Sunday, December 19, 2010

My job, pt. III: A view of my desk is a day in my [work] life

This is the final part of a three post series introducing the work component of my life as a Health Education Specialist in Peace Corps Moldova.  The series has moved from the broad to the specific, so Part III will conclude by a look at what my work actually involves on a daily basis.  Part I is a general introduction to the public health situation in Moldova, and Part II examines my different projects at the general level.

When I started writing this series at the end of October – yeah, it’s been a long time in the making – I had just passed the point where I had been at site longer than in training, and it was really starting to show in my work life.

The soaring towers of paper accumulating on my desk are only the most visual sign that this work life is finding traction.  Those who have lived around me know me to be a crowded desk person.  Some say “crowded” is just a euphemism for “messy”, but in my opinion the difference is that there is a logic to my system.  That’s probably in the eyes of the beholder…my dad claims the same thing.  My desk hasn’t yet reached the state of his fire hazard, but then I also don’t have many bills to pay.

In what may have been an indication of concern, my host family recently put a second desk in my room.  This was one of the happiest days of my life, though they didn’t seem to understand the natural logic of the law of desk space: desk piles will expand to occupy the space available.  (On the other hand, my host family probably considered it a victory simply that these piles moved out of my bed and off the floor…)  What might concern them more is the fact that what’s going on in my head at any given moment tends to resemble my desks…  It also, however, provides a glimpse at my daily work life.

Starting our tour a desk #1, we find the computer in the dominant position. 
In the HESC program, we are directed to develop all materials electronically.  Lesson plans, long term plans, learning activities – all of it gets typed.  The idea is that at the end of my two years, it will all get compiled and handed to my partners, to help them as they continue a local health education program without me.  Slowly, it’s also showing the benefits of ICT tools.

Crowded, not messy
Immediately to the right of my computer is the prized position of my to do lists and notebooks.  These are normally balanced precariously atop a pile of teaching and lesson plan materials.  Teaching and lesson planning occupies more of my work than any other activity, and there is rarely a day when I don’t spend some time preparing lessons.  In the photo to the right, the open book is the state’s curriculum for Health Education, next to that is the long term plan for my 5th graders.  Further back, there is a pile dedicated to teachers’ guides for Health Education (though it's hidden under another long term plan).  It’s an inclusive pile, covering classes 1 through 12.

In the back corner of my first desk is my Romanian pile, representing my continuing linguistic education.  After Pre-Service Training, Peace Corps pays for 4 hours of tutoring every week with a language instructor chosen by the volunteer.  My Romanian pile includes a dictionary, reading materials, my notebooks, and workbooks, as well as a set of pamphlets on health topics I’m using to improve my health specific vocabulary.

Space in between these piles is filled with notes and (generally empty) coffee cups.

The "Christmas Desk"
Desk #2 is kind of like my back up desk, a place to pile books and binders I need regularly but not daily.  Christmas has now invaded this desk, which is half occupied by a small fir tree tied to my skis on display behind it.  It’s an added bit of cheer, but it’s been a struggle not to feel a Scrooge-like ill will toward the loss of desk space.  In lieu of presents or a manger, under my Christmas tree there are:
·         books on Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA), strategic planning, working with youth, and Moldovan Youth Councils
·         my heavily notated copy of the village’s most recent strategic plan
·         my binder of medical center projects and book of common diseases (tuberculosis, chronic heart disease, etc.)
·         the most recent issue of World View (a quarterly Peace Corps magazine)
·         three books I’m trying to read in my spare time (The Children, Predictably Irrational, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook)

All books under that first bullet concern techniques I’m working to apply in one aspect or another of my work here.  The strategic plan represents my present project with the mayor’s office, where we’re in the process of drafting the next strategic plan.  My medical center binder is currently open to a draft seminar on TB, which I’ll be teaching with my nurse partner next week.  The magazine is my bit of inspiration and new ideas, a way to stay connected with the global Peace Corps mission.  And those spare reading books represent something I rarely have time to crack open.

Chairs next to the desks are an extension of the desk.  They’re for my briefcase, not guests.

On any given day, I get up and grab whatever materials I prepared the night before, shove it all into my briefcase, realize I probably need my computer as well, and then set out with what Moldovans constantly refer to as a “difficult bag.”

This is my basic weekly work schedule:

Monday           9:00-13:00       Prim─âria (mayor’s office)
                           15:00-17:00     Romanian tutoring
Tuesday           8:00-13:00       Class
                           13:00-15:00     Lesson planning (with partner teacher)
Wednesday     9:00-10:30       Lesson planning (with partner teacher)
                           10:30-13:30     Class
Thursday         8:30-10:30       Romanian turoring
                           11:00-13:00     Health Center
                           14:00-16:00     Lesson planning for Club (with partner teacher)
                           16:00-18:00     Youth Club
Friday              9:00-11:00       Preschool (as needed)
                           11:00-13:00     Health Center

Before the second desk's addition;
note the prominence of the floor
In any case, between the difficult bag and crowded desk, the general picture of my typical day slowly emerges to include some combination of teaching classes, planning a lesson with my partner teachers, going to a meeting at the primaria, facilitating a youth club, planning community health activities with my nurse partner, and meeting with other local leaders to discuss potential community projects ranging from getting running water for the preschool to fixing up a small rec center in the empty wing of the Health Center.


At night, I go home, unpack my difficult bag, and look over my day’s notes as I try to figure out the best strategy for achieving those tasks.  Almost inevitably, that involves teaching myself new skills, such as participatory needs assessment, and figuring out how to transfer those skills to my partners.  After some reflection and the research that generally follows it, I set about planning the next day’s meetings.  On good days, this includes figuring out how that meeting contributes to my big picture vision for a comprehensive village health education program.  On the less good days, it means figuring out what needs to be shoved into my difficult bag the next morning.

I like to think that if Moldovans had to bounce around between as many locations and meeting topics, their bags would be a little more difficult too.  But it may just be that my difficult bag is an extension of my crowded desk.

And that, dear readers, is more or less what I “do” as a Health PCV here in Moldova.

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