Sunday, December 30, 2012

It Only Takes One

     In the past month, I’ve spent close to two weeks away from site.  Talk to any Peace Corps Volunteer and you’ll find that any time away from site is accompanied with guilt.  You experience guilt for being away from your family, guilt for enjoying things that they don’t have the opportunity to enjoy, and guilt for being away from work.  Fortunately, the two weeks that I have been away from site are for work, so the guilt is only “small, small” as they say here.

     In the middle of December, primary teacher trainers were called to Kombo to participate in a literacy workshop.  We were told a literacy consultant would be flying in from Washington D.C. to speak with us about teaching literacy in The Gambia.  We were asked to bring a counterpart, and instructed that our counterpart should be the main person we work with in achieving literacy at our schools.  Choosing a counterpart was a no-brainer for me. 

     I had started a teachers’ book club at the beginning of the 2012 school year with the hopes that if I could get teachers reading books that they would then share them with their students.  I asked the teachers to read children’s books and then fill out reports stating what happened in the story and how they could use the book in their classrooms.  I provided incentives, set goals, and created a chart to monitor their progress.  I wanted the teachers’ book club to serve as a model for the implementation of book clubs within their own classrooms. 

     Since the start of the book club, 5 teachers have participated.  1 teacher has reported on 2 books.  3 teachers have reported on 1 book, and 1 teacher has gone above and beyond. 

     His name is Mr. Touray.  He’s a grade one teacher at Nyakoi Lower Basic and is considered a teacher trainee by the ministry of education.  He’s in his second year at The Gambia College, and will become a qualified teacher after his third year.   He is my number one participant in my teachers’ book club.  After he read 20 books, (the goal I had set), we stopped counting and continued to discuss children’s literature with the pure goal of improving the students’ knowledge and education through books.

Mr. Touray

    When I received the text from my program manager that we needed to invite a counterpart to the training, Mr. Touray was the only teacher that came to mind.  I had just had a conversation with him in the library where he was thanking me for helping him.  I cut him off saying, “No, thank you, Mr. Touray!  You make my stay here worthwhile.  You give me a purpose for being here.”  All smiles, I received the text and called Mr. Touray back in the room.

     As he walked over to the library, I asked, “Mr. Touray do you believe in God?”  He responded, “Of course,” so I told him I thought he was listening in on our conversation.  I read the text out loud to Mr. Touray, and when I got to the part about bringing our number one ally in literacy teaching I said, “That’s you, Mr. Touray!”  As he blushed, I explained that God was creating more opportunities for us to work together.

     We attended the workshop on the 13th and 14th of December.  We discussed the components of teaching literacy, ways to conduct read alouds, how to engage students in literacy through word games, and teaching literacy with limited resources.  Joanie, the literacy consultant from D.C., heard about the book club I started in Nyakoi and thought the idea should be shared, so I also presented at the workshop.  I informed the teachers and volunteers of the process in starting the book club, its goals, and was able to provide a testimonial through Mr. Touray. 

Mr. Touray using children's literature in his Grade 1 class

    The workshop was a success in more ways than one.  Volunteers and counterparts walked away with ideas and knowledge of how to get books into the classroom, words on the walls, and language in the children’s minds.  Mr. Touray and I were able to share our success story, and I was away from site without an ounce of guilt. 

    Feeling guilt free, I heard of another workshop taking place at the end of the month.  Counterparts were once again being requested to attend.  After the high that was created from the literacy training, I knew I needed to find a way to make it happen. 

    More to come about my experience attending GAD Day with Mr. Drammeh…