"If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children."

~Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Peace Education Workshop: Day 7

Day 7 of the Peace Education Workshop was spent utilizing the skills the participants learned the previous days. The participants presented their lessons using hands on activities and games. Each teacher had
a small group of "students" and were observed and given feedback on their lesson. The teachers and the students had a fun time getting into their roles and providing an opportunity for practice. This time was valuable to the participants' future use of the skills learned during the workshop.
Since Liberia's Independence day was soon approaching, the workshop was cut short a day earlier than planned. The rest of day 7 was spent bringing the workshop to a close and having an official closing ceremony. Participants, members of the Liberian Annual Conference, and local news reporters were invited to a celebration of learning and a call for equality. Jefferson B. Knight, the director of the Human Rights Monitor spoke, calling on government officials, as well as the United Methodist University to provide equal rights and equal opportunities to all people with disabilities throughout the country, especially equal educational rights. The participants also were given a small bag of classroom supplies, certificate of completion, and lunch.

Through it all, not only did the teachers and staff at Hope for the Deaf have an opportunity to learn and practice new skills, attention was given to a minority group of people striving to gain the support from their community and country, and two organizations came together to learn from each other and promote the rights of persons with disabilities.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Peace Education Workshop: Day 6

Day 6 of the workshop consisted of hands on games and activities, demonstrating how social skills and peace making skills can be taught through different learning modalities. For students who are deaf, or even most students, learning through movement, group discussion, and problem solving activities can be motivating, engaging, and a concrete way to learn abstract ideas and a great way to practice new skills.

Some of the games and ideas that were used throughout the workshop were taken from the book "Part Of The Group: Games That Increase Social Understanding" by M.W. Lou, E.S. Carlson, S.M. Gage, and N. Moser. These games focused on group work, communication, and leadership building. The most important part of the activities is the discussion after the completion of the activity. The students are allowed to complete the activity on their own (after some instruction) with some guidance from the teacher, the students learn how to solve problems on their own and how to effectively communicate to one another. The discussion allows the teacher to summarize what the students did and see if the students are able to recognize the learning points of the activity; providing an opportunity for reflection and discussion on relation of activity to real life.

The participants enjoyed "playing around" and were able to witness the potential of using hands on activities in their own classroom. The day also allowed the teachers to prepare short lessons using the activities to be taught the last day of the workshop.

My time in Liberia in 2008 consisted of visiting various schools for the Deaf in Monrovia, visiting villages, completing workshops with teachers, and occasionally teaching the students at the Hope for the Deaf school. More often than teaching, I was able to just hang out with the students of the school. I enjoyed spending time with the younger students, reading children's' books that I had
brought-looking at the pictures and witnessing the excitement they had when they learned a new work or sign.

This time, in 2010, I went at a time when school was not in session. Therefore, I was not able to see most of the students that I grew to love two years before. While I did see a lot of the older students since some of them lived nearby and were able to travel without supervision, I was not able to see the younger students, including the ones pictured. I asked the Principal if there could be a day that all the younger students could come to the school so that I could see them once again. He obliged and was able to send out invitations to families to bring their children. It was a great afternoon. Some of the students had grown so much in the past two years. Though some were shy at the beginning, they quickly felt comfortable around me again and wanted me to watch them dance, jump rope, play football, and answer all the questions they had. For most of the students, this was a time to gather with other students who were deaf and to communicate in their natural language, something that does not always happen at home with their families.

The time was too short, and though the students and myself were not yet tired of chatting, they had to go. It was another sweet moment that I will forever cherish. I was recently surprised to receive many letters from the students, brought over from a friend who recently traveled to the country. It is the first correspondence that I have had with any of the students while in the States. Due to the cost, they do not have access to phones to text or to computers to send emails, they only means of communicating across distances for Deaf people in Liberia. Between 2008 and 2010, I had no contact with the students, so these letters were gratefully received. Hopefully I will be able to have more opportunities to communicate with the students in the future.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peace Education Workshop: Day 5

The second day of the second week of the Peace Education Workshop focused on classroom management. The participants discussed the underlying causes of behavior problems within the classroom, reflecting on the role of the teacher and what the teacher can do to provide an appropriate atmosphere in his or her classroom. For the participants, this was beneficial; being able to take the excessive attention on what the student is doing, and instead looking at oneself to see what I am doing or not doing to support all my students.

While not all pressure was taken off the students, the teachers in the workshop were able to consider if their own knowledge of the content they were teaching, classroom environment, and lessons were supportive of a rich learning environment that let students think, create, and ask questions without fear. The participants recognized that it may not always be the students' fault, especially considering the previous days topic of Theory of Mind.

Discussion of motivation, discipline vs. punishment, and ways to encourage positive interaction with students were also included throughout the day.

As mentioned earlier, the weekend before the start of the second week of the workshop, I was able to travel to Ganta, which is in northern Liberia, near the Guinea border. We stayed on the United Methodist Ganta Mission Station, where are schools, vocational training programs, a church, and one of the largest hosp
itals in the country which also is home of a well established nursing school.

We were able to tour the grounds, talk to people working at the station, as well as others who come to the station for church, school, or hospital care. We lived a little rougher than we had been in Monrovia, with little electricity and no running water, but the women who cooked for us made wonderful bread.

You can see more pictures of the trip (as well as other pictures from the 3 weeks) here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Peace Education Workshop: Day 4

The second week of the workshop focused on the development of Theory of Mind in students who are deaf. As discussed in an earlier post, Theory of Mind is the ability to have empathy for another person, understanding that other people may have different opinions than yourself, and being able to "walk in another person's shoes." This ability is delayed in students who are deaf, and is a skill that must be taught.

The fourth day was spent discussing why this occurs (through lack of incidental learning, communication barriers, etc.), exploring specific examples. The participants were able to see the need for teaching specific social skills in the classroom, especially ways to communicate and solve problems in a peaceful manner. This day laid the foundation for the remainder of the workshop-teaching social skills (including human rights issues) through games and hands on activities.

For further information on Theory of Mind, please see the earlier post.

Over the weekend, I was able to travel to
Ganta, which is in the northern part of Liberia, close to the Guinea border. This was an excellent time to see more of the country. Though Liberia
is only about the size of Ohio, it took us about 12 hours to travel from Monrovia to Ganta. Between 2008 and 2010, there has been much improvement with roads. The road between
Monrovia and Kakata was amazing compared to what it was in 2008. Even with this development, there are still areas of Liberia that are not accessible with cars.

Friday, October 8, 2010

2nd Quest for Hope 5K Run/Walk

Just wanted to announce that we will be having our 2nd Annual Quest for Hope 5K Run/Walk (it's actually the 3rd year Quest UMC has sponsored it, with the first year going towards Nothing But Nets-hence it being called Quest for Nets) in Urbana, IL to benefit students in Liberia. Last year, we were able to raise $3,200 to go towards scholarships for students in Liberia. Half of that money went towards the students at Hope for the Deaf School, which provided them with the money to pay for student uniforms, school supplies, and also go towards providing salary for the teachers.

This year, we hope to raise even more, but we can't do it without runners or walkers. Go to www.questforhope5k.com to find out more information and ways to participate.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Peace Education Workshop: Day 4

On Day 4, it was the end of our first week of training. We discussed the possibility of peace without resorting to violence. We reviewed what we learned the past few days-reflecting on using international instruments to promote peace and equality.

With this in mind, the group brainstormed ways to work together-the Human Rights Monitor and the Hope for the Deaf school-to advocate for disability rights. Together, they decided to become more vocal and unified, urging the Liberian government and local organizations to provide services for
people with disabilities. They planned on utilizing local radio and newspaper outlets to generate awareness, as well as writing to government officials to encourage change.

It was a positive ending to the first week. Over the weekend, the participants looked forward to the next week of trainings, focusing on teaching peace through games and hands on activities.

While in Liberia, it can be easy to concentrate on the "ugliness" of a war torn country--piles of refuse, shells of buildings, lack of services to parts of the country. It can be easy to overlook the beauty that it has--beautiful forests with great trees like the cotton tree shown, amazing views of the ocean and quiet beaches, the thankfulness of Liberia's people, even for the smallest of things.

It is never my intention to focus only on the negative, even though it may seem to overwhelm me at times; there is so much positive, so much determination and good will that radiates from Liberia that it is not hard to find hope. It is part of why I went back and will hopefully return to in the future.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peace Education Workshop: Day 3

On the third day of the workshop, we discussed in depth the causes of conflict. The participants were able to make the connection between unmet basic needs and conflict, as well as how one handles conflict, which can either be in a positive way or a negative way. Though conflict (a disagreement) may be inevitable in life, it is the way one deals with conflict that will produce a positive or negative consequence. The participants also learned about various conflict resolution techniques through role plays and discussion.
The Human Rights Monitor led the dialogue on Liberia's own civil conflict,
connecting aspects to violations of basic human rights. Overall, the participants were able to see firsthand how to use role plays/discussion within a learning environment. The role plays allowed the participants to "step into someone else's shoes" to understand perspective and empathy-two vocabulary words for the day. It is hoped that the teachers at Hope for the Deaf school will use these skills and techniques within their own classroom in the coming year.


One of the challenges during the workshop was a language barrier. While I am fluent in American Sign Language, and Liberian Sign Language is very similar, it was still difficult at times to bridge the gap between the two languages. This being my second trip to Liberia, as well as working with the staff at Hope for the Deaf, it did not take me as long to adjust my signing as last time--substituting American signs for Liberian. But extra time (as much as possible) was spent going over specific vocabulary and teaching new signs to the staff who were deaf, making sure they understood the material. Unfortunately, this time my stay was much shorter, causing our extra time to be squeezed. Fortunately, the staff was very patient and worked hard to learn the new language needed to teach peace.