June 18, 2009

buy me this please


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June 10, 2009

posting and emailing this! forward to everyone!

As you may or may not know, I am a United States Peace Corps Volunteer serving proudly in a country called Lesotho (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesotho for more information). My primary responsibility as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) is as a teacher in Tebellong Secondary School, located in the Qacha’s Nek district.

This beautiful, rural school, set on the side of a mountain, hosts 250 Basotho students, Forms A through E (Think grades 8-12 in the US). These students have a great interest in learning, but their resources for doing so, both in and outside of school, are extremely limited. Fortunately, my school does have a library, thanks to a prior PCV’s effort. The children LOVE reading, they will sit for hours and pour through encyclopedias, poetry anthologies and anything they can get their hands on. When reading in the library they ask involved, interesting questions and want nothing more than to dive into the worlds the books provide. However, this library needs books that are more age-appropriate and new materials for the students. There are a few hundred books in there now, but many of them are well above the level my students can read at, and many others are not challenging, though they tear through them despite this. Because of this, I am asking for your help.

The African Libraries Project (http://africanlibrariesproject.org) provides support in building and filling libraries in Botswana, Swaziland, and Malawi, and Lesotho. Their primary function is as (relatively very cheap) cross-Atlantic transporters. The one thing I need on the stateside for my school’s library is to consolidate 250-1,000 books for shipping to Africa. My mother, Barbara Burk, has graciously volunteered to assist in the stateside efforts and will thus serve as my American liaison.

The books should be gently used or new and should be of the following types:
Juvenile Literature
Children’s fiction and non-fiction
Teacher’s books (the teachers can greatly benefit from resource)
Encyclopedias less than 15 years old
Accurate, up-to-date atlases
Books with universal themes (friendships, animals, love... The children will ultimately try to read anything, but their world is rather limited so plots involving specialized interests may be lost on them)
Books like Chicken Soup for the Soul (inspiring stories with life skills lessons)
Books about Africa or African Americans
Brainteasers, flash cards, educational games and puzzles

Even more important would be access to textbooks, and any other educational aides for the following subjects from grades 5-12 (the testing is standardized and based on a British exam)
Math books, including Algebra, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus
English books (focusing on grammar or comprehension, especially for ESL learners)
Geography books (Most of the kids had never seen a map before one was presented this year)
Health books (general is great, but anything regarding HIV/AIDs education is especially pertinent as the country has a 23% infection rate)
Science books including general science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics books (again, these should be aimed towards middle/high schoolers)

The books can be dropped off at/shipped to
Barbara Burk
104 Juniper Dr
Freehold, NJ 07728
Telephone: 732.577.1941
Email: bcb1@optonline.com
My mother is also frequently at Brookdale Community College, so dropoffs can be arranged there as well, I'm sure.

I am hoping to get a school or schools involved (possibly a book store or two as well) so that books can be dropped off at those locations, but for now, focusing on digging through old books that you have access to would be more than enough. If you would like to contribute books, time, or help, my email address is brettmburk@gmail.com (though my access to the internet is rather haphazard here).

You can also reach me at
Brett Burk, PCV
Box 361
Qacha’s Nek 600, Lesotho
Southern Africa
Telephone: +266.59167839

Take note that it may take up to two months for me to respond to snail mail as the mail systems in place in the country are slow compared to America’s.

You can also check out my blog at http://itswhatyouwill.blogspot.com where I’ll make sure to post updates and it can be used to contact other people involved.

Thank you so much!
Brett Michael Burk

June 5, 2009

the staff room and the form C and form B building and the Form A building.

the school's kitchen building

parking lot

my roof

school's truck

accidental twins

my friend, the black widow

inside the rondavel (that's the old bike, not the new one, which is actually tall enough for me)

Confessions of a futon revolutionist

I'd like to lead off with a big thank you to the people who write me or send me packages; even small notes make all the difference out here.

It's been a while since I've written, so I'm hoping to make some sort of amends with this post, so forgive my wordiness, it comes as a result of my recent lack of proclivity towards writing.
Winter is here. It's been chilly; I don't think I've seen anything above 50 degrees F in a few weeks. I did buy myself two blankets, one for wearing during the day, which helps with my indoctrination into the local culture. The other blanket is a pretty garish leopard spotted thing (the reverse side has a giant lion on it) but it keeps me nice and snuggly in my cold little rondavel. More so than the cold of winter, it's the shortened daylight that I feel. My rondavel and school sit between two mountain peaks, and both sit partially on a mountain, so the sun peeks out at about 8:30 and hides itself at about 420. School starts at 7 and ends at 4:30, so my daylight hours are rather limited, which is quite a bummer.

Fortunately, school goes out on winter vacation on the 12th, until August, so I will be able to enjoy the short daylight hours plenty. My next quarter will actually begin July 20th, when I'll be teaching poetry to the Form C's for two weeks before beginning teaching all my other classes. Hopefully there will be a new teacher at my school when I return, so that I can stop teaching 30 credit hours/week, which is definitely cutting into my effectiveness, but after being approached by the teacher (since departed) several times to explain what an electron is (as in the basic high school definition of the thing that orbits an atom and has a negative charge) I volunteered to teach science (no chemistry or physics since junior year of high school, and I can tell you I wasn't exactly an academic inspiration to my classmates at the time).

All this teaching means that I have a lot of marking to do, it being exam time at my school. The marks this semester, due at least partially to my over-abundant schedule, have been fairly disappointing. Fortunately, when marks are disappointing, and you've included open-ended questions, you do get a little bit of enjoyment:
(Following a diagram of a microscope)
Question: (c) Which one of the sense organs is aided by this instrument?
Answer: Sperm
Let's just say that there's still a lot of confusion regarding sexual education with my form B's (aged 14-20). I do accept some responsibility for the copiousness of sexually related answers to open-ended questions on my exam: I did teach sex Ed. This quarter. Let me just say that I felt resource-less, as I literally only had an overly technical bio dictionary and what I could recall from high school sex Ed. This means that I felt a little amiss about some of my answers regarding menstruation. Fortunately the kids were not nearly as immature as American students and were very intently interested on what I had to say, as it is definitely a cultural faux pas to talk about sex with your parents or teachers, or for those same authority figures to address it with anyone. The children were initially resistant to asking questions until I told them they could submit them into a jar (OK . . . plastic bag) that I put in the front of the classroom. At this point they decided that it was perfectly OK for them to write down the questions, hand them to me, and have me immediately read them and answer them, as it was really only the speaking of certain words they felt was forbidden to themselves

Unfortunately, this was not the most interesting part of teaching at Tebellong Secondary School this quarter. That would have to be the fight that occurred about two weeks ago. One of my Form C students, Chabana, who is not a high-performer, but otherwise has been fairly non-descript in my classes, got into a fight. He hit another boy, Suntaha, because he wanted to get seconds at lunch before others had gotten their firsts. Suntaha, a Form D student, is in charge of making sure this doesn't happen and did not allow Chabana to get more food. Chabana took a swing, and a fight broke out. Suntaha, a bigger, older boy, clocked him in the mouth a few times, I didn't see this, but I did see the blood gushing out of his mouth. At this point in the fight I was still in the staff room marking papers.
I stepped outside after several teachers had already gone outside (I looked around and found the staff room suspiciously vacant) and saw the two boys on the lower part of the ground fighting, while literally the entire school was watching from the upper tiers of the compound. Chabana was clearly enraged as the majority of the school had sided with Suntaha, both on principle and because he was the better fighter, and were thus laughing at Chabana.
I was confused as to why the teachers were taking no action, assuming I was missing out on some cultural precedent (it wouldn't surprise me to find out they have a "let them fight it out" mentality... as they essentially do). Finally, another teacher, Ntate Sekonyela, walked down to intervene and I followed. The two of us pulled the kids apart. Suntaha, who I had taken out of the fight, walked towards the office building calmly. Chabana, held by Ntate Sekonyela, was much less sedate. He shook free of Ntate Sekonyela and he did not seem upset and did not try to restrain him, so I grabbed him and he seemed to calm down, so I let go of him. At this point he darted up the steps, directly next to all of the other teachers who had been watching, picked up a rock bigger than a fist, and threw it full force at the now running Suntaha, as he fled to the staff room. Unfortunately, Basotho are notoriously good aims with rocks and he managed to wail Suntaha square in the back. I ran to catch the boys, now fighting in the staff office, with 'M'e Tembe caught between them. I tore Chabana away and outside. 'M'e Tembe came quickly outside, covered in her own blood, with an incredibly vicious, unsightly cut above her eye (I swear I could see her skull). She was immediately rushed down the road to the hospital, fortunately my school has a truck and the hospital, one of the best in the district, is a ten-minute walk from my school. Needless to say the boy was expelled and will not be returning.
Violence in Basotho schools related to food is far from uncommon. This quarter, one of the closest high schools in my area had a food riot. The students, upset that they were only being fed cabbage and papa (essentially corn meal) when they wanted a little more diversity (my school has cabbage and papa on Monday and Thursday, Beans on Tuesday, Samp [dried corn with water added to it] on Wednesday, and Soup [featuring soy] and papa on Friday) decided the appropriate action would be to take stones to all the windows in the area, including the teachers residence, and even beat-up a few teachers. Another school, Eagles Peak, which is the closest school to me, closed its doors two weeks before the end of the quarter, for fear of the same thing happening. This means that they will be testing their students for this quarters work in two months. You don't have to be a teacher to understand how utterly ludicrous this is.
That's not to say that everything is bad at my school. I hosted a meeting at my school about a month ago and was able to essentially take beatings off the table. I wish I could take complete credit for this, but I feel that most of it lays with the wonderful examples set by the previous PCVs at my site, Meg Stockhausen and Todd Ellick, who did not use corporeal punishment, and the terrific class that Janice and Karen led on the subject during my phase III training. While I'm not going to pretend that kids aren't hit by some of the teachers during class, we set a strict punishment plan for various offenses that involve no beating and very limited alternative corporeal punishment. The alternative corporeal punishments mostly involve cleaning up the school premises with shovels, which rely upon consumption of time after school rather than grueling work. Otherwise the students sit for detentions and have to write letters, the latter turning out to be quite an intense punishment for non-native English speakers.

Other than school, a whole lot of nothing has been happening. Minus getting dropped off a few hours from home well after dark in a closed town by myself with no more public coming, life has been largely uneventful. This of course will change shortly, as Danie, my wonderful girlfriend, is flying in for a two-and-a-half-week visit this month.
Till next time
One Love
Brett Burk/Teboho Nthako