Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To learn to read, first you need books

Today was a big day for the students in the STEP literacy course, Matthew and Jecobeth (who you met in an earlier post) included.  For the past two weeks we have been working on first writing stories in tok ples (the local language) and learning how to edit them.  Then each language group chose stories to put into a book.  They drew illustrations, and then they copied both stories and drawings carefully onto stencils, because these books would be silk screened.  Yesterday and today we did the actual silk screening of 15 copies of each book, and then in the afternoon we collated the pages and bound the books.  There was quite a buzz of excitement around the room as each language group saw the final product of all their hard work – literacy materials they could take back to their communities.


Research has shown that in order to become a fluent reader of a language, you have to read about 800 pages of material.  Practice builds fluency.  But what do you do if there simply aren’t 800 pages of printed material in your language?  This is the problem that many language groups in Papua New Guinea face.  So an important part of the STEP course is to develop writers, and more importantly, people who can teach others to write.  These simple, hand-drawn books of short stories are a good place to start. 


Why do we teach them to use silk screens instead of computers?   It’s time-consuming, and the result isn’t as professional. There is no spell checker.  One of the main reasons is that in many places in Papua New Guinea, computers just aren’t feasible yet.  Either there isn’t electricity, or the sheer cost of buying a computer and printer is too much for a community to support.  For a fraction of the price, however, a community could buy the materials needed to silkscreen books.  However, the staff recognizes that computers are the way of the future, so all of the students are also taking basic classes in how to operate a computer.  But silk screening gives them something to fall back on, and it can be a lot of fun too.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What is Valentines Day with out chocolate?

Here in PNG Valentines Day is not the big deal that is back in the United States.  In fact there really isn’t much at all that is done here.  Thus if you want to give your sweetie some chocolates or flowers then you really have to plan ahead.  Or in my case at least go to Lae.  Lae is one of the major port cities here in PNG and also the closest large shopping area from where we live here at Ukarumpa.  (Close meaning a 3 hour drive if the roads are good.)  I had to go there last week for a buying trip for my department, shopping for tools, parts, and supplies.  I was also learning my way around the city so that for future trips I could make the journey by myself.  While I was there I also had a chance to do a little personal shopping.  I knew Valentines Day was coming up so I kept my eye out for something for Susan.  Well, I was hard pressed to find anything.  At one store on my last day there I found some cards, and when I say some I mean about four different ones to choose from.  This may be hard to believe, but it sure makes the choice as to what card to get easier.  I didn’t, however, find any chocolates but I figured the store here in Ukarumpa would have something. 


When I returned I was still out of luck because the store had no Valentines chocolates, but luckily I had bought something for Susan that she had really wanted since we had come to PNG.  An electric hand mixer!  Now I can just see the faces of you women now.  You bought her a kitchen appliance!  Do you know anything about romance?!  In my defense, you should know that here in PNG pretty much all our meals are home made from scratch and Susan likes to make a lot of things that require mixing.  So to her it was a wonderful gift and something that will make her life easier.  Not to mention it will keep the good meals coming for me!


But back to the chocolate.  While I was gone Susan came up with the idea to make chocolate truffles to sell to the other people living here in Ukarumpa for a nice gift option for Valentines Day.  So earlier this week she went into full swing making four types of truffles – mint, almond, mocha, and cookie dough.  Now I can’t say that I tried them all but the two that she let me try were pretty good.  She ended up selling most of them and it was the closest thing to a box of chocolates that I had seen here yet.  So since she was making chocolates she really didn’t want me to get her any anyway.  Which is nice for me and we still got to have chocolates for Valentines Day.


Oh and I did get her a bouquet of flowers at the market on Friday too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

keeping warm

I wanted to share a picture of one of Brian’s favorite things in the house that we live in: the fireplace.  “Now don’t you guys live near the equator?” Yes, Papua New Guinea is a tropical place, but we no longer live in the hot, humid coastal areas.  We’re in the Highlands.  The elevation of Ukarumpa is about a mile above sea level, on par with Denver, CO.  Of course, it doesn’t get nearly as cold here as it does there.  Most days here are pleasantly in the 70’s or 80’s, but it can dip down to the 50’s at night.  And there’s this thing called acclimatization – once you get used to eternal springtime, 50 or 60 degrees seems really cold!


Added to this is the fact that none of the houses here have central heating systems.  I ran into the same thing in Australia.  When it doesn’t get that cold, why waste money on heating?  Just throw on your slippers and a sweatshirt in the morning – it’ll be warm again before noon.  Of course, Brian, as a man, has this special place in his heart for building fires.  He collects man-points by chopping wood with an axe and by expertly arranging the wood in the fireplace and lighting it with just one match.  (I can give him a hard time because he’s out of town on a work trip and won’t read this blog until he gets back.) 


So it’s actually nice to have a fireplace.  We don’t light it all the time.  We could probably live without it.  But it is cozy to snuggle up on the sofa in front of the crackling fire when it’s a freezing 50 degrees outside.