#GivingTuesday- AgriCorps Crowdrise Year End Appeal

 Did you know that today is Giving Tuesday (#GivingTuesday)?? Giving Tuesday is a social movement  that helps people give back by donating their time, money, or influence to a cause or organization that they feel passionate about.  Giving Tuesday is celebrated the day after Cyber Monday as a day to encourage kindness and generosity.

I’m excited to let you know about AgriCorps’ Year End Appeal, which will provide critical support funds to help us make our impact. It will fund programs like farmer trainings, agriscience classes, teacher trainings, and fellow support.

If you are thinking of giving today, can I please ask you to consider giving a donation to AgriCorps? Having lived in Liberia for 3 months now and working with farmers and youth alike, I have seen even more clearly the need there is for  agricultural education and youth development programs which will help to develop this country’s next generation of agricultural leaders. AgriCorps is working directly to fill that need and support the growth and education of young people in a sustainable way so that even after the AgriCorps Fellow leaves after his/her one year of service, the impact that was made during that time will remain and continue to spread and strengthen for years to come.  Last year, AgriCorps fellows taught 6,901 students, established 19 school gardens, and trained 81 teachers. We want to accomplish even more this year. But we need your help!

Click on the link below to learn more:

Even if you are unable to donate today, we want to thank you for your continued support, kind words, prayers, etc. We are continually overwhelmed with love from afar and we couldn’t be more grateful. Wishing you all a great start to your holiday season!

Love,

Anna and Nathan

A very special story for you in honor of “World Toilet Day 2016”

Please forgive me in advance for the less professional nature of this blog. But in honor of “World Toilet Day” I wanted to make sure that everyone back home truly appreciated the beauty that is Western plumbing and the comfort and cleanliness of the porcelain throne 😉

So during our first week in Liberia we went and lived in a small village called Kamada Town. It had about 25 house in the village center and only 1 latrine house for the whole village to use (and when I say latrine house what I mean is a deep hole in the ground with a wooden/cement frame around it). Just one latrine house (2 holes)…for maybe 100 people…this was new for me (in the past I’ve apparently been spoiled and only had to share the latrine house with my immediate host family). Anywho, the latrine was about a 2-3 minute walk through town out past the edge of the schoolyard. One day we were sitting around and talking about poop stories (forgive me…but this just seems to always happen when you live in a developing country) and wouldn’t you know it the urge overcame me. So I got up and started my walk out to the latrines. It was about 6:00 so was starting to get dark but I still figured it was ok to walk out there by myself. It was the village…I always feel much safer in the village than I do in the cities. As I’m walking out there, I must have been greeted by at least 3 different households, children and women alike shouting out to me “Fefa (my Gola name…it means “thin” or “breeze”)…where are you going? How are you?” “I am going to the bathroom” I replied….but to be honest I didn’t think that the question really warranted a response since the bathroom was really the only place I could possibly be going if I was walking that direction. The only reason you walk down that little footpath is because you need to take a #2…and basically the whole town knows it. It felt like a walk of shame each time I had to go…

After I said my hello’s and explained what business I had to attend to down on the other end of the path, I finally made it to the latrines. As I flung open the door, I saw something move in the corner of my eye. I stepped back! No…I thought…it couldn’t still be there…could it?? Melissa had mentioned that she saw it earlier when she went to the bathroom, but it must have left by now, right??? I took a deep breath and gingerly opened the door…Ahhhh! There it was! A giant grey fuzzy spider maybe 4-5 inches big was just hanging out on the inside of the door. In my head all I could think was “Oh crap oh crap oh crap!” Yes, I used to see insect samples every day at work as an extension agent, but giant fuzzy spiders in a latrine dusk?!??! Heck no…..

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my not so little friend….

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Nathan inspecting the latrine in the daylight

I finally pulled myself together and prepared to enter the latrine. The spider wasn’t moving and I convinced myself he would stay that way so it would be safe for me to just get in and get out. I resolved not to close the door though…I was far enough away from town I didn’t think that anyone would be able to see me anyways even with the door wide open. As I entered I was in for another surprise…there on the back wall of the latrine was ANOTHER SPIDER! “Nope, can’t do it…nope nope nope” was all I thought to myself. And yet, I had walked all the way out here…and it was getting dark…it was now or never…I put my brave face on and walked in and squatted down while trying to keep my eyes on both spiders…but when there is one spider in front of you and one behind you that is just about near impossible. So there I was trying to relax enough to attend to my business and yet still whipping my head around from back to front, back to front….trying to monitor the position of the spiders. It was no use…the stress was too much. I stood up and walked back outside. Out of curiosity, I decided to look in the other stall to see if the spider situation was the same…I opened the door….and yup yup yup…there was another one…that was it. I am going home, I will have to try again in the morning.

I closed both the latrine doors and turned around and much to my surprise one of the  ladies  from the village was standing just 10 feet from the latrines waiting for me. I replayed the last 5 minutes in my head…”How long had she been there? Had she heard me cursing up a storm? Did she see my jump back out of the stall? Did she see me leaving the door open? Did she see me gingerly inspect the second stall after having “used” the first stall? Oh what was she thinking about this strange American…?” As I made eye contact with her she somewhat awkwardly asked “Are you done, Fefa?” With a face turning red and my awkward hands out in my full swing I stumbled over my words and finally said yes and we began our walk back. She said she was worried about me out here all alone so she came to wait for me. Despite me feeling awkward about the whole situation, the more I thought about it really was sweet I have to admit…that she would drop whatever she was doing and come out and wait for a girl she hadn’t ever officially even talked to before to make sure that I was ok. That was a new level of hospitality. But that was standard out here in the village. People offering to walk with you to a farm just to make sure you got there safe, people offering to fetch water and carry chairs, and people wanting to cook for you (so much so that you end up with 3 dinners per night, plus a side of 10 cucumbers and 15 bananas). The village life was difficult for many more reasons other than the bathroom situation, but the people and their hospitality and outlook on life and relationships made me want to stay out there forever.

A few last words…

Even though I just told a humorous story about what it was like for me trying to live without a toilet, the truth is about one in three people in the world don’t have access to sanitary conditions when it comes to going to the bathroom and it is a serious problem. World Toilet Day was created in order to raise awareness about the 2.4 billion people living without a toilet. Prabasi from the Huffington Post says “Here’s why that matters: when people have no choice but to poop in the open or in filthy, unsafe latrines, disease spreads, women are subjected to harassment and rape, and kids get sick, causing over 300,000 preventable deaths each year. All of that adds up to lost time, education, health, dignity and livelihoods—and it’s something that we can change.” To learn more about World Toilet Day visit: http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/.

“I BELIEVE IN AGRICULTURE…”

Some days of teaching are very hard as you already know from my last post, but today…today was a good day! Today my heart is soaring ❤

Let’s take a step back. Today was my second day of teaching a brand new class, a class I have been superrrr excited to start teaching: NDA 247- Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology!!! What better class for a former extension agent to teach?? Yayyy!! This new class is a part of the NDA (National Diploma of Agricultural) certification program, which is a 2 year advanced certificate program for high school graduates wanting to obtain more education in the field of agriculture.  After showing up to an empty classroom two times in a row last week, the class and I finally got things rolling and jumped right into content this past Monday. The students range in age from 25 to 40 years old and I can already tell that the dynamic is going to be different from that of my high school class, mainly because the students are older and more mature and there are fewer of them (25 students- what a miracle!).

Today’s discussion was about “principles of extension” and the values and beliefs that guide our work as agricultural extension agents. After discussing these principles, I thought it would be really fun for the students to develop their own creed. (I’ve read the FFA Creed aloud so many times this past month as we have been going around promoting FFA and I guess the theme of creeds was on my mind haha). So I gave the students the following prompt: write your own version of “The Creed of the Liberian Agricultural Extension Agent.” I let them work with a partner and together they had to write 5-10 sentences about what they believed (about agriculture, the farmer, education, Liberia, youth, community, etc) and the results….the results were BEAUTIFUL, INSPIRING, and made my heart burst with PRIDE… pride in my chosen field of agriculture, pride in the work that agricultural extension does for the community, pride in these students, and pride in Liberia and where they are headed. I still can’t wipe the smile off my face when I re-read their work 🙂

Take a look for yourself! I’ve bolded the lines that really resonate with me and speak to my beliefs and values as well. I hope you enjoy their work, their creativity, and their passion as much as I did 🙂

The Creed of the Liberian Agricultural Extension Agent

  • I believe in agriculture
  • Agriculture serves as a backbone for every nation
  • Agriculture provides food security to a nation and its people
  • I believe agriculture provides employment for the people
  • I believe agriculture provides recreation
  • I believe agriculture boots the economy
  • I believe the agriculturalist should be respectful
  • I believe agriculture extensionist should provide adequate training for farmers
  • I believe teachers should follow the teaching pattern
  • I believe that as an agricultural extensionist it is our responsibility to alleviate poverty through agricultural education.
  • I believe that farmers are implementing partners to agricultural extension officers through sharing of ideas.
  • I believe that farmers are the sole suppliers of food to the general population so as such they must be empowered and encouraged.
  • I believe that as an agricultural extension officer, I should make sure that farmers benefit from my training.
  • I believe agriculture is the backbone of every nation.
  • I believe that agricultural extension agents should be knowledgeable.
  • I believe that the agricultural extension agent is a bridge between farmers and researchers.
  • I believe that farmers are hard working.
  • I believe that any nation that is involved in agriculture should have food security.
  • I believe that agricultural extension agents should be flexible.
  • I believe that an agricultural extension agent should be a good manager.
  • I believe that man plant, but God giveth the increase.

 

  • I believe that with agriculture, a nation is strong.
  • I believe that working with the local farmer and teaching them the importance of agriculture, they can sustain the nation.
  • I believe in agriculture because it provides food, medicine, cloth, and other materials for mankind.
  • I believe with the help of science in agriculture (research centers) we can all have a great reward in what we do.
  • I believe in education as an extension agent, because it teaches the local farmers and community that they can be able to train others.
  • I believe in education, the key of life, and trust of one being and what they live on.
  • I believe in agriculture, the root of food in the world.
  • I believe in farmer because they want to learn methods to plant their crops.
  • I believe in extension because they help the farmer grow.

 

  • I believe that agriculture is the best course in the world.
  • I believe in educating women.
  • I believe in farmer’s opinions.
  • I believe in the values of extension agents.
  • I believe in motivating local farmers.
  • I believe in community of organizations.
  • I believe in producing agricultural products.
  • I believe in working with farmers.
  • I believe in molding the minds of youths.
  • I believe the extension workers are persuasive.
  • I believe in neutrality.
  • I believe that agricultural agents can change the world with their innovations.

 

  • I believe that education is the key and agriculture is the solution to solve the world problem in shelter, clothing, and food.
  • I believe that agriculture is the backbone to every nation’s development.
  • I believe that partnershiping can bring in more ideas.
  • I believe that working with farmers, communities, and leaders can help extension work go faster.
  • I believe that agriculture provides a livelihood and food security for the world.
  • I believe that farmers are in need of agricultural extension agents.
  • I believe that the government should invest more in agriculture.

 

  • I believe that agriculture can change my life.
  • I believe that education can change my country.
  • I believe that the agricultural extension agent can make agriculture better in Liberia.
  • I believe that I can make in impact in my community by carrying on some agricultural practices.
  • I believe in motivating people to improve themselves.
  • I believe that farmer can change the nation in terms of food security and income generation for the nation when trained.
  • I believe that when I am an agricultural extension agent, I will transform my community and inhabitants in terms of their farming ability.

 

  • I believe that as an extension agent of agriculture, I can train the farmer to produce food for themselves. I believe that the lives of farmers will change if they involve in the production of crops and the raising of livestock.
  • I believe that a farmer can make income if they are involved in the production of crops and raising livestock.
  • I believe that farmers are willing to learn new ideas from an extension agent and they will produce more food for themselves and their community.

 

  • I believe that agriculture is nature, and no country can do without agriculture.
  • I believe in local farmers ideas as an agricultural extension agent.
  • I believe in cooperation and participation from both the farmer and the extension officer.
  • I believe in food security as an agriculturalist.
  • I believe in the adaption of rural farmers.
  • I believe in working with local farmers.
  • I believe in teaching in the agricultural field.
  • I do believe in leadership and democracy.
  • I believe in agricultural extension.

 

My blood was boiling..and it wasn’t the heat

Walking home from class with the equatorial sun beating down on me and sweat dripping off of every surface of my body, my blood was boiling…and it wasn’t the heat. It was the fact that over 50% of my students had just cheated on their assignments…again…. and when I confronted them about it, how disappointed I was in them, and tried to remind them of how disrespectful it was…they laughed. They laughed!! I was incredulous…how could this be? How was anything about this funny? Did it mean nothing to them that they would get a zero and possibly fail a class? Were they not upset about being caught?? Where was their conscience? How could so many students be so disrespectful?  So unconcerned with cheating themselves out of a good education? I wanted to blame their actions entirely on them and what I had thought was their complete lack of character….because that’s the only way my mind could process what was happening. I wanted to harbor bitterness, disgust, and hurt for the way that they had betrayed me, their teacher who works so hard to help them. How could they treat me like this? Lie to me like this? Hurt my feelings and still laugh? My initial outlook was unfortunately so selfish and I took it all way too personally at first. After a few days of thinking about it more rationally and combining it with everything else I know about the Liberian education system, I realized I really shouldn’t have been so shocked or disgusted or hurt. Slightly discouraged, yes. But, not shocked, not disgusted.

I know that teachers accepting bribes in the form of money, gifts, and sex in exchange for grades is nothing unusual. The “proctors” who are assigned to monitor the tests and help reduce cheating fall asleep in the rooms, allow students to take the tests as groups and blatantly cheat, don’t even show up, or accept bribes themselves. Tests that should take the students 1.5 hours to complete, take 20 minutes because students are simply circling answers from memory because they “bought” the answer key just days previously. How can anyone be motivated to actually try hard, apply themselves, and learn when the attitude toward cheating and corruption is so prevalent? What’s the point if the person next to you is going to do none of the work and get the same grade?

The students also have no textbooks, which means everything they are expected to know must come out of the teacher’s mouth and get written onto the board and then copied into their notebooks. Thus, it takes 3x as long as it should to cover a certain amount of information than it should. Classes reguarly get cancelled for holidays, sports, cleaning days, etc—taking away even more of the precious time we have with these students. The students were trained “to learn” by memorizing facts, words, and numbers rather than using critical thinking skills to synthesize information together. This means that every time I try and teach using all the wonderful and somewhat idealistic “western teaching methods” in this culture, there is great confusion on the part of the students and great frustration on the part of myself. And because the war interrupted so many peoples’ education, there is a wide array in age of students in my sophomore class, ranging from 15 years old to 25 years old which means the maturity level and comprehension level in the group is extremely off balance. In some schools (luckily not mine), there is one teacher for 150 students so they either try to teach in one large group or break them up into smaller groups…either way this results in less learning time for the students. Is this an environment that fosters and values learning?

Some students don’t have basic math and writing skills making activities like reading and interpreting graphs a monumental challenge rather than just a fun new way of learning. Some students came from middle schools where asking questions was highly discouraged and disrespectful and so they just stare blankly at me if they don’t understand the topic rather than asking for clarification.. Some students don’t see the harm in acting up in class because their punishment is simply being made to do manual labor on the farm or school grounds during the next day, meaning they get to miss class all day. And for students who do act up, there isn’t any other adult to hold them accountable. Since this is a boarding school, many of their families live hours away so it is unlikely that if you called the parents they could do anything about it. Also, calling the parents is just about nearly impossible sometimes too because over 50% of the parents and family members live in areas of Liberia with little electricity or cell service. Again, what is the motivation to behave or to learn?

On top of all the struggles in the classroom is the fact that hazing and bullying is a really serious thing (much more so after the war I’m told) and so freshman students who come here to learn end up spending their nights on edge for fear of what the upperclassman might make them do. There are also other students who don’t have the money to pay for boarding or food and so they work from the minute they leave campus until the sun goes down…when can they do their homework? How can they attend after school or weekend review sessions? Some students don’t even have money to buy uniforms, school supplies, and even lunch some days…how can they be expected to prioritize learning when cheating is the far easier route? Death and illness are far too common here and many students are dealing with illnesses they don’t have money to treat or grieving the loss of someone close to them. And as is the case in many developing countries, the female student’s education is not nearly as highly valued as the male’s and so female students might not receive as much emotional or financial support from their families if they choose to stay in school past elementary age.

And then there is the teachers…the teachers who sometimes go months without pay because the government is broke. The teachers (like those at BWI) who are expected to teach at a high level because this is one of the most renowned public schools in the country, and yet classrooms are 100+ degree, small rooms packed full of 60+ students with the acoustics of concrete walls  that make you feel like you are teaching in a loud sporting arena. All of the printers on campus are out of ink, teachers must buy their own paper, markers, supplies, and copies (unless they feel like waiting weeks to go through the proper process to obtain supplies), and very little curriculum is given ahead of time to help teachers plan. Money allocated or promised to help with one thing doesn’t always end up where it is supposed to be and so ideas to help improve things often don’t come to fruition for a very long time. Why wouldn’t the teachers accept bribes? What is the motivation not to?

Some days I am just so mad thinking about how messed up everything is, mad because it is making my job 10,000 times harder. But then I realize I am only mad because I am thinking only about myself and how this system affects me and my work. Other days I just laugh when I think about how disorganized everything is….what am I doing trying to teach in an environment like this? I laugh because some days it is the easiest way of dealing with the disappointments that keep piling on and the weight that just keep pushing me down. Nothing about it is funny though. On other days, I cry…my heart literally feels like it’s breaking into pieces as I think about how unfair and unjust it is that these young people are not being given the opportunity to develop their potential; that they are stuck in a system where people don’t believe in them and thus don’t try to invest time/effort into making things better for them; that they are seen as liars, cheats, lazy before they can prove otherwise and seen as the problem rather than the solution.

But some days, I smile big. Like last Sunday, when I offered to have a review session before the test and 7 out of my 45 students showed up (despite the fact that the heavens had opened in a downpour at about the same time they had to walk over to the building). Ohhh how I loved getting to interact with them in a smaller group setting. Getting to see them ask super inquisitive questions, talk about their dreams after high school; hearing them sincerely thank me for taking extra time to work with them and for making learning “fun and easier” by incorporating games into the classroom. My heart welled with pride and hope as I thought about the change that these 7 students could make if given the chance.

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So, my students cheated. Honestly though…what did I expect? No, I’m not trying to be depressing and I’m not trying to say that my students are inherently lazy or cheaters…..just the opposite, I know that they aren’t (even if my initial reaction told otherwise). I have seen them work hard, I have seen them be inquisitive, I have seen them care about other people’s feelings, and they have amazed me with their resilience and their drive…but what can I expect from them being born into this education system? Being born into a society that doesn’t actively teach them that cheating is wrong, not even their teachers? Being born into a society where the values of trust and integrity have been so watered down, twisted, and spoiled? Being born into this society that doesn’t value them as youth? Being born into a society where the realities of poverty hold them back and puts chains on them making their fight to climb the ladder and succeed so much more insanely difficult? Being born into a society where so many factors are out of their control? Where so many factors are working against them? Who would I be and what would I do in this situation? Did my morals come from within or from society? Would I also cheat if I had been born a Liberian youth? The truth is…I probably would….

So what can I do now? Do I just accept this? That cheating is the norm? Give up on addressing it because the problem is so much bigger than myself or these kids? Do I allow them to let all the factors piling up against them be used to excuse poor quality work or poor behavior? No, I absolutely cannot do that. I can however move forward with a better understanding of the chains that hold them back, a better understanding that allows me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and realistic toward them and their struggle making sure not to blame only the individual for their cheating, but also their society and frankly, this world that has been overwhelmed with so much sin and brokenness. Making sure to remember, that someone who cheats is not necessarily a cheater. Making sure to remember that just because someone sins, they do not have to be defined as a sinner. Good people sometimes do bad things, and that does not make them bad hopeless cruel people….it makes them human. Just like me. Which means that instead of letting my emotions of hurt and disappointment  drive my actions, that I ought to focus on setting that aside so that I can give these students the same grace, forgiveness, commitment, unconditional love, understanding, sacrifice, optimism, and hope that my Savior gives me (undeservedly) each and every single day.