Sunday, August 11, 2013

Great... So What is "Youth Development" Supposed to Mean?

Hello all,

For everyone who is interested in the goals and some of the techniques the Peace Corps uses for its Youth Development project in Costa Rica, I figured I would do a detailed post of some of the things I have learned so far. I actually typed this on Facebook for a person I know who is very interested in doing what I am doing now, so forgive me if there are any parts that are not written very well or more informal than I usually write.

All of this applies to the Youth Development project of Peace Corps Costa Rica (and not necessarily other Peace Corps programs.)

For training, I have a host community and the way it works is that I stay with my host family here for my three months of training. After that I will go to another community for my 2 years of service (and stay with another family for at least three months). The volunteer trainees are placed in communities close to Heredia in groups of 3 to 4. In my case, because I placed high on my Spanish test, the other 3 YD volunteers in my community were all born in Spanish speaking countries and grew up speaking spanish at home, so its good practice and ups the level of difficulty in in my Spainsh class (happens 3 times a week and consists of the threee girls and I) which focusses on learning Costa Rica-specific vocabulary and culture.

The purpose of the YD Project in Costa Rica is: to empower youth to make informed decisions about their education, health and lifestyles in order to assume positive roles in their own development, with the support of involved parents and service providers. Goal 1 of the project is to promote Healthy Lifestyles and Life Skills. By Lifestyles we mean staying in school, adopting healthy and informed decisionms about sexual health, gender equality, and finding alternatives to drug use. By Life Skills we mean positive self identity, communication, decision making, and goal setting skills, and finding strategies to support emotional health. Goal 2 of the project is Youth Support this means working with parents and service providers (teachers, coaches, councellors, governement agencies, youth who help other youth) to support us in Goal 1.There are specific things things that we can do (which are written out, but I will not write) which indicate the fulfillment of these goals. For Peace Corps, development focusses on capacity building of people rather than building things. In this way, the process is of equal importance as the product (whatever than may be). You can construct buildings and deliver food all you want, but if people dont learn how to do things for themselves (in accordance with their own perceptions of what they think is best), it will not be sustainable. There are a lot of things we can and have to do in order to carry out these goals.

The first three months after we arrive in our community where we will serve are dedicated to learning about and integrating into the community while we complete a detailed needs assessment called a CASA. In this way, we see what the community has and what they want to do (within the context of existing limitations) in order to go about development from an asset-based approach (rather than being problem oriented). After this assemssment has been done, there are almost innumerable things we can do to fulfill the above goals. These include working with schools to improve already existing extra-curricular activities, forming youth groups, having sessions with kids or adults where we do activities with an educational purpose (using the participatory methods of Non-Formal Education, the 4MAT lesson structure, and reflection using the Expereincial Learning Cycle), putting on camps for kids, giving lessons about sexual health, simply being present, or doing all of these things with the help of a community member or counterpart. Training consists of general Peace Corps stuff (safety and security, what we can and cannot do as volunteers, policies) and technicial stuff (things specific to the Youth Development Project).

The 4MAT lesson planning structure consists of Motivation (relate to prior experience), Information (give people the info they need to know), Practice (practice what they learned), and Application (explore how this can be applied in the lives of the participants). The Application section and the end of any other activity we do will be carried out using the Experiencial Learning Cycle (consists of questions) which is a participatory way of discussing and contextualizing activities through reflection in order to guide future action. This way of doing things is in accordance with "Non-Formal Education" techniques. These are some of the things we have learned so far. Tomorrow, I will be giving a lesson using this format with another trainee to a class of 6th graders.

Resources for Peace Corps work can be found at some important reads are: Culture Matters: The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook, Life Skills and Leadership Manual, Nonformal Education (NFE) Manual, PACA: Using Participatory Analysis for Community Action Idea Book, Roles of the Volunteer in Development: Toolkits for Building Capacity, Life Skills for Sexual and Reproductive Health Manual, New Project Design and Management Workshop Training Manual.

I hope you all find this useful if you were wondering about what Youth Development in Costa Rica is supposed to be about!


[All the views and opinions expressed in my blog are mine and have no official tie whatsoever to the Peace Corps.]

Training and A Little Culture (Updated Version of Short Blog)

Hello Everyone!

Time for my second in-country post.
I am actually using my host familys computer because the wireless internet is not working (and the keyboard is in Spanish), so I do not have an apostrophe key.

This past week was busy with training. We have Spanish/Costa Rican Culture class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and general Peace Corps/Tech (which means Youth Development) training on Tuesday and Thurdaday. These things take up most of my time everyday. The classes have been  good, but tiring. I have had the fortune of being placed in a community with three other native Spanish speakers from our group (and they are the ones with whom I go to Spanish class). For this reason, we can easily speak Spanish all the time (good for immersion) and I am the lowest level speaker in my group (if you want to get better, practice with those who are better than you right?). So these things are going well. I have a lot of learning/studying to do to be where I want to be, but it is not overwhelming. I think my situation is much easier and more structured than people who went to Africa in the early years of the Peace Corps. But I also think that I have a lot more opportunity to be effective than most of the volunteers who worked in that situation. I am pretty glad to be where I am.

On Friday, my Spanish/culture "facilitator" (we do not call them teachers) took us to the National Theater to listen to the National Symphony Orquestra. The Theater is beautiful and the conert was AMAZING! The Orquestra played three different symphonies of 3 to 4 movements. The third symphony they played was written by a Mexican composer and the two Mexican-American trainees in my group really enjoyed it. I thought it was good, but honestly I was so sleepy by that time (because I am used to going to bed at 10 pm now) that it was hard for me to be fully attentive. My favorite part, however, was the second symphony called: Mendelssohn, Concierto para piano No.1. This sympony featured a pianist named Gabriela Montero. I have never heard the piano played so well! After playing, she asked the audience for a song (twice) and based on the melody made her own song (which was incredibly complex!) on the spot in front of everyone. It was iwesome and I got to shake her hand!

On Saturday, my host family had a bunch of family members over to say the rosary in commemoration of Christ the Child (they are Catholic). It was really cool to be part of the ceremony and meet some of the other family members! Two of the other trainees from my community came as well.


[All the views and opinions expressed in my blog are mine and have no official tie whatsoever to the Peace Corps.]

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Short Blog

Hello Everyone!

I was typing some nice things for this blog, but accidentally closed it before I was done. For this reason, I lost what I had and unfortunately I do not have the time to retype it. :(
Also, I am using the computer of my host family, so I cannot write apostrophes.

This week was filled with training and Spanish/culture classes (we have something every weekday). They are going well. I am placed in a community with 3 other native Spanish speakers who I see everyday and go to my Spanish/culture classes. This is really great practice for me.

On Friday, our Spanish "facilitator" (we do not call them teachers) took us to see the National Symphony Orquestra in the National Theater. It was AMAZING! There was a great pianist there named Gabriela Montero. There were three symphonies played. They were all good, but the second one with the pianist was my favorite. I have never heard the piano played so well! She was incredible and I got to shake her hand (which was awesome)!

On Saturday, my host family had a bunch of family members over to say the rosary in commemoration of Christ the Child (they are Catholic). It was really cool to be part of the ceremony and meet some of the other family members! Two of the other trainees from my community came as well.

I wish I could have done a better job (more details and better written), but I have to go...


[All the views and opinions expressed in my blog are mine and have no official tie whatsoever to the Peace Corps.]

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Finally, A New Post

Ok, so it's been a while since my last post (we had a retreat thing in which we were in information sessions pretty much all day). I will do my best to have to a new post every Sunday (at least). So if you check my blog on Monday, there should be something new. I'll try to post more often than once a week though. I was very lucky and I ended up with a family in which I not only have internet access, but it's accessible from my room.

So, if you haven't seen my Facebook posts, my Peace Corps training group is awesome (we are all starting our three months of training before we can be sworn in)! Our group name is Tico 26. Tico is the word that Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves. Peace Corps has been labeling groups this way since the 1990s/early 2000s. The other trainees are great and I felt so comfortable with them all in less than an hour at our "Staging" event in D.C. We had a good time at this place in Tres Rios (a place in the mountains overlooking San Jose -- beautiful!) where we had further orientation type stuff and introductions to the training and work we would do/receive as Youth Development (me) and Community/Economic Development (the other half of my training group) volunteers. I'm very excited to learn more about and begin this work. The idea for for Youth Development volunteers is to basically empower kids and youth to reach their potential and make good decisions. Of course there are specific ways that we will try to do this (and sometimes it gets pretty indirect), but I'll probably explain more of that later.

As a side note, there are a few other trainees (potential Peace Corps volunteers like myself) that also live in Santa Cecilia and I will probably mention them in my posts.

Right now I'm staying in a little town called Santa Cecilia which is outside of Heredia, Costa Rica. It's really nice. My host family is great! I have a new mom, dad, two brothers and a sister. I'll be with them for around the next three months. My two "brothers" are 5 and 1 years old and my "sister" is 4. It's been cool hanging out with them and they're really cute. My family speaks only Spanish, so since I have arrived (which was yesterday) I have only been listening and speaking in Spanish. I really like this practice since I can often express myself clearly and understand what they are saying, though there are times when it is pretty difficult. Tomorrow morning begins my first home-cooked plate of Gallo Pinto (a mix of rice and beans that many Costa Ricans eat for breakfast almost every day). I look forward to it.
One interesting thing about my host family is that my host mom owns a micro business of eggs produced by quail. I have never heard of this before, but, though the eggs they produce are smaller, my host mom says that they contain less cholesterol and in this way they are more healthy for you. I had some of the eggs this morning and they were just as good as regular eggs!

Today there was a celebration of the founding of a nearby town called San Isidrio. It was awesome because there was a parade in which people brought their oxen and ox carts (used for hauling coffee or anything else on their farms) as well as horses. Pretty much all the men in the parade wore machetes (which is common for people involved in agriculture here). It was really awesome to see the farming/cowboy culture here, especially since where I come from in Lockney, Texas we are very rural. I went to see the parade with another trainee's host mom. On the way, we ended up riding in the back of an ox cart and we were in the parade ourselves! The host mom was friends with a couple of the cart drivers.That was really, really cool. The parade went in front of the main church (Catholic) in San Isidrio and a priest put holy water on all the passing carts. The parade ended in front of the church where there also happens to be a soccer field. This is basically the town center. In the soccer field all the carts parked and there was a band and some people wearing these big mask things and dancing. It was an awesome experience. I took some pictures, but since it is almost midnight I will not include any yet (sorry everybody!). I will probably try to upload some photos though.
One of the coolest things about being in the Peace Corps is that going to things like this and hanging out with people (in Spanish and in a culturally perceptive way) is actually a necessary and important part of my job! How many people can say that?

So anyway, things are going really well and I'll keep you all informed on new and cool things that happen!

[All the views and opinions expressed in my blog are mine and have no official tie whatsoever to the Peace Corps.]

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Hello folks!

I've never done this before, but, since I've been blessed with so many people who care about me (and are interested in my experiences volunteering in the Peace Corps), I think the best way to keep everyone up to date is through a blog. On my blog I will write posts about what I am doing and anything that I think is interesting about my time in the Peace Corps. 

Right now, I am at home and waiting (excitedly and anxiously) to go to my "Staging event" in Washington D.C. This will consist of a brief, half-day, orientation to the Peace Corps and my service. At the Staging event I will finally get to meet the other Youth Development volunteers. I'm excited to meet a group of people who are all willing to spend 27 months serving needy youth in Costa Rica. It's pretty unique to be in the company of over 30 people with such similar interests in service. Additionally, I'm anxious because I really have very little idea what it will be like to serve as a Youth Development volunteer in Costa Rica. Though I'm bringing with me some experience with Spanish, being in Costa Rica, and working with needy youth, it's hard to say exactly what it will be like.

For now, I'm waiting and I hope you all will be able to, in some way, experience my service right along with me through my blog.


In the future, I'll probably establish a set pattern for blog posts.

[All the views and opinions expressed in my blog are mine and have no official tie whatsoever to the Peace Corps.]