Sunday, October 7, 2012
Throughout my early childhood development project this year, and, in fact, in all my projects, I´ve faced a puzzle. How do you actually measure a behavior, like handwashing, protein consumption or time spent playing with a baby. Self-reporting has been proved biased and squidgy by countless studies, especially in the imprecise area of diet. In all my projects, I´ve looked for the magic question, some way to approximate what I really want to know. For example, to measure hand-washing, I asked about the important times to wash hands, for the person to demonstrate hand-washing, and then check if there is a towel and soap next to their sink. While it´s far from perfect, it gives me a decent idea of whether the household is likely to wash their hands. Then there is the product indicator: does anyone have diarrhea in their house at the moment? The later measures almost too much, of course.
With nutrition and early childhood stimulation, I´ve fumbled for an adequate measure and still, after over a year of work, am not satisfied. For nutrition, I try to plan house visits for a time when the mother will be cooking to at least see that the beans or salad or meat exists. Even so, I have no way of knowing how frequent this happens (once a week, once a month, daily?), the typical portion size for the child, or how many times a day the child actually eats. Frequent visits give me a sense of these questions, true, but they are difficult to nail down. For early stimulation, I ask where and with what the child plays (the answers to these questions are comedic and often bizarre. To “what does your child usually play with?” “Chickens” is a common answer. “The dog” and “with whatever he can find” being close seconds). It´s not good enough, by far, and I´ve considered far more complex surveys, but discarded them in favor of simpler questions that can be replicated by my health promoters.
After all this pondering, I stumbled upon the answer this week. For background, I´m in the midst of a final phase of my Early Stimulation project, which entails creating Play Corners in all the homes with the mothers. For the past 5 months, I´ve held weekly or bi-weekly meetings with mothers to make toys, and now, in each home, we are paint murals as a final stimulant for the children. Originally, my plan was to use stencils and have the mothers paint on their own. However, I love drawing and painting, and the number of moms is less than I´d planned for, so I decided to draw and paint with the families. It means spending hours in someone´s home, while daily life hums along around you. Thus, it is a far better observation and investigation than any short survey could hope for. Instead of asking how often a child eats, I see how often they eat over the course of a day. Instead of asking where a child spends most of his time, I see that he is usually sitting on the floor, laying on the bed, or running around in the road like a crazy man (the last subject, a wayward 2 year-old, is no surprise. His mother can often be found dragging him out of neighbor´s houses, the corner store, or the health post, where he wanders alone).
The problem is, though my curiousity is satisfied, I´m not sure how to use this information in any evaluation of my project. Since I didn´t do a baseline study in the same way, I have no comparison. Still, I wouldn´t give up the opportunity, and what better way to spend my last months than painting, surrounding by the moms and children that I love?
Saturday, September 22, 2012
In Mancos, I am not, despite vicious gossip to the contrary, living in sin with a man. No sir, I live alone, in a room a bit smaller than my Musho one and infinitely more comfortable. As I might have written, my decision to move was based on drama and family problems in Musho and an impulse caused by a devious temptation a sign claiming Se Aquila Cuarto con Baño Privado (Room rented with private bathroom).
Now, 4 months later, I am delighted with my sanctuary, as I think of it. However, it did come with an add-on that I didn´t realize at first—a family. It isn´t a host family but rather a group of fascinating, friendly and kind people living their own lives and occasionally crossing paths with me. The more I know them, these landlords and fellow Mancosinos, the more I want to know them. Spending “family time” with this family has shown me a side of the sierra that I didn´t know—a well educated, well-informed, sophisticated group of people, despite cooking on a wood burning stove and loving guinea pig and beer as much as any self-respecting Mushino.
Nancy, the cook, head of business, and general of the entire operation, is a Quechua-speaking, village-born woman—and mother of six professionals (though one is a soon-to-be-graduate). She churns out lunch for 50 daily (your standard tasty Peruvian menu) yet always finds a moment to joke with me in Quechua even in the midst of the rush. Sometimes she astounds me. A couple of days ago, Kelly and I ran into her and I said, in my broken Quechua: Kelly shamun peliculata rikanapaq (Kelly comes to see a movie). Nancy responded something like “Calapicapaq?” Confused, I asked her to translated, and she translated to “naked man movie?” I´m unsure and worried where she got this idea of Kelly and I.
While I have no intention of replacing my compadres in Musho with a new family, it is wonderful to discover new friends and ideas. It brings balance to my chaotic life here.
In pictures we have: Sandra Guadalupe, one of my favorite early stimulation babies, Olga and Tatiana, probably the worst (translate, most delayed, most malnoursished) baby, two of my terrible English students (Lloshi, the boy, is about to start dropping all the crayons down the crack in the desk as Betsy tries to color), and an unwilling participant in a recent meeting of mine.
PS: Strike news? The teacher strike goes on, but it seems that no one in Musho is involved, thank goodness. On the other hand, there is a potential mining strike nearby that could get violent… things are never dull.
Friday, August 24, 2012
** I suspect this blog, long overdue, is not up to any standard of writing. I wrote it as a rant, to clear my own head, and to puzzle over the question of how much inequality we can just live with.**
In my unusually roomy colectivo today, I sat with three teachers from Musho, Piscuy (a small neighborhood 10 minute walk away) and Apa Chico (a village 40 minutes walking from Musho and the same from Mancos). The Apa Chico and Piscuy teachers work in 1-room schools, with 4 grades in the same room. In a small space, eavesdropping is impossible to avoid, and I listened with curiosity to their plans to participate in the upcoming teachers´ strike. The strike, beginning on September 5, is indefinite, and will leave their schools completely closed.The opportunity to uncover their motives was too much to resist and I joined, eventually coming to expound the radical idea that teachers could be paid by quality of work (such as not closing their school for indefinite amounts of time), test results (controversial, but I´m not sure what else would be a measure) and other measures, instead of a flat salary. Amazingly, the teacher I spoke with bristled at this idea and began a rant about the inability to compare academic achievement in a school in Musho as a school in Lima. Of course, poverty, malnutrition, lack of reading materials, stimulation, study time, parent commitment and a host of other determinants keep Musho children far below the level of their Lima counterparts.
The teacher went on to describe the difficulty of teaching children in a 1-room school to the level of children with a teacher per-grade level. I agreed, and suggested that the one-room schools be closed, and that those students study in Musho or Mancos. This, perhaps, was too near to suggesting
she be fired (not the point of course), and she spent the last few minutes in the car being particularly angry at me.
My actual point was this: does a Ministry of Education not have a responsibility to even the playing field as much as possible. Students with 1 teacher for 4 grades will not have as much grade level-specific attention as a student with a teacher specifically for his level. It´s a fact. If a 10 minute walk is the difference between those two options, why would a parent chose the inferior option? Most of the parents that do are un-educated themselves and see no better life for their children. Should the Ministry of Education not close the inferior school and focus on getting children to the better one?
Of course, the Musho school, to my un-trained eye, hardly shows strong outcomes. The teacher argued in the car, and I agree with her, that students from Musho would never match test results of students from Lima. This may be true. However, it reveals a systematic inequality. To enter into higher education of any kind—police academy, technical school, university—applicants must take an exam. The results are rated nationally and only the top scores enter. The inequality is life-long. While a Musho may achieve prosperity and success in business or agriculture—and there are some professionals as well—the general trend is to keep the poor in poverty.
I choose to believe that the solution lies in early interventions. Parenting classes, preschool and pre-preschool programs and aggressive early childhood health interventions have shown developmental advances worldwide, in low-income populations. Government involvement in parenting smells suspiciously of Big Brother, yet the alternative, leaving the generation to muddle along in poverty, except for a few lucky ones, scares me more.