30 July, 2015

Peace Corps Education....

Just a quick post....

I'm staying busy with trying to learn everything about everything! Some topics include:
  • Fiscal sponsorship
  • OVC (Orphan & Vulnerable Children) Programs
  • Foster Care programs
  • Social enterprise
  • Grant writing
  • Peace Corps small grants
  • How to teach English, math, and everything else
  • How to motivate children to do their homework 
  • Kid & Youth Club topics and activities

Oh, and creating a fun (with some education) workshop for the children during their August holiday in a few weeks....

I came across this article, written by a PCV, and thought I would share it with all you. Esther, the author, gives very good insight into what goes on in the head of a PCV, and the personal challenges that we face, as we try to make a difference, and learn about another culture, at the same time...
(Click on the picture below)

Peace Corps Guilt
by Esther Katcoff

And we are slowly starting to work on a garden at the Centre! This is the children's garden - they will be planting and harvesting and caring for it. Here's a picture from the other day while we were preparing the land...

If anyone is interested, or knows of anyone interested, in fiscal sponsorship/funding/donating to help our Centre, please feel free to contact me! (There is a contact form on the left side of this blog.) I am still researching all of our options, and will be more clear about what we're in need of, soon hopefully, but until then...just wanted to put some feelers out there.... :)

And if you're on facebook, don't forget to "Like" the Children's Education Centre page!

15 July, 2015

Busy is a good thing

Life here in Usakos is going well. I’ve been super busy with creating activities for the kids for their weekends, along with helping (and learning how to) tutor them in mainly math and English – reading, specifically. Thanks to a few people, I have gotten some great ideas on how to do this. This has become a wonderful learning experience for me, as well!

My clubs are going well. I gave the younger ones a quick nutrition lesson, and then asked them to take out their books and write or draw anything they would like. These kids love to be creative and learn. Some used crayons to draw. Some copied sentences from English textbooks. Some wanted me to write the alphabet on the board for them – and then we decided to write words for each letter. This is a CLUB – yet, these kids wanted to still LEARN! Amazing!

Here are some pics:

My youth clubs have been slow – as the older kids aren’t so keen on having to be in this club. But I told them this club is not required, and I am also slowly gaining their trust. So, I plan on having fun activities for them, as well as educational ones. Just yesterday, we had a nurse from the local hospital talk to the older children about birth control and safe sex. I plan on following up with them next week, and discussing how to use a condom, HIV/AIDS, and anything else sex-related. Mainly, I have learned that I need to teach them the biology of sexual organs, as well as pregnancy. Knowledge is power.

Also, we are so thankful to have received a wonderful donation from a friend. Because of this, we were able to purchase books, dictionaries and games for the kids! Everyday, I see these children picking up the books and reading them. Again, I am just amazed as to how much they WANT to read – even if they are struggling. With this donation, we are also able to provide the children with a fun Friday Pizza-Popcorn-and-Movie night! The mothers worked so hard to make these pizzas, and then we all sat back and enjoyed watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (some of the children had read this book in school, and when I told them I had the movie, they become SUPER excited to see it!).

Here are some pictures from that night:

I have also begun to realize, and try to help with, the psychosocial aspects the children experience, here at the orphanage. We had one child lose his mother last week, another get in trouble by his house mother and was concerned she would leave him as well (which, of course, she would never do), and a few who disobey rules – these are good children, but the reality is, many of them feel like this place is a “jail” to them. They get along with the other children, and the staff is amazingly supportive and loving – the problem is, this is not their true, real, biological family. Most of these children are here because their home-life is not conducive to healthy learning and living. Ideally, these kids are here temporarily. But many will stay here until they are 18. Side note – I think I have become the “cool Aunt” here – even the house mothers ask me to talk with certain children, at times when they are having a problem or not cooperating. I enjoy this. Though it’s new territory for me – but thanks to my social worker-friends, and my own “cool Aunts” as role-models,  I am slowly learning how to do this!

This brings us to our current situation. Although we are working hard to make life here wonderful for these children, and trying to find new ways to give them a fun, healthy, loving atmosphere to grow (which, many have had incredible positive changes in their school grades, as well as their behavior), we are limited – mainly, due to lack of finances. This is their reality.

I am feverishly researching and learning all I can about children’s homes, foster care and kinship programs (temporarily housing a child, while rehabilitating the biological family, with the goal of returning the child to the biological family). The Children’s Education Centre, here where I volunteer, is also approaching the point where a transition is inevitable. We must move from a children’s home to a foster care/kinship program. Again, we are researching the logistics and financial responsibilities that are necessary for this to occur. I would love to give you all of the specifics, but until I know all of them myself, I won’t go into detail.

Currently, our funding/sponsorship provides (small) salaries for the staff, along with the running cost of the Centre (utilities, food, etc.). This does not cover clothing, books, or other educational and fun activities for the children. I have found a few options, and am looking into them, but my goal is to find CONTINUOUS sponsorship for our Centre – in the present situation, as well as our possible future endeavor of becoming a foster care/kinship program for the children. I would also like sponsorship, if coming from the U.S., to be able to offer tax breaks for those who donate. This is somewhat complicated – since we are an international NGO. I have reached out to one tax specialist, but am completely open to ideas and advice from anyone else who may be knowledgeable in this area!

We would also LOVE to be able to provide children, who meet certain requirements, with scholarships for furthering their education. Again, ideally, this would be part of the continual sponsorship.

Now, the Namibian government does provide some financial assistance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover all that is needed. This is why we are searching for other forms of fiscal sponsorship. 2 ways that I am aware of are 1) a U.S. organization collects donations, and then provides our Centre with these donations, and 2) U.S. citizens can create a “Friend of Namibia” or “Friend of CEC” trust or organization. Again, this would provide a tax break for those who donate. There are a few international organizations who I have also reached out to, to find out if we would qualify for their programs and sponsorship.

Any ideas or advice, from anyone who is reading this, would be greatly appreciated!!

The staff here is amazing – they work together, are kind and loving towards the children, they CARE about their education and growth. My director is a hard-working, wonderful woman – who’s number 1 priority is the children. In the past, she has even given her own money to help the children when needed. This is the sort of woman I love to work for, and am motivated by to continue to challenge myself to make this Centre the best possible setting for these vulnerable children, who otherwise may have grown up in very unhealthy situations – which would have lead them to being uneducated, possible life of crime, living on the street, early pregnancy, and so much more.

As for me, I’m also studying for the GREs (hoping to take them in November) and taking an online course – which will help me create a program for these kids. More info to come on this – but if you’re interested (especially teachers!), it’s called Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots. Check it out – it’s all about Service Learning and guiding the children to help their community – the people, environment and/or animals. I hope to be able to do this with the children….

One last note – unfortunately, a sad one:
My loyal and wonderful friend and companion, Bear, had to be put to sleep last week. One day after his 18th birthday. I am so fortunate to have been able to have spent some time with him while I was home, visiting Nashville. He did remember me! And we had some good walks together. It’s been harder than I imagined – losing him, while I’m all the way over here, and not being there by his side. But I am slowly accepting it. Yes, tears fell. I miss that dog more than anything. I do feel guilt, that I came all the way over here – being selfish and leaving him. But I also know that I left him in wonderful hands to look after him, in a place he loved to roam around and chase the horses and sticks, if someone dares to spend all day throwing them for him! He was my buddy. Always there for me – and even knew when I was having a bad day and was upset. He would come right up to me, as if to say “I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m here for you. Now, pet me and you’ll feel better!” And you know what, I always did J
You know, here in Namibia, Namibians ask me all the time if I have children. My answer is always “Yes – a dog and a cat”. And then they laugh. But, it’s true. And I did just lose my child. But I know it was his time to go. He was very old, and starting to be in a lot of pain. I am just thankful I was able to spend some time with him in May, before he left us.

I will always miss you Bear!

Peace & Love,

27 June, 2015

MY Club

Things are going great, here in Usakos! I am definitely very very busy….which I love.

This week, we decided to make a few changes, and add a few things for the kids. We were having study hour (M-Th 3-4) in the hall. Well, this didn’t seem to work because those who did not have homework and didn’t want to read, would just play and distract everyone else. So, we’ve split the children up, grouped by grade, and they stay in the houses. I place myself at a different house each day to help. And so far, this new arrangement seems to be a much more positive change – the children are able to study and do their homework more effectively, and even help each other when they have the same assignment. Go team CEC!

We have also started a club for the kids. We will have 2 – one for those 13 years of age and younger, and one for those 14 and older. We are naming them MY Club. MY Kid Club, and MY Teen Club. This is for THEM. We wanted the children to feel some sense of ownership with this. Of course, we will have educational activities, but I want to do things with them that THEY want to do – not what they’re always told to do. See, even though many of these kids visit their real families on weekends or holidays, this Centre is where they are living – at least for the moment. And sometimes, because the gates are locked so they don’t run away (which a few of them wanted to do last week), they feel like this place is a jail. I wanted to give them something of their own – not what every adult is telling them to do. So during our first MY Kid Club, when I explained that this club is for them – and we can do activities that THEY want to do, their reaction was great! They loved the idea. I also told them that they do not have to come if they don’t want to. Hopefully this will give them a sense of freedom of will.

Here is a picture with a few of the ideas they came up with for the club. (Notice “Reading”, “Math”, and “Teamwork” were things THEY chose!)

During this first session, I gave them each a notebook. It will only be used for the club – so I collect them all at the end of each session. For this particular session, I asked them to write something about themselves – anything. I gave them some ideas – name, age, favorite color, subject, hobby, etc. But they always get so worried that this is a test, or they will write the wrong thing. I assured them there was no wrong answer, and they could write anything they want! Pictures will be posted on the next blog post….

I also told them that they could use this book to send me private messages, comments, or questions. I explained that sometimes, they might feel embarrassed to ask a question in front of their friends, or they may have something to talk about that they don’t want anyone to know. Well, they can write their question or concern in this book, and then I, with the help of the HouseMothers, will respond to them – thru the use of the book. I think they’re still trying to figure out exactly what this means, but I’ll continue to encourage them to do this….(Thanks Crystal for this idea!)

They were then excited to decorate their books - with crayon and stickers! Though they used up all of our stickers (I should have known!), it was totally worth it...

Here are a few pics from the first MY Kid Club meeting:

Monday will be our first MY Teen Club. I’ll let you know how that goes….

I have also been researching my butt off on ways to get more funding for this Children’s Education Centre (CEC). In my next post, I’ll explain much more….

Until then…here is a picture of me, after about 6 children cornered me and wanted to braid my hair. I am learned that when around them, if my hair is not in a bun, it becomes an “all-access pass” for these kids to play with and braid my hair. Ah, but you gotta love them….

And here is one more picture of one of the cutest kids – she is 3 years old! And she is trying to learn English. But her favorite phrase is “This one”. Oh, and she loves to count anything – at least up to 10!

 And some pictures from my walk home the other day:

Thanks all for reading!

America has been in the news lately. Lots of ups and lots of downs. I just hope we can all find a way to live together in peace and harmony...through all of our differences and similarities. America is a pretty great country, and we, as Americans, have it pretty darn good – compared to many in other parts of the world, where freedoms are not a fundamental right for many. Let us keep remembering that….


(One of the children told me that the name “Johanna” is a Damara name! So I guess I now have an Owambo AND a Damara name. I'm officially Namibian.)

23 June, 2015

CEC Facebook Page

As promised, here is the facebook page for the
Children's Education Centre!

This is the organization I'm serving this year.
If you're on facebook, please "Like" and "Share"!

Thank you in advanced!

(Click on picture below:)