Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
I think one of the reasons I like to sign up for as much as possible, to join as many committees or clubs or activities or groups as I can, to commit to everything thrown at me, is that I know that once I give my word, there’s no going back. I need the possibility for public shaming to motivate me to do things sometimes. If not doing a task will be seen as a failure then I’ll do it so I won’t fail. (When I return to the States and someday get a smart phone, I’ll probably become one of those terrible oversharers of things like how many calories I’ve burned or what books I’ve read. Apologies in advance!)
In any case, it’s a system that works for me, and thanks to my fear of looking a fool I do a lot more than I would otherwise be inspired to do. Exhibit A of this personal trait is my involvement in the Peace Corps’ Life Skills Committee here in Georgia. I consider myself a person with a strong interest in health, although it’s not a field I’d ever want to go into professionally. But if I hadn’t joined this committee, I’m sure I would never have done so many health-related projects during my Peace Corps tenure. Being part of this committee has made me feel obligated to be involved in health-related projects, and I’m sure glad it has.
Don’t get me wrong; I love to exercise, I try to eat my fruits and veggies and I really get a kick out of reading the health section in online newspapers (the Washington Post’s Medical Mysteries series being among my favorites). I’m just not sure I’d be able to get out there and convince others to take a similar interest in health were it not for the committee. But here, in this place where no one receives any kind of basic health information, where old wives’ tales rule as medical advice and where the average person doesn’t have the tools to take care of himself, I’ve been sparked. With the rest of the committee’s members, I've worked to try to share what I’ve been fortunate enough to take for granted. I’ve been lucky in health. I’ve had the combination of good health and good education (you can debate the American education system all you want, but compared to other systems I’ve seen in other parts of the world, ours is light years ahead and American kids have huge advantages in terms of availability of information and training, options and equipment, and dedicated teachers). If I can share just the information I’ve had hurled at me my whole life, it could make a world of difference.
And as I said above, the great thing about being part of a committee that is dedicated to arming citizens with the skills they need to be healthier and lead healthy, happy lives is that I feel obligated to do something. It’s the kick in the pants I need to get out the door. But realizing this, I also get a chance to really try to figure out how one can transfer those skills and knowledge and how to make it possible for other PCVs to do the same. I’ve already written here about the fantastic DVD series that the LS Committee created. We’re looking forward to making some other resources in the near future to continue to make things easier for PCVs. We will hold our annual Healthy Lifestyles Training of Trainers for PCVs and their counterparts in early February.
And it’s rewarding to know that these projects are having an impact. On December 1, we marked World AIDS Day. This is a tough topic here in conservative Georgia. HIV/AIDS is a difficult topic to begin with, and then there are all the culturally taboo subjects to deal with. The Life Skills Committee has done an awesome job making this possible, though, by providing resources and support to make it possible. For a second year, I was able to teach an HIV/AIDS lesson in my school (I had over 200 participants for my full day of sessions!). I showed a lecture from the DVD series (I’ve never seen my 10th graders so quite and engaged) and held a discussion with the kids. It was such an overwhelmingly positive experience and felt like one of those big PC victories, where things go right. Yet I don’t know if I’d have even made the attempt if I weren’t part of the committee.
Knowing this about myself is helpful, but it also encourages me to work harder to make resources for other PCVs, and to share information and best practices. And hearing about the successes other PCVs have had also makes it really worthwhile.
The Deputy Director at my school made a display about World AIDS Day
Saturday, December 10, 2011
We could blame the end-of-the-semester drag, busy schedules, bad weather, dark days or any number of things for our infrequent blog posts of late. Instead of excuses, though, I'll just apologize for our delay. We have developed a bit of a backlog of stories, though, so I’ll try to bring everything up to speed soon, rather than just skip over the missed things.
In the meantime, as I work on typing it all up, here are a few videos as appeasement for our updating negligence. A huge thanks to Brad, Holly, Matt and Rachel for the hours of entertainment that the Christmas Chicken Dance Chicken has provided in our household! (And if the poor chicken's batteries go missing before long or it ends up with its musical component ripped out, we’ll just blame it on the neighborhood stray dogs, not the slowly-going-crazy-from-hearing-the-chicken-dance-every-5-minutes Melissa).
So enjoy the diversion while we rustle up some more blog posts! (Lilit sure doesn't seem to mind the wait, as long as she can keep stomping around the chicken.)
Monday, November 21, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Sam held a training for his teaching counterparts on using the new technologies he was able to help them get and set up as part of the grant he won for his school. (He even was able to convince his counterparts to come in to school on a weekend for the training!) His classes have been able to benefit from the new English classroom, gaining the joy of hearing all about Mr. Jolly, a major figure in the new lower-grade English textbooks. He has had some frustrations and setbacks in the project implementation, but even with these difficulties, it seems that all of his counterparts are getting into using the equipment. Further, it sounds like the ability to use the AV components of the textbooks (however diabolically evil some of the songs or jazz chants may be) has really been a boon for the students. Sam should be able to finish up all the final reporting paperwork for his grant project soon and be able just to work to see that it continues to be used and useful.
I’ve been working to wrap up my grant-recipient project that started over the summer, too. Since late July I have been holding a series of training sessions on various women’s health topics for a group of women and girls who consistently came to my fitness club. The trainings were all based on the peer education model and with the goal of making all of the participants peer educators, so they could then in turn share the information with their friends, families, relatives and neighbors. I envisioned it as a fairly simple project. I’d get the women together, show them one of the lectures from the Health Education Lecture Series, run through an activity with them from our Companion Guide or one of the other resources the Life Skills Committee has and that would be that. Ten trainings would be no problem to just knock right out.
Marianna, leading one of the training sessions
So it took us from the end of July through the end of October, but Marianna and I led 10 hour-plus-long sessions in which we taught our group about nutrition and physical fitness, emotional health and self-esteem, hygiene and communicable diseases, peer education, women’s health, reproductive health and STDs, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and taking health peer education into the community. The women in the group shuffled around their busy schedules to attend, and all came to nearly every session. They all said they were sad to see the trainings end, but they learned a lot, and I’m really proud of them and grateful for their hard work and dedication.
Their roles as peer educators in our town (the goal I had in mind from the get-go) got a head start and a boost through some luck and some leftover money in the VAST budget. I was able to get an addition to my initial grant to take a group of women to a health clinic an hour’s drive away, where women aged 25-60 can get free gynecological exams and those aged 40-70 can get free mammograms. The clinic’s facilities and equipment were paid for and donated through American and European organizations and donors and everything is state-of-the-art, and no one in Akhalkalaki had ever heard of it. As their final assignment for the training, the women had to run a peer education session on women’s health for up to three other women, then they had to bring those women with us to the clinic for checkups. I expected a group of about 30 (of which 11 would be the original program participants). Instead, I took 43 women on two days last weekend for a full day of screenings. It was incredible, to be able to see how the women from the training program stepped up and helped get enough other women over their fears of doctors or traveling to another town.
Director of the Democrat Women's Organization in Akhaltsikhe, Marina, giving a presentation to the group of women before the health screenings began
The grant money made it possible for me to get a bus both days for transportation, to give the organization an honorarium for providing their services on days when they normally are closed (they usually only work Monday through Friday, but opened on Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the size of our group and to be dedicated just to us), and to buy coffee, tea, cookies and lunch for all the ladies. It was a small grant overall (the total budget for both the training and the trips was just around $1800), but I think it had a big impact. And as we get closer to closing our service here in Georgia (just under 8 months to go!), it’s boosts like these projects that really help us feel like we’ve been doing the right thing.
The group of women, waiting for their health screenings
And even though the clock is starting to tick and our PC service is starting to wrap up, we're both excited about trying to get in a few more projects and activities. I think we've got some final bursts of energy (and enough time left) for another few initiatives. We'll try to keep you posted on what we're up to, and not get too caught up in the whirlwind of our last bit of Peace Corps.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
It’s a long road out from Akhalkalaki, with some errands in Tbilisi (stacks of grad school application supplements, a bazaar bag full of books for my English resource room, and various materials for Melissa’s training project) in between. We got in about sunset and went straight to a supra for a departing TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) volunteer. Melissa and I joke that we’re about the only volunteers in Georgia who sit around saying, “You know, I could really go for some khachapuri right now.” So it was great to pull right up to a feast of khachapuri, khinkali, and all the other Georgian delicacies we miss up here on the Javakheti plateau.
The next day , we decided to head up to the Lagodekhi National Park, where we’d heard of a really pretty three-hour hike up to a waterfall. It was a gorgeous day for it, warm but not too hot, and we walked along a riverbed, gradually climbing and occasionally taking detours into the woods, with the hills around turning their autumn colors (a few weeks later than Akhalakalki).
A really nice hike, although our luck ran out at the third river crossing. A flood had knocked down the crossing, and all that was left was a nice round log precariously poised over the rapids.
We started to try (well, Melissa did), but we decided, in the interest of life and limb, to quit before halfway. We had lunch and enjoyed the walk down, wishing we’d made it all the way up, but not regretting the time.
In the afternoon we walked out in the huge garden behind Kelsey’s host grandmother’s house. All kinds of fruit trees, vegetables, and especially grapes. We were coming to the end of harvest time, and the wine would be coming soon, but in the neighbor’s yard there were still acres of white grape vines to be harvested, and Kelsey was volunteered to help the next day.
Unfortunately, we had to leave in the morning to make our long trek back (stopping to pick up my metric ton of textbooks to (mostly) finish off my English resource room), so after one more night of celebratory khinkali, Sporcle quizzes, and homemade root beer, it was time to bit farewell.
But Kakheti in the fall is the kind of place you want to go back to.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Vienna Ferris Wheel (we watched "The Third Man" for the first time in Vienna. If you haven't seen it, watch it! It's a great movie and Orson Welles gives a fantastic speech at this ferris wheel), Vienna, Austria