult for the students since we are mandated to teach in English. Not only do they have to learn the material in their 2nd language, but the actual computer related parts are all new words for them. Imagine the confusion when trying to explain the “mouse” is used as a pointing device. Every week I would discuss one or two new components but would always ask the class first to assess prior knowledge. Often times it was difficult to get them to respond, most likely because they were very shy. I was taken aback when I asked “What does CPU stand for?” and a student raised his hand and said “Central Processing Unit”. Keep in mind most of the learners have never touched a computer before so needless to say I was surprised and delighted to hear this.

The semester officially ends on November 29th for all students. Given the tight schedule, I was only able administer one test which also served as the final. I spent a few hours creating it to cover the presented material while also making sure it was balanced enough as to not be too confusing. Have a look:

Form A2 – Test 1 (PDF)

Grading 85 tests took far longer than expected. I already had much respect for the time and effort teachers put in to their work; doing it myself only furthered that appreciation. I was expecting a class average in the mid 70 percentile. However, they managed to average 83%! I gave them extra incentive to study hard by promising a piece of candy for an A. I also promised a 2nd piece of candy if the class average was 80% or higher. Candy — known as “sweets” here—are great motivators. I created a spreadsheet with a fellow friend to track score and provide some data analysis. Check it out:

Marks: (Excel) (browser)

Thanksgiving

American Independence Day was the first major holiday we celebrated on the other side of the planet. It fell during Pre-Service Training and Peace Corps Lesotho provided a day of relaxing, football, and burgers. In much the same fashion, they went all out for a festive celebration for this year’s Thanksgiving Day at the Country Director’s house in Maseru. Our group was invited to join the new Education ’14 group of volunteers. Due to the Phase III workshop, we were all located just outside the country’s capital in our training villages in Berea. The day started off with introductions and appetizers followed by some backyard football and a delectable feast consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie.

I'm used to brisk wind or snow on Thanksgiving - not hail

I’m used to brisk wind or snow on Thanksgiving – not hail

The weather was in the upper 70s and very comfortable. Unsurprisingly, a storm came out of nowhere but luckily it hit while the festivities were winding down. What did take us by surprise was the half-inch size hail that began to pelt the area. While I certainly missed being at home to partake in the annual Thanksgiving traditions with family and friends (such as the Turkey Bowl), the staff here did a great job to bring us together for a wonderful celebration.

 

Since break has arrived, I’m really looking forward to getting some hiking done in the local area around my camptown as well as the forthcoming trip to Cape Town at the end of the month for New Years. The thought of a Big Mac and Oreo McFlurry is oh-so tantalizing.

Ha re’ng!

Highest Point in Thaba-Tseka at 2480m (~8,100ft)

Highest Point in Thaba-Tseka at 2480m (~8,100ft)