Thursday, July 1, 2010

Independence Day at Shaanika!

My roommate, Jen, is Canadian, and today was Canada Day. With the proximity to the 4th of July, our Indepence Day, we decided to bring an Independence Day celebration to Shaanika Nashilongo! It was FANTASTIC.

Jen and I woke up and got decked out in our patriotic attire (red and white for her, red, white and blue for me). Conveniently, Jen bought some face paint. So...we painted our faces with stars and stripes to represent Canada and the USA. We looked ridiculous and awesome.

The learners were confused and excited when we came to school, and the teachers in the staff room were ready to get decorated! Jen celebrated Canada Day last year, and so they knew it was coming. We painted most of the teacher's faces, and Jen even had Canada tattoos! It was fun to see them all get so into it! This culture just does not hold back and embraces everything. No one seems to care what other people think of them, or if they look silly. Lots of photos were taken, and hope to be able to have fast enough Internet to post them soon!

We also bought a bunch of sweets and snacks to share during break time. It was great to share about our holidays and bring a bit of home to Namibia! For those of you celebrating in the USA and reading...enjoy the fireworks, BBQ, beer, and sun on my behalf. Missing all of you and the good ol' U S of A!

End of Week Three

The weeks are flying by. It's hard to believe I'm already at the mid-point of my experience in Namibia. This weekend I am scheduled to meet up with the rest of the summer WorldTeach volunteers for our Mid-Service weekend. We will spend time talking about our experiences so far, catch up, share best practices and struggles we have had teaching computers. We will travel to Tsumeb, a town about 4 hours away for the weekend.

In my third week here I've definitely settled into a routine. For those that are interested, I thought I'd share what a typical day/week looks like for me in Namibia...

5:30 AM - Alarm goes off...time to wake up. It is still dark outside at this point since it is winter here! The mornings are cold, but it's hot during the rest of the day.

5:30-6:30 AM - Get ready, make breakfast.

6:30 AM - Head to school. Mondays and Fridays we have morning devotion with the school, and usually every morning we have a briefing from the principal.

7:00 AM - Classes begin.

7-10:45 AM - 5 periods...I have a handful of free periods when I can plan lessons, so I will typically teach 2-3 classes in the morning.

10:45 AM - Tea break! There is a meme that has hot tea and bread you can buy, and all of the teachers meet in the staff room. Usually there is a lot of laughter, marking of papers, and relief in having a moment to have a break from the learners.

11:15 - 1:30 PM - 3 more periods. I usually have full afternoons of classes, so busy teaching during this time.

1:30 PM - Run home to have lunch!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach the teacher classes. These are from 3-5 PM, and usually run late. When I'm not teaching, I'm relaxing after school in the sun and planning lessons for the next day.

5:00 PM - Jen and I go for a run around Okahao. The sun is setting and the day is finally getting cool. It's a beautiful time of day and always an incredible sunset.

6:30 PM - Make dinner. Yes, I have to cook every meal for myself. For those of you that know me well, this is a feat in and of itself! I am learning to make some new things but definitely look forward to the day when I can go out to grab a bite to eat!

7:30 PM - This is when the World Cup games begin. We usually have a group of learners come over to ask to watch the game after their evening study ends at 8 PM. It's fun to watch the games and see the excitement and intensity with which they stare at the TV! Jen and I watch and usually play with my Scrabble Pass-N-Play option on my iPad. Keeps us entertained!

Another especially entertaining thing to watch on in the evenings are the 'soapies'. This is a show called 'Shades of Sin' and it is all the rage here in Namibia. Mind you, there is only one channel you get on TV here, so everyone watches it. It is a Brazilian soap opera dubbed in English. It's awesomely, really, really bad. Kind of like a car don't want to look but you can't help yourself!

8:30-9:30 PM - Shower, read, go to bed. Get ready to start it all over again!

It's a simple routine and it's nice to not have many options. You learn to find ways to stay entertained and are really so exhausted at the end of most days that it's a joy not to have much to do.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Oshiwambo Church Service

This Sunday I went to my first Namibian church service. Namibia is a Christian country, with 95% of the population identifying as Christian. We have a large Lutheran church in Okahao. I asked one of my colleagues if I could go with her, and she was excited to take me. It’s a big church, with a large congregation. The entire service is in their native language, Oshiwambo, so I didn’t understand much! I brought my Bible in English, so I was able to follow along with the scripture readings. The singing was definitely my favorite part! The men and the women have such beautiful voices. The men really sing here! No one holds back, and it makes for an entire church congregation choir. The only song I recognized was the Doxology, but it was sung in Oshiwambo.

To say that I stood out would be an understatement. I was the only white person in the whole building. This gave cause for a lot, a lot of staring. You have to go up to the front to offer your offering and again to take Communion, so there wasn’t a soul in the place who did NOT see me and wonder who I was.

Mrs. George, my colleague, did her best to interpret the highlights of the three and a half hours long service. It was very, very long, especially not in English. While there was a language barrier, worshipping God is a universal experience, and it was amazing to be with others praising the Lord in the middle of Namibia.

Teaching: Week Two

This week was my second week teaching at Shaanika Nashilongo SSS. Having a week under my belt made for a more confident, prepared Miss Dana.

My classes for the teachers began on Tuesday. I am teaching an advanced class and a beginning class. Both classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour in the afternoon. Preparing for these classes are especially time consuming, but it was fun to interact with the teachers on a new level. My advanced teachers are pretty advanced, and we will begin with Microsoft Excel this week. My beginners are definitely beginners! I have some of the older teachers in the group, and it’s exciting to see them make an effort to learn about computers. The turn out for all of the classes has been great. Almost all of the teachers attended at least one of the classes. In typical Namibian style, many beginners missed the first day, so I scheduled a make up class on Wednesday.

Teaching my Grade 11 and 12 learners has been a combination of exhausting, rewarding, overwhelming, exciting, and frustrating. It is challenging, to say the least, to teach a class of 45 learners when there are only 20 computers and chairs. Many of my learners are standing in the aisles and do not even get to access the computer throughout the class. It’s hard for some of them to even see my demonstrations over the heads of their classmates.

Some classes are very encouraging, and others, not as much. Sometimes they are very engaged and ask questions, others give me blank stares. It’s so hard to gauge the comprehension of what I’m teaching them. I began all of the classes with a basic knowledge assessment and learned that a handful know a little bit about computers, but most of them know very little, if anything at all. Based on the results, I made the decision to start from the very beginning. My lessons so far have focused on the parts of the computer, the parts of the keyboard, and getting familiar with your computer (turning on the computer, logging in, learning the desktop/icons, how to minimize, maximize, close, etc.). It’s pretty incredible realizing that you have to start as basic as how to double-click on the mouse, how to click and drag to highlight, and use the cursor. These are all completely unfamiliar terms and skills to most of them. I do my best to walk around the computer lab to see if they can actually practice what I’m teaching. I find a lot of them struggle with the basics and really need more guidance and one-on-one instruction than I am capable of providing with such a large class.

In addition to the large class sizes, the classes are only 45 minutes long, at best. Many of the learners show up late, causing a delay at the beginning. They have a rotating seven-day class schedule, and so I only see each class twice every seven days. With the short amount of time that I’m here, I can’t help but feel like I will struggle to get beyond the basics and teach them all that they really need to know. They are so interested to learn more and I hate that I will leave before we can go into more depth.

Last but not least, often times the computers don’t work! Right now, there is a problem with the server and a window pops up that we don’t know how to get rid of. Hopefully the technicians from the Ministry can come out first thing on Monday, but I am learning that I have to be flexible and be able to teach computers without the computers…

All that aside, I’ve found a lot of success roping them into my teaching style by showing them how fast I can type! I project my screen onto the chalkboard and look straight at them while I type 70 WPM. It’s amazing to see their reaction. Learners run up to crowd around my computer, exclaiming in disbelief! This has been one of my favorite parts of teaching so far. Then, I begin by asking them if they want to learn to type that fast, and all hands are in the air. I tell them that if they listen to how I will teach them to type, practice using the typing skills program I put on the computer, then they will learn how to type, fast and the right way. This gets them very excited and all eyes are on me for the rest of the class period! I’ve been teaching them about the home keys, and walking around to each computer asking each learner to show me their fingers on the home keys. Even after the lesson, I have to correct many hands and fingers…it’s just such a new and foreign concept.

The last way I have found success is candy! Some things do not change, no matter where you are. Kids love sweets. I bought a few bags of candy and gave them out to learners who volunteers to give answers to some activities we worked on. This exponentially increased the number of volunteers for answers…shocking!

While there are many challenges, it is extremely rewarding to teach a subject that is so new to them and so useful. Namibia feels a century behind the US in so many ways, computers and technology one of the glaringly obvious areas for development. I’m excited to be part of Namibia’s Ministry of Education’s movement to improve this area in their schools, and really do feel like I’m making a valuable contribution to the learner’s computer literacy!

iPad Debut in Okahao

The iPad makes an appearance and Namibian learners and teachers are awestruck.

Literally…excitement over the iPad was rampant! Pretty exciting to see the faces of those who have not seen anything other than a PC and and iPod react to the iPad.

I brought my iPad to school to play music during class when the learners are working on an activity. At the end of each class, I show them the iPad, including the album of photos of my family. They have a hard time believing that I am the first-born, Ethan, when you are the tallest! People do not have pets here, so it’s hard to explain that Rosco is my dog and my pet. I also like to show them how green it is where I live compared to Namibia. They love seeing the photos, and also seeing the iBooks feature and all of the books that I can read on one machine. They get a real kick out of me showing how to turn the pages using my finger!

The teachers were pretty ecstatic too. One teacher, Mr. Ndaamekele is surprisingly techie, and he freaked out the first day I brought it to school. I’ve let him take some time to play with it, and the first song he chose to play on it was Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”. I found this pretty entertaining…he played it out loud in the middle of the staff room and talked about how much he loved this song and the music video!

My Namibian Colleagues

My Namibian colleagues are fabulous. I really lucked out with an amazing staff of teachers.

Jen, my roommate and fellow volunteer, was out of town this week so I was on my own to start building ties with my fellow teachers. One of the nights I invited a group over to my house to watch the Ghana-Germany World Cup game. I picked up some cool drinks (what they call sodas), a six-pack of Windhoek lager (the favorite for beer), chips, and hoped for the best. It was a great turn out, with Miss Josephina, Mr. Kanjala, Mr. Enjala, Mr. Hamatuma, and Mr. Shivute coming over for the game. It was fun to socialize with them outside of the staff room and watch a great soccer match!

One of my favorite teachers goes by the name of “Kuku”. Kuku means “grandmother” in Oshiwambo. The first time I met her, she introduced herself as Kuku, and said, “You are now my granddaughter!” From now on, when she sees me, she greets me as her granddaughter, saying, “Good morning, my granddaughter! How is the morning?!” I’ve never met someone who embraced her grandmother-ly-ness so much! My favorite thing about Kuku is the entrance she makes into the staff room. She struts in with a little walk all her own, and loudly announces, “Kuku in the staff room!” Just so that everyone knows that she has arrived!

I also made a very strategic move and brought sweets to share in the staff room. This made me lots of friends, quickly. I just bought a bag of these candies called chocolate eclairs (dangerously good) and shared them during our break. People were appreciative and it was fun to share something with everyone. That is one amazing thing about Namibia – everything is to share. They really live the mantra, “What’s mine is yours” and it’s such a great way to approach life.