Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Scoring the 2011 Tour

I am now between leaving Guyana and Christmas.   I have enjoyed being home with Anne and watching the sea ..… and some golfing, as it has been exceptionally warm and sunny.   My last week in Guyana was a predictable – but still enjoyable and significant – flurry of activity as the “just now” culture came up against a precise departure time!   
A real old fashioned picnic
There were several "thank you" events arranged by our students, such as a picnic at the Botanical Gardens scheduled for 2pm – and who was the only person there at 2?  (I never learn!)   The festivities started somewhat later.   The students had prepared a picnic meal and each of us received a gift from them.   I received a distinguished, handmade pair of leather sandals ..… very nice!   Claudette and Marysia were singled out after a class for special recognition which left one of them overwhelmed.

Tony and I got to Taju’s one last time.  Tony gave Althia and Tommy their last music lessons and I hosted my two “Bosco Sons” for a farewell meal.  Well, one of them is still on his way ...... so we ate and took the picture without him.
You'll just have to imagine Julian with Rashleigh.

I said good bye to the girls at St. Ann’s, and to Sister Barbara, the Sister Commander at the home.   She has decided to leave as it was getting to be too much for her health and sense of vocation.   I am saddened to see her go.  Despite her claims to having no experience with young children, she was excellent, and brought many welcome changes to the home.   One innovation that I hope lives on without her is pairing “sisters” – an older girl with a younger one.   The older serves as a role model and helps the younger ones with the chores of the day.  The older girls were expected to be responsible – and they were.  (At least, as much as I am.)   Barbara will be based at a convent in Venezuela overlooking the blue ocean.   I wish her well; she is a phenomenal minister of the gospel.
Sister Barbara pretending to like kids
The Year in Review
I have been reflecting on the pluses and minuses, the successes and the failures.  I’ll venture a few thoughts:

My students keep emailing to ask me if I miss them yet.  My answer has a long history and is an indication of one of my personality quirks.  I once almost got stoned by a conference of ICU nurses where I suggested that they had poor long term memories:  I was talking about coping skills and I had included myself in the critique.  I deal with what or who is in front of me, and when I'm not there, I'm not there.  I get captured by the present.  This is an excellent coping mechanism for jobs like critical care, but really lousy for relationships.  So the short answer is, “No, I don’t miss them.”   This same lack of yearning is also active when I am in Guyana; it doesn’t seem to discriminate.   Since I retired, I am working on personal development -- so maybe I will eventually miss the girls!
I want to thank my circle of friends and family who continually support me while I am in Guyana.  They run the whole range: from those who look only at the pictures on the blog – and then only occasionally -- to those who comment on almost every post.   And there are even some who write me a real letter or two.    Then there is my family who celebrate birthdays and holidays without me [and me without them].   I miss them on those days.  (Good thing that I am a flip-flop liberal as I just said the opposite of the previous paragraph.)  No ambiguity about my love and appreciation of Anne who edits my blog for those who are offended by “dangling whatevers” and offers me the freedom to be present in Guyana, despite her preferences for my presence in MWP.
Helen is on the left.
It is hard to underestimate the importance of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital's CEO, Helen Browman.  She supports our work there - even when we are not there.  And if she tells us she is going to look into something or do something, she gets it done.   This is so important when we are not there most of the year, especially in contrast to others who require your physical presence before any response is provided.   I do not see how we could continue without her support... and she is not even a nun!  
This year’s students were an excellent batch.   Tony and I enjoyed their work rate, spontaneity and “pondering”.   We were also more skilled this year and had more time to focus on the students than last year, as we were writing the PBL cases as we went along last year.  
I had three fears this year:  one, how would we cope with 20 students; two, how would they cope with the same problems as last year's students had; and three, how would I cope with living with Tony.  

I have written of the miracle of two skilled tutors who made themselves available all semester – Claudette Harry and Marysia Donnelly.  Without them [and the occasional “volunteers” we commandeered] we would not have been able to cope with the amount of work and time required to do justice to 20 students.   One of the downsides of helping the students to be inquisitive is that they have lots of questions for you.    

As for the temptation of just copying last year’s work, there was only once that we worried about it, and we came to the conclusion that even if they did have the pages from last year's students, they still had to grapple with the problems.  A bigger problem was the lack of discipline, especially after a “clubbing” weekend.  On Monday mornings the students were the least prepared even though they'd had the longest time available to do research. The students all got better at expressing what they'd learned -- and at expressing "bull". I had an imaginary “Gold Shovel” that I would give to the student who said the most with the least content. (The actual Golden Shovel Award celebrates excessive ambiguity and unparalleled cluelessness. Applicants for the Golden Shovel are judged on a lack of the four Cs: candor, clarity, character, and conciseness. Entries are carefully monitored for key words and phrases that signal a bullshitting attempt.)  While there were several amateur contenders among our students, the Shovel definitely belonged to a consummate professional, Stanton.

The Undisputed Champion
Finally - Tony.  I didn’t think it was possible – we did extremely well with each other. Our teaching partnership couldn’t have been better. Our living together also had more benefits than problems.  Of course, we had enough irreconcilable differences to keep the students fascinated, but we were there to teach and we certainly did that.   

The Odd Couple

Positive and…
The individual netbooks that we [all the donors] gave to each of the first year students and half the second year students were unquestionably great.   Even in Guyana, the young are part of the electronic age; they took to learning the new technology with an enthusiasm never witnessed with a textbook.   The students learned how to search the net for accurate, up-to-date information to support their growing curiosity. 

And ......  even though I had received several threats of bodily harm if I didn’t get one for other students and staff, I left Guyana without any injuries.  However, we may have unleashed a monster – how will we ever keep up with supplying an individual computer every year in the future?  (I guess if I don’t go back, I won’t have to worry about it.)  Actually, if anyone out there knows of a granting foundation/agency that would consider taking this on, I would love to hear from you.   Last year, we didn’t know if the students would benefit sufficiently from the computers -- could they learn quickly enough, would the computers keep working in the heat and humidity, not get stolen, etc.  This year we know how effective they have been. Now I can hope to be more effective at begging for more!
Again our biggest disappointment was our inability to attract local faculty to participate in learning and trying the PBL method.  We have had an article accepted in the International Nursing Review Journal.   The reviewers were extremely excited about the possibilities for poorer countries; now, if we could just convince anyone in the Guyana nursing world .......   We will be submitting a second article on the success we had with comparing the success of PBL and traditional learning models in a specific area of knowledge.   We are hoping that a student from each learning model will be involved in writing the article.

We did generate more interest overall and had many more helpers and visitors than last year, but again, if Tony and I do not return, there will be no one there who will continue the experiment.   While the course has been written and tested, it does require someone to keep up with printing all the pages [story, tutor aide, test and answer sheets, etc.], not to mention reading and scoring all the work every PBL day.  AND there is no money for additional faculty!  We did get the miracle of Marysia and Claudette this year, so maybe more miracles can be expected.
So ends my ninth  journey.  I have no idea about a tenth - that will be a decision for January.  I do know that my Christmas will be filled with many memories of joy and meaning from my time in Guyana.  Thank you for coming with me on this journey.  May God bless you all.
One for the road ahead.