Tuesday, December 04, 2007

International Volunteer Day

Shnor havor camavori orna. Congratulations on Volunteer day!
It's an exciting day to be a non-paid health teacher as today marks the one day when I can talk about what it means to volunteer and how volunteering has impacted my life.

On Monday an environmental education PC volunteer and I were invited to the H1 (television channel) studios in Yerevan. A popular talk show host was interested in our lives in Armenia and wanted to celebrate international volunteer day with some PCVs on his show '5th wheel'.

I knew it wouldn't be live so I wasn't worried about the interview until the host informed us that there would be no stopping, no question clarification opportunities, no take twos, and the entire program would be taped in Armenian.

With the lights glaring down on Rud and I we fielded questions about volunteerism in our lives, what our experience has been like in Armenia and why we're not married to Armenians yet.

When it was said and done I took a deep breath and began to critique the entire experience. Why had I confused the verbs for understand and relax? Why couldn't I recall the word for accommodate? Why do I insist on using flamboyant hand gestures while I speak? For the first time in a long time I remembered the fear of public speaking in Armenian. The last time I got up in front of a large group I mispronounced the word for Armenia itself. What could I possibly have said on camera?

We left the studio and the Director's executive assistant told us it was fantastic, that Rud spoke the region slang perfectly and people in the taping room thought I was cute. If I have no language skills going for me at least maybe people can be distracted by the over sized nervous smile I used throughout the interview.

The show airs today in the afternoon. The village is all a buzz and the teachers are already asking what time we're meeting at my house. Happy Volunteer Day...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Haykakan family weddings

When my host mother's (below) oldest grandson decided to get married he didn't wait for the traditional wedding. He 'kidnapped' his bride a few weeks ago which led to a hasty process of organizing a celebration last Friday. After returning from Thanksgiving with some other PCVs, I went right to work at the one thing I could contribute...writing with cotton on a carpet hung on the wall. No one is quite sure where this tradition came from, but at every wedding I've been present for there has been some sort of wish to the happy couple written on a carpet and displayed behind the newlyweds. I took it upon myself to create an artistic design in cotton as my wedding present.
The message says: Happiness and newlyweds. It was requested-along with the flowers at the top.

The wedding celebration on Friday wasn't the complete 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. event that I had expected. The party didn't begin until 4 p.m. and I escaped by 10. I left feeling great about my integration into the family and community as during one of the hundreds of toasts that are traditionally offered during the party my host father thanked me for being here, mentioned my work and congratulated my marathon achievement. It was nice to be remembered.

Even though I was proud of my early escape the night before I woke up Saturday morning to a call from my school director requesting my presence at a wedding of her nephew. I hadn't ever met her nephew or the bride, but that didn't make any difference to my director who insisted that since I was her daughter and it was a family affair I should be in attendance. I grudgingly went out in the sleet and slush, comforted by the fact that I wouldn't need to choose anything to wear because it's so cold no one takes their coat off anymore.

My director's son was the best man and 'apple keeper' (below left). His job was to make sure that no one stole the apple off the top of the sword he carried around all day. I tested him with my gloves, proving that it could be stolen despite the hundreds of deathly-sharp toothpicks he stuck in the core.

The bride was from a different village, and traditionally after bringing the groom from his house the whole party moves to retrieve the bride from hers. We dressed the bride and then sat down to a meal (almost identical to the meal we would have two hours later at the groom's house) where the elders of both villages introduced one another. Much to my surprise, I was introduced to the bride and her family: "This is our village's American, she works with our director in the school." I was caught off-guard and honored by the introduction. I saw it as my opportunity to turn to the bride, thank her for the party (which I hadn't been invited to) and welcome her to our village. According to Armenian customs she will move into her husband's parents house and I was happy to say that the village she is coming to is fantastic.

November developments

After Athens and our all volunteer conference at the beginning of November, I returned to the village to find exciting developments underway. In a village of 2,000, for example, there are two separate pharmacies being constructed (see photos below) and the kindergarten is being remodeled. One can't help but wonder why all of this work is being done in the cold but then again, in a community driven by summer harvests November/December may be the only downtime to get these projects done.

(above) Pharmacy number one. When I questioned the mayor about the decision to build a second pharmacy 100 meters down the street from the first, he told me that this one would sell shoes too. Shoes and drugs--I guess it's all about supply and demand.

(Above) This is the pharmacy that was finished first. Renovations were easy (a new coat of white paint) except for my single request to not harm the only land-line phone that I can access to call America. I considered this little concrete cell my connection to home and would often call loved ones from the empty room. When I went to check on the construction process I was happy to find the mayor and his son (who will own the pharmacy) relocating the phone from behind the counter to the open wall on the right side of the room. They promised I could call whenever need be and when I teased, 'Sure, during office hours' they told me I could get a copy of the key. I'm starting to get very spoiled in this village.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

We do 26.2

Today Team PC Armenia finished the 25th annual Athens Classic Marathon.

Team Kyle/Sarah finished in under five hours. Please see his Web site at http://www.kgiffinarmenia.com/ for an interesting synopsis.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Greens

The afterschool mentorship program elected it's first president and chose a name this week. I'm now the advisor of The Greens. I guess the name sounds a little better in Armenian, but it's not really important when we see how excited the kids are about the project as a whole. Every Monday we meet with the club (which we downsized from 55 kids in the 6th-11th grade to 25) and review the previous week's kindergarten visit and study a new lesson. Tuesday and Wednesdays are practice days and then Thursdays we go into the kindergarten to teach the 17 6-year-olds environmental topics. The past three weeks groups of 5 or 6 students have taught trees, bushes and forests and clean air lessons. Next week is animals.

I've actually been spending a lot of time in the kindergarten lately. I have a weekly English lesson where I teach things like "hello" and "bye bye", colors and classroom objects. Last week we practiced the song If You're Happy and You Know It with the hopes that the kids will be prepared for their fall assembly.

The kindergarten closes at the beginning of November because of the cold, but if things go well during the next month we'll be able to go back in April and continue work all summer.

Learning the parts of a tree

Drawing forests

Learning the importance of water and sunlight for plants

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What do you do with an organizational communications degree?

You build playgrounds!
I didn't know what I signed up for when I arrived in Armenia more than a year ago but in February when Alla and I began surveying the community for project ideas it became clear that four years of studying situational analysis, research skills, group work and project management would culminate into playground construction. With only experience at Habitat for Humanity for guidance I rolled up my sleeves and gathered the villagers for every step of the process from the grant writing to the hole digging.
On September 20 the Secondary School hosted our grand opening of "Bari Lur". With representatives from the Peace Corps, mayor's office and marz center office, neighboring schools and even AED we celebrated the collaborative work of more than 50 community volunteers. It was a nice day.

Students at the school entrance holding bread and salt, wine and fresh fruit for our guests.

The students lined the school drive with balloons and signs. My favorite one read: "Thanke you!" The entrance was grand with nearly 400 kids screaming and clapping.

After speeches and the presentation of certificates of appreciation my school director (left) and PC Armenia director Lee Lacy cut the red ribbon.

We played mini futbol, basketball, sang and danced to celebrate.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I've got the blues

I got home from a parent meeting last night craving Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Thanks to a generous care package I had the Kraft but the family didn't have any butter or milk. Being the resilient PCV that I've become I turned to Samvel and asked him to run next door to our vice-principal's store for a stick of butter. I went upstairs, changed my clothes and yelled for Sargis. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do...This was my night to learn how to milk a cow.

The box only called for 1/4 cup of 2 percent milk. Patiently, Sargis sat beside me and showed me the procedure. I milked for awhile but lost interest and asked if he wouldn't be willing to finish while I went inside to boil the water. The family had no idea what I was doing and the men sat in disbelief at my attempt.

Donara looked at the orange pasta on the box and questioned my ingredients: Milk, butter and pasta didn't seem like much to get so excited about. I explained that growing up this was the only thing I knew how to make (shamefully it is probably still the only thing I can't mess up) and that there was definitely a different taste when the macaroni is shaped like cartoon characters.

Nervously, I boiled my fresh milk and mixed in the package of powdered cheese. I didn't know if my anticipated meal was going to taste like cow or not but much to my delight it was 'shat hamove' very tasty.

If going out to milk the cow at 8 p.m. to make your mac & cheese isn't Peace Corps I don't know what is.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Environmental club creation

Alla and I decided to build off of the success of the summer Green Camp by creating an after school club/mentorship program. Ever since I arrived I had wanted to inspire some sort of Big Brothers/Big Sisters activity but I wasn't sure how it would work. After a year things have come together and our first meeting was held yesterday.

Fourty two students in the 6th -10th grades arrived after school to learn about our plan to volunteer in the village kindergarten. We obtained lesson plans from an environmental NGO and described what would be expected of club participants. The kids were enthusiastic and anxious for leadership positions. Twenty students nominated themselves for club president and vice president positions. Elections will be on Friday.

At the end of the meeting we passed around a sign-in sheet and I instructed the students to mark if they were interested in the fall or spring sessions. The room errupted in laughter and I turned to Alla in surprise. She said: 'You just commanded them to get engaged!' I laughed too and turned back to the students; telling them to 'mark' the correct box and later we'd get married. We all enjoyed the slip up...while I made a mental note to get back to my language studies.

Friday, August 31, 2007

First bell for the last time

Today was the first bell ceremony signaling the beginning of fall and the beginning of another school year. Excitement was high as all of the kids lined up in front of the school in their black and white. For some reason the event seemed hours shorter this year than last. Perhaps this is because it's not nearly as hot and I wasn't quite as scared of the whole situation. Knowing what to expect, and knowing this language makes every situation so much easier.

As I prepared my speech last night (a sign that I wasn't as nervous-last year I studied weeks in advance and practiced in front of the mirror for hours on end) I laughed at how little I knew exactly one year ago today. I remember writing the speech with the English teacher and warning her that the words she was using were far beyond my vocabulary. I remember standing on the stage and mispronouncing the word Hayastan (Armenia). I remember feeling uncomfortable in the outfit my host family dressed me in. This year, dressed in my own clothes, I got butterflies but only because I decided that at the end of my speech I'd do the unprecedented and chant the summer Green Camp song with the kids. It was a big hit.

I've organized materials for my counterpart in the classroom this year but I've found myself busy with projects outside the classroom too. I've agreed to teach English 30 minutes-1 hour each week in the kindergarten, we have the after-school big brother/big sister nature club we plan to start, the new playground ribbon-cutting event will take place on September 20th and I'll be traveling in September to Vanadzor to grade our YES program applications. We just finished a grant application to the Open Institute Society of Armenia for a European Exchange club that I'm praying will be successful because it will serve as a platform for introducing the concept of service learning in the classroom. We're also staying very busy with PC initiative work. Our first round of initiative meetings with the new A15s is this month.

Today was the first day of 'school' but we get to rest tomorrow because it's Sunday. The real fun begins on Monday. Labor day. Happy Autumn All!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Tooth Party

Today was the celebration of Manuk's first tooth. I was looking forward to this party as I had heard that on this occasion the baby (he's not even a year old yet) chooses his future profession. Curious about how this situation would play out I framed one of my favorite family photos as a gift and ran over to Aunt Liana's house.

When I arrived there were at least thirty people crouched around an empty blanket on the floor. They were laying out all kinds of items from scissors to pens, money to books. Each item represented a future profession (the scissors a barber, the pen a writer, etc...) They were short a cell phone so I offered mine and Manuk immediately began chewing on it with his one new tooth. I also thought it might be good to throw in my Armenian/English dictionary-after all, maybe he would become a translator.

After everyone arrived they sat Manuk down in the center of the blanket and covered his head with a lace table cloth. Much to my surprise, they began throwing cooked kidney beans, chickpeas and other forms of grains on his head from a bowl his mother provided. The kids in the front row and got very excited about this part of the ceremony. When the bowl was empty the veil was removed and everyone sat silently waiting for him to choose his item. More realistically they sat silently for about ten seconds--he must be quite a pensive child because he didn't choose right away. The crowd started to get impatient and bystanders began to shout things like, "Pick the money Manuk!" and "Push everything closer! There's no need for the things to be 10 km away!"

He rested his hand on my English/Armenian dictionary but it was the scissors that he eventually grabbed and immediately placed in his mouth (a hazard to say the least). It's settled then, a poor barber he'll become. I was delighted by the whole show.

Once that excitement it was over it was time to pop open the champagne and sit down to a table of cake, fruit, candy, popcorn and a similar bowl of cooked beans and grains. I was excited about the protien but it turned out everything was very salty (perhaps to balance all the sugar on the rest of the table). We ate and toasted then ate and toasted some more.

When it was time for my toast I congratulated his new tooth, wished it health (like everyone else before me had) and told his parents what a wonderful job they were doing caring for their children (Manuk is their fourth). I was hot and the video camera was right in my face. I was just about ready to clink glasses when Manuk's father exclaimed that he had a toast to make to me. He said that he was thankful I had come and asked me if I'd ever forget his family. I said that of course I would always remember them and everyone in Armenia. He asked me repetedly, then sang me a song and finally exclaimed that he wanted me to be Manuk's God mother. I was shocked.

At first I thought it was lighthearted joking-who would want to make the young American teacher their child's God mother? It's not an easy decision. I tried to laugh it off and told them I didn't even know where Manuk was. I hadn't even gotton to hold him all day. Out of nowhere he appeared on my lap and the father elaborated on his proposal: "Sarah, you will come back in two years or so and we'll have his baptism with you. You'll take him to America right?" I didn't really know what to say so Manuk and I just sat and played with a chocolate waffer they offered.

The party continued with plenty of singing and poetry reciting. It was a great time until about 30 minutes later when Manuk decided he needed to use the restroom in my lap. At that moment I promised myself I'd never whine about changing another diaper...he wasn't wearing one. No one saw the big deal, but after ten minutes I had decided it was time to go home and change.

As I walked home arm-in-arm with my host mom I wanted to clarify what had happened in the house. She informed me that I would need to go home and come back because I alone can not be a God mother. I must be married. She told me that I'll go to America, find a husband and then the two of us will come back and sponsor him at his baptism. I was amazed and honored by the situation and we laughed about the two year expectation he had established the whole way home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cultural Exchage

The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
(That's the playground project...more on that in my next post)

2. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
This means an American city girl learning how to chop wood:

Me. Explaining to Sargis how to place the wood on the chopping block.

I think I'm choking up on the handle.

The hit...that didn't break the log...it only took 14 tries.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served:
Hermine and I made homemade play dough last week and grandma joined in on the fun. I've never seen anyone so proud of her cookie cutter cutouts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rex Number 2

Hi! My name is Rex and I joined the Z. family last week. I stayed in Sarah's room until she got tired of waking up to my cries (like in this picture) at 3:30 every morning.

I'm very small and fluffy. I'm only about as big as Sarah's shoe. I like to sleep inside shoes and chew on them in the afternoons to ease the teething process.

This is me with Sarah. She takes good care of me but she doesn't have any toys, doggie sweaters or treats that I can enjoy like those fortunate puppies in America. She's teaching me English. So far we've learned 'no' and 'quiet' and 'don't go there'. Maybe I'll get a visa and come back to the states with her next year... who knows...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

365 days

Dear readers,
In exactly one year I hope to be attending the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. The only problem is I can not seem to find tickets. Perhaps if I had regular Internet access I would be able to conduct more thorough searches, but for now I was hoping that I might be able to recruit assistance from the states.

If you are able, please forward me any links you may have to travel agencies/ticket agencies who are selling the golden tickets. I'd be so thankful. I'm sorry for the shameless plug.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mid-Service Reflection

We met as a group for language testing and mid-service reflection last week and I come back to the village excited about the coming year and comfortable in this community. I won't know how I did on the Armenian exam until after swearing-in on the 15th but I know that I've progressed given the fact that I debated gender roles on the train back from Yerevan yesterday and understood when Tatik got in a fight with my host brother over investing the apricot income in a new satelite dish this morning.

As I begin my second and final year of service to Armenia I am confident in the projects my village and I have initiated: A new community playground and recreation area, healthy life styles newspapers introducing difficult topics such as reproductive health, stress and nutrition, and event planning of a community-wide health festival in the spring. I'm also excited about the cross-sectoral work that allows me to engage in larger initiatives (Gender and Development, Public Relations and Organizational networking for NGOs in the more remote areas). Work has developed as a result of the International Outreach Camp and Green Camp I organized and participated in this summer as well. I'll find myself busy working on an after school mentorship program on environmental and health topics and guiding young civic leaders through the grant-writing process this fall.

There are some personal goals I've set that should cover my free time including running the Athens Marathon and figuring out how to care for our new family puppy, Rex. A few friends and I are starting to seriously consider how we can organize our close of service trip next August. If anyone has suggestions or tips about the Trans-Siberian railroad or would like to donate tickets to the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing I'd be extremely grateful.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Summer camp review

The students who studied Civic Leadership from me at the IOC camp took a class I gave on the Youth Engaging in Service (YES) program. I taught the lessons and the camp director asked me to work with an Armenian named Ani to coordinate the program this fall. I was honored. YES provides students the opportunity to write small project proposals similar in structure to the large scale SPA grant I wrote this spring. The kids plan a project in their community and write the grant. The deadline is September 1st (the same date as our playground opening...hopefully) and then I’ll go up to Vanadzor and sit down with Ani to judge and award grant money anywhere from $10-100 to each approved applicant. I’m really excited about this project because I can’t wait to see what the IOC campers learned while in Vanadzor and I’m happy to be able to fund their projects. The reality is that if these kids want meaningful experience before entering the job market they need to practice project management skills. This grant gives them that opportunity. The money will be awarded and final project reports are due by December 30th. It will be a great way to end the year to hear about the success of young Armenian organizers.

Green Camp in the village was successful. The kids had a great time learning about plants, water, animals, the ecosystem and their personal responsibility to the environment by playing interactive games and journaling at the end of each day. Most kids whined that five days was not long enough while I danced for joy when the closing ceremony came on Friday evening. It was great for the community but it wore me out. Fortunately, the fun doesn’t end with the last round of boom-chicka-boom (the camp song). We invited 10th form students to speak to the campers about water and nature preservation and in September we hope to start an afterschool club of Green Camp graduates who will take the knowledge they gained and become mentors to the children in the kindergarten.

I think I was successful in keeping everything in order and making sure the other PCVs had a nice time with my host family. It was a 24 hour job balancing 60 people at camp all day and coming home to 19 in a five bedroom house. Somehow it worked (as most things do in Armenia). Grandma got a little grumpy by Saturday but I think that was just because the final-day BBQ/dance party kept her up too late.

The best part of our Green Camp was that it made me realize how much I’ve grown to appreciate my community. There are some very active youth (and adults) here and they take excellent care of me.

On Friday we had personal responsibility to the environment day and we did a school area clean up. Alla had the idea to organize the kids so that part of the time would be spent cleaning the area where we hope to build the playground this month. I thought I was going to get to take a day off on Sunday but Saturday night Alla came over to inform me that the YCAP group decided to begin cleaning and taking out the old fence in the playground area starting at 8 p.m. (that’s when it begins to cool off enough to emerge from the house).

We cleaned until 10:30 and then went home for some fried eggplant and salty cheese wraps. Oh how my schedule (and tastes) have changed. Fun summer nights!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

International Outreach Camp in Pictures

Camp Gugark from the stairwell window. The cafeteria is on the left and another children's camp was staying in the dorm across the square. Many a disco took place in the middle.
PCV bonding time before camp around Dominic and his guitar. Who knew that could Alex could sound so much like the Foundations (our favorite is Build me up buttercup)? Throughout camp we turned to each other for a bit of 'Team nothing' time in order to relax.

The big welcome of Armenian participants.

We were introducing participants to our home states in America. I'm introducing Ohio but look four people to my right. Who know the cardinal, carnation and buckeye could be so hilarious? What a public speaker...

The intense judging panel. We're serious about those team challenges.

I taught an optional nutrition class. The students had never seen the food pyramid before which led to an interesting discussion about the differences between whole wheat and white bread, red vs. white meat and why you can never get enough veggies. I'm wearing my shirt backwards on purpose.

On the 16th we had a camp-wide culture fair and the students in 'sharing cultures' classes made this quilt of symbols of Armenia. My favorite is the big pomegranate at the top.

Saying goodbye to tomorrow's leaders.

Onward and upward. Ani (far left) is headed to TN in a few weeks. Take good care of her America!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 26 Tsnundd Shnorhavor

I got a grant for my birthday yesterday and it was the best gift a PCV could ask for. After a few edits to the proposal we'll be able to secure funding and get to work on the community contributions before construction begins in August.

Thank you for your prayers and support.

Other exciting gifts included: A lavender shirt and pant outfit size XXL, two pairs of underwear, a bra and a silk nightie, a set of seven flowered plates and a pair of gold shoes (for school of course) from the kids.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Project Proposal Deadline

Today marks the tenth month that I've lived and worked at site. The village life is nice in the summertime as everyone has plenty of work to do. We are all getting ready for the apricot harvest next week. They say there will be very little to sell but plenty to eat, which translates to days of preparing juice and jam. We'll be eating apricots by the kilo and I can't wait.

I was excited to see that the fruit stands along the side of the road started popping up last weekend too. Men and women create small tents of fresh produce and then camp out (literally) along the road until September or October. The more elaborate stands feel like small outdoor homes with everything from refrigerators and televisions to beds and flatware. One of our relatives has an especially nice business where he sells gas and fruit. I like to go and sit on the bed and eat from their stand.

Today is also the deadline for SPA submissions. I made a trip into Yerevan yesterday to finalize and turn in the village's project proposal for a new playground/outdoor recreation area. As simple as a playground sounds it's quite an undertaking and I pray that we are awarded the funds and finish the project by first bell (September 1). One of the best aspects to the grant is the 'community contribution.' No matter how much money the grant requests, 25 percent of the budget must come through some form of community contribution. In our case this includes time, energy and equipment donations in the form of: 100 decorative trees, an irrigation system (for the 100 trees), eight benches made from old school desks, four trashcans, cleaning and painting. It will be beautiful and, as optimistic as it sounds, will hopefully foster community pride and health.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Week one year two: Done

Well...approximately. After the new volunteer welcome we had our first Green Camp in Idjevan (up north). All six girls stayed with Rud and enjoyed a week of tasty food, moderately well behaved children and camp songs. The camp was organized to provide all of the coordinators from the remaining five camps this summer an opportunity to learn by doing. We served as counselors to try and figure out for ourselves how to budget, schedule and put out small fires.

Syd and I. I live up there and she just embraces the entire country as home.

The mountain group!
Rud and his angels. We took an excursion to Yerevan on Wednesday. It might have been considered inconvenient to have to stop the bus every ten km to pour water on the overheating radiator but we took it as a nice opportunity to photograph the lovely countryside and country map.

The excursion also took us past Sevanavank on the Sevan peninsula. Princess Mariam commissioned the church for a place to worship but because she was a woman she was only able to view the services through a slit window in the back. The church has a great view of the lake.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A15 Welcome Weekend Pictures

Right below the Ohio license plate in the heart of Yerevan, Armenia.
This is hail coming down on our football game. We're tough though, it only delayed play for about 10-15 minutes.
Welcome to Armenia A15s

Almost every volunteer in country.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Khash Bowl Spring 07 and A15 Welcome

Yesterday we played our annual Khash bowl game on the most beautiful green grassy field I've ever seen in Armenia. We played part of the first quarter before hail started raining down on our parade. We played through the pain but the North managed a victory over the south. All was forgotten after a warm shower and hot dinner. It was a truly American day with lunch at a new diner in Yerevan (the best cheeseburger in country, fries and half a bottle of Heinz ketchup) and the game. After time with the volunteers and two hours sleep we gathered at the office to bus over to historic Zvartnotz ruins to welcome the new group of enthusiastic volunteers. We waited with anticipation (I can't tell if it was more for the donuts and fresh juice or the volunteers) and cheered for the 46 A15s as they got their first glimpse of their new coworkers and majestic mount Ararat.

It's tough for us to believe that it was our group that wandered off that tour bus just one year ago. We've come a long way but all agree that it's much better being the greeters. Keep them in your prayers as they begin their training. This group is the future of our organization.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thank you Aunt Carlene!

Sometimes I get packages from America and I'm not sure how the contents will be received in Armenia. There are some goods that arrive that I hoard like gold (peanut butter packets from Mrs. Wilson-thank you!*).

A couple of weeks ago I received a package with a solar powered camping shower. I wondered how it would be received but as soon as I explained how convenient it would be the family went crazy. We all decided to shower---and even my 60-year-old host mother ran out (with enthusiasm) to wash her hair. It's provided evenings of fun for more than a week now. Let the summer begin.

*I made some investments yesterday...look at the value of a jar of peanut butter in perspective to my other shopping needs:
New tennis shoes-1500AMD ($4.28)
Thai food dinner (including spring roll appetizers)- 2000AMD ($5.71)
1.5 bottle of water-180 AMD ($ .51)
DVD-2000 AMD ($5.71)

ONE JAR OF SKIPPY PEANUTBUTTER: 2880 AMD ($8.23)....AND I BOUGHT TWO! It's so worth it.

This is her actually running

So clean and so happy

School's out for summer!

The 'last bell' rang on Friday the 25th signaling the end of the school year and the beginning of summer fun in Armenia. What exactly does a health teacher do with her time off during the summer?

My mornings recently have consisted of long runs in the countryside in preparation for the Athens marathon in November. It's the coolest time of day and the most peaceful now because most people aren't in their farms or orchards until at least 7 a.m. On Tuesday I got home and was informed that I was late for grape leaf picking with the host family so we gathered our plastic bags and spent the morning in the farm collecting leaves for sale and dolma preparation (dolma is a lot like cabbage wraps but sometimes they use grape leaves).

Between final staff meetings and grant-writing preparation I've found my days pretty full. Here are some of the projects I'm looking forward to:

This summer I look forward to working on health newspapers for my eighth and ninth grade students. The idea came to me when I was thinking about ways I could get important and detailed information to the students in an appealing way. The entire year, particularly in the eighth form, my counterpart would make copies of handouts, split the class into groups, assign one student to read, and then one group member would have to be prepared to explain the reading to the rest of the class. I found the in-class reading to be a waste of teaching time so I asked if we could make copies for the students to read before they come to class. My counterpart informed me that students would never read text book material ahead of time. One day I was sitting in the classroom and I saw that the school newspaper had just been distributed. The newspaper costs 100 dram and yet almost all of my students had a copy. I wondered what would happen if I created a healthy life styles newspaper for each of the three or four themes that could serve as a text book. I could include pictures, testimonies from students who have already taken the class, important vocabulary and statistics. I think that if we’re organized and tell all of the students that they are expected to bring their healthy life styles newspaper with them to class each week we could save time reading and use class time for discussion and questions.

I realized in the end of the year review in the seventh grade class that the students don’t commit to memory any of the lessons we teach in healthy life skills. In an effort to create some sort of classroom routine for the seventh grade class I would like to create a draft healthy life skills copy book for my counterpart to reference and assign to the students. Every day when the students enter the classroom I would like for there to be a vocabulary word written on the board for them to come in and copy. They will copy the word and definition at the top of the page and thereby be occupied during the time when my counterpart is out of the classroom or completing the attendance sheet. This entire year students would come in and run around the classroom hitting one another and yelling until my counterpart entered to quiet them, but I believe that if there is a classroom procedure established from the first week of school the students will know what is expected of them from the minute the bell rings. Another important aspect to the healthy life skills curriculum for the seventh grade is self-reflection. The students spend nearly eight weeks thinking about who they are, what they hope to become and how they see their place in the world. I would like for the students to use their healthy life skills copy books to write a short (1-5 minute) journal entry at the end of each class or at home after each lesson. If the students collect their topics of study and reactions to the lessons throughout the whole year, at the end they will not only be able to remember what they did in healthy life skills, but they will be able to reflect on the progress they’ve made in character development.

In June I hope to finish translations of our the healthy life skills text book for grades 1-7. We'd like to provide the translations to the new volunteers so that their transition into the school is a little bit easier.

I am currently working with a teacher in my school to write a SPA proposal for a new playground/recreational area near the school. The June 15 deadline marks the beginning of the project timeline and we have very high hopes that we will be able to win the grant funds and finish construction by the beginning of school.

My site is hosting a summer Green Camp at the end of July. We'll study animals, plants, trees, conservation, etc... for five days with 11-13 year-olds. It'll be hot and the mosquitos will be in full force but I'm looking forward to the opportunity to bring an educational opportunity to the kids during the summer.

I plan to be a counselor for the first-ever International Outreach Camp in Armenia. I have been writing lesson plans for the civic leadership lessons and am anxious to teach community service to 'youth' ages 18-25.

A business volunteer in Vanadzor, contacted me for assistance this summer with a group of orphaned teenagers at his site. I have offered to do a short series of outreach projects related to drugs, alcohol, and HIV/AIDS for the youth.

I have a friend who is a graduate student in the village who would like to create information seminars/lessons about medicinal, culinary and endangered plants in Armenia. I’ve recruited EAI initiative members to help in the research portion of the project and we hope to write lesson plans for classroom or community seminars in July or early August.

I have applied to teach a few lessons/ lead discussions at PST 2007. I would like to continue my work as GAD Initiative co-president and member of the PC public relations committee.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Free days

The boys and I have been spending a lot of time outdoors now that the weather is nice. We went mushroom hunting on Saturday (a lifelong dream of mine) and hiking in the mountains for four hours yesterday. Here are the pictures.

Look at mine...barely visible...then look at the boy's. It took me two hours to find that puny mushroom and it took Samvel about 10 minutes to find that monster. I must need some hunting practice.
Let the sunburns begin...
That's our village in the background in the center. To the top left are the lakes where people are raising fish. The lakes are what attract our beautiful village storks...and the summer mosquitoes.
This greenery was what we walked towards for about two hours. It was disappointing when we arrived though because it was like a small marsh in between two mountains...not perfect for picnicking.

Country Image

There’s got to be a genius behind the public relations campaign in China, and right now I wish I had his job. In a recent Newsweek article (Beijing’s Big Push) Joshua Kurlantzick wrote: “China is growing more popular than ever; a major public opinion poll last year found that most ordinary Russians now think China has ‘a positive impact on the world’ and that the United States has a negative one.”

He goes on to explain that, “Over the last five years, while anti-Americanism has surged around the glove, Beijing has worked hard to ingratiate itself in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The name of this game is soft power: making China and its culture as attractive as possible to foreign publics, not just their leaders. For years, Washington has dominated the field. But Beijing’s new outreach-through foreign aid, investment, deft diplomacy, tourism and education- is starting to best American efforts. Ordinary people across the planet now view China more warmly than they do the United States. Polls taken by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the BBC show that majority of people in most countries today consider China to be a more positive influence and less of a threat to international peace than the United States is. Such sentiments are particularly strong in the developing world.” So, I took my own informal survey in this developing country. I asked my host family which country was better, America or China, and, true to Mr. Kurlantzick’s, article, the majority answered China. Although I don’t take my research seriously (two family members said they liked America more because it’s bigger), it was interesting to read about the advance of China’s image over America’s.

To validate the public relations profession even more, Kurlantzick continues, “Beijing is already reaping the benefit of this attitudinal change in traditional, hard-power terms…All this would have been impossible a decade ago, when China seemed to have no idea how to manage its image.”

Bigger than corporate events or television spots, effective public relations of entire countries has the potential to improve the world. “The improving image of the People’s Republic is making cooperation possible in new ways and places,” Kurlantzick writes. “Of course, China’s soft-power campaign could still run off the rails…For now, however, Beijing seems to be enjoying the fruit of its impressive rebranding campaign.”

Genocide Memorial Day

Tuesday April 24 was Genocide Memorial Day. Although not everyone recognizes the Armenian tragedy as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that it occurred and that the international relations between Armenia and its neighbors only prolong the suffering in this country.

I met Alla by the metro stop and we made the long, very cold, walk to the memorial. Despite the wintry mix falling from the sky, the vast procession of those paying their respects was seemingly never ending. We bought red tulips and brought them to the center of the memorial. The mound of flowers that people had placed throughout the day was nearly as tall as me. There were funeral bouquets from countries all over the world and it was remarkable to hear people speaking in English.

We decided to go to the underground museum before walking back. As we stared at pictures of starving, naked and displaced Armenians all I could think of were the images I’ve seen of the prisoners of the WWII concentration camps. The haunting images only added to the pain of recognizing that this small country was once a powerful nation, spreading all the way to the Black Sea. Today, landlocked and struggling to survive with closed boarders and racial hatred, Armenia only wants recognition of the acts that were committed.

In the museum there is a case of proclamations memorializing the genocide made by governors and state politicians in America. I am not certain, but I’ve been told that 48 states have recognized the genocide. I understand that America is in a difficult position to stand up for Armenia, but I couldn’t help but take a picture of a sign on the side of the memorial that calls our nation to honesty.

It was cold cold cold (hence the bright red nose to match my jacket).

Monday, April 23, 2007

National & Global Youth Service Day

April 21-22 was National and Global Youth Service Day. Saturday we celebrated by cleaning up the field and planting trees where we hope to one day prepare a village playground/outdoor recreation center. Some pictures below help illustrate the event.

There is a class that the kids take called 'work'. The boys learn how to build and repair things and the girls learn how to cook and make crafts. I recruited some of the sixth form boys and later the fourth form wanted to help. When the bell rang they asked if they could come back after school and help some more. They showed up at 2 p.m. with gloves, bags, water and a flower for me.
It was an enthusiastic group.

When it was time to plant the trees this neighbor came down and showed us the right way to do things. Talk about community investment.
YCAP group 9th form students helped dig while we gathered buckets of water and measured out the field. Our friend stayed around to monitor the work for a few trees until the boys got the hang of it.
One of my favorite students (above right) took charge of the younger students (who he fondly referred to as his kindergartners). Here he is instructing the kids to gather rocks to make a ring around the baby trees. I'll admit, it was a nice touch.