PACT stands for Peer Approach to Counseling Teens.
The PACT workshop is run annually by Hope World Wide (an NGO that assists developing countries in promoting and improving their national health).
All secondary schools in Botswana are expected to have an operating PACT club. My school has one. It has members. It has a lead teacher. Last term it never met once. Why? Lead teacher wasn’t in the mood.
Even so, on the first day of the workshop 30 kids from our school show up to participate. Although our bus transport is a 2 full hours late, we eventually arrive in Thamaga and are greeted by over 100 students from other PACT clubs in surrounding villages.
The HOPE facilitators divide students into three groups and launch into lessons on decision making, alcoholism and teen dating. I am propped in the corner of one classroom as the Token Volunteer. The students from smaller villages stare at me while chanting answers to the facilitator’s questions. All questions and answers are delivered in half English, half Setswana. All answers sound like they’re being read out of a book. Or a dictionary.
Motswana teenagers have an amazing ability to endure hour upon hour of this type of learning while reciting long definitions and explanations of key terms from the subject at hand. Rarely have I seen a lesson where students ask questions, discuss, or debate. And yes, all classes are held in Setswinglish… immensely frustrating for my novice-ear.
Although I’ve watching numerous classes like this I have yet to master the art of Feigned Attention. After the first hour I begin to squirm in my chair and force myself to take notes. (Yes, I doodle in the margins. No, the kids cant see what I’m writing.) Maybe all Americans have ADD…? I contemplate this thought while searching the students faces for signs of boredom or inattention. They give nothing away but when the tea-break bell rings they rush the door with such enthusiasm I decide to drop my national analysis theories.
After tea break the head facilitator tells the volunteers to rotate classrooms. For the second half of the morning I get Molly. Praise the Lord for teachers like Molly.
Molly’s sets her room up in a horseshoe shape instead of the traditional All-Facing-The-Board Formation. She calls each student by name and the class runs on a kind of easy rhythm bouncing between her questions and their discussion. An exchange. Learner centered. Facilitating verses lecturing. I am genuinely impressed and tell her this at the break.
Great. She smiles. Maybe you can help with the games in the next session.
For all the teachers in my audience who sincerely love teaching: imagine sitting on the sidelines and observing other people’s classes for 4 months and not being allowed to participate. Imagine the frustration when you observe weak classes and can’t help. Imagine the disappointment when you observe strong classes and can’t be a part of the energy. Torture.
After three singing games without “lesson learning points” (yes, I’m also fixated on purpose… teacher-trainer residue) I tell Molly I’ve got a fun team game.
“Backs To The Board”. It’s my secret weapon. It’s the perfect game to get kids ‘warmed up’ at the beginning of class. It’s the perfect way to review vocabulary. It’s the perfect strategy for rescuing a lesson that’s about to flop. It’s the perfect trick for recovering a lesson that’s already flopped so the kids don’t leave wholly class disappointed.
The game in a nutshell:
Two teams. One volunteer from each team sits in a “hot seat” at the front of the room with their back to the board. The rest of the team faces their volunteer and reads the word I write on the board. The volunteer cannot look at the board but must try to guess the word from hints and gestures their teammates show them. The first volunteer to guess the word correctly earns a point for their team. Then someone else gets a chance to be in the “hot seat”.
Best part: teacher gets to sit back and just play the referee. Totally learner focused. Totally participatory. 100% successful 100% of the time.
So the PACT workshop vocab I select are things like: HIV, ARVs, prevention, transmission, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, condom, circumcision, PLWHA, stigma, orphans, abstinence, etc.
Each time a team guesses a word correctly I give them 1 point and then a follow-up question:
What percent of Motswana citizens are infected with HIV? (33%)
When can a mother transfer HIV to her baby? (during pregnancy, during birth, while breastfeeding)
What does PLWHA stand for? (People Living With HIV and AIDS)
Male circumcision reduces the rate of HIV infection by what percent? (60%)
What is one way you can reduce stigma at your school?
So as if I wasn’t buzzed enough from the kids energy and enthusiasm over this game, something even more inspiring starts to happen:
The kids start asking questions.
It’s amazing. In the middle of the game they just start raising their hands. Then they start answering each other. Then they start debating.
The energy and concentration in the room quadruples as we discuss some of the most basic questions interspersed with deep, heart wrenching inquiries.
This Q+A session goes on for a full hour with questions such as:
If I eat an apple and share it with my friend and they have AIDS, can I get it?
How many people have AIDS in America?
Why does Africa have so much more AIDS than America?
What if my sister cuts her foot and I am cleaning it? Can I get AIDS from that?
How can we talk to our parents about HIV when they wont listen to us?
How long can people live with HIV?
What should we do when the nurses at the clinic are rude to us and wont help us?
One of my friends mother is dying from AIDS and I don’t know how to help her.
Is it true that a prostitute can live with AIDS longer than other people?
Are more black Americans or white Americans infected with HIV? (I skirted this one and said IV-drug users and people in prison)
If I’m helping my dad kill a goat, can the goat give me AIDS?
Flora (a PCV colleague) is watching the class and jumps in to help with questions. She has 30 years of professional counseling experience in the States and I am thrilled and relieved to have her support. We work together answering kids questions for a full hour.
At the end of the session the kids thank us, clap for us and some of them make us cards and notes. One girl raises her hand and says: “Please please go talk to the other children in Botswana. We need to hear these things.”
Flora has bright red hair and deep blue eyes. She wears a straw hat, sun dress and perpetual smile. When we walk out of the class Flora puts her arm around my shoulder:
That was great. She says. That’s what we came here for.
It is my favorite moment yet.