Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pictures and more Pictures

The month of August has been a busy one. It had my Birthday celebration, hundreds of kilometers biked and many many meetings with Ministry officials, NGOs and the like, and two monstrous trainings.
First was my birthday, for me it was the birthday that wouldn't end. It. was. Awesome.

My first African birthday was the one of the best every (including all birthdays not just African ones). Laura was of course fabulous in taking care of b-day details, we went to the big city of Chipata (formerlyFort Jameson) and I was spoiled. First to give you an idea of how big a city it is, they have one paved street which runs through the town(and on to Malawi) but starting a in a few months they will have not one, or two but three paved roads criss-crossing the city!!! Amazing! And I got everything from hot showers to electric light bulbs. What a b-day treat. Plus two people baked me a total of three cakes, I'm still receiving b-days gifts (a hat tip to the Zambian postal service who seem to know that waiting for things only makes receiving them that much sweeter!) and we went out and had a fabulous meal specially prepared at a local Indian restaurant with friends. Very nice.

Here's me really enjoying the desert which was some kind of fruit in whipped cream, blah blah blah it was so so good.

Laura hosted a training for all (10) the Neighborhood Health Committees in our area (130 people total). Here's Laura’s training up a storm for the group. As you can see we have a beautiful conference room with space for unlimited seating (unfortunately many less chairs and benches than that) and no that's not a doorway into an unexplored dimension that she's standing in front of but our flipchart stand.

In Laura's training: "the newly elected community leaders for health (neighborhood health committees, NHCs) were trained in the causes, prevention methods, and treatment needs of each of the six main health concerns. These health issues included; malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, integrated reproductive health and safe motherhood, child health and nutrition, and water and sanitation in Zambia. The participants also learned interactive ways to teach about these issues to their communities; thus, honing their abilities to effectively disseminate accurate health information and later help facilitate health interventions." -(Source Laura's grant report ;)

And I had an IRI teacher and mentor training at Nsenya Zonal Head School for 22 schools in Nsenya zone for 52 people. Here's the happy group (that's me in the back)

My training went well. We had teachers sleeping at the school for a week or so. Eating their meals there as well as learning all about interactive radio instruction from 08:00 till 17:00 or 18:00 every night. The mentors being trained were great sports, and the teachers at Nsenya who helped with facilitation of the sessions were fabulous. They taught excellently of course, they are teachers after all, but they also went so far as to invite the trainees into their homes for showers, brought music tapes to listen to for evening entertainment, as well as arranged for all of the food to be delivered and cooked at the school. Abiyas Banda and Andrew Mwanza were two of the those fabulous teachers at Nsenya.

And just for good measure a close up of yours truly just hanging out in our hut.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Interactive Radio Instruction

As an education volunteer one of my jobs is to visit all the schools in my area to assess their progress and learn how I can best meet their needs. I work within the Petauke school District and within that the Nsenya school zone. In my zone there are 10 Government schools, which means that the government pays the teachers salaries, as well as provides most of the direct funding for the schools. These schools contain great and dedicated staff like my Zonal Head teacher seen below:

The buildings were often, but not always, built by the government and they tend to be among the best supported schools in the area. These schools tend to teach up to grade 8. Nsenya however currently has grade 9 and has plans for grade ten classrooms to be built later this year.

There are also community schools of which my area has 4. These schools have been built usually through the dedication of community members with the help from outside NGOs. Community schools often have a mix of government paid teachers and trained mentors who teach students. These schools usually receive a smaller fraction of support from the government, but their staff is no less dedicated, like Mr. Zulu pictured right at Nsamba community school. These schools also can have up to grade 8, but tend to stop by grade 5. After students finish at one school they are referred to the nearest school with the following grade however due to the distances involved and the costs that go along with that (students may need to attend school over 40 kilometers away) education can often end when their schools highest grade does.

Note: This is in fact a different day I just happen the same thing most days ;)

Finally there are Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) centers. Currently there are 29 registered IRI centers in my zone. These centers began 7 years ago in an effort to educate the over 800,000 Zambian Children who were without access to education. The government of Zambia together with USAID and Peace Corps created a type of interactive radio instruction specifically for Zambia called "Learning at Taonga Market". This program is broadcast over the radio taught to the student with the help of a mentor. These IRI centers are sometimes simply an agreed upon location that the mentor and students meet at, sometimes a simple mud and thatch building, and in rare cases a brick building complete with a metal roof. Most IRI centers have grades 1, 2 and 3 but few currently have more than grade 5.

Above is one of my closest counterparts Moses Banda and a mentor at Ulemu IRI center. She is holding the radio on which she is able to receive the radio broadcasts and standing in front of her class of around 50 1st graders.

Below is Chamelenje IRI center with 2 mentors teaching 1st and 2nd graders with them. The students are often older than age 7 when entering grade one so you might notice some rather tall 2nd graders.

These centers are the leading edge in Zambia's attempt to full educate it's population. Currently the literacy rate in Eastern province is 49.7% (the lowest in the country).

From the beginning in 2000 IRI centers used IRI lessons to educate their students (as their name suggests). However due to the overwhelming success of the program IRI lessons have been expanded into all government and community schools as well. The government and community schools started with grade 1 this year, next year will include grade two in IRI lessons and so on. This is largely the result of a study comparing student success rates in both IRI centers and government schools. Students at the IRI centers preformed comparably with their government school peers despite the often much worse material conditions. With passing year more students will be receiving radio based lessons which provides a cost effective education for students who would otherwise have no education. However access both to schools and especially to grades 8 thru 12 remains quite concerning. I've got my work cut out for me. ;)

Workin' Life... not quite 9 to 5

I've now been an official volunteer for 2 months and I'm starting to see how my next two years will be spent. I have been visiting schools, meeting with district officials, and getting the lay of the land, literally. All of the people and places I visit I do so with my trusty bicycle so I can painfully attest to the accuracy of the 1950's topographical maps of the area, yes those 100 meter peaks and valleys do add up quickly! Today I met with the District Resource center coordinator to discuss the allocation of money to 4 IRI centers in my district. They will be awarded 10 million Kwacha (or just over 2,000 USD) to help construct buildings for them. Not a bad start however there are over 60 IRI centers in the district so we've still got a long way to go. The IRI centers will most likely be building classroom blocks for their schools, meaning a proper structure that will keep the rain out during the 3 to 4 month long rainy season. However both the basic schools and IRI centers in my area need lots of work. Here are a few of the projects that the schools in my area will be working and why :

Poultry: In order to raise more money for things like exercise books, chalk and teachers salaries schools often start Income Generating Activites. This can be a field on which the students grow corn to sell etc. My zonal head school will be starting a chicken coop in which they have chickens laying eggs to sell. We'll be setting that up as soon as we receive the start up money which should be any time from now....

Teachers houses: In order for another teacher to be sent to the school by the government a house has to built. As part of the teacher's salary housing is provided and it's a far trade since teachers often have to live in rural areas without friends or family nearby. However when schools are understaffed it can be quite a hurdle to overcome since buildings are expensive and funds aren't provided by the government. For this I'll be organizing communities to make bricks, and looking in all the places I know for funds after that.

More Classrooms: With over 100 kids in a classroom on occasion this one is self explanatory. For this too it will be working with locals to gather/make building materials and then helping them write grants for the cement, roofing sheets etc.

Library: As you might know I happen to be a reader. I love books and my villagers now tend to know that. I'll often crack open a book while cooking (cooking on a charcoal can take some time) or after a long bike ride. More often than not people will come up and start chatting with me while I'm reading, oh well, but one question that never stops coming up is "Are you reading the bible?" Despite Zambia being a christian nation the books I'm reading rarely look anything like the bible yet the question keeps coming up. It turns out it's not a subtle attempt at proselytizing but just the simple fact that 9 out of 10 books these people have assess to during their lives are in fact bibles. Nothing wrong with that per say but variety is the spice of life and the bottom line is these people need more books.

One of the schools in my area is interested in building a library. They have a few books and currently are raising money for windows in the library- however, they could always use more books! This is for a school with grades from 1 to 8 and English is taught in schools so language isn't a problem. If you are interested in collecting donated books ( from churches, libraries, schools etc) in your area, or just sending a few books to contribute that would be great. The US Post office will let you send 66 lbs of books for $10.00 in a M - Bag (Mailer bag:

Unfortunately the USPS has discontinued M-bags. If you are aware of another way to ship books cheaply to the Zambian Schools which desperately need them please let me know

So feel free to go ahead a send them.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Swear In

I know it happened a while ago but welcome to life in Zambia! Here are Laura and I dressed up in our recently made Zambian clothes.

The ceremony itself was at Peace Corps Headquarters in Lusaka and as you can tell from the pics the grounds are beautiful.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

And I'm back!

Well training has now ended and as of three weeks ago true village has begun and contrary to what I've been told it is crazy busy. These first three weeks at our new home have invovled meeting everyone from our next door neighbor who is a security guard at the clinic (think Mr. Rogers but as a 60 year old Zambian), to Cheif Nymphande (also a great guy who I just showed the american delicacy "Smores") to every NGO and offical you can think of. In fact that's why I'm able to post today I've just rode my bike into town for a meeting tommorow.

Anyway my new adventures will be posted in detail in the coming weeks and I hope to hear from all my readers, via e-mail or better yet snail mail!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dzine Langa ndine Rob

Well I'm learning the local language and above is how I introduce myself in Chinyanga. There is so much to cover but first things first: The tragedies. My last post was about 10 fold as long but alas a technical snafu deleted my hard work and then the Internet closed. Or rather the cafe where I got my access did at 3:00 pm or 15:00 hours (everything runs on military time here). Sunday most places are closed and those that do open are usually open just a half day so I was lucky to post anything. Especially since after leaving the cafe Laura and I went off to the Northwestern province of the country, remote rural Africa where things promptly fell apart!

Northwestern Province is Zambia's most rural province and as such takes a while to get there. We traveled two days to get there, spending the first night in the provincial peace corps house which is the local headquarters for PC. It was a great house which normally has electricity and hot water however a lighting strike took out the power shortly before we got there. We met some great people and chatted the night away learning about what our future jobs and lives for the next two years would be like. A great time had by all.

The next day we left at daybreak to travel to some volunteers out in the Bush. Laura and I we in separate groups so we parted ways for the week. After another day of bumpy and cramped travel in the back of a Toyota land cruiser with bench seating for 8 (or 12 as is often the case) we arrived at Dave's place. Dave is a great guy who's been a RED (Rural Education Development) volunteer for about a year now and helped to show us the ropes. However through no fault of his own trouble started brewing.

First thing was first we needed to set up camp. However after a lengthy inventory process we discovered we did not have any of our tents! Left behind? Stolen? Who knew but they were not there. Lucky a few friends of Dave's had come by to visit and brought their tents. Ah you've gotten love the my stuff is your stuff kind of thinking when you've traveled around the world and suddenly have no place to stay. So my fellow PC volunteers and I started setting up the tents. The first one went up fine as did the second but the third gave us pause. It was a special tent one that we had been instructed to use only if needed as the tent's owner was nervous of what untrained folk might due to his nice external frame two man tent. I promptly broke it.

Following that up I was talking a picture a cute little girl who was the name sake of a girl in my group (Jennifer). Her mother was thrilled to hear this as having the same name as someone especially a visitor, especially a mizoogoo (read: gringo) was a great thing. Anyway I broke that too. After many beautiful pictures my memory card broke, resulting in a total loss of my first weeks worth of pictures. Sorry ;(

However I brought another card and the pictures will now resume. After spending the night at Dave's place we traveled a few more hours to The Castles's place. They happen to be the only other married couple in Zambia and I had to be on my best behavior as I was representing The Grays since Laura was off somewhere else this week, I believe at a spa.

The Castles too were great, their village was friendly (as just about everyone seems to be) and we had a great week visiting schools, seeing radio education in action and cooking up a storm. We brought lots of ingredients and the Castles are fabulous cooks. We made tuna fish sandwiches, pasta and popcorn to name a few and they of course were thrilled. In return they took us down to the gentle stream where they often sit and read on nice days. See below

In my group was Debra (girl in white top in foreground) Jen (black shirt next in line) Stacy and Keli (on the bridge) and of course myself (not seen here). However this being the rainy season the river was much much higher than normal almost covering the bridge across it. In fact we couldn't get in without holding onto the bridge or we'd be swept down river. So of course we all got in.

We tied a rope to the bridge and let the current whip us around for hours. It was fabulous. We took turns at the end of the rope and by the end we had devised a crude hydrofoil which we tied to the end of the rope and when standing on it lifted us about halfway out of the water! Great fun. By the end my arms were so tired I could barely pull myself back to the bridge. But I did and we toweled off and chatted with some of the Castles neighbors.

Dave and the Castles spoke with their neighbors in the local tongue of Kak0nde and I caught very little. However to our surprise when the question of crocodiles came up the response needed no translation: Yes. Apparently just last week there were crocs in the river, and while not common we had just spent the day acting as live bait so we didn't head back there the next morning as we had intended ;) .

Since then we headed back to Lusaka, and found out we will be living in Eastern Province. Starting now you can send stuff to

Rob Gray
C/O Peace Corps
P.O. Box 560059
Petauke, Zambia

We won't get there till March but by the time it arrives trust me we'll be there! That is where we will be staying for the next two years! It's in Eastern Province Near Malawi and Mozambique.

Other than that we moved in with our host family: The Mwulimwina's With Rosemary the Grandmother and her daughters and theirs families living together in the same compound. They have made us feel at home and cook fabulous meals for us each night. N'shima is the staple which is pounded corn and water which has the consistency of mashed potatoes and cream of wheat, very tasty. A tomato "soup" goes with it which is fired tomatoes and onions. Along with some kind of veggie on the side.

We have language class every morning followed by technical training every night . Time flies by!! We also recently went with our host family to visit the Cheifteness. Jane one of Rosemary's daughters is to laura's left and yes that's me with the shaved head. It was just too hot!

I love our home it's breathtaking. Here's a sample of what the sunsets are like from our backyard.

Lots of Love

Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's official I'm here!!!

Wow I can hardly believe it. Today is Sunday for me and we have been here three days and it feels like a lifetime. Above in me and Whitney at Lusaka National Airport (Laura took the picture) A quick recap of the past week:

The going away parties where great but went by so quick! I saw my MN people last friday night, we all brought way too much food so I was able to build up my considerable "personal food storage" even more. Saturday I tried to relax with family and Sunday was the great Gray/Awes/Damerow Chili cookoff, and everybody who tried them all was a winner cuz man they were good.

Monday morning bright and early I said goodbye to my fam, Mom tried not to cry in front of me (I didn't buy it;)

Monday through Wednesday was Staging in Washington DC. Basically getting our things in order for Africa as well as some basic Peace corps advice and most of all getting to know some of the great people we'll be working with over the next two years. It flew by. We also got a chance to say goodbye to a few more DC folks. Christina thanks again for the TSA approved locks!
Wednesday Morning we left our hotel at 5:30am got a few shots (just yellow fever needed for me) and heading to the airport 5 hours early. We took a 15 hour flight to Johannesberg South Africa. The flight was the longest I'd ever taken (3 hours longer than my South Korea flight) but I maganed to sleep and watch a few African movies including "Faith like potatoes" and "Beat that drum". I liked the latter more than the former but both were interesting. We then spent the night there