Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When I grow up...

Back when I was in the 2.5 month-long Peace Corps training, I was required to teach at least five classes to primary and secondary schools. The classes would be over health-related topics, but starting out simple, since we were still getting our footing here in Nicaragua. It was more of an opportunity to work up our confidence leading a classroom in another language and becoming familiar with the education system here.

One of the classes that I gave was to a group of 10-13 year-old kids about self-esteem and life goals. Although it sounds like a somewhat mundane topic and maybe even unnecessary, it is exactly these simple ideas that need to be imparted to youth here. Low self-esteem often leads to behaviors such as drug use, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS infection, dropping out of school… All the same things it can cause in the United States, however since we are in a developing country, the effects are augmented. As for life goals, most kids here don’t plan if they’re even going to go to class tomorrow, much less what they want to be when they grow up. It is important to get these children to cultivate a high self-esteem and keep their life goals in mind as they develop.

The class went well – I worked in some fun games like hot potato and musical chairs to get the message across. The kids loved it. The education system here is very formal and usually consists of the teacher writing up on the blackboard and the students dutifully copying down word-for-word. Sound like fun to you? Kids love it when Peace Corps volunteers come in and bring new ideas and games to them, although sometimes it can be difficult to get them to participate. Some kids get shocked when I ask them to draw a picture of their favorite animal, or to act out a role play. They withdraw into their shyness, not knowing what to do. It usually takes a bit of time before kids will open-up to more non-formal education methods.
When we were talking about life goals, I had each of the kids take out a piece of paper and write on it what one of their goals in life was. I said they could write whatever they wanted – it could be about their future career, their home life, their friends, their physical abilities, their education… They carefully concentrated on their work, barely looking up. When they started passing them in to me, I saw that many had decorated their papers with little drawings and used different colored markers to elaborate the words. Some had even folded up their papers into little designs. As I walked home that day from the school, I started reading through their goals. What I found really surprised me and made my day (actually, my week). I’ll give a few examples below of what they wrote, in their exact words, to show you a glimpse of the youth of Nicaragua 
-I want to be a Doctor. I also want to be a Secretary.
-I want to be a worker.
-I want to be a singer. (this one was surrounded by flowers with the girl’s name written above)
-I want to be a firefighter, no… policeman (complete with a drawing of a policeman and a gun).
-I want to be a doctor. Or if not, a teacher and carpenter, also I want to be a secretary and a baker.
-I want to be a professional (there were lots of this one).
-I want to be a professional lawyer.
-I want to get my bachelors degree and work as a cashier. (?)
-I want to get my associates in nursing.
-I want to be official.
-I want to work in Spain to give money to my mother.
-I want to be responsible.
-I want to be the boss of a military base.
-I want to have a good family and be a good mother and a good cook.
-I want to study.

I hope some of those made you smile; it made my heart smile to read those sincere and ambitious responses. It made me realize that these children have actually thought about their future, and they desire more than perhaps their parents or grandparents did (who are often illiterate or have no formal education or profession). I just hope that most of them will be able to realize those goals.

Working with youth here is often a Peace Corps volunteer's main focus. In any given culture, it is the youth that are more open to new ideas and are more likely to change negative behaviors. They also accept us foreigners just as we are, whereas in the adult population, we might face scrutiny or mistrust. I’m going to have a meeting with my town’s mayor next week to discuss youth group possibilities in the future. I’m hoping to secure some funds. I envision reactivating the youth group program that was once vibrant in this community. (A previous volunteer in this community installed a “Teen Center” in town for the youth to use). Wish me luck as I go forward with this!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem that long ago you were so young...Remember the Noah's Ark float for the 4th of July Parade one year - your parents and your church group put it together, and you, Rita, Alana, Hedy and Will rode in it with all the other children from your church's youth group. On the side of Noah's Ark it said "God's Promises", with a rainbow arching overhead.
Keep up the good work, Penny!!!!
as ever,
Alana's Mom