Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Note From Our Coordinators

In the morning hours of April 4th, after watching 72 campers and 8 Junior Counselors climb into transport to start their journey home, we sat on a bench and cried, realizing that the project we had worked so hard on for the past eight months had come to an end. It has been a long and difficult eight months trying to balance full-time teaching with full-time camp planning. It was a lot of work, a lot of stress, and a lot of traveling to figure it all out, but we consider ourselves beyond lucky to have been given this amazing opportunity as coordinators. We are finding it very difficult to write this blog post because it is simply not possible to sum all this up in a couple of paragraphs.

We each wanted to share our favorite moment of the week but we both chose the same thing. On the last night, just after we had given out all the students’ certificates we were surprised to have the students from our schools called up to the stage to thank us. We then tried (and failed) to keep ourselves composed as each of them spoke about how we had impacted their lives at school and this past week at camp. They concluded their presentation with a popular Malawian school song, “Madam Christine, although you will go far away, we will never forget you. Madam Melissa, although you will go far away, we will never forget you,” which brought endless tears to our faces. These students are our inspiration, and to have them thank us in this way was truly amazing.

Of course this memorable night and the entire camp could not have happened without an incredible team of Peace Corps counselors. The 16 PCVs with us throughout the week worked tirelessly to educate and entertain all of our campers. From morning exercise at 5 am to our nightly staff meetings at 10 pm, these counselors were wide-awake and energetic. They built relationships with their team of campers, helping to inspire them to keep working toward their dreams. Regardless of what we needed, these PCVs were there for us. They shared our passion for working with these inspiring students and for that we are incredibly grateful. To know that the hard work we put into this camp was appreciated and that these volunteers will never forget their time at Kamuzu Academy means the world to us. Each volunteer, regardless of his or her sector, brought a unique skill or passion to the table that made this camp the success that it was.

Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank the students that have continued to inspire us throughout our service. These students give us hope for the future of Malawi. During camp, we heard countless students say things like, “We are the future of Malawi and we are going to make the changes.” One poem performed by a student included a promise along these lines: “I’ll take what I’ve learned here to develop my own country.” We have been fortunate enough to be a part of Camp Sky in both 2014 and 2015 and can honestly say that the best part of it each year has been the students. They reawaken our faith in Malawi and remind us of why we are here.

We can never truly express how much all of this has meant to us. The support from everyone involved, including our friends and family back home, has been much appreciated. We have to stop writing now or the tears that have finally stopped three days later will start flowing again.

Post written by Christine Serwan and Melissa Hughes.

Camp Stu

We would like to thank our Camp Sky 2015 photographer for all his wonderful efforts to preserve camp memories and activities for years to come. With a month left of service, Sir Stuart Jones dedicated his week to running errands and entertaining students all while risking egg splatters, table falls and acid burns to photograph 'Camp Stu'.

We are proud of Stu; We say, "We are proud of Stu!" Hey! Hey! Hey!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Volunteer Day: Malawians Supporting Malawi

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Though said by John F. Kennedy, these words do not uniquely apply to Americans, and this week we have been fortunate enough to work with some outstanding Malawians who embody the spirit of giving back. Today was Volunteer Day and the wrap up for Camp Sky. Students and counselors spent the morning planting trees with Sir Stu Jones at the hospital just outside of Kamuzu Academy and discussing The Giving Tree and volunteerism with Madam Gina Althoff. It was a great lesson, because volunteering is not as prevalent in Malawi as it is in America. To see the students take pride in their own country by planting trees and helping out a local village was a new and refreshing experience. Goal setting, presentation of certificates, and a disco helped to wind up the afternoon and evening for the students. Lunch included a surprise, beautiful cake decorated with the Peace Corps logo created by the Kamuzu Academy kitchen staff, which brings me to what I want to talk about for today’s post. In Saturday's post, Alex talked a bit about the background for Kamuzu Academy, but what we didn’t yet know was how phenomenal the staff was. This week has been smooth sailing, far beyond our expectations as a direct result of the accomodating staff here at Kamuzu Academy.

Lloyd, who was one of our contact with housing at KA this week, comes from humble beginnings and has gone above and beyond to help us in a myriad of different ways, even on his days off. 

The food has been some of the best that I’ve eaten during my time in Malawi (and definitely the best food I’ve had at a Peace Corps activity), and the staff has done some pretty spectacular culinary work, even customizing our desserts. This, on top of delicious breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinners… I’m pretty sure we’ve all gained a few Kgs during our time here. The head chef, Maxwell, is incredibly artistic and all of the kitchen staff have been asking about our program this week, wanting to know about the students and where they are coming from. They have also been incredibly accommodating, letting us in the dining hall from in the morning until at night-long days for all of us.

Last but certainly not least is Dave. He is self-taught on computers, but is now one of the individuals in charge of the computer lab here at KA. If you checked out Devyn’s post yesterday, you can see that some of the students used a computer for the first time this week because of the facilities available to us at KA. He worked with me in planning computer lessons so that we were able to not only get students on computers, but that they were also able to print a composition of their own to take back home with them. That was an incredibly huge deal to the students, and a giant favor that Dave helped us with! 

I’ve staffed a number of camps, but because of all the hard work and willingness to help displayed by these staff members, this has been the logistically smoothest event I’ve worked at.  Of course the PCVs played a big part in making all of this possible, but it is inspiring to me after almost two years of being here to see that Malawians are indeed hoping to better their country. Often there can be a sentiment of what can this NGO do for me, or how can this government help us, but the staff here have shown a passion and desire to help our students, the bright future of their country. I’m writing this, watching high school students be high school students at a “disco” while some of the kitchen staff look on and laugh as we dance to some vernacular music. As one staff member was leaving, she said “Tiwonana, see you next year!” I do hope that Camp Sky continues to be as lucky as we have been this year, working with such amazing host-country nationals. I’ve been blessed to work with the staff, PCV and KA alike; everyone’s had a heart desiring to give back to Malawi. Yewo chomene; zikomo kwambiri!

Post written by Susan Stancampiano.

Friday - Day Six

Today's Theme:
I have the power to support other people with my actions.
Herons, unite!

Today's Activities/Topics:
  • Running
  • Sky Weekend Review
  • Volunteer Day
  • Goal Setting
  • Evaluation & Post Test
  • Goal Sharing
  • Disco Night

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Click in the Computer Literacy Direction

Think for a minute about how you operated your computer in order to read this blog: you turned it on, logged in, opened a browser, and typed in the web address. Along the way, you used the mouse or trackpad to point and click, and you successfully used the keyboard to type the characters of the URL. These are simple tasks for most computer users, and you probably went through the steps without a thought. Americans have been using computers for years, learning at a young age (at least for my generation). We have performed thousands of typing and mouse actions, and these skills have become second nature to us.

This week at Camp Sky, I was given the job of teaching computer lessons to our student campers. Using a basic computer literacy lesson plan written by coordinator Madam Susan Stancampiano, fellow counselor Madam Alex Martin and I instructed one of the computer labs at Kamuzu Academy. Each student bird team received two computer lessons, offering many their first opportunity ever to touch or to use a computer.

So, how exactly does one teach a group of teenagers how to use a computer for the first time? The answer: very slowly, with lots of patience, and with several other volunteers in the room to provide assistance. Our first lesson began explaining the parts of the computer: the monitor, the CPU, the mouse, the keyboard, etc. (We logged into the computers before the students arrived, figuring that the Ctrl + Alt + Delete command might be a little too complex for first-time users.) Next, we demonstrated how to use the mouse, discussed the different types of mouse clicks, and taught the students how to click and drag. I’m willing to bet that you have never seen a group of students so excited over opening and closing the recycling bin window and right clicking on an empty desktop.

After the students had some practice clicking, we had them open Microsoft Word and try their hand at typing. They practiced typing the alphabet in order, using the backspace key and space bar, and typing some numbers. We then showed the students how to change the font, size, and color of their text. That’s where the real fun began – most campers chose to continue typing in 72 point, brightly colored text. We divulged the correct number of spaces to use between words and after punctuation, and we also tried to distinguish the shift key from the caps lock key. By the end of the first lesson, most students had typed out a few sentences on their own, and they were all mystified to see their own words appear on the computer screen.

During the second lesson, the students were able to practice these new skills again, as they typed part of their English class compositions. We taught the basic format for a school paper: putting name and date in the upper right hand corner, making the title bold and aligning it in the center, and using the tab key to indent the first line of the paragraph. Students were also able to print one page of their work, to take home and to prove their new computer skills to friends and family. Needless to say, this cheap piece of paper is worth much more to them.

The students also briefly browsed the Internet and caught their first glimpse of the world wide web. They were tasked with entering the Camp Sky blog address in the address box and finding themselves in post pictures. Some savvy students were assisted in creating their first email accounts. We cannot wait to see how this new found computer interest will motivate students to seek further computer training and technological information.

Teaching the computer lessons was both exhausting and incredibly rewarding. Though we were prepared with a lesson plan, teaching first-time users forces a lot of additions and changes on the fly. I was impressed by how quickly many of the students learned, and also surprised at the wide range of skills they displayed as computer amateurs. Some showed impressively quick typing skills, while others were typists of the hunt and peck variety. Regardless of skill level, all of the students cherished the lessons.

Our use of technology is something that we very often take for granted, especially in the United States or other developed nations. How many of our schools in the US now rely heavily on classroom laptops, smart podiums, and online homework assignments? For many of the CDSS students at Camp Sky, technology has thus far played a negligible role in their education. Their schools are lucky to have electricity, much less computers that are available for student use. The opportunity for students to have at least a small amount of computer training is just one of the ways that Camp Sky offers the students inspiration and extra preparation for them to continue their education after secondary school.

Post written by Counselor Devyn Lee.

Thursday - Day Five

Today's Theme:
Together Everyone Achieves More.

Today's Activities/Topics:
Yesterday's egg drop was a smash!
  • Yoga 
  • Biology: Evolution
  • Physical Science: Motion
  • English: Compositions
  • Math: Inequalities
  • Physical Science Lab
  • Computer Lab
  • Open Study
  • Variety Show

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

maLAWi & disORDER

It was a dark, eerie night, the fog was rolling in across the football pitch as the students were finishing up their dinners, working on homework, practicing their dance moves for the variety show, or writing letters to their fellow campers. Little did they know there was trouble lurking just around the corner… A sudden scream pierced the air. Camp counselor, Madam Anna Mansfield, hysterically ran to the front of the room to tell us our beloved coordinator, Madam Melissa Hughes, had been <gasp!> MURDERED….
...dun dun dunnnnnnn...
Due to a feud between counselors and Melissa, the suspect list was 
narrowed to Alex, Gina, myself and Devyn.

Campers took it upon themselves to become the best detectives Malawi has ever seen. Each group moved around various stations to examine clues found at the crime to figure out 'whodunnit'. Hard evidence was cataloged and presented for the campers to examine and determine the guilty counselor. Clues found at the scene included: hair, footprints, finger prints, and 'blood'.

Luckily, the students have been working hard all week learning helpful skills to solve this mystery. For example, students were given the suspects' parents' blood types and utilized Punnett squares (learned in Biology earlier that day) to determine each suspects' blood type. To examine the hair found at the crime scene, campers had their first opportunity to use a microscope- for many, a highlight of the night. Each group examined the crime scene in teams of three and used creative and critical thinking to come up with different scenarios of what could have taken place using skills covered in English classes.

As a suspect, I can tell you being interrogated by a group of very clever, determined Malawian students was probably one of the scariest things I have gone through in my service. Their questions always started out simple enough: "When did I become friends with Melissa?", "What was our relationship like?", "Had I seen her that day?". However, with no warning I suddenly felt like I was under a hot, bright light. Their faces moved closer and closer to my own. My hands began to sweat; I started stuttering, forgetting what I had said. I was confused and then suddenly, they would point and shout at me, “MURDERER! We know you are the one!” After speaking with the other suspects, I learned the investigators interrogated each of us in the same threatening manner.

At the end of the night, the majority of detectives voted for who they thought the murderer was based on the forensic evidence, crime scene and interrogations and chose ME!?! Turns out you can't get anything past these students…

...I dunnit.

Melissa is alive, well and still bossing us around. :)