The One with the Big Project

All Peace Corps Volunteers have a primary project. It’s the thing we sign on to do for 27 months when we hit the ‘Apply’ button on the Peace Corps website. On top of our primary projects, some volunteers do secondary projects. Those projects have the potential to be large or small, inside or outside of your community and to have any focus the volunteer and community members choose. From March to September, myself, health volunteers in my region, Preethi & Connor, and our 3 counterparts were working hard to plan, prepare, implement, evaluate, and report on a regional training for HFLE teachers – aka our secondary project.

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“Why limit the development of HFLE?”

If you recall from a previous post, health volunteers here in Guyana work within the secondary schools to strengthen the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum. One of the ways we do this is co-facilitating classes with our teachers so new strategies can be introduced to enhance the lessons.

A little over a year ago Preethi and I got an idea. We thought, “Why limit the development of the HFLE program to just 3 out of the 8 schools in our region? Why not provide the opportunity enhance HFLE for all schools and not just the ones with a PCV?”

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-28 at 2.50.48 PMAfter spending some time in our schools and working with our staff, we came to realize that the current curriculums for the subject fell short in the amount of content for majority of the topics. Unlike other subjects, HFLE doesn’t have associated textbooks. Aside from doing their own research, HFLE teachers only have the curriculum guides as a resource. This was a challenge me, Preethi and Connor came to understand, but the three of us needed to know whether local teachers across the region felt the same. So after a month of informal interviews with local HFLE teachers, Head Teachers and Heads of Departments,  we started brainstorming what we could do.

In our minds, it was simple. The best way to reach all 8 schools was to conduct a large-scale, regional HFLE workshop for teachers. At the workshop we would present an additional resource book we [the volunteers] created to supplement the curriculums. With 3 local counterparts on board with the solutions, we started the process to receive funding from Peace Corps’ Small Grants Program.

While preparing for the workshop, we sought out support from important partners in the region such as the Department of Education. With the department’s help, we were able to make the workshop mandatory for all 8 schools and have snacks, lunches, and drinks provided every day of the workshop.

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-29 at 3.47.46 PM (2)As our first school year started to come to a close, Preethi, Connor and I began diving deep in our preparations for the workshop. Along with our counterparts, we needed tostay on top of the logistical things –  define a schedule, plan sessions, create teaching aids, get supplies and materials, and continuously keep in contact with our local supporters. But out of all of those tasks, one was the most painstakingly difficult and yet the most rewarding . . .  our Health & Family Life Education Resource Book. There were many long nights of researching, writing, creating, editing, and producing the content for our book, but all the time and effort was worth it after receiving so much positive feedback both during and after the workshop.

“One of my favorite moments was seeing the participants break down that wall of reservation.”

After 7 months of preparation, it was finally time to facilitate our workshop. From August 28-30, 2019, 9 teachers from 7 out of the 8 secondary schools in the region attended our workshop and were trained on HFLE. The workshop covered various topics such as the history of HFLE, types of life skills incorporated in the subject, the four overarching themes, content for some of the difficult topics to teach under each theme, and new student-centered activities teachers can use in the classroom with their students.

whatsapp-image-2019-08-30-at-3.18.00-pm.jpegFor every session, there were 2 facilitators, one PCV and one counterpart. Those facilitators would model their sessions off of Peace Corps’ approach to lessons, which is to focus on student-centered activities to encourage the most amount of learning. There were a lot of sessions presented throughout the three days; however, my counterpart, Miss Carlana, and I were responsible for facilitating the following sessions: creating HFLE-friendly classrooms, creative lesson planning, and covering topic under the 2nd theme of HFLE, such as sexuality and contraceptives.

whatsapp-image-2019-08-29-at-3.40.50-pm-e1574280987335.jpegMy favorite memory of the workshop was when Carlana and I were discussing contraceptives. At the end of the session, the participants had to do a condom demonstration . . . but with a twist. Participants were grouped in pairs, one partner was blindfolded and tasked with putting the condom correctly. The other partner had to orally guide the blindfolded person to put the condom on with all the correct steps. The group to finish first and do the step properly, won. This was one of my favorite moments because you could see the participants break down that wall of reservation and start to have fun with a topic that typically gets thrown out because teachers are not comfortable with it. Participants were able to see that there can be fun to teaching sensitive material.

“We are still feeling the pay off!”

Obviously more could be said about our project, but in the end it’s not about boring you with the details – its about sharing the experience. So . . . what did I gain from this experience?

  1. I strengthened my leadership skills but I also felt like regressed on my delegation skills. There were many moments where I was stressed from taking on too much when I could’ve delegated it out.
  2. I confirmed that I do enjoy health education but would rather not do it in a school setting post-Peace Corps.
  3. I realized that it’s not worth sweating the small stuff and that sometimes there’s nothing I can do to bridge the cultural gap in professional standards.
  4. I learned how to do things that can be transferred to a future career such as grant writing and project planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating.

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-30 at 3.20.45 PMThis workshop has really given me and my service a sense of validity. It has been something I could dedicate my time, knowledge and skills to on a large-scale, and I feel like it was a success! It’s been months since we concluded this big project, but Preethi, Connor and I are still feeling the pay off. It’s been rewarding to see participants using what they learned in their classrooms, getting publicly recognized by both Peace Corps Guyana staff and Peace Corps headquarters, sharing our experience with the Ministry of Education in Guyana, and furthering discussions with nationwide stakeholders to standardize this workshop in the future.

I don’t think I’ll do another project as big as this one, but I am excited to see what other small things I can do at my site before my time ends here in Guyana! Stay tuned for more!

xoxo, Mere


(p.s. Here’s a short slide show of some of the photos taken at the workshop. Enjoy!)

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