Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just As the rainy season gets going, so does our work...

We did our first HIV-AIDS charla of our service last week in a nearby town with two other volunteers. The prevention of HIV-AIDS is a worldwide Peace Corps initiative, and as such, everyone, regardless of project, gets trained in how to give a fun but basic charla to adolescents about contraction, prevention, abstinence, condom usage etc. No one, except maybe the health PCV’s, was too enthralled with the idea during training when we had one day to prepare and give the charla in our broken Spanish to unruly and awkward 6th graders. We weren’t really planning on doing any more after that, but a few months ago I attended a workshop about gender equity issues, a component of which was educating women about reproductive rights/health and HIV-AIDS prevention. I figured that this was something that we as PCV’s could actually do something about (as opposed to say wage equity) and set out to implement the charla.

Luckily for us, we have the wonderful school where we teach that will pretty much let us do anything we propose. They happily agreed to let us do 5 charlas with all their 7th and 8th grade classes. So we put together the materials and did the first one. All things considered it went pretty well. We do dinamicas and games to teach vocabulary, methods of transmission, how the diseases work, and methods of prevention. The kids laugh a lot, which makes it less awkward. Some of the kids seemed like they had heard the information before, one guy even offered to sing us a song he had learned on the topic – truly heartwarming. The best (?) part is always the condom on banana demonstration where the kids complain about how gross it is etc, although some kids seemed like old-pros (good and bad simultaneously). We left the four hour charla sweaty and exhausted, but satisfied after we saw our pre and post test results that showed some significant improvements in knowledge. The other 4 are coming up in July.

We’re still going strong on the World Map as the kids draw more and more of the countries. We were a little skeptical at first that they were really getting the hang of the grid by grid transfer system, but after we told them to take their time, the kids are putting in a lot of effort to make everything detailed and it’s coming out great. We still have Asia and Europe left – saved the most difficult for last of course – then on to the painting! This ends up taking up most of our Thursdays and Saturdays by the time we go there, draw, fix some of their more egregious mistakes, then walk back after a stop at our favorite baleada place. I’m trying to figure out if a geography bee would be a worthwhile activity when we finish or a catastrophe….thoughts?

We have also had an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) group here since last Sunday working with a small shantytown-like community of 75 families on the edge of the city. The community does not have electricity or a plumbing/sewer system, and many of the houses are simply wood boards. The EWB previously helped install a potable water system and made a commitment to serving 5 years with the community, so came this year to investigate how the current system was working and what other projects they could start. Nolan and a fellow PCV are helping with this, translating, setting them up with organizations and people here in town, acting as a liaison, etc. The group, which is three people, is only here for a week though so in order to get all the surveys and work done that they want, they’ve been going out to the community (on foot, half an hour) at 5:30 am and coming back at 6:30 at night. Needless to say Nolan is thoroughly exhausted, but the results they are seeing in the community are uplifting. The water board (which is in charge of water management) is running smoothly and efficiently, charging water tariffs and even imposing fines on families not abiding by the water usage rules (which is very uncommon here). The president of the board is a smart woman and a good leader. EWB is looking at putting in a rainwater/grey water runoff system as their next project.

I meanwhile was out of town Monday to Wednesday in Siguatepeque where I gave a two day workshop on how to start and run a business to 13 women and 1 man who are involved with the Oficinas de La Mujer (women’s offices) in their municipalities. My wat/san friend from Siguat had called asking me to help since she knew nothing about the topic, and the organizing group agreed to pay all my expenses so it seemed like a great opportunity. I condensed a 24 week course my fellow BZ friend had designed into an 8 hour, 2 day workshop, covering everything from brainstorming to find an initial idea, to how to elaborate a full business plan and go through the legal steps to get started. I also offered some resources and tips based on my experiences with my current women’s group. The goal was to transfer the knowledge to the women so they could transfer it to individual women and women’s groups in their respective communities.

I wasn’t really used to presenting to the kind of women that were at this workshop. I normally give presentations in rural communities on big pieces of paper in people’s houses that have no light to women who are so shy and timid, they barely spit out three words the whole time (which I do love). This time I had a data show (projector) and laptop in a private conference room with middle to upper class, nicely dressed, outgoing women. Some of them even seemed to know more about the topics that I did, which was great and intimidating at the same time. All in all, it was a great workshop that I felt really proud of finishing, but I left Siguat feeling drained.

I of course had to rush back in time for this week’s world map session and another presentation for Amigos de Las Americas. Amigos is a program that sends high school students for 7 weeks to countries all over the Americas to help with short term community development projects. It just so happens that our department is one of their favorite places to send people, so we were called by the coordinator to see if we had time to speak to the newly arrived kids about our experiences, thoughts and advice. We thought it was a great opportunity and wanted to meet the kids so we happily agreed. We chatted with them for about an hour about local customs, history, culture and the Peace Corps – they all looked so young!

Now we’re back at home and the power is out for the second time this week (which means bucket baths) and the last thunder bolt we heard shook the whole house. Time for bed!

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