Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Present, Absent, Escaped"

When I first started thinking about applying for Peace Corps, the only thing I was sure about was that I absolutely 100% did not want to be a teacher. Having failed an uncountable number of times as a Math tutor in Middle/Highschool, I had a pretty solid belief that teaching in a different language with less supplies than normally would be allotted would be a TERRIBLE idea for any/all affiliated parties. I wanted to come in and build things. Make a difference.

Of course, now Peace Corps has infiltrated my thoughts, taken out the words efficiency, speed, tangible, and inserted words like co-facilitator, capacity building, winnable victories, patience, and sustainability. I used to think building a school, fence, well, latrine were the absolute pinnacles of success for a Peace Corps Volunteer, and more generally, of development towards a better community/country. Now after seeing so many once beautiful (I'm sure) schools in their current, delapidated and uninhabited state, I've come to abhor the very notion of what I might describe myself as; "an agent of virtue," trying to do good things and yet causing a whole country and I fear continent towards a mentality which could be described by an image I see everyday. It is of a small boy with an outstretched hand, syaing the only words he knows in English: "Give me money." He's probably been taught these words by his parents, who have been taught by experience that it's the best thing white people come to offer. I can't help but think about Hilton Head Island, where we were told to beware of the crocodiles (alligators?), because as a result of too many people feeding them, they had become trained to approach people.

Anyway, along with this new mentality has come an acceptance, if not gravitational pull towards helping out nearby schools. Ironically it is these kids who are proof of my importance in this country, because of their interest and yearning for information. You should have seen the look of the kids when I brought in a map of the world. It was probably one of the very few times in my time in Uganda that I was sure that noone was staring at me. (While writing this, I flashed back to some MTV Awards Ceremony, back when J-Lo wore that crazy green dress clasped with a single button, and David Duchoveny (sp) was walking beside her to give out an award). After 6 months of being J-lo, it was nice to be David for a couple minutes.

I am now connected to 3 teachers in the US, and am in continual contact (some more than others) with them through their paired classrooms.

Yesterday I passed out letters written from Georgia to the kids here in Uganda. To speed up the process, the kids emailed me on an E-pals account, which I printed out, cut up, and stuffed into handmade and labeled envelopes (Thank God for my Mom and Craft Days). You should have seen these kids! I've never seen 10 year olds move so quickly as when I called their name to inform them that "They've got mail". Most likely, for one of the only times of their lives.

One thing I found, and was interested in, was the number of kids that weren't actually there. The previous trips to school, I had always come in the morning; this time I came in the afternoon after lunch. What I found was that over 25% of the students were not present, and only a couple of so were actually decreed "absent." The rest were labeled (the class had learned to chant together every students status) as "escaped." these students have gone AWOL because they had to go home to eat, and it's not possible to eat and come back in time for afternoon classes. Yeah, Not in Kansas anymore.

Today, the kids had written letters back to their newest friends from America. Some were quite good, and I'm thankful that I saw only a couple traces of kids asking for money (which, not surprisingly, came from the letters where the vocabulary and grammar seemed much more like a parent than the student). Even so, it was awesome, and I'm psyched to let these 10 year old American's get to see a glimpse of Uganda.

1 comment:

  1. I am so happy, Matt, that you have given my students the opportunity to participate in this wonderful and vision expanding project. I think there is a Teacher with a capital T inside you, bursting to come out!!!