Peace Corps Week Group Challenge Winner - Village

By Laura London
May 10, 2016

Emily Pesek Coast and I were neighbors and occasional collaborators during our Peace Corps Volunteer service in Palau. 

We served in adjoining villages roughly seven miles apart. We both live in Colorado now, and for this year’s Peace Corps Week, we reunited to present to  fifth graders. We made our classroom connection, the Stepford Students of Stratton Meadows Elementary School, through the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Speakers Match program, and planned a presentation consisting of a simple craft project, a “show and tell” table, local folklore, storytelling and a slideshow to accompany our presentation.

Students create the flag of Palau
Students create the flag of Palau.

The students were well informed about the Peace Corps mission, as they shared their knowledge: “The Peace Corps was founded by President John F. Kennedy! In 1961!” was one response. Another student said, “[It was created] to help people of developing nations!” The students learned about the Palauan Creation story of a large infant who meets unfortunate death and falls to the ocean, becoming the islands of the Republic of Palau that resemble a human body.

We shared some Palauan customs, specifically the Ngasech or First Childbirth Ceremony. Emily shared a time during service when her host sister gave birth and she was privy to this special ritual of preparing a new mother for introduction to the father’s family. We discussed everything from funerals which lasted for days in celebration and reminiscent  of the deceased, to how grandparents or other relatives raise family members as their own.

We also shared Palauan folklore. The children particularly like the legend of Emily’s region of Palau, Ngiwal. The Breadfruit Tree tale is about an old woman who has a magical tree which sustains her and other villagers by providing food – fish and other ocean harvests – on demand; a secret known only to her. Despite always having enough provisions, some greedy neighbors wanted the knowledge and hid and watched the old woman, discovering the secret. When they later returned to open the tree for themselves, they discovered they could not make the tree stop producing. Eventually the entire village was submerged in water. The students shared their insight on the moral of the story:  “To not be greedy” and “To be happy with what you have."

Laura wears a muumuu and explains Palauan first childbirth ceremony to fifth graders.
Laura wears a muumuu and explains Palauan first childbirth ceremony to fifth graders.

The children asked thoughtful questions: “Was it challenging to learn the language?” (yes, very) and “Did you find it frustrating  to be limited in communication?” (often). The students were truly inquisitive, attentive, and models of exceptional participants.

Emily shared the Palauan flag, a light blue rectangle with a single yellow circle in the middle. She discussed various theories of the blue/yellow pattern while letting the children craft their own Palauan flag. Some say it is the full moon rising over the Pacific Ocean, and others say it symbolizes peace and independence in the government. We provided the children time to look at some island artifacts.  The most popular item was the large seashell which the students eagerly clasped to their ears to listen to the ocean.

As we were packing up, the teacher, Ms. Sara Miller, asked us recruitment-like questions and seemed eager to join on the spot. It was an amazing end to an incredible day of intercultural sharing.

This activity was named the Village winner for the Peace Corps Week Group Challenge this year.

Laura London