Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a foreign culture can be tricky. On the one hand, you need to be respectful and not impose your ways on the people you work with, and on the other hand, you want to improve things. It can be a frustrating balancing act, and last week, I had a moment when I spoke out, because I knew what would happen if I kept my mouth shut.
My rural school in Lesotho was hooked up to electricity two weeks ago, and the Minister of Education donated four computers and a printer. My counterpart could not wait to learn how to use a computer, and to show educational videos to his students. He asked me to set up the computers, and to offer a workshop on how to use a computer to the seven teachers at my school.
I set up one computer, just to make sure we had Windows 7 and Office 2013 installed, and then noticed that the printer was missing a cable.
Our school already had one laptop, a projector and speakers, donated a couple of years ago, but they were sitting in my Principal, Sister B’s convent, collecting dust.
The day after I tested the computer in our staff room; the only room where we have electricity, Sister B returned the equipment to her convent for security reasons.
Our winter break starts in less than two weeks, and I knew that if I didn’t say something about getting burglar bars set up on the window in the staff room during the holidays, nothing would get done. Once again, the equipment would collect dust in the convent.
I’ve noticed how the teachers do not speak out during a staff meeting. Things never seem to get done, yet they often complain when we’re alone.
So this time I said what I thought needed to be said. “Sister, why don’t we get a quote for the burglar bars. I heard it doesn’t cost a lot, and that way, we can set up all the computers and the printer.”
“The school has no money,” she replied.
I’m so used to hearing that all the time, so I decided to try another approach.
With the help of a male teacher, we set up the laptop, speakers and projector, and got the system working. The teacher placed two large white sheets of paper on the wall, and the kids brought in rows of wooden benches. I found a Shrek Christmas preview DVD and “Pitch Perfect” about college kids and their acapella singing competition, which I borrowed from the Peace Corps resource center in Maseru.
As usual, I hate to admit this, but it’s the truth; three teachers did not show up at school on that day. So my counterpart suggested we show the movies, and I did not realize that for many of these children, this was their first time watching a movie. We crammed in three grades at a time, and the other children were trying to get in, but there was no room.
When the 6th and 7th graders finished their exams, they too wanted to see Shrek, and “Pitch Perfect.” Even the teachers sat inside the room, and Sister B. loved Shrek. The kids couldn’t believe a donkey could “talk.”
So my approach of showing the entire school two movies might have done the trick as most have never seen a film, and would tell their parents about it. Sister finally seemed ready to ask the parents to help raise money, and said she would call them to a meeting before school is out.
My counterpart and another teacher thanked me for telling Sister that we need burglar bars on the windows, and that if we don’t get this started, the computers will remain in the convent collecting dust for years to come.
If you have any used educational DVDs, phonics DVDs or any children’s or pre-teen DVDs that you no longer need, please e-mail me (Sonia@Soniamarsh.com) as I’ll be in California this July, and can bring them back in my suitcase, when I return to Lesotho.