Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

29 May 2010

My Life as a PTS Mini-Series, Part Eight (Ginnie)

The education trainees just before they learned their site placement for service

Other Training Sessions and Activities

On Fridays, when the trainees come to the office, it’s generally a day for me to try to catch up on session plans and trainer evaluations and other work, but usually it just means doing a few small things and sitting in on sessions and training staff meetings. Having everyone in the office makes it super busy and it's difficult to get a lot of work done.

A couple of the major sessions are really fun to participate in. Aside from all the medical and safety and security sessions, we still include some general PCV-work related topics and the PTO does a series on development.

One major activity I love is on working with groups which provides experiential learning to highlight some of the stages of group development, as well as some of the challenges that can be faced when working in groups. We first have the trainees split up and give one set a string and a task to make a circle while the second group observes and takes notes. Then, the second group has to do the same thing, only they are blindfolded and can’t talk. It’s fun to watch and see how they interact and accept the challenge. Oftentimes, the ones who can’t see or speak do better because they don’t have to compete with each other and have everyone try to be the leader and no one follow! It’s a good one.

Following that is the big challenge of the spider web. All trainees have to get through a large spider web. Each opening can only be used one time and trainees cannot touch any part of the web while passing through. This group really took a long time to strategize (I have not seen a group do that before, but it also came from one of my trainees who was heavily involved in student activities and has done similar things like this before, I was so proud!). After over 30 minutes of deliberating, a plan was set and the passing began – there were mishaps and people had to start again for touching the rope, but after another hour, they all made it through successfully.

We debrief the activities and talk about stages of group formation (forming, storming, norming, and performing) and about leadership roles and challenges. We ask them to connect this to working with groups in Belize and their experiences thus far with Belizean groups. It’s a great activity!

My other favorite is Site Assignment Day! We do this toward the end of CBT because it gives time for program managers to really make the strongest match between project needs and trainee skills and personality. We like to make the reveal big and exciting – the trainees spend the entire time prior to this day trying to figure out where they are going and hounding us trainers and LCFs for information. I purposefully do NOT get final site information so I don’t have to hide anything! Erin, the other PTS, who is artistic and creative, made a giant map of Belize and printed out PCT pictures and posted them on the map in their future sites. The entire training staff made up over 150 Taboo cards for a massive game of Site Assignment Taboo.

The trainees were sent out of the conference room so we could set up; when they came into the room, we had them sit in their project groups. Then we took two people from each project – one to be the clue-giver and one to be the responder. They got two Taboo cards and had to get one of them right to win the opportunity to select a site. The sites were color-coded by project so the team in play would pick someone from their own project to reveal a site. The tension and excitement in the room was strong and it took a few tries and game-play adjustments to get in a good rhythm – the nerves really affected the players! It was fun and we saw a lot of excited faces as they found out where they would live and work for the next two years. I was really happy to see my trainees feel relieved to finally know and to be so happy with their site placement!

28 May 2010

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Another installment in the PTS Mini-Series, by Ginnie

As our closing for CBT, we took a trip to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Dangriga, so Anthony, Stanley (the PC driver) and I picked up the Armenia folks and then continued on to Dangriga to load up my vehicle with all the training supplies and to pick up the rest of the group, then it was off to the sanctuary.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the only jaguar reserve in the world. Among the jaguars live the other cats found in Belize as well as nearly 300 species of birds. It’s extremely rare to spot a cat – first of all, they are nocturnal and second of all, they aren’t interested in people and shy away from us. However, I had hoped to see some birds, like a flying toucan or a scarlet macaw, but no such luck!

Due to time restraints, we only had 3 hours in the park. I suggested we split up and everyone take their own choice for hikes, since I know we all have different ability levels and interests. The group decided to stick together, and somehow we ended up on the Tiger Fern Trail, listed as strenuous and 3km (well, a printout Anthony and I brought from a website said 2, but it is definitely NOT only 2!). The hike was a HIKE, considering I continually put myself in these experiences that I don’t thoroughly enjoy, I made the best of it. We had good company, but it was a really tough hike for we non-hikers. {Yes, I did complete P90X, and yes, people did give me grief about that, but P90X and hiking up steep, mucky, jungle terrain are NOT the same thing!!} Unfortunately, it was too strenuous for a couple people. Anthony and I were in the middle, making it to the very scenic waterfalls in about an hour. The first people to make it did so in 45 minutes!

We spent some time resting at the falls, and some people even swam and enjoyed the cool respite from the heat of the jungle and all that walking. Then it was back for another hour-plus of walking to get back to the entrance. The steepest part was to climb back up the muddy, rocky terrain to get out of the waterfall area and back up to the top of the hill overlooking Cockscomb and Victoria’s Peak (Belize’s highest point). We then had a downhill climb to reach the nice first km of the trek that is flat. The walk back was not as bad, but still hot. I wore full pants and long sleeves because I am petrified of being bitten by a mosquito carrying a botfly (the botfly is larvae that gets in the bite and they hatch in your skin- gross!!), so I was pretty hot, but protected nonetheless!

Some views along the way; the bottom one shows what I saw for the majority of the hike - I just keep my eyes on the ground to watch out for critters, muck, and other danger. Clearly, I manage to look around once in a while to capture the other views, when I remember! :)

After we all reached the entrance, we ate some delicious homemade moist chocolate cake I made the night before (it's my current favorite cake recipe!) and gave my final wrap-up card and invited everyone to our house for a pizza party when they return from their future site visits. We then had to get back in the vehicles and return to sites for the trainees to enjoy their last night with their host families and say their goodbyes.

My Life as a PTS Mini-Series, Part Six (Ginnie)

CBT Weeks 3-5

The remainder of CBT was much the same with a balance of technical, language & culture, classroom work, and host family & community integration. Throughout each week, trainees responded to journal prompts and we held 1:1 meetings to check-in and talk about progress, feelings, concerns, questions, etc. We also fit in a couple fun days!

The first FUN Day was a trip voted on by the group, who unanimously selected a visit to the Maya Site of Xunantunich. This was my fifth trip, but I still enjoy it! It was nice to take a break from training activities and just enjoy time together. Upon arrival to Succotz and the ferry we must cross to reach the site, we met Albert, who says he knows our former CD Steve and that he is a tour guide. He offered us a good rate if we were willing to take a guide. I had never had a guided tour, but I felt fine without it. Several of the trainees really wanted that added aspect to the trip, so we invited him to come along. Lesson learned – don’t hire a guide at the ferry; while he was quite friendly and a very good person, his skills as a tour guide are a bit limited, shall we say. First of all, an archaeologist is in my training group, granted her expertise is in Greek archaeology, but she still has an understanding of basic information and cultural things that give her a different perspective. She asked very interesting questions that our dear friend was unable to answer. The final tipping point that perhaps this was not a good tour was when he cited the movie Apocalypto as reference to a question related to sacrificial rituals. Huh? We felt the fee was worth it for the entertainment value. For me, it was kind of funny, too, when we all headed up to climb El Castillo and he sat down under a tree. I asked if he was joining us and he said “maybe” to which I replied – don’t you want to tell us about what we are seeing? The good thing was Mr. Puk, the Spanish LCF, has worked as a tour guide in other areas and he was able to tell us a lot more than poor Albert, alas. He never did join us atop El Castillo, but it’s all good. We decided to just pay him and send him on his way as we finished our own tour of the site.
After the ruins, the girls from Dangriga stayed on to continue the fun with lunch in San Ignacio and ice cream in Spanish Lookout. We had a nice day and then it was back to Belmopan for the Agriculture and Trade Show (which Anthony and I went to on Sunday, later post about that to come!).
It's hard to eat out as a vegetarian in Belize - this is the veggie sandwich; please notice the 3 strips of cheese, not even a full slice! It was comical enough that I had to share!

Other happenings in the final weeks of training were model lessons in each class by the trainees, of which I was able to see about half (it was hard to get myself to all since some were scheduled at the same time and were so far apart). Each group also conducted a workshop for the teachers at the school (TOT) and presented a traine-facilitated session (TFS) to their peers on a topic related to education and literacy development. In the midst of it all, we even concluded the language and technical learning objectives!

My Life as a PTS Mini-Series, Part Five (Ginnie)

CBT Week Two

In week two, the trainees met with the principal at the local school in which they will work during the remainder of training. This time around, I really wanted to provide trainees with a real-world training experience and get them into a school and working directly with a classroom. Between trainings, we revised learning objectives in each project and this is one I added in place of some other activities that did not provide as much value to the training process. While I anticipated some of the challenges that may come up, I could only hope this would provide a valuable learning experience – and in the end that is what trainees said about their time with their partner teachers.

Each group eagerly anticipated their first meeting with the principal, and, not surprising to me, but a bit eye-opening to the trainees, each principal was late for the meeting. This is not a slight on the principal, it’s just the reality that these folks are super busy and in the midst of running a school it is not easy to get right to a meeting after lunch! During these meetings, the trainees learned more about the role of a principal, the structure of the schools, the classes where they would observe and volunteer for the next four weeks, and the topic of their teacher training workshop to be held toward the end of CBT. Following this, the trainees had their first observation of their partner teacher’s classroom. They also had some more sessions on education and various skills and knowledge areas they need for their work, including a day with currently-serving PCVs. The PCVs came to Dangriga and shared their experiences in specific skill areas that relate to our project plan – differentiated instruction (by the fantastic Anthony himself), ESL, early childhood education, and reading strategies. All PCVs fins themselves working in one or more of these areas in order to fulfill the mission of the education teacher training program in Belize.

Trainees continued to work on their language skills as well as developed stronger relationships with their host families as they spent more time in their communities. At the end of the week, trainees headed out across the country to stay with currently-serving PCVs for a weekend to learn more about the PCV experience and to witness a PCV in action in their projects!

My Life as a PTS Mini-Series, Part Four (Ginnie)

CBT (Community-Based Training) consists of five weeks in which PCTs (Trainees) live with host families who speak the primary language of their future sites and in communities that have similar cultural aspects to the future sites as well. Throughout CBT, PCTs participate in both technical and language & culture training, as well as return to the PC office every Friday for additional core sessions.

CBT Week One
During our first week in site, the schools were still on the two-week Easter holiday, so tech training focused on introductory sessions about schools in Belize and our PC project work. I felt it was important to provide trainees with some context for their work prior to becoming involved with a school and working with principals and teachers.

We did a lot of activities to learn about the ways in which Belizean teachers write lesson plans, how principals manage schools and the MANY roles they play (classroom teacher, supervisor of other teachers, head disciplinarian at school and administrator of corporal punishment, facilities manager and maintenance coordinator, record-keeper, treasurer, bill-payer, etc.), the role of corporal punishment (so as to understand it and especially now that the ministry has mandated an outlaw and put together a task force to determine alternative means for behavior management), and basics on school structures and challenges PCVs face in their work.

The other major activity of the first week was the explanation of all the assignments the PCTs will complete for their self-directed learning. This can be overwhelming, but I try to ease that by showing the assignments on a calendar, providing a SDL packet with suggestions for when to work on what, and by posting a chart with deadlines. The trainees took it well, but each had his/her own moment of panic and feeling overwhelmed, but we talked it out and in the end everyone did fine!

27 May 2010

My Life as a PTS Mini-Series, Part Three (Ginnie)

Technical Training - Phase Two

While I got exhausted from the long days of travel to Dangriga, I often reminded myself how fortunate I was to get to view this beautiful scenery and countryside and live and work in such a wonderful place

These are some random and favorite landmarks along my path: the top is the creepy house that makes me think of a scary movie, the bottom is a unique planter

The actual day-to-day work of a technical trainer is really busy. It involves a lot of travel, facilitating sessions, one-on-one check-ins with trainees, serving as a coach, guide, mentor, counselor, advisor, etc to trainees and LCFs at times, and networking with community partners to arrange experiential learning opportunities. Not to mention trying to take care of my other programming responsibilities in working with current volunteers and ongoing projects and activities. “Never a dull moment,” as Ms. Gillett often says at Trinity!

I’m not complaining, because I love training. For me, it’s like the best of education – I don’t miss serving as a classroom teacher, but I love being able to help people reach their goals and find their personal best and I have found that through leadership development and training activities, this is where I am most effective and happy!

PCVs anxiously await to cheer for the trainees and welcome them to Belize

The PC Belize Trainee Class of 2010

So, onto training. The excitement builds as we prepare for the arrival day of the trainees. The days leading up to arrival are filled with final preparations of the office, trainee binders, schedules, and logistical details (something else I love working on – I admit that’s odd, but I am really strongly left brained when it comes to logistics!). The day of arrival is filled with anticipation. In 2009, the trainees came in the morning, so we all got on the road and met them at the airport with a huge greeting crew of volunteers and headed out to lunch, afterward, we held welcome activities in the office. This time around, the flight came in from Dallas late in the afternoon, so we just waited anxiously all day to leave and then traveled out on a chartered school bus with a huge crew of volunteers to greet the trainees. It’s always fun to cheer as the trainees disembark (I wish we’d had such a greeting, it really means a lot to the trainees!) and to see their eager and excited faces as they land in their new home for the next 26 months (or maybe longer as in Anthony and my cases). It was then back to Belmopan for dinner and settling into the hotel.

Staff role-playing CBT life: here we are the PCTs talking about our full bellies from such a big mid-day meal

Next on the agenda is a week-and-a-half center-based office training. The trainees stay in Belmopan and come into the office every day for core sessions on topics all volunteers need. We also take them out on Culture Day (in 2009 it was Maya and Mestizo with a trip out to Benque for presentations and a delicious meal and a tour of Xunantunich; in 2010 we explored Kriol culture with a trip to the Community Baboon Sanctuary and another delicious meal and presentations) and have some general recreation with swimming at the river and kickball at the park. I am not as active in the general sessions unless we do some role plays about life as a trainee and development work and community assessment. It’s not until we begin explaining the assessment process for trainees that I come in and meet my group and review their learning objectives.

Friendly spider monkeys interact with trainees at the Community Baboon Sanctuary

The famous Mr. Peters and his Boom and Chime band perform

A demonstration of sweating rice - they clean it with this process of flipping it - amazing!

On the second-to-last day of this center-based training, we reveal the language groups for the trainees with a game of Jeopardy. It’s a fun way to get some information about what CBT will be like and to have the trainees work to get the information about their training site.

On the next day, I held my welcome session in which we got to know each other and talked about the many activities we’ll participate in as a group. This time I made a fun game called “The Game of CBT Life” including a homemade die; by playing the game, trainees got cards that told all of our training activities. It was a lot of fun! We also took a learning styles inventory and talked about the training method we follow for PC Belize so they would be prepared for the types of activities (and FUN) we’d have in all our sessions together. An activity I always do, which I took straight from my own training, is to have us all draw a picture of our path to PC – we learn a lot about each other and it helps me see what motivated them to be here.

Following the session, everyone takes a lunch break and then we load up the vehicles and everyone heads out to their first host family and their CBT home. It’s fun to see everyone saying their goodbyes and sending each other off. In 2009, for some reason I was not assigned to drop off, so after everyone left it was eerily quiet and I just waited to hear how the drop-offs went; this time, I drove some youth folks to Georgeville and enjoyed chatting with them as they showed some of their anxiety through their many, many questions. I did my best to allay any concerns and assure them we work hard to find good families. It was fun to connect trainees to host moms and leave them to get to know each other.

This time around, we dropped off the trainees on the Thursday before Easter. Being this is a Christian country which observes Easter with a four-day holiday, we could not hold any training activities during that entire weekend, so we saw it as a cultural exchange time. Trainees were nervous, but when I saw them the following Tuesday all survived and enjoyed themselves and learned some new strategies for making connections with their Belizean hosts (even when dealing with language barriers).

Next up, CBT!