In my last post I focused on the best part of my trip back to Paso de Oro...the family.
In this post I would like to share a little bit about what In-Service training (IST) was like as part of my continuing effort to give you a glimpse of what development work in general and Peace Corps development work in particular is all about.
IST, this time called “Reconnect” since it was the first formal occasion in which my training group got together, was a 3-day event held in Guarambaré. Remember this place?
It started around 8:00 AM on Tuesday, November 24th and ended around 12:00 PM on Thursday, November 26th.
Before we arrived we responded to a questionnaire about what we would like to learn about in the following sessions:
- Country Director Brief
- Lunch with Programming and Training Officer
- Programming Session with Associate Peace Corps Director
- Round Robin of other topics/sectors
During the course of the 3 days, we spent most of the time in breakout style language classes. We were grouped according to what we wanted to study (Spanish or Guaraní) and what level or common themes within each. I picked up and honed a few things but overall think language is not the best use of time for an IST mainly since it is such a short period of time, which implicates that the incremental gains in language at this point pale in comparison to the potential for large incremental gains in our technical area. Personally, I would have liked to see a lot more effort and time put into sector specific technical training especially now that we are coming in with a pretty good perspective on our sites and counterparts. If leveraged correctly, this newly gained in depth perspective could be used to give us some great technical training and guidance/advice, but that’s just one opinion among many.
COUNTRY DIRECTOR BRIEF
Country Director Donald Clark provided a brief in which he covered many topics. He started out by describing the Country Director conference in LA he went to in which he was able to see the new Peace Corps Director and hob-nob with other Country Directors from around the world. He then talked about some important changes to Peace Corps Paraguay Pre-Service Training (basically, Peace Corps Paraguay has not renewed its contract with CHP in the outsourcing of our training).
CHP Paraguay was the latest and last victim among a long, historical spree of severed ties between the training supplier and Peace Corps. They used to conduct training for many of the Peace Corps posts and systematically lost every single contract through the years. There is an important lesson to be gleaned from this experience. I’m not sure about the other Peace Corps posts that dropped CHP, but at least in Paraguay, the executive staff was satisfied with their work. It was a policy change and corresponding order, which came down from headquarters in Washington that delivered the final blow to CHP. Companies or organizations contracting with the government better make sure to diversify their offering and customer pool in order to hedge against risks associated with fickle government policy, which could end the company with a change of a just one law or even interpretation of a law. That goes for the private sector as well. A company should never rely to heavily on one customer or supplier because of the leverage afforded to the other organization in negotiations as well as the huge implications for survival prospects implied in a decision to end the relationship.
Our Country Director also talked about some ongoing IT issues concerning Internet at the office, and information/collaboration/knowledge sharing platform improvements, which are desperately needed. He also addressed volunteer behavior as a result of some recent incidents, which include broken glass in the pool of one of our preferred hotels and streaking naked in public during a Volunteer get-together. He discussed the importance of Peace Corps partnering with other government and non-government organizations engaged in similar work. Finally, he talked about the need of Peace Corps to create more unified, branded programs, leadership camps as an example, at the national level.
LUNCH WITH PROGRAMMING AND TRAINING OFFICER
Most of the Volunteers, myself included, went out for lunch so we missed the Lunch session with the PTO. I came in on the tail end of it and it seemed like a pity party in which Volunteers described difficult situations and frustrations experienced in site.
PROGRAMMING SESSION WITH ASSOCIATE PEACE CORPS DIRECTOR
The APCD session went really well. I had asked for examples of what other Volunteers in our sector were doing. Betsy, our sector’s Volunteer Coordinator, prepared a great one pager describing the main activities of many of the Volunteers in our sister G. I had also asked for an exhaustive listing of the most common organizations (Government, NGO, Nonprofits) with which to work as a RED Volunteer including brief explanations of each and contact info. Betsy delivered big time on that one as well.
Two former Volunteers from our sector also offered a session in which they broke their service down into 4-month segments revealing the nature of the two-year service and the activities they did within their communities.
I had also asked to get more information about how to most effectively implement the entrepreneurship course (class size, frequency, appropriate ages, how to market it, certificates?, ideal duration of class, ideas for practical application of what’s taught in the class, etc...). In order to address that, they brought in Eric, a Volunteer from our Sister G, who is teaching the course. He showed us an example of a class and then gave tips concerning most of the above.
The medical session was basically structured as a free-flowing question and answer session, which was followed by distribution of much needed sun block and OFF. We discussed how to keep cool in the summer heat, which foods are and are not ok to eat if left unrefrigerated, and a handful of other topics. Medical Mary gave us a sheet with a few good recipes and common standard to metric conversions for cooking.
In the Round Robin style sessions current Volunteers offered us the following:
- AIDS charla
- Working with Youth Charla
- Gender and Development Charla
- Trash Management Charla
- Basic Computer Skills Training Charla
In the AIDS charla, Lauren (the special third year extension AIDS volunteer in Asunción) quickly delivered the standard AIDS charla using a nicely designed flip chart so that we could see how it goes and how to deliver it in the event that we decided to conduct the presentation in our sites. I found it well designed, really entertaining, interactive, and informative. As an example, Lauren asked us what were some common reasons for not using a condom, one of which was reduced pleasure/sensitivity. She responded to that by asking for a volunteer participant (which of course was me) to come up for a demonstration. She told me to close my eyes and hold up the index and middle fingers from my right hand. She then proceeded to place a condom over those two fingers. She instructed me to guess what action she was doing to my fingers as she performed them. I correctly observed all of her actions, which included stroking with her fingers, blowing, and licking. She told me to open my eyes and then gave some statistic to the rest of the group and I, which states that the genital area has (huge number) more nerves than your fingers, so if I felt and discerned all the differences with my fingers, imagine the heightened sensitivity with the other area indicating lack of sensitivity is no excuse for not using a condom especially when weighed against the risks of contractions of STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
Working with Youth Charla
An Urban Youth Volunteer gave us examples of ways to work with youth, provided knowledge of some existing pre-prepared projects/activities, gave some helpful tips to keep in mind while working with youth, and then broke down her activities in site.
Some of the helpful tips:
- Don’t drink or smoke with your youth, despite if they’re of legal age
- Mix it up by changing the meeting place, buying food, playing games, etc...
- Keep it short and simple at first.
- Be patient, be more of a peer than a know it all Volunteer
- Make sure the youth know what they’ve accomplished, even if it’s small
- Listen to their ideas and do what they want at first...build the rapport, give them what they want, and then start pushing your agenda later
- Set regular meeting days and times, and don’t change them
- Teaching basic computer skills
- Offering sessions on self esteem, decision making, communication, etc...as part of the community project class at a local high school
- Assisting a local youth group in doing whatever they want to do such as fundraising for a soccer tournament, making a garden, and writing up a request for funding for trash cans.
- Exercise Group- Offers a 45 minute exercise classes three times a week, and facilitated a weight loss contest in the school.
To be honest, I don’t really remember much from this charla. The first part took the form of an open-ended group conversation, which was followed up with Q & A. Rosana, the go to Volunteer on GAD issues, asked what gender roles and differences in gender relations we noticed in our communities. We went around sharing our observations and experiences. The typical things came out like how men and women separate into two different groups at gatherings, the chauvinist comments guys make, the dichotomy of traditional roles in the house and work, etc...
She also told us about the GAD committee, it’s annual camp, and I think she mentioned a few ways to conduct GAD related work in our communities and how to handle some touchy topics.
So there you have it...a Peace Corps Paraguay RED sector 3 month In Service Training. I enjoyed catching up with some of my fellow Volunteers and especially enjoyed hearing about their sites and activities in site.