Crafting, Dancing, and Birthday-ing

Well these last 2 weeks have been a lot better. I’ve had a lot of fun.

Last week there were government periodical tests and apparently I wasn’t needed to teach classes (the teachers needed to “prep” or train the kids what the answers on the tests are this week), so I focused on making teaching aids with Lucie. Our idea to make visual aids for the teachers is turning out well. We are getting feedback from the teachers - they are telling us what they need, which is exactly what we want to know! We gave out forms to all the teachers to fill out to let us know what kind of posters or flashcards they need for their classrooms, and with the return of these forms, we have found ourselves with lots of work to be done! We’ve been making and drawing everything by hand - it really makes you appreciate computers, printers, and laminators. The work is pretty enjoyable. I get to draw and colour and cut and paste for a few hours every day. Lucie and I work in the library making these aids, we get to chat, and the kids during break and lunch always come to watch and help.

Grade 6 boys who are too cute for their own good

Last Friday there was a teachers’ conference held at my school, and Sally, the lady I’m living with who also happens to be a teacher at the school, asked me to train some of her grade 6 students how to dance to a song called “Chocolate”, so that they could perform for the teachers that day. I also taught some grade 4 and 5’s how to sing a song called, “Peanut Butter and Jelly” to perform too. When it came to the day to perform, Lucie and I were asked to dance with the kids for the “Chocolate” song, which at first I tried to oppose, but we had to in the end. I knew the attention would be turned on us instead of the kids, which I didn’t want because the kids worked so hard all week, but what can you do when you know if you refuse you will hurt feelings? Of course when we danced the teachers watching pulled out their cellphones (everyone is poor, but everyone seems to have a cellphone - that and a TV) to take pictures of Lucie and I. Pretty funny.

So work wise, things have become a bit more rewarding because Lucie and I figured out a situation that needed to be helped at the school and took initiative to work on it. Next week is going to be busier though now that tests are over. Along with making visual aids, I’m going to teach regular classes, start tutorials, and coach volleyball! I’m looking forward to doing more work though, because that is after all what I came for.

Me with Birthday cake and buko (young coconut) salad

On the 14th it was my 24th Birthday. About 20-25 people (half of which I knew) came to Sally and Rey’s house (the family I’m staying with) to celebrate my birthday. Everyone in the barangay (village) knew it was my birthday somehow and were wishing me happy birthday all day long. For the party, Lucie somehow managed to make a delicious chocolate cake and I made a massive amount of spaghetti a la Jen-style for the 20 people. It was delicious. We had a ton of fun dancing around and being crazy. I did not expect to have such an eventful birthday, but it turned out very very special. My family and Lucie’s family even gave me gifts which was completely unexpected - I got a beautiful sarong and a cute pink t-shirt. They really shouldn’t have, but it made me feel pretty special, I must say. My family and Lucie’s family have really made us feel like we have known them forever. They truly are wonderful people I won’t forget.

Right now I’m in Boracay with Lucie, we’ve been here for a few days now. Had to extend my visa and we decided to stay a few extra days to relax. A little disappointed I didn’t get to go diving because of a head cold I managed to get. I must say it really is strange being here, we actually have showers and proper toilets and toilet paper, and we can eat anything we want. It’s nice and we are really enjoying being here, but it really puts things into perspective.

Anyway, time to go and more to come!

Click here to see my Swiss friend Lucie’s blog.


Click here to check out my photo album!

Lucie, an other volunteer from Switzerland and I decided to meet with CERV-Philippines this week to discuss our ideas about our projects. Both of us weren’t feeling challenged enough, and felt a little strange in some of the classes we were teaching.

A boy colouring for the first time

An example: I show up to teach, and there is the regular Filipino teacher there. I’ve arranged to teach for an hour an a half, so I begin teaching, but then the Filipino teacher interrupts me after 10 minutes and says, “Ma’am Jen, it’s okay. You can sit down now.” A little taken aback with nothing to say, I sit down, and watch the class continue with the teacher teaching for 45 minutes. She then lets me teach the kids a few songs for 20 minutes, and then my time is up. The days continue like this, and I ask the teacher if there is anything wrong with my teaching, how I can improve, etc. But she simply says, no, everything is fine, I want the children to be exposed to something different. When I finally brought it up a little more straightforwardly, “I’d like to teach a little longer than 30 minutes,” she says, “Ma’am Jen, I am the teacher and I am ashamed to have you teach the whole time.”

Ashamed? This is the last thing I want for the teacher to feel. I have come to help out and share my ideas for these kids. But when I think about it, I understand. I imagine it can be difficult and very weird to have a foreigner come and teach your class for free. Am I intimidating? Maybe. But I hope not. I think the teacher feels like a “visitor” should not be working. So she is trying to show kindness by giving me a break, and I end up feeling under-appreciated. Of course I can’t express my feelings to her because she’ll feel even worse. Frustrating, this cultural difference.

The teachers here are tired because their classes are huge and there’s 1 old textbook to every 3-5 students, which makes the teachers have to reproduce everything in the textbook onto the blackboard. After years and years of this, the teachers seem to have gotten a bit stuck in their ways of teaching. A lot of it involves memorizing and reciting, reciting, reciting. And a bit of spoon-feeding. I’m a bit of a different teacher. I walk all over the room, ask the kids tons of questions, I’m a little loud, and often silly. I make a fool of myself to keep these kids’ attention. I’m trying to get them to speak out. But what I’m finding, is most of these kids don’t really understand what is going on because of the way all their classes run by memorizing and reciting, reciting, reciting. Change is good. But sometimes it is difficult to initiate change when things have always been done a certain way.

So, I’ve talked with CERV to find a way to change some things. We’ve come up with some new ideas. First, I’m cutting out a bit on teaching other teacher’s classes, because really, it’s not much help. Now, I’m going to start tutorials so I can get back to the basics with the kids who really have no idea what’s going on in class. I’ll be in complete charge of the class. Second, Lucie and I have gotten the idea to make visual aids for the classrooms, like posters, charts, flashcards, teaching tools, etc. It’s a good idea because the teachers will be able to use them, and hopefully they can help the kids learn, and be more interested in the topic, when there’s a picture or diagram or poster to look at. Third, I’m going to put together a song book of English kids songs. I have a CD with me with tons of kids songs, so I’m going to make it very easy for the school to teach these kids the songs after I’m gone. Music is important for every human being.

Hopefully this helps in a more meaningful way. We’ll see.

Other than this, this week has been a little boring. I’ve been sick with a strange gassy, stomach flu and have had to be in bed for a few days. Plus its been raining. But as of yesterday, the weather seems to have miraculously cleared up, and now I’m better, so I’m hanging in Romblon town and spending WAY too much time on the internet! I’ve managed to post photos and put together a photo album on flickr: Check it out!

So things are on the upswing, hopefully they’ll continue that way!

Well, This Is Different

Jen in Romblon

It’s going to be hard to explain how things have been in the last two weeks of my volunteering, but I’m going to try my best to give you an idea of what life is like here by giving you a breakdown of one of my days last week:

6:15am: wake up to 50 roosters cock-a-doodling, eat rice, fish and fried vegetable for breakfast, plan for classes

7:30am: walk to school along the only road in town with my 3 new dogs that I seem to have acquired the instant I arrived, and have many kids follow me and people look at me and ask where I’m going the whole way (not really sure the reason for this question, as there really is only one way that I appear to be going - I think it’s just something for the people to say to me, like how we always say “How’s it going?”, nevertheless, it’s weird for me everytime, and I always blurt out an answer like, “Uh… this way” or “To school” or “To eat lunch” or “Home”)

Kid chaos at Long Beach Elementary in Romblon

8:00am - 9:30am: teach kindergarten (35 kids)

9:45am-10:45am: teach grade 4 (80 kids)

11:00am: walk back home for lunch, get offered a ride on the back of a motorcycle, run over a dog and kill it, be traumatized by the whole thing, but seem to be the only person actually feeling sorry for the dog

11:45am: eat rice, fish and fried vegetables for lunch

12:00pm: take a nap and plan for classes

12:30pm: WALK to school swearing I’ll never ride a motorbike again

1:15pm - 2:35pm: teach kindergarten (35 kids)

3:00-4:00pm: teach the crazy grade 2’s (50 kids)

4:00pm: walk home with a huge procession of kids following me in “The Ants Go Marching” song (they will go along with anything that is remotely entertaining), get given pineapples and avocados from people who I don’t really know

5:00pm: go for a swim and have a cold bucket shower

6:30pm: eat dinner (rice, fish, and fried vegetables)

7:00pm: clean up, do laundry

8:00pm: read, prepare for classes, twiddle my thumbs

9:00pm: go to bed

As you can see, life is pretty simple here. It’s been very interesting so far. At the present time, I’m finding it a challenge to figure out a way to help in a meaningful way. I’m currently replacing Filipino teachers in all of my classes, which does not seem to me to be helping, aside from the fact that my teaching style is different and the kids could be benefiting from something different and the teachers might learn a thing or two from me. Anyway, in the time I have spent at the school I have noticed some problems in the school, so I’m going to see if I can have them addressed. I’d like to leave here knowing that I’ve contributed something that will be remembered, or will last, and will have a positive effect on the people here. It’s hard to explain, but it’s difficult to have yourself understood or heard properly here - and this makes it hard to follow through with your ideas.

Anyway, it’s all been interesting, thought-provoking, and very different.