Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can't wait for group 77! ....oh.....wait.....

I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to be writing this on my blog but no one told me not to so.... it's fair game. Sorry, DC censors.

Due to recent budget cuts, Peace Corps is doing a bit of downsizing. Tonga appears to be on the blacklist. Reasons are related to size of the program, dropout rate, effectiveness, and mostly cost of running the program. As a result, it's being shrunk. Some people from DC came earlier in the year to evaluate Peace Corps Tonga and see how to proceed. After barely meeting with PCVs and generally ignoring everything we had to say, they decided to both shrink the program and narrow the focus. From now on, only primary school English teachers (which, just to throw in my two cents, is the thing that pretty much EVERY SINGLE PCV in Tonga told them NOT to focus on), and much smaller groups (think 15 instead of 25). This was supposed to be a gradual downsizing. Okay, not ideal, but tolerable.

News later came that this would be an immediate downsizing. As in, they could now only have 25 PCVs in Tonga as of the time the next group ends their service. AKA the end of this year. Problem: there are currently 25 PCVs in my group, group 76. Thus.... no group 77 this year. WAIT WHAT?! Group 75, the group above me, is leaving this fall. No new group is coming in. It will be just Group 76 left in Tonga. I certainly hope we don't get sick of each other.... (okay we won't, we all like each other, but still.) A new group coming in is always exciting because it means new, inspired volunteers, new friends, people to train and teach about Tonga, etc. etc. Well, not for us. Bummer, man.

Supposedly there will be a group 77, of about 15 primary school teachers, but they won't be coming in until my group is about to leave in fall of 2012. Needless to say, I'm skeptical. I am personally of the opinion that some time next year they will announce that they are shutting down Peace Corps Tonga. But, keep in mind that this is just my opinion and does not express or represent the opinion of the US Peace Corps or Government. Ha ha.

I'm not entirely bitter about this because I do see Peace Corps's side of things in terms of the use of PCVs in Tonga and the overall effectiveness of the program in terms of the amount of money spent. I'm not going to get into details about it because a.) my feelings on it are somewhat confused and b.) I'm not super informed about said details. So I'm not trying to be critical of Peace Corps because I definitely definitely understand where they're coming from and it's an unfortunate situation because of budgeting. However, I definitely am bummed because I love Tonga and the people here and mostly it makes me sad that it's unlikely other Peace Corps volunteers will get to experience this in the future. And my group doesn't get all the perks of another group coming in, like missing school to help train them, getting fed by Peace Corps, teaching people about Tonga, etc. Boo.

So yeah. That's that. Bummer, man.


Hard Week at Work

This has been my week this week:

Monday- It poured. About 30 kids showed up at school. We had morning prayer, then all 30 kids piled into my principal's van and were driven back to their homes. We had a brief teachers' meeting (about all the same stuff we talked about at the staff meeting last Friday). I was home by 11:30

Tuesday- Started out as a normal day of classes. My principal got a call from the Ministry of Education that some administrators and educators from Kiribati were visiting Tonga to take notes on the education system in order to better develop Kiribati's and could they please come see our school. Various other Weslyan schools had already said no because they were not prepared. My principal, being the confident and proud man that he is, said that sure they could come and whatever was ready would be ready. Thus, the entire afternoon was spent rearranging, cleaning, and organizing the school building and grounds instead of having class. This included painting the library shelves which I had not finished repairing or sanding, and painting literally half the school- to the height where the kids could reach- while the children were still wearing their school uniforms. Needless to say, paint EVERYWHERE.

Wednesday- First half of the morning = continuing to clean up the school and make it look pretty and far more organized than it actually is. Second half of the morning = the Kiribati people coming and meeting with my principal, meaning that I took the class 6 to my house for class so that the people could meet in the classroom/rapidly constructed library. Lunch break. Kids return to school and do some sort of thing where the older kids are in charge and talk to the younger kids, while the teachers have a brief meeting. My principal asks me if I had anything to do for the afternoon. I respond that I was going to teach classes 4 and 5. He says that everyone is tired so he's going to send the kids home. I'm home by 2.

Thursday- It's the opening of Parliament so there is a huge march with all the secondary and tertiary schools in it. My principal tells me I should go because it's cool and it's my first year (which was really super nice of him). I also had a fundraiser for Camp GLOW in the evening. So, I went to town, watched the march, did my fundraiser and spent the night.

Friday (today)- I'm still in town. Some people are coming to my school to donate school supplies, apparently. I stupidly said I'd bake a cake. Obviously did not have time, so am going to go buy a cake and go back to school. Not concerned about being late because nothing happens on Fridays, especially in the morning- the kids have religion with the minister and the teachers have a meeting. There will be a mini dance/concert for the donors. Then school will probably end early.

Keep in mind that this is not a typical week for me in the sense that all this stuff doesn't usually occur in the same week. But we usually have at least one day each week where something happens that takes priority over actual classes and we don't get much structured learning done. It's always an adventure, though.


Kindy Conversations

As I may (or may not) have mentioned, my school also includes a Kindy. This is the Tongan equivalent of an American preschool, so the kids are about 4 years old. I only work with them for about 15 minutes twice a week, and that working usually includes playing or just chilling and talking to the kindy teacher about school (or various other things). I don't feel terribly bad about this because a.) my Tongan is really not good enough to communicate with 4 year old Tongan children- it's hard enough to understand kids of that age when you speak the same language, much less when they speak a language you're relatively terrible at and b.) chatting/gossiping is an integral part of building relationships with people in Tonga so it's kind of like integrating into my community, which has clearly worked because I'm closer with the kindy teacher than the other teachers.

Despite the limited amount of time I spend with the kindy, some pretty entertaining conversations pop up, as they always do with young kids. I'll tell you just a few. Keep in mind that these conversations also took place in somewhat butchered Tongan.

Kindy Conversation 1: Soane
(Soane is a little 4 year old boy who is in some way connected to my principal and his family. He's also quite bold. Also, important background: sharing food is a HUGE part of Tongan culture and it's both expected to do it as well as rude not to. So when the kindy kids bring snack they always share with each other, no questions asked and no fits thrown.)

Earlier that day a student in Class 4 had given me a lollipop. I decided to eat it during recess time, while I was sitting on a bench outside the school. Enter Soane.

Soane: Katalina, what are you eating?
Me: A lolli.
Soane: A lolli from where?
Me: From Kavakava. He gave it to me.
Soane: More lollis?
Me: No, I only have one.
Soane: From where?
Me: Kavakava. He gave it to me as a gift.
Soane: More lollis?
Me: No, Soane. I only have one.
Soane: From where?
Me: Kavakava. He gave it to me. It's mine.
Soane: Oh. (pause) From where?
Me: From Kavakava. It was a gift.

This conversation went on in the same vain for about 5 minutes until I, exasperated but incredibly entertained, took the lollipop out of my mouth and handed it to Soane (I realize that might sound weird to you all in the US but trust me it's not here). He immediately stuck it in his mouth, went away, and I could here him talking to his friends going "Look, I got a lolli from Katalina."

Kindy Conversation 2: Lesa
(Lesa is a tiny four year old girl in the kindy class. She's one of my favourite students- she is super adorable and really lovey, she always gives me hugs and kisses and she has a really cute giggle. Background: the kindy recently acquired some toys from a kind donor and this happened on the first day they got to play with their new (and only) toys.)

Lesa decided to play with a cloth doll that was probably about the same size as her.

Me: Oh, Lesa! Who is that?
Lesa: My baby.
Me: Oh, so beautiful! What is your baby's name?
Lesa: blank stare, as if I'm stupid
Me: What is your baby's name?
Lesa: ...Baby (complete with a "well, duh" look).
Me: Oh. Okay. Well... she's beautiful!

More Kindy Conversations to come.