HELP Volunteer Journal: Erin Mancha 4/8/2011

The Life Skills classes with the Standard 8 girls have continued to evolve and take on a life of their own with each week that passes.  In the beginning, my vision and plan for these classes was to have a lesson each week as well as an open and honest discussion of the week’s topic. These topics would include nutrition, malaria prevention, STI prevention, sex, sexual abuse, pregnancy prevention, prevention of early marriage, self-esteem, etc.  This became my vision after meeting with the health clinic staff on multiple occasions, teachers, parents, and students in order to gain an understanding of the culture and the issues that are present in the community for young women.  I also reviewed the entire Standard 8 curriculum in order to gain a better understanding of what the students were learning in the classroom.  However, the life skills classes have taken a turn and evolved into something much simpler than I had anticipated.

The first few classes that I taught went well and the girls seemed excited and eager to learn.  Although most of the girls were shy to answer questions and share; this is pretty standard for the first few sessions of any group I’ve ever facilitated.  I was worried about the language barrier because I am not quite fluent in Chechewa yet and the students’ english is limited.  Ethel has been gracious enough to assist me with translation.  So as we proceeded with our lessons I discovered that ll the girls seemed to know everything about the life skills topics we were covering.  They had beautiful and articulate answers to define subjects and explained what they meant.  However, upon closer inspection (via further questioning,) I discovered that the girls had memorized the topics and their definitions and could rattle off many details about topics but had absolutely no idea what they were saying.  They didn’t understand the meaning of most of the words they were saying, but had been taught the answers in order to pass their exams.  This is the way their school curriculum is structured.  So, while this is a step forward in the direction of secondary school, it is a step backward from them living their lives.  They aren’t actually learning and understanding these very important issues that are affecting them.

So we have started from the beginning and are taking baby steps forward.  Last week I spent 2 hours teaching them the definitions of “self-esteem,” “assertiveness,” and “self- awareness.”  We broke down the words to their basic forms, looked at their tenses, and did lots of role playing to get the girls to actually understand the meanings and how these things affect their lives.  They are opening up and getting involved and are excited to actually learn about what they have memorized.  It is amazing to see their faces when they have that “ah-ha!” moment and connect the words to their meanings.  They were so excited last week that they have discussed it and decided that they wanted to continue their life skills classes while school is out of session.  So I told them that as long as they are interested in learning I will be there to teach them.

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