Sunday, September 16, 2007

ESL in Villages?

Today (Sunday, 16 Sept), I met with someone at an NGO (non-governmental organization) office. That was a great visit. I was very encouraged talking with her and the NGO's policies, goals, visions, programs, etc. She even gave me their orientation book (it’s really big!) to the country. I think it will be a great resource in just getting an overall view of things, and great for Mommy and Daddy too!

She said that that particulair NGO is one of the oldest NGO’s in the country, and they only work in this country. Their focus is community development – relationships through projects/work. She said since they have permission from the government, they really do what they are here to do. If your job is teaching, you teach. If it’s agricultural work, you do agricultural work.

After we talked for a while, I asked, “what would the next step be, if I wanted to come back with this NGO…” She said I would come through a sending agency, and I would inform them (the sooner the better). I would need a physical, references, and a psych evaluation (That could be done by anyone who is a certified counselor – not necessarily a real expensive test). There is a $4100/year fee for the operating grant. That pays for my rent and for a night guard, also the orientation course, and administration fees for the NGO.

She said there is a ‘Language and Orientation’ course offered twice a year (October and April). It’s 5 ½ months of language learning. The classes are either in the morning or afternoon, and you spend the rest of the time practicing. There is also a 5 day orientation course – orientation to the country, etc. She said if you come for 2+ years, you get the whole course. I asked her about the relationship between my company and the NGO. How does it work, who am I responsible to for what…? She said my company would succound me to the NGO. The NGO is then responsible for me, for housing, security, etc. I am responsible to the NGO for team meetings, but any end-of-the-year reports that my company might require, I’m still responsible to them to do that.

I asked if One-Story asked me to do something along side of teaching ESL for example, would that be possible – she said yes. I then went and talked with another girl– who spent 7 years in a neighboring country doing ESL/EFL, and has been here for 2 years also doing some ESL stuff. She said this NGO typically focuses on teaching a higher level English. And you have to test into a higher level to take the course. They will teach lower levels if it works with strategic planning/community development. They aren’t focused as much on the poor/illiterate – she said if they were that poor or illiterate, then English probably isn’t their first need/priority anyway.

She said one thing they are thinking about doing is changing their strategy…they are thinking about setting up some teacher training courses. They’ve done teacher training in the past, but the methods and strategies haven’t lasted. The teachers are too ingrained to teach a certain way, and with one course, you can’t really change that. She said they are thinking maybe a 4-6 year program where they would have teacher training centers set up. The teachers would come, they would learn more about teaching, and would be taught, but would also then teach too – The NGO would oversee their lesson plans, etc. They would focus on building the teaching skills of the Dry Land workers, not just their English speaking skills.

She said the NGO's goals are to have something that is sustainable – something that can run itself, something where Dry Land people can do it themselves. They are ‘capacity building at the human resource level.’ She said millions of dollars have been spent on the infrastructure – i.e. new roads, schools, electricity, etc. That is great, but what will happen in a few years when the road breaks and there are no engineers to fix it? There needs to be a development in human resources as well as the infrastructure.

She said in one city, an international reconstruction team came in, and built a children’s hospital, state of the art, but it’s sitting empty. They said, “We’ll build it for you, but won’t staff it.” Well, now it’s just sitting there empty because there are not human resources to fill it. This NGO's focus is building up that human resource to match the the development of the country.

I asked about the need/desire for ESL. She said it’s an overwhelming need. She said that the capitol city Kabul University is actually switching from having it’s medical classes in the local language to having them only in English. They are thinking about doing the same thing with the engineering classes. She said Dry Land people do two things – English and Computers. They do that because they know those two things are the key to getting ahead.

I asked about village work – the basic conclusion from that discussion was if you want to do village work, you probably aren’t going to do ESL. They have too many other needs to be focused on English language learning. She talked about some villages she visited on an survey trip – there was one village where the women didn’t even speak the national language. They still hold very fast to their mother tongue. When she said that I thought, “I should go there right now and do storying – it’s the perfect place!”

She also talked about a village that you have to talk 6 days in to get there. I also thought that would be a great place to go! I asked what would the possibility be if I came and said I wanted to work in such and such village – would there still be the requirement to spent 5 ½ months learning the national language, or would the NGO potentially suggest that I just learn the village language. She said they hadn’t had that situation before, but she was very familiar with that debate because she dealt with it in her previous country. She said they eventually decided for new teams they didn’t need to learn the national language, but they could just focus on their village language. She said it would probably depend on the nature of the work, what I was doing, exactly where I would be, etc.

During the conversation I realized that I have interest in two areas that are a bit conflicting. I like and enjoy ESL teaching. I also really love being out in villages. However here, and also in India – there are many villagers that just aren't concerned with learning English. And it wouldn’t be very natural to set up an English tutoring program in the middle of a village! Of course, both of these interests stem from, or coincide with relationship with the local people.

As she was talking, I felt conflicted about the village vs. ESL thing. Part of me has thought, ‘I can just come and do ESL…somehow and still do village stuff…’ – but I’m not so sure that’s the case. And even the storying stuff, I wonder if it’s best to do that in the national langauge – which would be the language I would learn if I lived in a city and did ESL, or if it should be a village language…but then do I want to do storying, and if so, how much involved do I want to get?

What would I want an end goal to be - of the storying side of my interest? Then again, how long would I want to stay here? I feel like I have more questions now than before – which is good. However, I feel like I’m looking for the answer to the main question, “What exactly do you want to do?” – I’m not sure how many other people can help me figure that out. I’m trying to combine what I think I want to do, with the options available, and with the needs that need to be met. It seems like things are fitting, but not 100% - that is if I want to combine everything and have the ideal assignment. I know better than to ask for that- but now I’m puzzled about the village vs. ESL situation.

Is there a way to do both? Then again, I haven’t visited the cities in the west or the north yet. Perhaps something there will jump out more clearly to me. I’m looking forward to visiting some of the villages in those places too. I’m also looking forward to seeing the English learning center in M town. I think all that will help me to see more if I really want to do more village stuff than the ESL stuff, or vice versa.

Another thing to consider, besides just my interests/gifts, are the people I would be working with. I think that’s important. The one worker had mentioned that as one of the things they specifically looked for when they came here – who would the team be/were people like-minded enough to work with on a project. If I had to go strictly based on that, I’d almost say I’ll go with Dr. B and his family and the team there. They by far have been the most welcoming and friendly. Then again Missy has been helpful and said there is a large expat community there. And Joe is a very experienced teacher and I could learn a lot from him, I’m sure. You know he was held hostage for 6 months at one point? Before he was married! It was just a gang group trying to get money. They eventually let him go, but he said (or I’ve heard the story through others) that that was the best language learning time he’s ever had!

Anyway, I’m very encouraged by the the NGO visit. It was neat to hear about possibilities for coming back and serving- and how they would give me a reason to be here, and a position (ESL teacher), but also allow me to do storying or whatever else on the side. In a way, that seems like a perfect fit, and part of me says, “why are you so confused, it’s great, you should take it!”

I guess as I’m learning more, I’m just asking more questions and thinking even more. Something else Travis had mentioned once was, “sometimes being willing to stay in one place for a while may give you more reason to get out to another place…” In other words, if it’s not natural for me to be out in villages right now, maybe it’s better to get my feet wet doing the ESL thing with storying on the side while learning the trade language, learning about the culture, etc. Even if I had to switch languages later, knowing the national language isn’t a bad thing!

The other BIG thing is that I’m not saying 100% that I think He wants me even in this country! I’m not sure about that, and won’t be for a while – at least I don’t think so!! I’m glad that my mind is free enough to consider it, so that I can ask these questions and get information while I’m here – but glad it’s not free enough to just jump into something or commit to something just yet!!!

One thing that is very different from this trip as opposed to the Riverland trip is that so far, my time has been mostly spent with expats and not with Dry Land people. One Worker asked me about my impressions of Dry Land so far, and I mentioned a few things, but also said I hadn’t really spent time with any Dry Land people besides the two girls who live above Beth. I know that this time right now is about networking and figuring things out, and not necessarily visiting Dry Land people. I am hoping that my visits to the two other cities will give me a bit more interaction with the culture and people.

I am trying to finish the book, “The Bookseller of Kabul” book. One part in the forward says, “…A bookseller is unusual in country where three quarters of the population can neither read nor write…” Later it again made a reference to the illiterate population. Immediately, I thought – they need oral Stories! I thought for a few minutes about the literacy thing, and thought, “true, it’s good to teach them to read and write, but what about giving them the Truth – isn’t that more important? I agree basic needs – clean water, etc are perhaps just as important as the truth because if you die due to unclean water, then you won’t get the Truth either.

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