What Is She Even Doing !?!

If you can say the above in plain snarky tone, that’s what I was going for 😛

In the midst of my writing a wish list for care packages (which you can find by clicking here) I was looking at all the random stuff I would like and realized that most people… wouldn’t even know why I’m here.

What am I even doing here? Believe me there are some days I ask myself the same thing. Well lets try to resolve this. Also be warned, I’m going to drop a lot of Peace Corps (PC) acronyms on you.

I’m a Community and Youth Development (CYD) volunteer, which is one of the three PC Sectors in Mongolia. The other two sectors are Teaching English as a Foreign Language ((TEFL) and Health. Each sector has specific goals and objectives which include criteria such as reaching a certain number of people by a certain time with certain type of knowledge, expanding capacity of counterparts and being to be able fulfill the three goals of PC. According to each sector, we have slightly different goals and objectives, but the common vocabulary is there. To “build capacity” , to “be sustainable”, just to name a couple. Throughout international development , you will find the same buzz words. For today , I will try to explain what exactly I understand CYD to mean, and explain the “Mongolian context” or in my case, Mongolian schools. Maybe I will add in a little bit of what I actually do… maybe 😛

So the basic premise of CYD in Mongolia is to help youth service providers, organizations and youth themselves, become productive adults and give them the skills to do so. In this country , there is a particular emphasis on teaching life skills , helping teachers and school administrators understand and use positive youth development , and helping students feel like they have a voice in their schools. Which all in all is easier said then done 🙂 . CYD volunteers have been placed in schools for the most part, including vocational schools. As for me I’m in a 12 Year Secondary School… but that is a little bit of a misnomer. Let me explain.

When we finally find out about our sites (which I write about here) we were handed a packet detailing information about our Host Country Agencies (HCAs) , our new town and our aimag. We found out about our housing, what restaurants are in town, and whether you can get peanut butter, pretty much by speed reading through this packet. I learned that my primary counterpart (CP) or person I would be working with would be the schools Social Worker. Cool. I would be living in an apartment . Also cool (I’m pretty sure I would burn down a ger anyways). Here is the blurb I then read about my school:

School #3 was established in 1963 as an 8 year secondary school. Then it became a 10 year secondary school in 1986… The school was built for a student population of 360 students… There are currently 621 students enrolled at School 3.

My lovely school...

My lovely school…

Yeah you read the numbers right. They are in the process of building a new building which *should* be done soon. They recently filled in the pit for the foundation of this new building so that was exciting. This would be a large help as next year is the first year there will actually be a 12th grade. Most kids graduate at 11th. Hence the misnomer.. But not for long!

But how does that even work you ask? A school built for 360 kids, having 621 kids actually go there? WHAAA?!?! Well, most Mongolian schools work in two shifts. At mine, all the high schoolers (which I consider to be 8th to 11th graders) start school at 8:30 and have 40 minute classes till they get out at 1:30. They go over a lot of subjects in that time. Mongolian language, Technology, English, Russian, Math, Science, Health, History, Social Studies and PE are some of the classes I have observed. All the kids stay in the same room for most of the day while teachers rotate in and out.

Lets just reflect for a bit. Can you imagine? To stay in the same classroom all day? Would have driven me crazy when I was kid… anyways I digress. Then starting at around 2, all of the younger kids come in and have classes till around 6:30. They have it a little easier with just a teacher per class.

No school would be complete with you the obligatory portrait depicting the meeting between Lenin and Sukhbaatar aka "National Mongolian Hero". This is how I know I'm in Mongolia.

No school would be complete without the a portrait of Lenin and Sukhbaatar aka “National Mongolian Hero”.  This particular portrait is in a schools computer lab, and an 8th grade class was coming into the room as I took this picture.

Within this there are a lot of attitudes within the school system that can make it … difficult. For example, while one of my tasks is to help increase student participation, most of the time it is teachers who sign up students for certain activities, events and competitions. Teachers will always tend to sign up the ‘good kids’. Which they are. However, those kids are also picked for everything else as well. Leaving large chunks of the student population listless and unoccupied. Also teachers aren’t judged on the average of an entire class. If even one kid does well, you’re fine. Which tends to put pressure on the couple ‘good kids’ in the class. Finally there is a lot of issues with discipline here. I luckily haven’t seen too much corporal punishment, but there is still a lot of disciplinary pressure on the teachers of the class. There is no going to the director or some secondary person to enforce discipline. It all needs to be dealt with in the classroom. And lets face it, when you have a class of 30-40 kids rowdy kids that have been stuck in the same room all day, with absolutely no alternatives, positive discipline is hard. Luckily I do feel that most teachers to care at my school. Many teachers ask me what to do with kids that act up. Unfortunately most of my answers, such as implementing variety in their lesson plan, or challenging the kids further with harder material, just isn’t feasible.

The largest problem I tend to see are the lack of expectations put on boys. If you ever visit Mongolia, one thing you will notice is that girls rock here. They are the ones who speak English, have desk jobs in nice work places and basically run the place. Where do the boys go? Basically boys don’t have many  expectations in a school environment, because in Mongolia, it is easy to become a driver, or a construction worker because you are a man. Drivers can make more money then teachers here. So therefore, it is that thought that its the girls that really need an education and must be looked after. See where this is going ? While most classes start out in school evenly split between boys and girls, as they move up the grades, boys start dropping like flies. Like many things, it is slowly changing, but its tough to change to status quo. Luckily I’m finding that given the right opportunity many of the boys in my clubs become engaged and active.

As for what I do during my day when I’m not observing classes, I’m lucky to have my own little room . The room has the fancy title of “The Child Development and Progress Room” which only sounds a little better in Mongolian. The room has computers donated from Korea, which I’m in the process of fixing and reformatting. Pro tip: if you ever donate a computer (especially to a developing country) , remove programs like Deep Freeze which make it impossible to add programs or change up the computer in anyway… Just saying. Right now I’m basically in the process of changing the room to make it a resource room/student lounge so that kids have a safe space to either have access to computers and have their own clubs and things. I’m also planning on doing several trainings with teachers about facilitation and life skills. All of this of course will be dependent on my primary job as school photographer. Considering that events drop out of the sky like no ones business, I never know when I will been whisked away to some event to take some pictures. Then there is my secondary job as a general IT person. People are constantly impressed by my ability to install printer drivers 😛

So I will end it there. I apologize for the short novel but I have been meaning to write something like this for a long time. I will also add, in case any of the above sounded negative, that despite the challenges, I’m constantly impressed by my motivated CPs and especially the students. I bring up an idea and they say lets do it, and tend to be the most optimistic people I know. Despite a system that at the best of times can be frustrating, it’s the people here who make it the best. They are my “diamonds in the rough” if you will.

As always, if you have any questions let me know,
Peace, V.

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