The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What PST is all about

Over the past few weeks, I have been attempting to keep everybody informed as to what I’m doing here in Rwanda. Right now, I am in what is called Pre-Service Training (PST). During this time, I am called a Peace Corps Trainee. PST lasts for about 11 weeks (October 21- January 3) and takes place in Nyanza, Rwanda. At the end of PST I will travel to Kigali, the Capital City, for a swearing-in ceremony where I will take the oath that will officially make me a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Currently, there at 68 Trainees in my training group. While we are all Education Volunteers, some of us teach English, some Science, and some Mathematics. However, we are all teaching at the Secondary Level, which is called Senior Level. In Rwanda, there is a policy of 9 years of free education. This currently includes Primary 1-6 (the equivalent of grades 1-6 in the US) and Ordinary Senior Level (S1-S3, or the equivalent of grades 7-9 in the US). In addition to the free 9-year education, student can also go on to take Advanced Senior Level (S4-S6, or grades 10-12). The majority of us will be teaching Ordinary Senior Level, but I have so far been told that I will be teaching Mathematics on the Advanced Senior Level, more specifically S4 and S5. Back on the topic of PST…

 While the 68 of us are at PST, we attend classes for 10-12 hours per day at our Training Facility. We are sectioned into 11 separate houses, some with as few as two Trainees and some with as many as 11 Trainees. I live in a house with three other Trainees (Charles, Dylan, and Jed) and one Language and Cross-Culture Facilitator (LCF) named Valens. Our LCF’s are essentially our teachers during PST. They live with us, teach us the language, and show us how to integrate in the Rwandan Society. Each house group is given a house name; ours is Inzu Amahirwe (pronounced a-ma-he-gway), or House of Luck. We find this name to ironic in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that we are located three miles up the road from where we attend training. Luckily, there is another house of female Trainees just a few doors down from us. Because we are so far from the Training Facility, we have been dubbed (perhaps by ourselves) as the Farsiders.

After swearing in on January 3rd, I will be transported to my permanent site where I will be teaching for two full years. My site is in the Southern Province in a district called Nyaruguru. My school is a catholic boarding school with about 700 students in P1-P6 and S1-S5. When the 68 of us are placed at our sites, we will be scattered across the entire country, almost completely cut off from regular interaction with other PCV’s. I say almost because of two reasons. First of all, Rwanda is a very small country and once the 68 of us swear in, there will be nearly 160 volunteers serving here. Second, during my visit to my site two weeks ago I found out that there is a PCV from the original health group who is also living in my village. Even though she will be done with her service in March/April, there is a possible chance that a new Volunteer will replace her when she leaves.

This past week we started what the Peace Corps calls Model School. Essentially, Peace Corps invites about 500 Rwandan schoolchildren in S1 and S2 to attend classes led by the Trainees. This is designed for us Trainees to gain first-hand experience being in front of a class of about 50 students and practice our teaching. We learned very quickly that there is only so much we can gain from talking about teaching; you eventually have to just get up there and do it. We will all make mistakes. We will all have lesson plans that fail horrible. There will be derailments and train wrecks, some of which may be on fire. The point is that we as educators take a leaf out of our student’s book and LEARN. There is no better way to comprehend exactly the level of English you can use with Rwandan students until you get in front of a class and your word choice goes way over their head. It will, and has, happened to all of us trainees. But now we have learned from these experiences. We know that they speak quietly mostly because they are not confident with the language. We know that they know words like sublimation and microbiology but not words like anybody or convert.

I do have to apologize for the relative lack of information flowing your way from me in the last two weeks. We recently have had internet installed at our training center, but it cut out last week and we have been trying to work with MTN, the phone company in Rwanda that is providing us with the service, to get the proper parameters for the routers. If you think dealing with Tech Support sucks in the states, you should try either speaking through a French translator or with the very minimal (and very non-technical) Kinyarwanda that I know. Luckily, Peace Corps Rwanda has recently acquired a new Technician from Peace Corps Senegal. Even as I write this we are working to reconfigure our router and modem. And look at that, it works.

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