Friday, September 26, 2008

Global Volunteers
Hanoi Diary – July 27-Aug 8

Millennium Development Goals Achieved by this Team:
1,980 students and 30 teachers taught English language skills

390 hours of English language instruction provide by volunteers

On our first work day, we gathered in a room where we met the headmaster and English teachers and Joe presented opening remarks along with the headmaster. Spirited music from the Bridge over the River Kwai and the theme from Rocky accompanied a video introduction to our new school. The staff and students are very proud of their school and want us to be happy during our stay. As honored guests, we were assigned one of only two air conditioned rooms in the entire school.

We were greeted in each classroom with smiles and open hearts that more than compensated for any temporary inconveniences. We enjoyed lunch served to us in the staff dining room with the best saved to the last – ice cream cones! Sheer luxury on a sultry day.

Thought for the Day: In New England, the settlers enthusiastically took to their new lands and started plowing only to discover to their dismay, large rocks in their way. They dutifully piled the rocks into walls surrounding their fields and continued plowing. Each season, there were fewer and smaller rocks and the plowed fields finally yielded to the crops for which they had been planted. Today these rocks have become the unique fences that charm visitors to the region and the plows upturn only pebbles. Be a plow. Start a legacy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
It’s the second full day of teaching and we are in the thick of it! Newness jitters are starting to fade and we are truly starting to operate as the team we need to be. It’s impressive to see how far this group of former strangers has come in such a short time.

Gone was the dread of the unknown – we knew we at least had a sense of what today would bring and we were prepared to face it, together. You could feel the increased sense of confidence in the air. Most of us then went off to teach – Rebecca and Leah spent two periods with the same students while Bob, Joan, Claire, Barbara, Norina and Brownson did their best to engage a group of VERY rowdy teenagers while Joe observed the classes, got to know the inner workings of the school and the teachers a bit better. We are feeling more in synch with local culture and this was evident during lunch/rest time. All the mats were filled with volunteers resting, while others relaxed on the desks. Still others spent the break preparing for the afternoon. Leah, Rebecca and Jessica had a detailed conversation with Ms. Ngoc, one of the teachers, really trying to understand more about teaching methods, and how we could help. Claire, Barbara and Joan held a strategy session on teaching the concept of volunteering – getting ready for the 11th graders that afternoon, with input and wisdom from Joe. Norina was deep in conversation with Ms. Hong, planning and sharing ideas.

The afternoon went by very quickly. Songs were sung, we danced, laughed with the children, taught what we hoped was close to curriculum and generally did our best. It was all about teamwork, and having fun along the way.
Thought for the day: “The high note is not the only thing.” Placido Domingo

The first week:
This week is supposed to be focused on “higher education”, a topic we tried to explain anew in each class. One girl said she wanted to be a singer after graduation and delighted her class and the Global Volunteers – Barbara, Norina and Claire – with her perfect American accent and stunning voice. We are learning that one of the best opportunities for communication with the students is simply be available in the hallways. They were very eager to take photos of us with their phones. Most of us are discovering the value of the noontime nap which really energizes us for the afternoons. While waiting for the van depart, Bob and Janelle played jump rope with the students to the delight and amusement of all.

In the spirit of environmental consciousness and conservation, the electricity is sometimes shut off in the afternoon. This gives us the opportunity to be flexible, with no electricity to make photocopies, use the CD player for music and songs, or cool our sweat-drenched bodies under the ceiling fan – just like in the good old days. The air-conditioned van and cool hotel rooms are a welcome relief at the end of the day.
Thought for the day: “The visitor might knock on your door, but you can choose not to let it on. You can decide to be happy or not to be happy. Which do you choose?”

The second week:
As we are now into the second week the days have become more routine, which is to say the scheduled classes for most of us are subject to change, and we adjust to the changes! A number of visiting teachers appeared to observe and learn, arriving from outside of Hanoi, I believe a place called Victory (??) having left at 5 am that morning in order to meet with us and our respective classes.

Leah, who teaches high school English in Washington, has been asked to teach a class of 40-50 students while about 10 English teachers observed. The students appeared enthusiastic and engaged, and the teachers intently scribbled notes during the class. My Quy later said her teaching was “excellent: and that the teachers learned much from her methodology and pronunciation.

We’ve been able to sample a new restaurant every day – several members of our group remarked that their clothes were starting to fit a little tighter than usual!
On Wednesday, we were picked up at 6:10 and taken back to the school for a farewell celebration hosted by the headmaster, Dr. Nguyen Van Hoa. What a lovely party. Tables were set up in the school courtyard and the school administration, English teachers and selected students were waiting to greet us. The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Hung, Mr. Hoa, Mr. Quy and the head of the English department, Mrs. Hong gave speeches expressing their appreciation to us in excellent English. Joe spoke on our behalf, expressing Global Volunteers’ admiration, respect and gratitude for their efforts to our hosts at Nguyen Binh Khiem school. Led by Rebecca, we then sang the customized version of “It’s a small world after all”. Our hosts graciously presented Joe, Dana, Brownson and Claire with flowers and the other volunteers with gifts. After many photos were taken, we sat down to a deliciously prepared selection of traditional Vietnamese food. It was a special evening and I think, a memorable experience for us all. Thought for the day: “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.” Vernon Sanders Law.

Thursday and Friday:
A fond farewell was bid to Claire, the perpetual volunteer who is headed off to her next Global Volunteers assignment in the Cook Islands.

Even though there was rain most of the day (on Thusday), the humidity did not adversely affect the weather and everyone seemed a bit more comfortable. After their arrival at school, and careful planning for their day’s schedule, Joan and Bob were separated into two different classes for their first period. Both were turned away at the classrooms for the second period, so they were able to receive an expanded lunch period and double nap times.

Janelle, Brian, Dana and Jessica thoroughly prepared for a full day of teaching but their teacher insisted there would be no class at the end of the day. Their students prepared a surprise celebration and feast with lots of fruit and gifts.

In the van on the way back to the hotel, several people expressed frustration with the discipline and decorum in many classrooms, particularly those with older children. No true solution was found, but everyone will maintain an open mind while agreeing that ALL 15- and 16-year-olds want to express themselves and rebel a bit.
Thoughts for the day: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
If you want happiness….
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month – get married
For a year – inherit a fortune
For a lifetime – help someone else!!
- Bob and Joan

While this group’s journey of waging peace comes to a close here, we watch while the world begins to come together in the spirit of friendly competition in Beijing.
The kindness and generosity of the people we worked with on this project and with the students we taught and learned from was remarkable. It will be my strongest memory and my greatest lesson. Thanks to everyone for all they did.
– Brian

Monday, September 15, 2008

South Africa as a "Lesson Plan"

My Global Volunteers Service Program in South Africa was a surprise 50th birthday gift to me by my family and friends. They knew that service to others is something that I value and that for many years I also had yearned to travel to Africa.
Six years ago, I embarked on the journey of returning to college while raising four incredible children. It was during this time I discovered a deep desire to learn more about Africa, a place and history of which I previously had known very little. The opportunity to delve more deeply into the intellectual study of Africa, its people, history, diverse cultures, religions, economic challenges, etc. presented itself and I became an African Studies minor while majoring in Religious Studies at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. The one piece missing from my studies had been the experience of actually going to the continent. My senior thesis had been on South African feminist theology from a post apartheid indigenous perspective so when I received the Global Volunteers gift I at once knew that South Africa would be my first choice of where I wanted to go. Lucky for me, the organization was preparing to send their first team to Malungeni -- a rural village in South Africa. I signed up immediately and anticipated with great joy the July 2008 departure.

Many of my friends asked me what I hoped to accomplish by taking this trip. I replied that my desire was to learn what I was meant to learn from this whole experience. While this might sound a bit New Age it was intended to mean that I wanted to stay open to the people I would meet, places I would visit, and work I would be asked to do. Volunteering has been the primary way I have experienced being within a community during my life. From my earliest memories I can recall accompanying my parents as we helped in our schools, church, neighborhood, and larger community. To go to Africa was only expanding my scope of where my volunteer experience could take me

As the first team to go to Malungeni, I knew there would be some unique opportunities to help form initial relationships and discover a bit more about this place and its people than later teams might encounter. I found this an exciting prospect. What I discovered from my initial encounter with Michele Gran, our team leader, was that she had our backs covered during the entire experience. I have worked in many volunteer settings in the past, some with international components to them, but I have never before experienced the consistency of vision and commitment to both the volunteer and the host community in the way that that Global Volunteers does. Michele never once promised something that she could not deliver, either to us as volunteers or to the community that had asked us to come work with them. This provided the volunteers as well as the community with sense of safety all the while being embraced by a high degree of true integrity.

The community of Malungeni extended one of the most hospitable and gracious welcomes I have ever experienced. The entire village from the elders, their chief, to the teenagers and young children embraced us and quickly formed friendships that made our time one of great joy and real hope. Many meaningful projects were begun by the community and our team during our two week trip. I can confidently say that future teams will find this community to be one where good things will happen.

The part of the Global Volunteers experience that I was pleasantly surprised by was how our team quickly bonded and formed friendships that I know will extend far into the future. The ten of us were from all parts of North America with an age range from the late teens to the seventies but we found so much common ground that friendships were easily formed and the team quickly found ways to use everyone’s unique gifts and talents. I will never forget the laughter that my roommate and I often fell asleep to. While although I was far away from my family I had found wonderful people to share this journey with. The work and team time made the whole experience one that I will hold in my heart forever.

The community school was my primary work site. I assisted the grade 4 through 9 Social Science teacher. It was exciting to be teaching their curriculum of social science from a human rights perspective. I found the teacher and students to be engaged learners with the classroom being a place of respect. The kids were great students and have high hopes for their futures. I learned a great deal from them and have a new respect for how difficult it can be to live and educate children within a remote village when technology and access can at times seem very far away.

As I reflect upon the two short weeks we spent with the community. I find myself wanting to return. I found a strength and character in the people of Malungeni that I admire. The women are working so diligently to bring change and opportunity to their village. They have the same concerns and hopes for their children as my friends and I have here at home. The miles might separate us but our hearts hold the same desires for healthy, educated children who will have good opportunities for their success filled futures.

My college studies enabled me to understand some of the history of the enormous continent and more specifically South Africa while my Global Volunteers service gave me the opportunity to begin relationships which moved beyond the pages of books and into our big world where we are called to be global citizens. Waging peace is such a noble goal, one that Global Volunteers embraces, but it is only through the forming of human relationships that we can discover who each other really is. I am grateful for the gift my family and friends gave me to travel and serve in Malungeni and look forward to serving with Global Volunteers again in the future.