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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Overseas Phone Call from Kenya

Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Starks Talks With McCutcheon High School

Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Starks Talks With McCutcheon High School

Ron Tschetter
Hi, I'm Ron Tschetter, Director of the Peace Corps. For more than 45 years the Peace Corps has helped communities around the world. Volunteer Voices is a collection of audio stories from just a few of the more than 182,000 volunteers who have served since 1961. For more information on the Peace Corps, go to peacecorps.gov.
Introduction
Once a year a few Peace Corps volunteers get to talk by telephone with U.S. classrooms they've been communicating with. We've recorded some of those conversations. Today, the McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana speaks to Michael, a Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in Kenya.
Michael
My name is Michael Starks. I am a volunteer teacher at the school for the deaf in Kenya. I've been here, gosh, almost a year and a half, I guess, now.
Student
Hey Michael, my name is Shantaya. I was interested in your student that you are working with. What things do they do for fun, and what kind of games and sports do they participate in?
Michael
Ok, like right now, the first term is when we have nationals game and we do spend a lot of time doing that kind of stuff. We do an after school drama a couple of days a week that we practice. We do—and it's not anything super fancy, there's no set stage, necessarily. It's just us taking up a classroom, learning our dramas about HIV/AIDS, students memorizing their lines. We have some just little simple props and things like that. We play futbol, or as called in America, soccer. They play volleyball some, and so, thank you to McCutcheon, they gave us two footballs and a volleyball last year that we've been able to use—which have been great! They have some dolls they play with, they jump rope, they play catch. They like to, really, in their free time, their favorite activity is telling story. This pretty much means that they sit around and they talk and they gossip and they do that kind of stuff. Deaf students are really, really, creative story tellers because of the fact that they have to use their bodies to tell a story. So it really is very entertaining to watch them tell stories about what happened when they were at home. They are pretty much acting always. So, some of the students are really amazing actors and their ability to tell stories is really great. That's their main activity outside of school. If they're not playing sports, they are usually sitting around a lot telling stories.
Student
Hi Michael, this is Katie.
Michael
Hey, Katie.
Student
It sound like they have a lot of fun playing games. I was wondering, what do you teach the kids? What have you learned from them?
Michael
The Kenyan educational system is different from America—in someways, it's the same. You have kind of the core subjects like math and science. Here, even in primary school, they are doing a little bit more intensive work. A little bit more algebra, and let's say, starting to learn physics, and a little more advanced biology already by class 7 and 8 than what you would in America. In some ways, school is tougher here, I think. I think the students have to do more work. I'm trying to learn how their syllabuses here work and how things should go. My students are pretty young, their skill levels are pretty low now. Even so it's class 2, but we follow the hearing curriculum, so these students are probably still learning at a Kindergarten/Class 1 level, it's a lot of trying to catch them up to the basic stuff for them. I'm also teaching them for the whole school about HIV and AIDS—which is also a big challenge. I feel like I've gotten better at that this second year. I think it is probably my ability to communicate with the students has improved, really improved tremendously. I think that's made the difference. There is still definitely some gaps because of signing. I really use my whole body. I'm so happy and I so love that. Even when I'm talking to hearing people now. I make faces, I act out things. People love it. It's an amazing way to communicate. It's not boring. You know when you are talking to people and using your whole body to communicate and you are making faces and you are doing all this—I think all people really get into that and can appreciate it—so, that's one thing I've learned. The other thing that I've learned is how these students who really come from homes where, probably, their families don't know sign language they didn't know any form of communication until they came to school. We've had students who are around 4-5 (years old) when they come and some students who are around 15. So there's a huge gap in variety of the ages when they come. They come from these homes where they haven't been communicating. Then coming from probably far out in the bush and they've just been working their whole lives and doing stuff. These kids are so amazingly happy all the time. You just can't get them down. It's very hard! So to be around that kind of spirit—and they come here to school and they have a little bit more stuff, it is not a lot you know. So, to see that they come here and remain so happy and positive all the time, no matter what life throws at them—you really have to appreciate that. These kids, they just love being in school. They are so happy to be here. They like to work. It's not like I don't have frustrations in class sometimes, but for the most part if we go "Hey, let's go to class now." They run to class and they sit down and they are ready to go. If you ask them, "Do you enjoy school?" and they are like, "We love it! It's amazing". So that, I think has been really great to see and really inspiring to see people who are so constantly happy and excited about life and things like that.
Student
What other goals do you have while you are in Kenya ?
Michael
I have a group who I just started working with, and we wrote a proposal to create a series of DVDs and then some porting material for all the deaf schools in Kenya about HIV/AIDS. It's really a big project. It is going to take volunteers going to all the deaf schools, shooting video, making plays, skits, and we're going to compile them all together on DVDs. Also, some animation, some teaching aids, posters, like this whole set of things. We want to create a really intensive package that we can go and present to deaf schools all over Kenya. There is another volunteer who is working on a proposal for funding to help schools get things like TVs, DVD players, things like this. We're just finishing up a survey of deaf schools. The majority have access to some form of electricity—a majority already have TVs, so it is mostly about—let's upgrade to newer technology like DVD players. So that's a project we're really excited about doing and hopefully really have an impact. We've done a little bit of testing to try to get feedback. It's just really amazing to watch our students. If you put in a DVD and show a movie or skits from other deaf schools and they just sit there totally enthralled—so in love with it. We are still waiting to try to get more feedback on how helpful it is and how much they learn from it and things like that. The first time I played it and showed them a movie from another deaf school, they all just sat there and they watched it 3 times in a row because they were so happy to see it. So, I was just like, that was the kind of time when I was like. Ok, we have to do this project. This is amazing to see.
Student
Is there anything that international club or we as individuals can do for the students at the school like get them bug netting, or clothes, or anything like that, or just send you money?
Michael
You know, I really think that what you guys are doing, I mean, for this team has been amazing. It really is enough. What my hope is for the international club and this school is that, hopefully, they can maintain contact with this school and keep in touch and make it where this isn't just a one time thing. Just like, every once in a while you can do—and maybe not a project this big—but like you said, buy netting. Hopefully, we can set it up in a way that every year it can continue. But I think for this year, I really think you guys have really done a fantastic job and helping out with that project will be enough. Then it also challenges us to continue to make sure that we are working hard enough locally with groups and things to make sure we don't get lazy here on the ground. and there's resources here and stuff. We don't want to ask for too much because it helps us make us maintain our focus locally as well.
Close
Thanks for listening. Are you in a classroom? Do you want stories written just for your class? Enroll in the Correspondence Match program in Coverdell World Wise Schools. We can connect your class with a Peace Corps volunteer serving in any region of the world. For enrollment and program information visit us online at www.peacecorps.gov/wws/correspond.

About the Author

Michael Starks

Michael Starks served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya from 2006-2008.