Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Switching it Up

In an organization based around collaborative community development, who should have the power?
Monday marked the beginning of a new school year in Chaquijyá and a big change for the Manna Guatemala team. After several discussions, we have decided to pull out of teaching in school classes in Central and switch to an after school format that we already use in Cooperativa across the street.

There are some very real benefits to after school English. For starters, after school classes allow us, as teachers, more liberty and control over the curriculum. We will be using our time more efficiently by mixing 3rd - 6th graders in only two classes instead of individually entering seven separate classrooms during the school day. Furthermore, because the classes are now optional they will be filled with kids that are motivated and sincerely want to learn English.

Teaching 4th grade English in school
Of course we cannot ignore the drawbacks to this change. The community, from the beginning, has voiced their desire for us to teach English in schools. Our announcement of the changing format was therefore met with some resistance by the principal and the teachers who will now have to resume teaching English themselves. While this may be concerning, I think we have to be realistic and realize that we do not have the manpower to be teaching 20 individualized classes a week in one school and still managing to teach 6 classes a week in another school. Our organization’s mission is not to teach English; it’s much more holistic than that. Manna is about collaborative, community-based development. Although it was never one of our original plans, we have run in-school English for a year and a half because the community asked for it. At this point, I think we have earned the right to tweak a program that is neither sustainable nor efficient.

We have learned from experience that new ideas and change are often met with resistance. Both summer camp and the bottle school project were unpopular when first suggested, but the tides have since changed and the community has shown their support by paying for their children to attend summer camp and helping to collect bottles for the school. 

A 6-year-old's take on English greetings
During our development talks, the issue has often come up whether we are forcing our ideas upon Chaquijyá. At this point the answer is frankly, yes, sometimes we do.  This is obviously dangerous because we are assuming we know what’s best for this community. On the other hand without us pushing, new opportunities would rarely arise. In the ideal situation, community members would be the ones coming up with new ideas and we would be there to help implement them. It’s a delicate balance and one that we certainly don’t enter into lightly. For me, the distinction comes with the question, why? Why are people resistant? Sometimes the answer is that they just need a better explanation and a clearer understanding of the proposed project. Sometimes people need to see a program in action before they can realize its benefits. However, when a program that has been fully explained and maybe even put through a trial period is still met with resistance, then it’s time to admit that this program is perhaps flawed and not well-suited for the community. 

Bottle school under construction.. after much debate
Chaquijyá has not reached the ideal situation, honestly we wouldn’t be here if it had. But, we are working toward that goal. The awesome part is that our pushing appears to be working. I can see the community starting to reach towards their full potential instead of settling for the status quo.  One of the clearest examples is how quickly the community has taken ownership of the bottle school addition. Six months ago we still had a lot of skeptics and now they are the ones pushing us to continue moving forward with construction.

Back to the topic at hand, my goals for the after school English program are to give motivated kids a strong foundation in English and spark their interest in continuing their education. The success and future of the program will be measured by attendance and performance. I hope that the community sees the benefits of this different approach. At the same time, I’m prepared to scrap the changes if they prove unsuccessful because, in the end, I don’t know best.


1 comment: