With recent articles elucidating Peace Corps’ development over time and many, many requests of “so, Amanda, what, exactly, is your job?” I decided to briefly outline my professional responsibilities as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Adaba.
I’d like to preface the following with the reminder that Peace Corps has 3 Core Goals: to represent America to different people of the world, to represent different places of the world to Americans, and to help equip professionals in developing countries to do what they do better.
So technically only 1/3 of my “job” is professional. The other 2/3 is going to the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And living in a mud house. And bragging about my friends and family to my Ethiopian guests. And sharing Jolly Ranchers at the post office. And learning to make coffee in Ethiopian jebenas. And taking my parents to the Sofomar caves. And watching the presidential election at my landlord’s house. And writing letters to all of you!
Which, if you want to be specific, means that of the $6.67 USD I make every day, $2.22 of it is payment for my professional duties. Just to put things in perspective to all you American taxpayers J.
I was invited as a volunteer by the local district education office to serve as an English teacher trainer at 3 public primary schools. One of my friends asked—“does this mean you are the trainer or the trainee?” I am the trainer. I work with 15 Ethiopian professionals currently teaching fifth to eighth grade English. Two of these teachers are in their 20s (and, unsurprisingly, considering alternate employment opportunities). The rest are old enough to be in the AARP.
I hold weekly 2-hour training sessions with the teachers. My “teaching philosophy” emulates that of my favorite professors in college—I don’t like to lecture. Especially as a young, foreign woman, I aim to respect the experience and skills the teachers I train bring to the community. Instead, I focus on drawing out these strengths and sharpening our communication abilities in English.
We usually open with a game, brainstorm a specific topic related to English language or teaching methodologies, work together or independently on a project to address the topic, and then close by sharing our ideas with one another.
We’ve made classroom rules to hang on the walls where we teach. We’ve listened to Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and discussed the meaning of the song. We’ve made imaginary Facebook profiles that express who we are to the world. We’ve acted out possible disciplinary scenarios for students who come late to class. We’ve argued about approaches to gender inequality in the classroom.
My trainings are my primary responsibility and my primary joy. I love watching teachers slowly gain confidence in their English week after week!
Additionally, I’m developing a model classroom with easily replicable learning resources. I’ve been cutting out large alphabet letters from the cardboard packages I’ve received since my service began (currently on the letter M). I’ve copied the Ministry of Education’s criteria for judging English language improvement on poster paper.
I’m slowly working with school leaders to create different clubs and extracurricular learning opportunities directly for students. Unfortunately, this work is slow. Many administrators are the opposite of eager to work with me. By that I mean, they don’t just not care, they try really hard to force me take more mental health days (aka personal retreats in my mud house). They stare at my breasts when I list my frustrations with their programming. They’re speechless when I list out ways they can work with me. They put me in the corner of their offices. They and their families laugh at me, the white girl, when I call their cell phones for after-hour help.
Sometimes I want to give up and open a make-shift school on the side of the street. I imagine holding English lessons for the dirty, naked, black street babies I love so much. I want to sing with them and offer them the opportunity to learn English correctly from the beginning. I want to teach them how to take turns and share scissors! Wouldn’t this be so much easier than watching my school director spend half an hour figuring out how to change font sizes in Microsoft Word?
It would. It also wouldn’t be helping Ethiopian English teachers do what they do better. It would help me feel better, though. It would be a really great story to share with outsiders. It would be sweet. But it’s not what I was asked to do. It’s not what I get paid $2.22/day to do. In 16 months, it’d be over.
And so I run into that same paradigm of international development. The one I discovered when I started readings for my semester in India…
It’s not about you or what you can do. It’s not even about doing.
It’s about experiencing. And letting go. And changing perspectives. And hoping, dear God, for the best, despite it all.
It’s not about being the change. It’s about inspiring that change—pushing for it from every angle.
It’s about another way.