Late March: Shifting Plans, Heading Toward California, and the Big Push to the Finish

•March 29, 2010 • 3 Comments

Well, this marks a new chapter in the adventure. Though this decision has been on the screen since the first of March, I haven’t officially announced it until now. Because of my increasing desire to be with Jillian, the necessity of responding to timely and pressing job interview offers (in order to start earning a salary sooner than later), and dream of setting up a home base somewhere in the US, I will be heading home on April 12th. I’ll have my last day of work at WSU on March 31st (I gave my appropriate month’s notice on March 1), and have concluded my contract with VSOE in a professional way, one that they understood and accepted. Then I head to Addis on Monday, April 5th for a week of wrap-up business and visiting friends before heading out. I will be flying from Addis and landing in Baltimore on the 13th, in order to interview for some very exciting potential positions there, that I will discuss more when I have some news one way or another on them. Regardless, I will be continuing the work I love, teaching and training educators, after returning to the US, wherever that ends up being.

As for now, I am really trying hard to finish up well here. I was recently (Friday) blessed to hear that the most experienced (i.e. she’s worked three contracts supervising HDP at the university, regional and national levels) HDLs on Ethiopia is excited and willing to come take over my role as HDL here in Sodo. Wow, how lucky the candidates, the university, and I all are! Now, I am just letting folks know about my departure—they are all taking it differently, but it is tough to discuss a lot of the time. Most understand I need to be with and support Jillian and pursue some really good opportunities there, but there is so much good momentum here, and the bonds are so deep at this point. But, the calendar keeps rolling on, and this weekend is house packing and cleaning. More on all this soon (probably from Addis after leaving Sodo), but I wanted to make the official announcement.

What? Don't you always put your chickens in the back of your open pickup bed tied by the foot to an untethered spare tire, too?

Dilla University Moderators (from right): Misganaw, Abiyot, me, Girma, and the Dilla Univ TDP driver at the WSU staff lounge

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March 9-25: Batch 3 Commences

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, it has happened.  After much anticipation, a few delays, lots of letters to department heads seeking nominations, and many visits to officials to get things moving, Batch 3 of the WSU HDP is not convened and has started sessions.  Currently, I am in the process of sifting out who is committed and ready to enroll and who is not.  There are some really motivated and driven instructors here who have been just chomping at the bit to get started and it is great to give them a chance.  It was interesting that of the seven criteria I listed on the letter I gave seeking qualified candidates, seniority was the last and weakest criteria.  However, 20 of the 22 departments chose solely on that basis!!  Just goes to show that you can try whatever system you want, but those in place can be tough to shift.

The group is participatory, engaged, and ready to move forward.  They have been watching and hearing stories from their Batch 1 & 2 peers for years now, and are really amped up to do some strong, original work of their own.  I feel really lucky to get started with this group, even knowing I won’t finish with them.  They are a driven bunch and make me smile when they arrive at sessions (mostly on time!!!) and ready to go.

March 16: Happy Birthday Jillian!!!

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Today is Jillian’s birthday, and I have been thinking of her so much her.  I was able to call her a few times today, send her a video, and a gift of verse.  It was so good to connect, but a tough reminder of being so far apart—almost two months now.  She is doing as well as can be expected in California, trying to get better and visiting friends and family.  She has shifted her diet to help with the acidity issues, and has been getting some amazing support from my dad and step mom in Capitola. Now, she’s down at her parents’ respective houses in Southern California for a while, reconnecting there and doing some good healing.  I am celebrating her here, as are Sodo Ethiopian friends who are asking about her and sending her emails of their own!  Hooray for Jillian and an amazing 2.5 decades of life!!!!!

Early March: WSU HDP Batch 2 Underway, Batch 1 Graduates!

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, Batch 2 has really taken off—they are so glad to be back underway and they are just cooking on Module 3: Improving Assessment.  Every day in class, they have all kinds of ideas on what criteria should look like in their courses, how to increase the number of informal and formal assessments each day and each week, and what makes assessment accurate, reliable, and feasible in classes that can range in number of students from 40-160.  They have created plans and begin implementing I their classes: peer assessments, group assessments by the instructor, and also self-assessments by the learners.  I look forward to each session with this experienced, timely, and focused groups of educators.

In other HDP news, this weekend was the long-awaited, much anticipated graduation of Batch 1, the original HDP group ever to begin at WSU. These candidates worked over a period of almost 2 years, and as they love to put it, “suffered through so much.” They really like to milk that phrase.  They joined with the Health Officer BA student graduation, and were honored by hundreds of guests at Wolaita Gutara, the same fine community gathering spot where they presented their action research two months before.  There were TV cameras there, and newspaper photographers there.  As someone who was giving a diploma to (among others) the vice president, the dean, and the registrar of WSU (some who did not speak English had no idea what more these guys could achieve than being officers of a university until their friends translated), and being the only white person in the premises, I got more than my share of camera time.

March Teacher Training Workshops at Sodo High School

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

One great additional project (since I have been so bored and lacking on things to do 😉 that I’ve been involved with is planning and series of workshops for teachers at Sodo High School, where I have been observing and trying to prep for forming a sister school relationship with a US school. I have partnered with a really active leader among the teachers at the school. Staff there are trying to do so much with the very little they have.  They were so excited and grateful that someone would voluntarily come to offer a training just out of interest in them, their students, and their school.

There are so many challenges there.  One main issue is that 90% of teachers there have had no training on teaching methodology, assessment, classroom management, etc. training since their BA “this is how to give a lecture” training.  Here, teachers don’t even need a BA in education or a license to qualify to teach, just three BA years of say undergraduate Biology (in the case of a future bio teacher), then a one year crash course (often, in past years, with little or no actual practical time in a classroom) in lecturing and reward punishment management techniques, and bam–you’re ready to teach for a lifetime with no on-going or in-service training! Not to mention that taxi drivers are paid more than teachers with MAs here, and you only go to teacher training college to teach biology if you fail to qualify to join the applied, “real biologist” track at university and make a livable salary.  Aaaahhhhh!

Well, that was a whole ranting paragraph of problems, but I’m here to apply/inspire/grow solutions 🙂  SO, Teddy (the HS Geography teacher) and I developed a plan, which we just submitted and received a grant for, to co-facilitate 2 weekend-long trainings for teachers who are hungry to learn active pedagogy and ongoing/summative assessments theory and techniques.  We facitlitated them with the help of the enthusiastic principal and another senior teacher, to great reception.

You wouldn’t think that one would need a grant for such a thing, since Teddy and I are both volunteering.  At a US school, the school would host and provide any paper/pens/whatnot and teachers would be on their own for transportation and food.  However, teachers here only come on off days if the trainers provide: free refreshments, breakfast and lunch allowance money, free pens, notebooks and other materials, and both AM/PM coffee and snack service.  This is not a local issue, but a national one.  All larger, multi-day conferences here are expected to provide (from the conference provider’s budget) a per diem (money to cover transportation, food, hotel, snacks, office supplies, etc). The funny (ish) part is that many people sleep and eat with loved ones during this time and then pocket much of the money, walking away with profit. Whereas in the US, one who was offered a free training or workshops would go to great ends to make the time free and get themselves there, here the reaction to a workshop/conference invitation is usually, “how much per diem will you give me and which café is providing the coffee service?  Will we get Chinese-made pens and notebooks or US-export quality? Oh… you’re not giving per diems… sorry I’m busy that day.”

But, somehow we convinced the HS teachers to allow us to give them a free training for which we won’t have to pay them too much for privilege of volunteering.  Of course, it was a big lesson for me in cultural differences and sensitivity.  The paradigm of getting yourself to training and not expecting anyone to provide any materials to you some from a US perspective of plenty.  In an environment of lack, where the government has a tradition of paying for all education and giving trainings with all materials provided and costs paid, it is totally normal to expect these perks.  So, I discussed the issues I was having with the matter with my co-facilitators over lunch and they laughed so hard.  They said I had to tell the story of US teachers being excited for free training to the trainees at the HS. I did, and we finished with uproarious laughter and a little better understanding of one another.

Late February: Goodbye to French Friends

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Another busy and wonderful week in Sodo.  This marks the end of the current time here with Pierre (who has actually been gone a few weeks) and Marion, dear friends from France who were also living and working in Sodo.  Marion is a nurse who works with a French NGO here training rural peoples on family planning and FGM (female genital mutilation) prevention.  She has had great success and has shared some wonderful movies of the role-play/dramas that the villagers she works with put on to raise awareness about the importance and details of these pressing issues.  Pierre is a professor of education history at the Sorbonne and is currently in the midst of his Ph.D. on the history of Education in Ethiopia.

The two of them have been coming back and forth from France to live, work and do research here for almost seven years, spending months at a time (up to a year) each time. They even go married here on one stint!  After getting hooked by the rich history of education in Wolaita, Pierre decided to change/specify his thesis title to History of Education in Ethiopia’s Wolaita Zone.  It was wonderful to have a few foreign friends, especially two who are totally fluent (Pierre conducts his interviews in Amharic and takes notes in Amharic, too!) and who love this country so much, but also have a good sense of outside perspective, as well.  It was also amazing to practice speaking and listening to French for hours at a time in Ethiopia, where so very few people do.  So, we will stay in touch with them and Jillian and I intend to visit them in France (at the Sorbonne and at Marion’s organic, “bio” in French, family farm out in the country near Nantes).

The AVTET Ultimate Frisbee Team

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In other news, I started a pickup Ultimate Frisbee team here.  (By the way, in case you’re wondering, ATVET (our home) is Agricultural, Vocational, Technological, Educational and Training College) Most people (especially boys, but girls, too) in Ethiopia under 20 plays football (soccer) a few times a week.  But many are interested in learning new sports.  From talking with friends of mine who have lived and worked abroad, sports can be such a powerful means of cultural exchange and a clear international language.  So, I recruited a captain, Abuyeyh, who is about 9, since he was the most dedicated and skilled at initial practices.  He keeps the disc at this house and comes at about 5:30, since I am at work until that time, and starts practice and skills drills.  Then, I show up at 6 and we do a little throwing and strategy workshop.  Finally, everyone’s favorite part: scrimmaging until it’s too dark to see, usually about 7:20.

The team is really coming together, and kids run up to me randomly in the compound to ask me if we can do more than the two days a week (Tuesday & Thursday), so we have started playing on weekends and occasionally other weekdays, too.

A really touching moment was last week.  Abuyeyh came up to me on the way to the field and held out his hand.  He had a gift, he placed it in my hand smiling and saying, “your, your,” and pushing toward me.  It was a steel pendant of the United Nations logo with three silver colored circles surrounding it, each the size of a dime.  It is awesome.  What a gift.  After asking Biru to translate, I found that he doesn’t know what the UN is or means, but that he found it in the dirt on his way home from school some months back, and has been saving it in his room since before I arrived as one of his prize possessions.  He wanted me to have it because he appreciated my working so hard with him and trusting him (one of the younger guys on the team) to be his captain and playing so much with him.  Whew.