Saturday, May 28, 2016

Peace Corps Fac(ToT)ums

To say that running a Peace Corps program is a logistical nightmare is a complete understatement. Before even arriving in Benin, I had already communicated with a placement officer, been interviewed by a regional officer, submitted countless medical documents to a nurse for review, been contacted by my future program manager and participated in a long distance conference call with other invitees and host country staff. Between the countless emails, documents and travel arrangements, I was quite shocked when staging ran flawlessly in DC and we arrived in Benin after two long-haul, yet uneventful, flights. For months, the staff in Benin had been preparing for our arrival, but I had no idea what that actually looked like. This week at Training of Trainers (ToT), I got to see behind the scenes, experiencing the programming side of Peace Corps as a trainer for the incoming Stage 29 volunteers, who will begin their own PC adventure in September.

A couple months ago, I was on the fence about applying to be a trainer. Between my commitments to national committees and ongoing village projects, I was weary about pulling myself away from my community to facilitate the training program for the new batch of PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees.) I decided to apply however, and use my experiences, both the good and bad, to serve as a resource for the next group. This year, Peace Corps Benin is piloting a new approach to training called the community based training, or CBT, model. Instead of having all volunteers grouped by sector, as we were in Se, volunteers will be split up into smaller groups in smaller villages, enabling better community integration, more hands-on practice and a more realistic glimpse of their actual service. While this new model aims to create more autonomous volunteers, it raises some new questions about how to provide adequate technical training and the best practices for challenging different adult learning styles.  Regardless of how we approach training though, it is ultimately up to the volunteers to develop their own skills to help them become Peace Corps factotums, problem solvers and Jacks (or Jills) of all trades.

This past week was all about preparing us to support, challenge and motivate the PCTs that will arrive in June (TEFL program) and September (RCH, EA and CED). We discussed language acquisition, designed training modules based on the technical curriculum and revised the calendar of training events more times than I can count. While the entire training is 12 weeks long, there are three RCH PCVR (PCV Resources) to split up the time; I will be with the new stage for about 4 weeks. During that time we will be covering everything from malaria and women's health, to staying healthy and learning about Beninese culture. Having survived this process a year ago, I have a better understanding about the challenges PCTs face and how to remain resilient, become a successful volunteer, and embark on the journey of the toughest job you'll ever love!

Rebecca and I "enjoying" some Nescafe during a week of training.
Sometimes resilience presents itself as a cup of pure bitterness.
Oh the woes of caffeine addiction!

Needless to say, I am so excited to meet and work with everyone who will joining us here in Benin. I can't believe it has almost been a year since I set foot in West Africa, took up French and started acquiring a collection of tissu fabric. It's been a wild year of exploration, mistakes (don't touch your eyes when hand grinding peppers!), celebration and friendship. I look forward to sharing this and watching the next generation make their mark here in Benin!

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