Friday, 26 August 2011


Muita obrigada!

A huge thanks to everyone who supported and contributed to the Books for Kids Africa project for the Escolinha Estrela da Manha! On August 9, BKA delivered 200 children’s books in Portuguese and gave a full-day training on the care and use of the books.

The collection includes everything from fairy tales and fables to Mini Laruousse dictionaries on dinosaurs and the human body. These books and accompanying activities will be incorporated into the curriculum in addition to individual reading (picture-looking) time.

The goal is for the books to open up a whole new world through reading for the students. But the kids aren't the only ones who've been deprived of quality reading material.
You’ve never seen 10 women more excited to discuss “O Arvore Generoso” – “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein.

I found a baby goat under the kitchen sink.

Actually, Khani found him. But he wasn't particularly sure what to do with him. The feeling was mutual.

He had no interest in leaving his new nook. Clancy had to show him to the door.

Now when he comes over, he just hangs out on the porch.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Adventure Continues!

Hello all!

Greetings from Moçambique! I just wanted to share some exciting news with you that I recently received. Peace Corps has offered me a position as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) in Moçambique’s central office for next year. This means, starting in January, I will move to a new province a couple days’ north of my current site and work with Peace Corps to open new PCV sites, support current volunteers and coordinate trainings and other activities in the surrounding three provinces. I will also be spending some time working with a yet-to-be-determined NGO in the city to gain more international development experience.

This is not a decision I made lightly, but after plenty of prayer and talking with some former PCVLs, friends, PC staff members, I genuinely believe this is where I’m meant to be next year. I get another year to improve my Portuguese, get a better feel for development work and decide where I want to end up for grad school afterward. And, ok, I’ve kind of fallen in love with this country. 
I’m thrilled at the opportunity, but I know this also means that I’ll be away from you – my family, friends and support network – for another year. Thankfully, PC is paying for me to go home for a month, from December 16 to January 16, and I’ll see everyone then. And then be home for good at that time in 2012. This also means that you have another year to come visit me in Africa.  Cape Town, Victoria Falls or Mount. Kilimanjaro, anyone?

I’ll keep you posted as I hear more about my home for the next year on facebook and my blog ( Or, I’m always up for Skype dates (valcooper87). Love you all and looking forward to seeing you in a few months! Fique bem!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Teacher Valeria

I’ve discovered I have a mild personality disorder when it comes to teaching.

In my Medio classes, I have about 25 students between the ages of 18 and 45. When the bell rings, I’ll start with a warm “Good morning!” to which they respond “Good morning, Teacher Valér!” and maybe a comment on some novidades – “news” – about the weather or something from the news or some changes in the school, which sometimes leads to a brief discussion. Then I’ll tell them to turn in their homework while doing the warm-up activity so I can call roll. When break time comes around, since many classes last two hours, they have five minutes to do whatever they need to, and when they return I’ll usually introduce them to English exercise vocabulary (i.e., we do “jumping jacks” or “jog in place” or simply “stretch – reach for the sky!”) to make sure they’re awake for the rest of class. If we finish early, particularly when they do activities in pairs, I’ll let them leave early, but most of the time it’s the opposite – someone will ask a question that turns into a debate that gets us all off topic for a little bit, but hey, it’s all in English, it’s a cultural exchange and they’re often more engaged than when we talk about present perfect or second conditional or whatnot. (Digression: One of my favorites was when we were learning religious vocabulary and got onto the topic of family – my students were appalled to hear that it’s not looked down on or uncommon to be unmarried or to be married and not have children in the United States, which led to a debate about cultural expectations and reasons for not getting married. When I challenged them with my personal take on the issue, one of my best students put her new vocabulary to use and asked me in all seriousness, “Teacher, do you want to be a nun?” I had to apologize afterward for laughing so hard.) In short, I leave my Medio classes with an elevated hope for Mozambique and humanity in general and feeling confident that I could be content to do this in some capacity for the rest of my life.
Then, I have Basico.
The youngest students are 13, but the older ones (18, 20, 24) are the ones to watch out for in these classes of 40 students. I walk into class with a bellowing and severe “Good morning!” which actually means “Sit down and be quiet – Teacher Valéria’s here.” I shut the door after I call roll, and if students try to enter after that I tell them I’ve already marked them absent but they can stay if they want to. While they do the warm-up, I walk from desk to desk to collect homework – if they don’t have it out and ready to hand in when I pass, I don’t accept it.
If you talk out of turn, you get one reminder before I tell you to leave the classroom. If I catch you sleeping, I tell you to leave the classroom. If you show that you clearly aren’t paying attention when I call on you, I tell you to leave.
I make a conscious effort not to smile in my Basico classes. The ones who’ve spoken to me outside of class know I’m really a softie, but they also know that ends when you walk through my door.
Unlike last school year, I have not had any discipline problems in my Basico classes. I have also noticed a definite increase in the number of homework assignments I receive and a sharp decrease in the number of tardy arrivals.
I’m pretty sure they’re terrified of me. But they can warm up to me in a few years when they’re in Medio. I got this system from my favorite teacher – my mom.

I also teach at the nearby Instituto Superior Politecnico da Gaza – the rough equivalent of a technical college – where I am “Doutora Valer,” since I have a degree. I teach first year English, which means I’m stuck in a tiny classroom with 100+ college freshmen (the majority boys) for a few hours every week. I have to keep these guys – most of them my age or older, though I will never tell them that – under control enough to teach some finer (more boring) points of the English language. At one point, I genuinely considered bringing my Peace Corps-issued air horn to class. However, I’m not about to baby-sit them and it’s not particularly my concern if they fail to show up or turn in their homework and I’m not going to hunt them down if they miss an exam. When students come up with sob stories about why they missed this or didn’t turn in that etc. etc., I’m pretty merciless, because, heck, they’re adults, they should be able to take care of themselves and their bosses won’t coddle them when they’re in the real world, either. But I also have no problem diving into an off-topic discussion or sharing personal anecdotes or jokes with them. If there were just about 80 less of them, we’d probably all be great friends (as long as they don’t know I’m single.).

And then, once a week, I go to the preschool. I’m welcomed with shouts of “Mana Valér! How are you?” And I hug and I kiss boo-boos and I wipe tears and I don’t mind when one goes an entire day without once letting go of my blue jeans. The teachers and I have a tacit agreement – they’ll handle discipline and yelling and keeping the kids on task, and I’ll handle the encouragement and praise and confidence-building you just don’t find in this country.

Thankfully, I also have weekends with friends, when I can talk about anything, make some good food, play games, and just be Valerie for a while.