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. :)

Meet Junior Counselors Treasser & Taye

Full Name: Treasser Kanduwa
Home District: Chikwawa
Junior Counselor: Goliath Herons
Age: 18
Where do you want to study? I want to study at Polytechnic College of Malawi in Blantyre.
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? Camp Sky helped me because it was my first time to go in a science laboratory. Some things we learned in laboratory were critical topics on our exams. In the Physical Science laboratory, we learned about titration, the gradual application of base to acid to reach an end point.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? I enjoyed playing football sports with the other girl campers.
What is your dream job? I want to be a journalist, because I admire the work other journalists do. I want to report news and other things that are happening in different areas in order to help people know the world and Malawi.
What is a fun fact about you? I live in Lengwe National Park, so I see monkeys, baboons, buffalo, snakes, antelope, warthogs and many more animals from my house.

Full Name: Tayesedwa "Taye" Chimaliro
Home District: Balaka
Junior Counselor: Blue Herons
Age: 21
Score on MSCE: 15
Where do you want to study? I am hoping to go to Kamuzu College of Nursing in Lilongwe.
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? We had lab sessions conducting experiments. That was so fortunate because at my school we did not have labs or equipment, but conducting these experiments gave me the confidence necessary to do well on this part of the exam. Also, the reflection sessions each night at Camp Sky revealed the hidden talents in my group, so that we started to believe more and more in ourselves.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? I would say conducting the physical science experiment in titration, because it gave me this feeling that anything is possible if I am given the chance to try.
What is your dream job? As of now, I want to be at the highest level in nursing and obviously, yes become a professor of nursing.
What is a fun fact about you? I like facts like the fact I have a head and I can think. That's a fact. Sometimes we misuse the head, ya know? But I can think positively. Also, I can dance to anything.

Wednesday - Day Four

Today's Theme:
With my education, I create my own future.
We're heading back to classes this morning.

Today's Activities/Topics:
  • Basketball
  • Biology: Evolution
  • Physical Science: Motion
  • English: Compositions
  • Math: Inequalities
  • Physical Science Lab
  • Computer Lab
  • Egg Drop
  • Forensic Lab

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Let's Get Physical

After a rousing morning of Zumba exercise(to the popular artists P-Square, Ke$ha, Macklemore and Lil Jon) and a hearty breakfast, the Camp Sky students began their Tuesday with the second day of classes.

The Physical Science Department was assigned to teach two topics throughout Camp Sky: organic chemistry and forces and motion. These are topics that occur every year on the MSCE but are often incompletely taught or skipped at the CDSSs Camp Sky students attend. Today, half of the students (the Eagles and Owls) were learning organic chemistry, while the other half (the Herons and the Finches) learned forces and motion. For the Eagles and the Owls, the organic chemistry activity had students form molecular models to understand the difference between isomers and conformers. Students tested their spatial reasoning as they assembled molecules from puffs, a popular corn-based snack in Malawi, and decided whether the molecules they had constructed were isomers or conformers of one another. After discussion, student groups made their own model of a given molecule and also created an isomer of that molecule—a task commonly presented in paper form on the MSCE, but one that is much easier to understand when working with three-dimensional models. 

A wonderful asset of Camp Sky is that each department has three or four teachers, so team-teaching is implemented in almost all classes. This means that many students are going from student-to-teacher ratios of more than 50:1 or 100:1 to approximately 6:1. For the teachers, these manageable student sizes allow for successfully implemented activities and group work difficult to orchestrate in a CDSS setting. Additionally, team-teaching provides the teachers fresh ideas and activities to bring back to their regular classrooms, as many of the activities use locally available resources. 

Class concluded today with students presenting and comparing their isomers to the other groups'—a valuable chance to practice public speaking for the students, as well as a way for students to check their own comprehension of the topic at hand. Based on the high quality of their presentations and the insightful questions that the students asked us and their peers, we would say the isomer lesson was a success! 

The Herons and the Finches finished their Physical Science lessons learning about position, velocity, and acceleration, and the relationship between the three. The highlight of the lesson was most definitely when the students were all able to go outside and send a model car down a cardboard track. The time it took the car to travel each of four meters was measured. Then, the students were able to look at real life graphs of their data at the end of class, an experience that most have never had before. Sir Bryan Plunger spent the remainder of class helping students develop their scientific intuition, giving students valuable skills in any subject to think critically about the answers they are obtaining.

The themes of real-world application and hands-on activities were continued for the rest of the afternoon and evening as all the Camp Sky students attended a malaria session and participated in math night. Our students are all going home with beautiful dream catchers to hang in their mosquito nets, and math night, which consisted of probability-based games such as Yahtzee! and Monte Hall, was many of our campers’ favorite part of the day. Despite their busy schedules, our campers are still finding time to laugh, to write kind notes to one another, and to work on extra problems from their classes, as well as to anticipate the exciting activities the following day will surely bring.
Post written by Physical Science teacher counselor, Tally Levitz.

Meet Junior Counselors Sinoss & Linda

Full Name: Sinoss Nkhoma
Home District: Mchinji
Junior Counselor: Bald Eagles
Age: 20
Score on MSCE: 39
Where do you want to study? I want to study at Polytechnic University in Blantyre or any university that will help me to become a journalist.
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? Most of the questions that I found on the MSCE exam I knew because of Camp Sky. I especially remember answering the genetics questions and thinking of what I had learned at camp and even the probability questions on the exam I remembered how to answer because of camp.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? I enjoyed waking up in the mornings and making the body fit. I had never before played the cup game and the game in which we raced in maize sacks and jumped.
What is your dream job? I want to be a journalist. I like chatting with people so this is a way for me to learn and understand others' cultures when I am moving here and there.
What is a fun fact about you? I am the fourth born of six in my family, but I am the first to reach both Form 2 and Form 4. I found myself money for school fees by doing piecework, playing paid football and creating a payment plan with my headmaster in order to attend all school terms. I think I could have scored more points on my exam, but I was very busy trying to find money for food and for school fees when I should have been studying. I am not satisfied with my score, so if I find the money, I would like to retake my exam.

Full Name: Linda Bokosi
Home District: Dedza
Junior Counselor: Fish Eagles
Age: 19
Where do you want to study? Because of points, I decided to repeat my MSCE next year. I know I can score better. But when I go to university, I hope to study outside of Malawi to achieve a different degree.
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? When I was here at Camp Sky, I learned a lot of things that I saw on the MSCE. I also learned at Camp Sky how to overcome challenges like fees or other needs to achieve my goals.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? I enjoyed the play Romeo and Juliet, because at our school we did not have a performance. At Sky, Sir Travis and Madam Ali performed the play for us and we watched a film of Romeo and Juliet.
What is your dream job? I want to be a nurse or else a lawyer, because I want to help others who suffer from diseases and to reduce corruption.
What is a fun fact about you? I like to eat rice or spaghetti more than nsima, Malawi's staple food.

Tuesday - Day Three

Today's Theme:
A healthy body leads to a better life.
Students are enjoying their classes and laboratory sessions.

Today's Activities/Topics:
  • Zumba
  • Biology: Genetics
  • Physical Science: Organic Chemistry
  • English: Root Words
  • Math: Probability
  • Computer Lab
  • Biology Lab
  • Malaria
  • Math Night

Monday, March 30, 2015

We Are Poets and We Did Not Even Know It

Today began as most days in the village do not: with a friendly game of Frisbee. And tonight ended, again, as most evenings in the village do not: with poetry readings and a conversational reflection of the day. In between, students relished small class sizes with hands-on, creative learning and their first ever Biology and computer laboratory sessions. Before dinner, Education Volunteer Sir Chase Morgan conducted an eye-opening session on gender inequity and its impact on Malawi’s development. Although gender inequality remains deeply entrenched in Malawian culture, the students were able to wade through heavy case studies to find hope for a gender-balanced future. Thereafter, all enjoyed an evening meal and impromptu dance party.


Silence falls over the crowd as the lights dim, a sole microphone in the front of the room.  Will anyone have something to share, they all wonder.  Minutes tick by, people too shy to feel they have anything to offer, the silence continues...

Perhaps this scene might be found at a different poetry night, but at the Camp Sky, students don't walk, they run to have their voices heard.  Because the students at Camp Sky have big things to say.
Around 40 poetic minds worked hard over the last two days to write a poem to share with their peers. Sometimes, the students here can be a little shy but when they have something they are proud of and a idea they want to share, that shyness melts away into a strong voice carrying a strong message.

Some poems were written in response to sessions from the first days of camp.  The topics of HIV, gender, and critical thinking were discussed by guest speakers and clearly made an impact as they inspired powerful words of poetry.  Some of the poems were about Camp Sky itself; about the power of this experience so far, the joy of bonding with friends from across the country, and even praising the yumminess of the food here at Kamuzu Academy.

A love poem or two was also heard during the reading on this dark Monday night.  Love for camp, love for friends, love for country.

As the night closed and the students went on their way, PCVs in attendance could all agree that this is an exceptional group of young people.  They have seen a lot and experienced a lot and they are ready to make some changes.  It is their time to affect their country.  Their time to grow their nation.  And that time starts now.

Post written by Sheila Carey.

Meet Junior Counselors Chifundo & Martha

Full Name: Chifundo Mkwembe
Home District: Zomba
Junior Counselor: Zebra Finches
Age: 20
Score on MSCE: 31
Where do you want to study? I would like to study in America, but in Malawi, I would like to go to Polytechnic University of Malawi in Blantyre.
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? Normally maths is difficult for me, but at Camp Sky we learned about probability and I found similar questions on the MSCE and was able to answer them. Also, Camp Sky biology classes helped me, because I learned about HIV/AIDS for questions on the test.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? The food that I ate was very, very fine, and we also learned how to make nutritious food (like we made moringa powder and added it to our porridge), so my favorite activity was eating. Yeah, eating.
What is your dream job? I would like to be an accountant because here in Malawi I think there are people that don't know how to handle their money.  I can help my fellow Malawians, because as we know, Malawi is a poor country. So this Cashgate issue that has been happening here in Malawi- Ahh, it is not good for me, but when I am an accountant, I can help.
What is a fun fact about you? I have two sisters and one brother, but I am the last-born. We add up to be four!

Full Name: Martha Banda
Home District: Kasungu
Junior Counselor: Bull Finches
Age: 19
Score on MSCE: 33
Where do you want to study? Bunda College of Agriculture in Lilongwe
How did Camp Sky help you on your MSCE exam? I did well in mathematics because I attended Camp Sky and Madam Melissa helped me learn more about math circles like SIN, COS and TAN.
What was your favorite activity during Camp Sky last year? My favorite activities were classes, because I got more information which helped me to pass exams. At Camp Sky, we took more time in classes to understand subjects.
What is your dream job? To become a nurse in order to help sick people in our country and in my village. There are few nurses and some people die because the nurses are few. I especially want to help those suffering from Malaria or pregnant women.
What is a fun fact about you? I like singing and my favorite singers are Brace Chinga and Celine Dion.

Monday - Day Two

Team Eagles enjoying breakfast this morning.
Today's Theme:
I am more than what others say.

Today's Activities/Topics:
  • Frisbee
  • Biology: Genetics
  • Physical Science: Organic Chemistry
  • English: Figurative Language
  • Math: Probability
  • Biology Lab
  • Computer Lab
  • Gender Equity
  • Poetry Night