Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Human Knot

Last week, I was happy to have some of the boys at the Dar Chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center") do an activity which is sometimes called the "human knot." They stood in a circle, and each boy raised his right hand, and took the right hand of someone else not standing next to him. Then they did the same thing with their left hands. Then I told them to untangle themselves without letting go, so that they would again be holding hands in a circle. They did pretty well at it. They didn't take that long to untangle themselves. They listened to each other well, and worked together to solve the puzzle. People do the exercise to develop and strengthen communication and problem solving skills and team-building skills. I had them do it in anticipation of future activities and projects on which I hope to have them work together.

Moving from the literal to the figurative, I'm also writing today because in the middle of this month, I was in a little bit of a funk. From mid-March to mid-May, I was fairly busy with various activities and projects.

When other PCVs left my town in mid-May after doing some activities here, I was a little down. While I thought that I felt a bit down because they had just left my town, I also felt a little challenged for other reasons, too.

When I'm busy, that's good, as I'm applying myself and being helpful to others. If too much time starts to pass without me working and helping people, I'm much more likely to ask myself why I am here. So I knew that I also felt a little down because I had been busy, and all of a sudden, I wasn't busy.

But I also felt down for a spell earlier this month because sometimes all of the routine challenges of being a PCV (in any Peace Corps country)--not living in the USA, living in a foreign country, constantly being surrounded by a foreign culture, not understanding a huge percentage of what is said to me, having difficulty expressing myself in Darija, not having close friends with whom I can spend time face-to-face--cumulatively just get to be a bit much, and that gets me down. As I write this, I have emerged from the funk (which, by the way, was nowhere near the low level of my rough spots in December through early March). I write this latter part of this blog entry today just so people don't think everything is smooth and unchallenging at this point. And, for other PCVs and PCTs, so that you know that other PCVs and PCTs also are experiencing challenging periods even when significantly into their service. Remember that you are not alone, and that you have the support of others.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Unexpected Role Model

I've been exceptionally busy the last couple of weeks. A couple of weeks ago, some other PCVs and I helped some Moroccans who were doing some health education at an event in a town a couple of hours from where I live.

More recently, over a series of a few days, I helped coordinate the activities of a half dozen other PCVs who were here in my town. Some of them were here to help educate about health and environmental issues.

During the same few days, in a park here in my town, many members of my community were performing, including by dancing and singing. A friend of mine who's a PCV sang and played his guitar in the park here on one of those nights.

At the same time, kids here in my site were painting murals around town. We were also doing other community beautification projects. As we were planting some trees one day, this one boy, who honestly looks rather haggard, and who actually is an orphan, started picking up candy wrappers and other trash, and started throwing it in a plastic bag. Keep in mind that youths here, as in many places in the world, often discard their trash by simply dropping it on the ground. So, knowing what youths often do with their garbage here, and that this boy has no parents to guide him and correct his behavior, I was especially taken aback when I saw him picking up trash and throwing it in a plastic bag.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guilty or Innocent?

Tonight, a Moroccan counterpart and I ran a mock trial event at the Dar Chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"). I'm happy to say that it went well. We had been preparing the kids for it in various ways for months.

Before moving to my town down south down here, and soon after arriving here, I had been wanting to do projects with youths to help them develop their logical reasoning skills. So, I had hoped to help youths develop their problem solving skills, critical thinking abilities, public speaking skills, and abilities to reason logically. The last few months, I've been helping youths at the Dar Chebab to develop these skills.

More recently in the last few months, a Moroccan counterpart who is a teacher, and I, have been training some youths here in town for a mock trial event. I wrote a fact pattern in which a man was accused of committing murder. I tried to make it somewhat factually ambiguous: that is, I tried to include enough facts for each side to be able to make effective, persuasive arguments in support of their side of the case.

We had two boys who acted as prosecution attorneys, and two boys who acted as defense attorneys, all in the same trial. However, we only had them present oral argument supporting their side of the case; they did not question any witnesses. Basically, it was like prosecution and defense attorneys presenting closing arguments in a trial in the USA.

At one point, I was amazed, surprised and very pleased when we had the boys practice their closing arguments for the very first time. One of the prosecution attorneys presented his opening remarks. Then one of the defense attorneys presented his opening remarks. I didn't even have a chance then to explain the concept of making rebuttal remarks. One of the prosecution attorneys immediately jumped up and launched into his explanation of why the defense attorney's points were not valid. I loved that they were so excited about the exercise.

So, as I said at first, tonight we held the mock trial event. Given that we had repeatedly practiced, I wasn't extremely nervous or worrying about whether or not everything was going to go smoothly. The kids did very well. I asked them some questions during the mock trial, to get them to consider alternative explanations for events in the fact pattern, other than the ones they were suggesting to assert the defendant's guilt or innocence. They seemed to handle the questions well. It seemed like they thought on their feet pretty well.

Incidentally, when we started training them for the mock trial project, I decided that all around, it would be best if we held the event completely in Darija. Then the kids would be focusing on developing their reasoning skills and public speaking skills, rather than on speaking English. The audience members would understand more easily as well. In retrospect, I'm glad that we held it in Darija, which, I think, made the most sense.

I'm glad that my counterpart and I helped the kids develop and practice and display these skills. I'm looking forward to helping them in future similar activities.