Wednesday, May 5, 2010

End of Practicum...

We are in the middle of week 7, which means I have officially been out of the country longer than ever before. It also means we are quickly approaching the end of Pre-Service Training. As such, we have met some important milestones in our Peace Corps career and are about to reach several others.

Last week we finished our practicum, which consisted of giving three health education lessons of our choice. We had two practicum lessons back to back last week so it was a busy and stressful time preparing for those lessons. I am proud to report that I gave my part of all three lessons in Shqip, thanks to the editing of my host father and language teacher.

For the second lesson, we discussed anti-smoking with a 7th grade biology class. Going in, we wanted to not only educate them as to why smoking is bad for all of our health, but also to give them practical life skills to withstand peer pressure and make decisions for themselves. In the beginning, Joe discussed the biology behind how smoking leads to the many adverse health outcomes. We had so much fun preparing the visual aid for this section - Joe smoked a cigarette through the cotton inside a maxi pad to show the nastiness of what a person smokes. The kids all cringed when they saw it...hopefully they remember this!

After the education portion, I did a demonstration with sponges to represent how a damaged lung from smoking is less able to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide compared to a healthy, non-smoking lung. During this demonstration, Katie had them breath out of a straw. After I was done, Katie had them do 30 jumping jacks. The kids loved this activity and it was able to convey the message of this is how it feels when you have damaged lungs from smoking. We concluded our practicum lesson with the life skills portion. Joe has been smoking for the past five years, so he was able to honestly tell them about how difficult it is to quit and why it is so important to quit. Finally, the students split into groups and presented on ways they can overcome peer pressure to smoke cigarettes.

We had so much fun giving this lesson and it appears the students had a great time too considering they pleaded us to stay and do more activities. Actually, we were supposed to give this lesson to one 50 minute class while the other group from Belesh was supposed to give their lesson to a different 50 minute class, either before or after ours. Unfortunately, the director changed his mind and we ended up having to give both of our lessons to the same class. We only had about 20 minutes to give our lesson in the end, but it taught us a lot as Peace Corps volunteers in terms of expecting the unexpected and being flexible enough to withstand pressure and changes at any point.

The next day we had our final practicum lesson on hypertension for community members. This lesson was to take place at spitali (the hospital) and was coordinated by the director there. The other group from Belesh did their final practicum lesson on food safety and we had 30 minutes each to deliver the lesson. Though our practicum lessons were pushed back a half-hour, there were no major obstacles to deal with like the previous practicum. Going into this practicum, we knew the topic was substantially drier than hand washing and anti-smoking because there are not as many activities to do. So, we solicited our creativity and came up with ways to involve the participants. We did some basic education in the beginning of our lesson as to what blood pressure and hypertension is. We used a balloon to explain the force being applied to the wall of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body.

We wanted to emphasize how important diet and exercise can be in mediating hypertension. So, we used audience participation to organize various foods and physical activities. It worked really well and the nurses and doctors there were definitely engaged. Then I presented a hypothetical person called Zonja Zemer (Mrs. Heart) that had hypertension and described her behavior. The participants then described what she could do to reduce her blood pressure. Then, to emphasize prevention, we represented Zonja Zemer when she was younger and had normal blood pressure so they could identify what she should have done to keep her blood pressure within the normal range.

Overall, the practicum lessons went really well. I found it to be a very empowering experience (though I am not sure all the trainees felt this way). For me, I was able to prove through this experience I can do an entire presentation in Shqip and I have the resources, creativity, and flexibility to have a productive and successful lesson with my counterpart once I am in Pogradec. Poleta, our health technical coordinator, told me I was fluent, but I know she was lying a little bit since I had to read off of my notes, meaning I only partly knew what I was saying.

Besides lots of work, I have been learning how to cook. I told my family I am not a good cook, and they practically interpreted that as I do not even know how to cook. My gyshe (grandmother) told me she is worried about how I will be able to eat when I am living on my own. So, she has been putting me through a series of trainings so that I will be able to cook for myself. The best part was cooking byrek, which is a traditional Albanian dish which is a fried pastry made of phyllo dough. It is filled with a variety of innards, including cheese, tomato and onion, spinach, potato, fasule (beans), and meat. We made the potato kind. They roll each of the layers of phyllo dough one by one so it is quite the process. I am slow at the rolling part, but got good enough by the end of our byrek that I was no longer tearing large holes in the middle.

Last night consisted of no work! My host mother, father, and I went out to have “coffee,” which meant a beer. We got to go to the restaurant where people go to have the wedding reception. This was where my parents had their wedding reception last August when they got married. It was really nice to get out of the house and just enjoy the time I have left with the family. Here are my host parents at our “coffee date”:

And here is a picture of part of my host family. Sili, Lubjana, Gyshe (usually lives near Durres) and Arjani. Usually, Arjani’s mother lives with us, but she is visiting her children that work in Italy right now.

Random outcome from being in the Peace Corps: Serious freckle acquisition on my nose. It has become noticeable to other Americans and Albanians alike. I am not sure how I feel about this.

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