Friday, August 5, 2011

The Final Chapter

My time in American Samoa is long over, and I am within hours of embarking on the final leg of my journey to Guatemala. I've wanted to write an update and final chapter to the American Samoa experience since I arrived back in the States, but the summer has gotten away from me. I didn't get the chance to visit with anywhere close to the number of people I wished to see, either!

As the school year ended in American Samoa, my class helped me organize our collection of over 2,000 books into grade-level boxes. There was great concern as to what would happen to the books, from teachers, the principal, my students, and WorldTeach. Since we were unable to find a teacher willing to take over the after-school program, I decided to create classroom libraries for the Kindergarten-8th grade classrooms. Hence the organizing into grade-level boxes. As school starts in American Samoa next week, students should find a wonderful selection of books at their fingertips, and teachers should establish a borrowing system similar to what we had with Vatia Reads. I announced the donation of classroom libraries to the student population and to parent at end-of-the-year ceremonies, so I know many people are looking forward to the start of the year! Thank you, one final time, for your support and donations. The classroom libraries will be a reminder of the world of people who are dedicated to supporting education!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Where Is Time Going?

Seriously... Where? Each week and weekend passes without time for me to think and compose my thoughts into a blog post or an email! I have learned that I need quiet time... space... and the chance to rest my mind in order to get the simplest tasks done, and especially to have the focus to write a poignant blog posting. A good friend of mine and fellow volunteer is preparing to embark on a new volunteer year with WorldTeach, and she needs some assistance. Her dedication gave me the motivation to get online and write a quick posting for her.

Gretchen graduated college last year with a degree in Math. She's been teaching high school math on one of the remote outer islands here in American Samoa. She has a tenacious personality and a desire to do some good in the world. Gretchen plans to head to Tanzania next year with WorldTeach, and she needs support. I realize that there are a lot of readers of this blog that might have the means and desire to continue to help education in developing countries, so I told Gretchen that I'd post a link to her blog here. If you're one of those people, or if you're just interested in reading another perspective of teaching and life in American Samoa, please link to her blog: http://gretchenmelvin.blogspot.com/.

I hope you are all doing well. You are all in my thoughts every day, even if I do not always take/make the time to keep in touch. I beg your forgiveness! The end of the year is coming up soon (June 3rd), and I'm leaving this island home on June 16th. I do promise to write some updates here, especially about what will happen to all of your incredible donations. I'm sorting out the last details of that now. As for my plans, I'm headed to Panajachel, Guatemala to teach a combined 3rd/4th grade class in the fall. The school seems amazing, and you can read more about it at: www.lifeschoolweb.com.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I AM alive and still in American Samoa...

I cannot believe so much time has passed since I last posted an update. Weeks are flying by, and weekends are gone in the blink of an eye. I've been extremely busy recently due to working with the after-school program - I don't get home before 5:30 most days (and I start my day at school before 7). Saturdays have been consumed with kirikiti games (Samoan-style cricket), and Sundays have been filled with lesson planning and just collapsing from sheer exhaustion.

The past few months have seen a tsunami (small, but present), a trip to Samoa (a different country... 30 minute plane ride means a world of difference!), incredible donations of books (without the time to properly thank everyone - it's coming, I promise), test preparation (4th graders take 2 batteries of tests... one down, one to go), job-searching (trying to figure out my next move... have a few ideas, but nothing is solid yet), and much more... I will try my best to get a real blog post out during one of the upcoming 3-day weekends!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cyclone Wilma

Hurricanes in the South Pacific are not called typhoons, they're called cyclones. Cyclone Wilma, a category 1 storm, hit American Samoa last weekend. Here are some photos from Vatia. I lost my lens cap in the process of getting these photos, so it will be a while before i get any new pictures taken :(

The view from the front door of my house. Usually, you can see the mountains clearly.

CJ running to miss the waves crashing over the bridge. Stay tuned to see what happened to the bridge.

How do the children of Vatia prepare for a hurricane? By playing tetherball, of course.

Somewhere around 4 or 5 am in the middle of the hurricane. Still can't see those mountains.

Around 9 or 10 am - Everyone came outside during the eye of the storm, which passed directly over my island. It was hot and muggy, and it lasted about 2 hours or so (the eye). The whole village was out walking the streets and checking out the ocean, whose waves turned scary.

Ocean view

When the ocean becomes one with the road

Had to get a scary picture of myself to prove I was there

The debris in the road during the eye. This got WORSE over the next 24 hours, after which I got to help clean up by throwing rocks (big and heavy ones) back into the ocean. I wish I had photos of THAT.

Cathy (my host-sister), Leslie, and I walked through the disgusting water to check on the school. Most rooms were ok (some were minorly flodded), but one classroom had left its windows open. Hello wetness.

Remember the picture with the Santa Hats? This is taken from the same place.

More shots of the debris.

A broken (and flooded) bridge. No way out of the village. Luckily the president of the senate lives in my village, so they came to repair this rather quickly. They piled up boulders and filled in the cracks with sand. It will do for now, I guess.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Waiting for a Hurricane

As I wait for a hurricane (aren't they supposed to be called typhoons in the Pacific?), I wanted to check in and say that my internet access is once again extremely limited.  I haven't been online, except for a quick minute, in the past 2 weeks! Trying to catch up with communication, then I'll resume posting! :)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Manuia le Kerisimasi!

Merry Christmas from the Rock! Here's a photo/video montage of my Christmas activities!
The (HOT) day before vacation on the sea wall right in front of school
My StarBoys (learning about St. Lucia's Day in Sweden)

My St. Lucias (We used vegetation from behind the school - amazing finished products!)

Leraning about Diwali and lighting candles set afloat

We made pinatas for Los Posadas. Lydia broke the string when I dropped the pinatas lower, so we ended up smashing them on the pavement. Great fun!
On Dec. 15th, we went caroling at the hospital. We wanted to give back to our community since we have been the recipients of such goodness this year!
video

Nativity Scene in the church... Which of these does not belong?
video
The youth of the LMS church in Vatia during their Christmas Eve performance

video
Methodist churches across the island went caroling late on Christmas Eve.

The video is darker on this post than on my computer. Here's a photo to look at while listening to the carol :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Actually Happens to Your Books?

As I was sitting in my room last night, processing the latest (AMAZING - story to follow in another blog post) shipment of books for my school, I realized that you might be interested to know what actually happens to the books you send. Here's the process (I'll attach pictures to this someday, but I am on vacation now and don't want to go up to my classroom for at least one more day!):


  1. The boxes arrive at Tafuna airport on one of the 2 flights a week that bring mail. They are sorted and brought to the post office in Pago Pago, where a yellow slip is added to WorldTeach's PO Box indicating a package is ready to be picked up. There are so many packages here that the post office uses a yellow cardstock and simply writes our box number on the back, so no one ever really knows how many packages are waiting.
  2. My field director, Alison, checks the PO Box and does a package run (usually on Thursdays, though she tries to go more than once a week during the holidays, just in case...). If there are any boxes for me, she either contacts my host mom, Mata, who passes Alison's office on her way to work, or me (if there are only a few... to see if I'm coming into town and can pick them up myself). 
  3. Once the boxes arrive in Vatia, they usually get unloaded to my door by the kids (CJ and Matalin). Then, the work begins...
  4. The first thing I do after opening the boxes and doing happy dance is to label all books with "WorldTeach donated by _____." Each book you send has your name (or orgainzation's name) in it. I do this for 2 reasons. One, it identifies that the books have been donated through WorldTeach, which means that the DOE has no claim to them if ever challenged. Second, and most importantly, it allows me to say a "thank you" for each book as I write the donor's name(s) inside. This is my favorite part of the whole process because I get to think about YOU and skim through each book!
  5. The next step (which I've only just recently added) is to bind the edges and spine of the book with tape. I took a hint from some books that had been donated by teachers to make the books hold up better. Island weather and kids who are not used to caring for books lead to a lot of issues keeping books in good condition. We are working on the latter (it takes a long time to educate a community and change old habits, but I can see progress already), and I'm hoping the tape helps with the former as well.
  6. Books are then cataloged into my database and given a number. I write the number onto a sticker and attach it to the back corner of the book. This makes it easy to log the books borrowed into my other database. I'm trying to keep track of statistics: numbers of students attending, number of books borrowed daily, the frequency that each book is borrowed. I'm no Excel wiz, but I'm giving it a shot.
  7. Finally, I attach a colored label to the book's spine that indiciates where it is shelved. The labels say "Vatia Reads!" and the genre (fiction, science, animals, biography, social studies, etc.). The colors help my students put the books back in an area that's generally correct. 
  8. Soon, I'll be adding one more step: Attaching a letter to each book that will help keep books within each genre organized by author or topic.
The books are always presented to my fourth graders before I put them on the shelves. Usually this happens before the processing because I want them to benefit from having the books available as soon as possible. They are always thrilled and want to know who they came from (and the backstory of how you are all somehow connected to me).

Once books are on the shelves, they are free to be borrowed. Students come in every day of the week to look through and borrow books. They each have a library card (an index card) on which they write the title and number of each book they borrow. Each card has room for 10 titles, and some students are on their 3rd cards already. On the back of the card, I write "Vatia Reads!" in marker, and students move through the colors in the order of the rainbow. That means, I have some "Yellow Readers" already.

I hope this sheds some light on the "afterlife" of your books! Thank you, again, for everything!