Training of Trainers

The last 2 weeks of May I spent in Darkhan for Peace Corps’ Training of Trainers (ToT). Earlier in the year, PC staff sent out the trainer application to all the current PCVs who wanted to work during the upcoming PST for our new group of PC/Mongolia Trainees (the M26s). Current Volunteers could apply for trainer positions (or what PC calls “Resource Volunteers”) for each of the 3 technical sectors here in Mongolia (TEFL, CYD, and Health), Cross-Culture, and/or Language. Always looking for a way to travel on Peace Corps’ dime, I applied to be either a Health or Cross-Culture Resource Volunteer for the second half of PST (they split PST into two halves so that the Resource Volunteers aren’t away from their sites for the whole summer).

Then about a month later I found out that I had been selected to be one of two Health Resource Volunteers for the second half! Yay! In previous years the Health and CYD sectors only had one Resource Volunteer each per half of PST, but there are slightly more incoming M26s in both of those sectors (and it’s just a lot of work in general for one person), so this summer they’re having two trainers for each half.

So all the Resource Volunteers (first and second half), along with the LCFs (who teach the daily Mongolian language classes to the Trainees) and the Technical Coordinators (Mongolian professionals who work with the respective Resource Volunteers to facilitate the technical sessions that Trainees attend in the afternoons) gathered in Darkhan for the two-week ToT. Many of the LCFs and Technical Coordinators (TCs) had worked with PC in the past: our Health TC has been a counterpart to two PCVs in the past at the hospital and health department she’s worked at, and one of our LCFs from last summer’s PST is also an LCF for this new group of Health Trainees. Our other LCF from last summer is back again as well, but she’s working with one of the CYD groups this year instead of the Healthies.

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The first week of ToT consisted mainly of long, information-packed sessions, standard at most PC trainings. We discussed PST logistics, policies, trainer facilitation skills and team teaching, lesson planning, etc. while sitting in our groups (based on the site where the new PCTs we would be training would be living throughout the summer). Many things about this year’s PST are different from previous years, including the fact that all the the training sites are either in or close to Darkhan. In past years trainee groups have been sent to Sukhbaatar city up by the Russian border, but this year there are 3 trainee groups in ger districts on the outskirts of Darkhan, and the remaining groups are in soums within about 60km of Darkhan. All the TEFL groups are in the soums, while the 2 CYD groups and the 1 Health group are in the Darkhan ger districts (they need to be closer to the city where there are more places for them to have their summer practicums). My training site from last summer, Dereven, is where one of the CYD groups is staying this summer, along with another ger district next to it. The Healthies this summer will be in Mangirt, a ger district on the opposite side of Darkhan.

The Saturday of our first week of ToT, we had Host Family Orientation to prepare the Mongolian families that would be housing the new Trainees this summer. We Resource Volunteers helped out by answering questions the host families had about American people and culture and by performing skits illustrating some common “issues” that can arise when fresh new American Trainees are suddenly thrown into a new culture and family without being able to speak the language. Some of the families had hosted PCTs before, but many of them were new (as there were new training sites this summer, including our Health training site). There are only going to be 5 Trainees in Dereven this time around (as opposed to the 10 of us last year), so my host family didn’t get another Trainee, but those that did remembered me and Kathy (the other M25 Health Resource Volunteer) and came to chat with us afterwards. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit my host family at some point when I come back for the second half of PST.

We finally had a day off, but then it was back to work on Monday to begin the second week of ToT. We spent each day of the second week working with our training teams to update old session outlines from last year’s PST, create new session outlines for things that have been added to the curriculum, and other sector-specific tasks.

The Health trainers hard at work

The Health trainers hard at work

Our Health training team consists of Doogie (pronounced “daw-gee”), our Technical Coordinator and team lead, and us 4 Resource Volunteers (2 first half, 2 second half). The Health Program Manager for Peace Corps/Mongolia was also there to guide us through the preparations but won’t be working with us on a regular basis during actual PST since she’s also in charge of all the current Health PCVs and those PCVs who live in the central region of Mongolia. And we have our 2 LCFs who will be teaching the Health Trainees, but they were mostly in a separate room doing practice teaching with the other LCFs.

In addition to going through all the session outlines, we had to create a budget for PST, do practice facilitations, find and assign practicum sites (clinics, the hospital, the health department) for the Trainees to work at throughout the summer, arrange locations for joint sessions (where the Trainees and their practicum counterparts attend sessions together), and organize a new peer education program where Trainees will be partnered with peer educators (secondary school students and first-year nursing students) to help them facilitate sexual education lessons. There was a lot to do and it got stressful at times, but we at least got out of the office several times to visit the Darkhan Health Department, several clinics, the Darkhan governor (who remembered us from last year), and our training site, Mangirt. Since it’s a new training site, none of us knew where the Mangirt school was, which is an important place to be able to find since that’s where all the Healthies’ PST sessions would be held.

So after our hard week of getting everything finalized for the newbies, some of us also came into the polytechnic college on Saturday to organize the rooms where Orientation sessions would be taking place and to decorate for their arrival to Darkhan (like our group did last year, the M26s spent a couple days outside of UB before coming to Darkhan for Orientation).

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Oh, and we got to stay in sweet apartments during ToT!

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Granted they shoved 4 people into each apartment, but only for ToT: each apartment had 2 first-half trainers who would stay until Naadam in July, when the 2 second-half trainers would return to the apartment once more. So even though the one-bedroom apartment I shared with 3 other girls only had two small pull-out sofas–meaning we had to take turns sleeping on the floor–the apartment had a hot shower, fancy washing machine, and wifi! The building is also at a prime location right between the Nomin Department Store and the “Orange Market,” a large shopping center where you can get all your groceries and other necessities and also houses a Good Price, a store that offers many foreign goods such as…

This may be all I eat when I come back to Darkhan

This may be all I eat when I come back to Darkhan

Then I went down to UB for a couple days before my flight back to Uliastai. The Monday after ToT was International Children’s Day, which is a big deal here in Mongolia. And since I was in UB that day, some fellow PCVs and I walked around the city to see all the festivities:

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Tomorrow I will fly back to site, where things will return to normal (or as normal as my life can be in Mongolia) for a short time, before my next adventure!

 

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A Day in the Life of a Mongolia Health PCT, Part 2

On Saturdays and Sundays we don’t have any sessions, which can be good and bad: good because we can give our brains a little rest from the information overload experienced during the week, but bad because there’s no really much to do here so it doesn’t take much to become bored out of your mind. We are not allowed to leave Dereven (even to go into Darkhan, where there’s actually stuff to do) unless it’s with our host family, our trainers, or for our practicum. But there is not exactly much going on in Dereven. There are tons of hashaas, a bunch of small, family-run shops (mostly selling food items), the one school, and the river. All the internet cafes are in the city. All the bigger markets where you can buy a wider variety of things are in the city. I am not exaggerating when I say there is nothing here.

Not that it’s completely horrible. I usually take the free time to do my laundry by hand in my tumpun:

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Or to bathe myself in that same tumpun:

Which is a pain in the ass, so baths only happen a couple times a week (don’t judge me)

Which is a pain in the ass, so baths only happen a couple times a week (don’t judge me)

Sometimes we PCTs will get together on the weekends to do something (even if it’s just walk around town aimlessly). For example, the Saturday after our first week of PST in Dereven was an interesting one. It was a gloomy, extremely windy day, and because I had planned to do my laundry but couldn’t due to the weather, I instead read on my Kindle for several hours. Then one of the other PCTs called me to see if I wanted to wander around town with her because she was so bored. So we went to the river, met up with yet another bored Trainee, and proceeded to walk around the entire soum, occasionally stopping in little shops to see if they had anything interesting (we managed to find sour gummy worms and a Nutella knock-off!). After concluding that there was indeed nothing to do in the entire town, a fourth Trainee called to invite us over to his ger for food. He had cooked up some chicken soup, but his host family refused to eat any of it because they don’t like chicken (we, on the other hand, were seriously craving some chicken, which is not exactly a common meat here), so he wanted us to come help him eat it instead. So we went to his ger to eat delicious chicken soup, after eating no meat other than mutton for more than a week. His host father then came into the ger and proceeded to force us to watch several DVDs of music videos for songs from the 70s and 80s. Some were actually Mongolian songs, but when he popped in a DVD of ABBA music videos, I lost it.

Mongolia: one place I did not expect Swedish pop bands to be popular, but here we are...

Mongolia: one place I did not expect Swedish pop bands to be popular, but here we are…

I can honestly say I never imagined I’d be singing along to “Dancing Queen” in a ger in the middle of Mongolia, but that’s pretty much how the evening went. At one point we tried to leave to go back to our own host families, but the host dad was not having any of that and forced us to stay longer. We finally had to lie and pretend our families wanted us home for dinner, and we were finally allowed to leave (with “Mamma Mia” stuck in our heads the whole way home).

On another weekend, the Trainees at my site had a Mongolian cooking class with our LCFs. We learned how to make buuz (both meat and veggie-filled) and huushuur (which we filled with potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, but is usually filled with meat) and ate a ton of both. Ours may not be as pretty as our teachers’, but they still tasted great!

With musical accompaniment

With musical accompaniment

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After that, a group of us went down to the river.

The river

The river

A few of us (including myself) actually went swimming in the river, which is apparently a huge past time here, despite the fact that hundreds of cows graze right by the river, drink from the river, and definitely poop in the river.

Our swimming hole

Our swimming hole

John terrorizing the local kids in his underwear (#83 on the list of things you can freely do in Mongolia that would get you arrested [or put on some kind of list] in the US)

John terrorizing the local kids in his underwear (#83 on the list of things you can freely do in Mongolia that would get you arrested [or put on some kind of list] in the US)

Local kids covering themselves in mud for some reason

Local kids covering themselves in mud for some reason

Whoo! Having fun with the locals

Whoo! Having fun with the locals

It was a lot of fun, but let’s just say I definitely took a bath as soon as I got home.

A Day in the Life of a Mongolia Health PCT, Part 1

So, what exactly does PST (Pre-Service Training, remember?) consist of?

Monday through Friday we have training sessions at Dereven’s school.

School #4 (In Darkhan--there's only this one school in Dereven)

School #4 (in Darkhan–there’s only this one school in Dereven)

The building we have classes in

The building we have classes in

From 9am to 1pm we have Mongolian language class with our 2 LCFs (Language & Culture Facilitators). Then we go home for lunch from 1 to 2:30. From 2:30 to 5:30 we have Technical Sessions (training specifically for the Health Sector) every day except Wednesdays, when we have Cross-Cultural class instead.

We all live in different parts of Dereven, but the school is kind of a central location. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from my house to the school, and it’s a constant obstacle course, simultaneously trying to avoid the cow shit that is literally everywhere, giant shards of broken glass, and huge puddles of water and mud that never seem to dry up. Plus it’s already gotten up to at least 95 degrees F that I know of, so forget any notions you may have had of Mongolia being a permanently frozen wasteland (sure, the winters do last like 8 months, but in summer it often gets to the opposite extreme). And I get to walk through all this in my business casual attire! (Yes, we have to wear business casual to our Technical and Cross-Cultural sessions.)

A few weeks into PST we started going to our individual practicum sites to get a taste for what it will be like when we first arrive at our HCA (Host Country Agency) at our permanent site. Two of the PCTs have their practicum at the Darkhan hospital, two at the Darkhan Health Department, and the rest of us at various family clinics throughout the city. We have to take taxis (alone, but Peace Corps gives us money each week specifically for this) from Dereven to wherever our practicum site is (mine is in New Darkhan). We go about once a week to our practicum site, where we try to use our not-too-great Mongolian language skills to shadow or get involved in something going on.

The first day at my family clinic, I literally felt like the doctors and nurses there had no idea what to do with me. One of the patients who was waiting to see the doctor noticed that I was an American (how did she know?!) and started talking to me in perfect English! I told her that I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer and she told me she used to work with Peace Corps! She talked to the nurses in Mongolian and told them to give me a tour of the clinic, with her translating the whole time. Then the doctor called her in for her appointment, but she gave me her phone number in case I ever need a translator! But then the staff no longer knew what to do with me and brought me into a room where one of the nurses tried to talk to me for a while. I tried to ask some questions about the clinic, but eventually she needed to get back to work. So as I’m sitting in the room alone, another random lady comes in and shoves her phone at me, indicating that I should talk to whoever is on the other end. I say “hello” and it’s some random Mongolian lady speaking to me in somewhat broken English. She asks me what’s going on, and I tell her (keep in mind, I still have no idea who this lady is), then she tells me she is heading over to the clinic at that moment. Sure enough, she shows up soon after and comes in the room to talk with me. I’m pretty sure one of the clinic staff just called someone they knew who spoke some English to come talk to me. Apparently she is a nursing student who has been teaching herself English for the past 10 or so years. We talked about differences between the Mongolian and American health systems, and she also gave me her phone number in case I ever need a translator (well, at least I’m making connections!). So that was interesting, even if it had nothing to do with my practicum site. The next time was a little better: I at least got to shadow some of the doctors and nurses and practice a little bit of Mongolian, but I’m still not exactly sure what we’re supposed to be doing there for 3 hours at a time.

For some of the other Technical Sessions, we have Joint Sessions, where we, along with people from all of our practicum sites, come together to learn about some topic related to needs assessments, behavior change, etc. At one of the sessions, we (the PCTs) even got to give a 30-minute presentation to all of them. We’ve also gone to the Health Department to interview some of the workers, to some of the NGOs in Darkhan (including the Red Cross and World Vision), and to the Education Department to learn about health curriculum in Mongolian schools (particularly focusing on sex ed). I was surprised to find that the health education here is pretty good. It starts in 6th grade and students have to take it every year throughout middle and high school. On the other hand, I only had one health class in middle school and one semester of health in all of high school. The sex ed could be more comprehensive (they don’t start getting into those topics until 8th or 9th grade, which is after many of them start having sex), but I was overall impressed with the curriculum. The next week we were put into groups of 2 PCTs and 2 health teachers to design a mini sex ed lesson using a nifty lesson book that Peace Corps designed. Then we had to help present the lesson to a group of teens they managed to corral from around Dereven (since school was out for the summer). So I got to help teach about proper condom use (complete with condom demonstration!), which is something that most health teachers here don’t feel comfortable doing. Fun times!

I will talk about what weekends are like in my next post.

Off to Our Host Families!

One of these days, I will get caught up on my posts! I have over 10 new posts written, but my host family’s wifi isn’t on most of the time, so I can only put them up when I can catch it!

On Friday morning, June 6, we departed for our host communities for 11 weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST). We were split into groups of about 10 based on our sectors. Since there are only 10 Health Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs), we all got sent to the same host community: Dereven/Tosgon (the Peace Corps refers to it as Dereven, but that’s apparently the Russian name and many inhabitants don’t recognize it, instead calling it by its Mongolian name, Tosgon), which is a soum (small village) on the outskirts of Darkhan.* So we didn’t have very far to go from the hotel, but most of the other groups got sent to soums farther away or to Sukhbaatar City up near the Russian border.

Because we Health PCTs are so awesome, the mayor of Darkhan invited us to stop by his office on our way to our host community. So we got to meet a high-level official, drank tea served by his assistants, and had countless awkward pictures taken by his photographer. Fun times!

Then we were taken to the school in Dereven where we would be having all of our PST sessions to meet our host families, who would then take us back to their homes. We had received a piece of paper the day before giving us some general information about our host families, but it was very weird to actually get out of the vans and awkwardly face a bunch of Mongolians, not knowing who was who. A couple families were running late, so we continued to awkwardly stand there for 10 minutes until the Peace Corps staff member finally had each host family and their respective PCT come forward and meet each other. My host mom was the only one there, but she is apparently good friends with one of the other PCT’s host mom, so all four of us got into my host family’s car (with a ton of luggage) and drove off to our homes. We dropped off the other PCT, whose host family lives just a few houses down from mine, then went to our home.

My host family consists of my host dad, Chuka, who is a carpenter who works for a construction company; my host mom, Dawaa, who is an English teacher and can speak a fair amount of English; a 22-year-old host sister, Boloroo, who is a PE teacher and has a 13-month-old son, Ochralaa, who also lives with us; a 19-year-old host sister, Bakana, who is a college student but is home for the summer; and a 15-year-old host brother, Suuna, who was out in the countryside for the first half of the summer training for horse racing for Naadam.

The cutest member of our family

The cutest member of our family

The grandparents on the mom’s side also live in a different house in the same hashaa, as does one of the mom’s brothers. The hashaa is basically the entire fenced-in area or yard and often has multiple houses and/or gers. Our hashaa includes the 3 houses (my family’s, the grandparents’, and the uncle’s):

My host family's house

My host family’s house

a ger where my family cooks food during the summer to prevent the main house from getting too hot and where they do their laundry:

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my family’s outhouse and another one for the grandparents and uncle:

Just in case you weren't sure what an outhouse looks like

Just in case you weren’t sure what an outhouse looks like

a vegetable garden where they grow carrots, cabbage, and potatoes:

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gooseberry and sea-buckthorn bushes; a pen for their 10 cows and 4 calves:

Moooo

Moooo

and miscellaneous other smaller shacks for storage, etc. They also have 2 guard dogs and a cat.

Meow

Meow

My room in their house is almost a quarter of the entire building, the rest consisting of the kitchen, the living room (which also has a bed and functions as a bedroom at night), and one other bedroom. I’m kind of thinking I took over someone’s bedroom, because there are a lot of people sleeping on the floor, and I’m not one of them. They did eventually put another bed in the ger, so one or both of the parents usually sleep in there.

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My desk (the big blue thing is my water filter)

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My bed and dresser

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Little bookshelf where I keep my toiletries

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My wardrobe and mini clothesline (so my delicates don’t blow away in the wind on the line outside!)

The kitchen

The kitchen

More kitchen

More kitchen

The stove

The stove

The "sink," which, in places with no indoor plumbing, consists of a small funnel you put water into and push up on to have the water come out, a basin with a drain, and a bucket underneath for the dirty water that you have to empty every now and then

The “sink,” which, in places with no indoor plumbing, consists of a small funnel (the green thing) you put water into and push up on the skinny white part at the bottom to have the water come out, a basin with a drain, and a bucket underneath for the dirty water that you have to empty every now and then

The living room

The living room…

...which also functions as a bedroom

…which also functions as a bedroom

The other bedroom

The other bedroom

Well,now you finally know where I’ve been living for the past month and a half!

*Darkhan is a bit of a confusing city. There are two main sections of the city itself: New Darkhan, which is—you guessed it!—newer and “nicer” (this is where the Darkhan Hotel we stayed at is located) and Old Darkhan, which is older and doesn’t have as many nice fancy buildings. To get to our host site, Dereven, you have to go all the way past Old Darkhan and into the outskirts of the city itself, although Dereven is still considered part of Darkhan at the administrative level.