Category Archives: Technical training

A secondary goal during my service was providing technical support to Peace Corps volunteers and their counterparts teaching English.

All the news fit to print

As I mentioned before, former fellow Birganj-wallah Rob departed Nepal. On his last day in country, he hired an elephant to take him from his hotel to the Peace Corps office to hand-in his final paperwork.

It’s lovely living in a place where the elephant is just as much of a zoo attraction as a mode of transportation.Here’s an article from The Himalayan Times about the recent developments with the pre-service training that was occurring in Butwol.

Maoist fiat forces Peace Corps out

Thirty American Peace Corps volunteers have been forced to leave the district following an ultimatum by an armed group of Maoists asking them to leave within six days.

The volunteers were running a temporary Peace Corps office at the Butwal Technical Institute (BIT), of the United Mission to Nepal, in Manigram VDC. It is said that the ultimatum was issued keeping in view Prachanda’s hostile attitude towards the Americans.

The volunteers left for Narayangadh with no intention of returning.

The owner of a house where nearly a dozen volunteers had put up said the Americans had come to Butwal two and a half months ago and planned to stay for around two years.

The volunteers, who could communicate in Nepali, were studying the language in Manigram VDC-2 and -4. They also used to provide financial and technical assistance to the Aama groups.

Earlier there were 36 volunteers but of late only 30 of them had been staying including some women.

They used to visit Butwal, Shankarnagar, Kariya regularly and were planning to visit Pokhara, Siraha and Bara.

Commenting on the incident, SP Dhak Bahadur Karki of District Police Office said, Though we had heard about the volunteers being asked to leave by the Maoists we have no idea whether they left due to the same reason. He said the police might be able to gather more information when a team would visit the area soon.

Accepting that the volunteers had left the VDC, the manager of BIT, Bishnu Hari Devkota, said, We did not ask them the reason for leaving and they did not tell us.

According to him some remaining Nepali staff were also planning to leave the place tomorrow.

© 2004 The Himalayan Times

At least it keeps things interesting. Still standing fast.

Retrained: Revisiting Pre-Service Training

As I mentioned before, I’d been invited to the current Pre-Service Training (PST) to teach a couple classes in government schools for the new group, N/196, to observe. But observe what? The new group has lots of energy and interest in their jobs.

This could go without saying, but some groups are more casual about work. Yes, we’re volunteers for Nepal. Yes, we’re here to make a difference. Yes, I’m often more interested in taking the tea than talking pedagogy. Perhaps that’s because I don’t know that much about pedagogy.

The fact is I’m no longer certified as a teacher in the United States. Though the US government says I’m no longer qualified to teach in a US classroom, I’ve come here with the Peace Corps to train teachers.

I know that I do have a lot to offer the teachers here, but the strange dichotomy of my situation has not gone unnoticed.

Anyhow, I’d come full circle from my training. There I was, a year in-country later, helping to facilitate the N/196 PST. I felt unready to be guiding the new folks in any way, let alone into professional roles as PCVs in Nepal, but I had learned a thing or two.

Most about Nepali tea.

Back in June 2002, I went to Nepalgunj to conduct some teacher trainings. I felt intimidated being an authority amongst people who had been teaching a lot longer than me. Again, I was uneasy about teaching for people with education degrees and EFL/ESL certification.

But what did I learn from those trainings in Nepalgunj? Just look like you know what you’re doing and people will believe.

Patricia, a N/191 RPCV, was the in-charge person who’d asked me to come to PST. She asked me to prepare a lesson plan from the 4th grade curriculum to teach in two different schools to two different 4th grade classes. Details on the schools were unavailable. She was asking me to walk in and teach cold. I said yes.

Mahatma Buddha, the primary school

The first school I was to teach at was a secondary school called Mahatma Buddha, aka the Enlightened Buddha. Patricia came by the hotel the night before my first day of teaching. She bought me a beer and said, You may have to teach outdoors to 70 students. Cheers.

The school situation was going to be iffy, which relaxed me since I would have much lower expectations of what I could accomplish within the constraints.

The next day we arrived at Mahatma Buddha just before my class. As we came into the school grounds kids stopped playing and began to form a crowd. There were eight of us: Patricia, six PCTs, and I.

We were a sight to behold. I remember how overwhelmed I was when this happened the first time I visited a school in Nepal. While the PCTs slowed to a halt, stunned by the crowd surging around us, I pushing through like Indiana Jones with a machete.

I began talking to the teacher before we went to her class. I told her that I was happy and thankful to teach her 4th grade class for my friends and tried to confirm that I would be teaching as I saw her taking her stick for whacking kids. She seemed aware, but nervous. Too nervous.

Soon the bell rang and we were off to class. I sighed in relief as we walked towards a classroom. No outdoor teaching today.

After the PCTs and Patricia settled in the back of the classroom, the teacher said a few threatening words to the students. The students straightened up and sat quietly. I hung a poster on the board and asked the kids to take out their books.

They began rummaging through their bags and I started to sense that something wasn’t right, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everyone was digging deep in their backpacks, slow to find their books.

I wandered back to the front of the class and asked a student who was making no effort to get his book, in Nepali, Where’s your book?

He looked at me blankly, This is 5th grade.

Fuck.

Nobody had the book because I was in the wrong class. I looked at the teacher who was still glaring menacingly at the students. Patricia just put up her arms and shrugged, clearly wondering what I was going to do.

Well, I said trying to keep up my pace, I can teach this, and dove in head-first with the materials I had. I couldn’t do the writing activity without the books. Suddenly, I had to adapt my lesson plan to a different grade.

The class went well enough but I had to ask myself if I could have written the lesson plan better so that it could have been more adaptable because you can’t always rely on the students having something, like a book or pen.

As we left someone said, considering I was in the wrong class, things had gone really well and asked what I thought.

Well, I said with a smirk, it was enlightening.

Bhairahawa Secondary, the high school

The next day I was to teach at the first government school established in Bhairahawa. Patricia had made more visits to this school and felt that things would go better than the day before, but since I had the time I thought I’d go over to the school a bit early and chat with the teachers so that everyone was a little more comfortable.

I sat in the teacher’s room and met with the teacher whose 4th grade English class I’d be taking for the day. She was a nice enough woman, Manju. When she asked the helper to bring tea for me in Hindi, I saw an opportunity to practice my Hindi before my upcoming trip to India.

I told the helper, Gaaram wallah dijieh, much to the delight of the other teachers.

The other group of PCTs came just as my conversational Hindi was peaking. Soon I found myself in front of the class teaching.

It’s remarkable how easily I transferred the energy I had gathered from chatting with the other teachers into my class. Manju came to class, but sat in the back amongst the PCTs and Patricia, which created a much more relaxed environment for the students.

The class went great. The kids went insane and sand and threw up their arms and legs and hands and feet in the air on command by the end of class. The class ended on a high note with some kids frothing at the mouth with excitement.

I left with a deep sense of accomplishment. The kids were waiving goodbye and asking if I’d come again the next day to teach again.

One out of two isn’t bad, I suppose.

First impressions

Due to a glitch in the Peace Corps mechanism, I have been asked to come to the Peace Corps PST site and teach in a model class for the new folks, the PCTs, to learn from. I could fly, but I’ve decided to take a bus to Bhairahawa, where the PST is being held.

I have a plan of gradually traveling the length of the East-West Highway. On March 26, 2003, I’m going to Biratnagar for security meeting. That’ll leave just about 100 km from Biratnagar to the border, Karkharvitta, as well as a longer leg of 300 km from Nepalgunj to Mahendrenagar, which I’m considering optional.

When I get to Bhairahawa I’m going to walk into two different classes in two different schools. No, you’re right, it doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does. It’s all about expectations. And right now, mine are just to arrive in one piece.

Maha Shivaratri

I remember how my host family explained Maha Shivaratri to me a year ago when I was living in Gaidankot.

I asked how they would celebrate, and they just shook her hand, grimaced, and non-verbally said, We don’t. With a wild gesture.

It’s a gesture that might mean ‘drunk’ or ‘alcoholic’ in the United States. Basically, the hand is extended vertically and shaken, suggesting the negative. I pressed my host mother for more answers. She said, The children come out and they ask for money, Money, money, money, money!

She then imitated a small child by hunching her shoulders and sticking out her hand as if she was begging for money, saying, Dena! Dena! Dena! One rupees! One rupees!

While amusing, the tone of her voice suggested that she’d smacked a kid or two. Apparently the kids go out into the streets and stop cars and motorcycles and ask for money. Many celebrate at Shiva temples by smoking pot or ingesting marijuana ice cream until the wee hours of the morning.

Currently I’m in Narayanghat. It’s become typical that my quick overnights here turn into weekend visits. I had planned on catching a bus to Birganj in the late morning, especially since my days of teaching are more than numbered.

I’ve got a week left of regular teaching left before the school year ends. After that, it’s vacation time in India. All in all, I’ll be in Birganj for around two and half months (if even that long) before I come back to the States. I just bought my ticket this past week in Kathmandu.

Yet I’m in Narayanghat for Maha Shivaratri, walking the streets and sending emails. I remembered what my host mother told me about the kids stopping the buses. On the way to get breakfast, I passed three impromptu tolls with kids ready to get their one rupees (sic).

Across the busiest road in Nepal, young kids stretched lengths of cable across in attempts to slow vehicles so the driver could be heckled, or just to violently dismounted whomever doesn’t pay the toll.

A day long with stops to pay road-barring children didn’t appeal to me, especially considering that I had to pass three just on my way to get a muffin. Bus trips can be brutal, especially when the batteries in your Walkman are low.

So I’ll be heading back to Birganj tomorrow (Sunday). The following Saturday I’ll be back in Narayanghat for another quick overnighter on my way to Bhairahawa to do some teaching demonstrations for the new group on Tuesday.

Or maybe Wednesday with my luck.

Introducing Alfred

I was out doing the bidding of Peace Corps when I met Alfred. He’s the headsir of St. Xavier’s, a private school next door to Shripur, a government secondary school where I had been doing some scouting for a possible site for a volunteer.

St. Xavier’s facade suggested that it was an upper-tier school. Like its headsir, St. Xavier’s was clean and well kept. My meeting with Alfred was accidental.

As I was leaving Shripur, I stopped to get a look at the large, enclosed playground across the street. Alfred was following behind some students when he approached me.

Excuse me, are you European? Alfred’s accent, like our meeting, was heavy-handed.

His British education dripped from each word. He was disappointed when I told him I wasn’t.

No, I’m from the US, I said, and we began talking.

Alfred was originally from Goa, the coastal colony of Portugal in western India, and had lived around the world. While we talked we walked around his school. I saw classrooms that seemed much more traditional than those in the government schools; however, I sensed they were effective and also sensed that the students were actively listening. It was strange.

Shripur Secondary was close by proximity only. The walls of St. Xavier’s were brilliantly white-washed, but Shripur’s buildings were a dingy gray. Instead of a pleasant grass common area, the Shripur classrooms created a massive perimeter around mud.

This was not my first visit to Shripur, and I knew the man sitting outside amongst the puddles on a classroom bench was the headsir, Shankar.

A soft-spoken fellow, Shankar was a bit shy to show me around his school. The SEDU had recommended the school for a science volunteer since it had received all sorts of science equipment years ago.

It was also a big school, around 2,200 students, so the presence of a volunteer would affect a great number of students especially if the volunteer was able to get a nice lab together for the students. Shankar finally stood up, however slowly, and showed me around the school.

The science lab made me think that the school was trying to hide what it had. The room was large and had cabinets running the length of both side walls. A bookcase that had stood on the other end of the room had tumbled forward, spilling books across the room.

Everything was covered in dust it looked like the room was only occasionally opened so that more junk could be tossed in. Though more than just a mere mess, the room vibrated with potential.

The other school I checked out for Peace Corps was near my current school. Originally, there had only been the Bal Mandir primary school, where I currently teach. The Nagar Palika had subsidized the school in two different ways.

Students could qualify for a reduced tuition of NRs 50, which is nothing by Nepali standards for a year’s education. Other students who were especially hindered could qualify for full scholarship, receiving a free uniform, shoes, books, bag, pens, pencils, et cetera. Everything.

Later the Nagar Palika built a separate school for the poorer students, called the Tribal School. This is where the students who received full scholarship would go to school, while the other kids would remain at Bal Mandir.

Kids at the Tribal School playing carrom board during recess.

Kids at the Tribal School playing carrom board during recess.

The teachers that were hired for the Nagar Palika were all young and several were volunteers. I had decided to move to Bal Mandir after running into a wall at the girls’ school.

The current PCV working at the Nagar Palika had been pushing for a volunteer at the Tribal School, and someone at Peace Corps was listening.

The day I first visited the Tribal School, I realized exactly what sort of school this would be for a volunteer. At Shripur the volunteer would be working more for the students since the teachers on the whole had developed over a couple decades into the teachers they were.

At the Tribal School, the volunteer would be working to get the teachers into their classrooms and teach. As I entered into the grounds, kids were running amuck. A few kids had set up a carrom board. The headsir and the only other teacher present shuffled out from somewhere. Heartiest felicitations ensued.

On my second visit, I came on Shoe Day. Shoe Day was the day when the school got shoes to distribute to the students. Attendance was higher than on my first visit when only around 30 kids were around, all of whom were boys.

When I entered the staff room the meeting table was covered in shoes. The headsir was standing to the side, yelling at the kids to wait their turn for shoes. The shoes were white sneakers styled like Keds and with green soles.

A girl about ten was standing on the table. She had just told the headsir that she’d found a shoe that fit. The headsir told her to find another. The shoes were unpaired and scattered about the room. The girl with one shoe was scavenging around the table and then into the corners trying to find a mate for her first shoe.

It was a surreal sight and I kicked myself for not bringing a camera, though the image of this girl on all fours crawling on a teacher’s desk while the headsir was yelling at children to go outside before getting their shoes and me witnessing all of this will live on forever. Or at least until I’m dead.

After visiting each of these schools on three different occasions, I sat down at home to fill out the paperwork that I’d send on to the the education desk, where the forms would be reviewed and if deemed acceptable presented as possible sites to the N/196 in early to mid March during site selection.

I remember my site selection. Most of my group’s surveys were awfully incomplete, not containing information on average class size or on first-hand observations of teachers at the school.

I’m glad that I came to Birganj. Mainly because if I’d gone anywhere else I would of had to listen to another volunteer go on and on about how severe life was in Birganj. That was another thing I had to consider.

I needed to write a small summary of life in Birganj and little bit about what the area was like. Not a small task considering how varied and depressingly awful it can seem unless you’ve eaten a square breakfast before going outside.

I also was wondering how I’d mention—or if I should—to the volunteer going to the Tribal School that the headsir only had one arm. The photos that I had taken didn’t clearly portray the headsir’s lack of two arms.

I felt sort of compelled to ask, since the Maoists had a habit of cutting off appendages of educators they didn’t like. I hadn’t heard of lost arms, but I’d read more than a couple stories about headsirs who had their hands cut off by the Maoists.

Maybe I was just a coward but I thought it best to ask someone I was more comfortable with about the protocol in Nepal when it comes to missing appendages. Can I say, So, how about that arm of yours?

Or would I need to ask very specifically? Should I ask? I sat down with my headmiss, intending to discuss the ins and outs of Nepali culture. Instead, I just ask, So what happened to ol’ Whatshisname’s arm?

She told me he’d lost it in a milling accident when he was young. It never came up in conversation later, so I let it drop.

So the site surveys have been submitted and it appears that two new volunteers will be coming to Birganj. I’m anxious to talk with them after their site visits. I wonder how shocking Shripur is going to seem to the science volunteer.

It’s a daunting school for a volunteer, though I think it’ll be a good place. I think that the first hand experience at the Tribal School is going to make the volunteer realize what a unique experience the school is. That and, What about the headsir’s arm?

While I was checking out these sites for Peace Corps, I started to realize how far I’d come since arriving in Nepal. I’m in the place right now that the volunteer was in when he did my site survey just before I arrived in Nepal.

As of February 21, 2003, I’ll have been in Nepal for a year. As of May 8, 2003, I’ll have been a volunteer for a year.

I think the latter is more significant. It looks like I’ll be presenting at the N/196 training as well, which seems a bit strange. I’m starting to feel like this is all moving too quickly.

I’ll be in Kathmandu on February 21, 2003, so I’m anxious to see what we do. What does one do to cap the significance of this experience? When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.