|Summer camps were by far the highlights of Peace Corps service.
My primary school in Ruhabat, Number 41, after a fresh snow fall. There was no heat in the schools, so everybody wore coats indoors during the winter months. Children have to attend school for 9 years, from age 7 to 15.
|Compare School 41 with my secondary school, Toplum, one of many large construction projects of the government (the statue is President Nyazov's mother). The facilities were great, but the administration was corrupt and the teachers were unmotivated. Everything that occurred at Toplum was for government self-gratification, not for the education or professional development of the Turkmen people.
But I was able to work with students who wanted to learn. This was one of many English clubs I conducted throughout the year on all grade levels. We learned about American holidays, folk songs and fairy tales, world history and literature. These kids especially loved songs and word games that applied to the lesson.
|I worked with students and teachers, modeling new teaching methodologies that encouraged conversation, comprehension, and critical thinking. I liked using arts and craft activities to teach vocabulary and simple grammar rules while creating something each student could take away from the classroom.
Here is a survey of some of the sports I played with my students and fellow counselors - basketball, ultimate frisbee, baseball, and American football. I especially loved introducing frisbee and football to my students - even the girls, in their dresses and dainty shoes, went after the disc and football with passion and skill!! They made me so proud. :o)
|This world map was one of the major projects at an arts camp I organized at my village school in Ruhabat. Along with drawing and painting the map, we also did painting, drawing, photography, dance, and singing.
I loved working as a counselor at a teachers camp organized by a Turkmen Professional Organization of English Teachers (POET). The teachers from around the country really knew how to have fun!! I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a photography and writing workshop where I gave each teacher a disposable camera and they wrote poetry to go along with the images they captured from their environment. We set up an exhibition for all the other teachers to admire their work.
|Here is a group shot after the first performance of the spoof play, "Beauty is a Beast". These kids are some of the brightest kids in the country: most are fluent in English, and wealthy enough to live in Ashgabat and study in places like Kiev and Moscow. The following year, the kids put on a modified production of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat".
We were lucky enough to have a summer English camp at the new school in my town (Toplum). There we had amazing facilities - a large auditorium, air conditioning, and computers upon which we taught the kids simple typing and digital drawing skills while practicing English.
|At the regional summer camps we organized, we invited ambassadors from the U.S. embassy (shown in picture), British embassy, Iranian embassy, and representatives from the U.N. Because the English level of these kids was very high, the camp was based on international issues, including economic development, global environment, people and drug trafficking, genocide, world religions, international NGOs, and human rights.
The graduation ceremony was a celebration that I was so happy and proud to be able to attend with some of my students in May. I really came to love my students and I really hope and pray that they will endure and find happiness wherever they go.
|Photo by Jane Bardon
|I know that a lot of my plans did become a reality eventually. I know that there are plenty of things I could have done better, but I learned a lot, and I am glad that in the end, I helped my colleagues and students in Turkmenistan achieve their goals as well.