Thursday, June 26, 2008


So there I was, enjoying my little Azrou routine (or lack thereof), and at 5:30 the SBD Program Manager called and asked me to come to Rabat for a Training Design and Evaluation (TDE – another acronym for you!) workshop scheduled to start in Rabat the next morning. I think they had known about the workshop for a while but only on Tuesday did they decide to include volunteers. I had to adjust to the change in plans (I didn’t have any plans that couldn’t be changed, so maybe it was more a change in mindset/expectations – not always easy for me but I think I am getting better at it here in the Peace Corps and in Morocco!) and after that was excited about it – I do like the opportunity to give input, and, having worked on KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes) last year, I was able to jump right in.

I couldn’t get there for the plenary session in the morning – couldn’t travel at night, after all – and because I still had final packing to do, I was in between train times, so I took a grand taxi to Meknes and another to Rabat – and then didn’t have time for lunch, but I made it to the office in time for the afternoon session. In the past, PST (pre-service training) was considered a success based on trainee feedback – i.e. did the volunteers like it. Now Peace Corps Washington has decided on a higher standard – did the volunteers learn what the training was designed to teach them. To accomplish this, the Learning Objectives had to be restated. They include the performer (each PCT, each CBT group), the performance (action verb such as demonstrate or list, not a vague verb such as understand), the condition (e.g., given a lecture and handout) and a standard (e.g. at least five strategies). The learning objectives (LO) came out of the KSA exercise, but there was a lot of duplication, so much streamlining was required. For each LO, we then listed corresponding KSA, delivery method (e.g. lecture), deliverer, evaluation method (quiz, presentation), evaluator, and the week or phase of training.

We split into small groups for the afternoon and then the entire next day, working on core competencies, things that each volunteer in every sector needs to know. There were three broad competencies – I don’t remember the action verbs that restated them but one had to do with policies, safety/security and medical, one was capacity-building (and included such things as PACA, organizational dynamics and conflict resolution) and the one we worked on was community entry, which had a lot of cross-cultural. Each small group had three or four staff members and a volunteer – to type things into the computer and to come up with the exact language (since we were the native English speakers). It was laborious, but at the end of it we came up with a clear and concise set of LOs.

On Friday morning, we worked on the sector-specific objectives for Small Business Development. Once we eliminated the duplication from the LOs that every volunteer should know (most were covered under capacity-building) – and that involved looking at the over 30 pages of KSAs from last year – it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. We distilled it down to two – the basic knowledge of the ministry, Moroccan economy and artisan sector, forming cooperatives etc. (the trainer didn’t like this competency because it had too much that was just knowledge, but we didn’t know what else to do with it) and the basic business skills needed (since I was there I labeled one broad set of things marketing, and then there was another set that included things such as record-keeping and costing/pricing, and I think one more set). I also insisted on adding an art component so that the business-background trainees could understand basic art principles while the art-background people gain basic business principles, but everyone else had trouble with this concept so we didn’t quite finish the wording.

We were supposed to have finished the core and sector competencies (SBD and YD only – since Health and Environment have their PST in the spring, the program staff continued to work on core while we moved on) by the middle of the workshop and then move on to sequencing – i.e. fitting each of these into the eleven-week training schedule – and then distilling it one more level to COTE (Calendar of Training Events), but because we spent extra time on the competencies, we left that for staff to finish. We were also supposed to decide on an evaluation method, but all we had time for was looking at how some of the other countries have decided to evaluate (what made sense to everyone was pass/fail for each LO, including opportunities to try again, but what remains to be discussed is what it means – is there a certain level which you must attain in order to be able to swear in?). In other words, there was a lot left for staff to do! The Program Manager asked us to come back on Monday and keep working on it, since the trainer who led the workshop is still in Morocco, but it was generally agreed that the volunteers were dismissed and may be called back at some other point.

This was interesting to do and I am glad I worked on it, but there’s still a lot to be done. Either the Program Manager or the Program Assistant will be out of the office on site development or site visits just about every other week between now and the arrival of the new PCTs – September 8, so soon! – so I wonder if they will really have time to re-design the trainings to reflect the new system, or whether the temptation to repeat what has been done in the past and somehow say that it fits into the new system will be too great. At any rate I got my wish (from last year) to be involved in training, and since training will be in Azrou, I may get even more involved. The homestay manager asked me to ask my host family if they would host another volunteer – so that was a good indication that I will indeed be replaced, which makes me happy (I told him that they would take only a female, and that she would have a hard time living up to me – luckily he saw that second one with the humor with which I meant it).

The Environment now-second-years were in Rabat for Mid-Service Medicals (wow – I feel as though I was just there for those...). Health had been there last week so when I came in for GAD I met some new people and saw some people I had met long ago. This time I knew more in the group, because they had trained in Azrou (not to mention that six of them are in the area and others come through to see them). I mentioned to one of them that I didn’t have a room yet, and he mentioned that someone was leaving, meaning that there was a vacant bed for the night in our usual hotel; this turned out to be quite lucky, because the other invited volunteers spent hours looking for a hotel after all the usual PCV places turned out to be full. I also walked to the American Club (now I know I can get there on my own!) to meet some of them, but I left the Peace Corps office late and they had been there a while, so I ended up dining alone; that gave me time to read the TDE workshop notes that I had missed from the morning.

On Thursday night, I had sushi with the Administrative Officer and with the trainer (who I had already informational-interviewed about the career path that led to her job as a Regional Training Officer). The sushi was delicious and the conversation interesting. There’s a French restaurant I have always wanted to try (it was closed when Martha and Susan were visiting, or I would have) and I thought I might be alone on Friday, but some other volunteers were in town for medical so we ended up together. One of them needed a place to stay, and the hotel was full, so she stayed in the vacated bed in my room – least I could do, since two days earlier someone had done that for me! I didn’t sleep well the night I had the room to myself anyway.

So we ended up going to Rabat’s new TGIFriday’s; not my choice, but it wasn’t bad to have a quesadilla. The host there is an ex-NFL player and Sherwin spotted him (not that he was hard to spot – he was as wide as the table and as tall as the oversized doorways). Turns out he was an Eagle in the mid-80s, when I was in Philadelphia. I could tell you what the Sixers did then and what the Phillies did then and what the Flyers did then, but could do little but come up with QB Ron Jaworski’s name – however, that was enough to get him to sit and talk with us for a while! He was traded to the Raiders after that and also played in Europe and in Arena Football. We talked about his college and pro career and then his post-NFL work as a bodyguard (lots of celebrity names mentioned) and what ultimately led him to Rabat and TGIFriday’s – that is, he talked, I asked a few questions, and the other people at the table seemed bored, but I found him interesting, and it was a nice change from typical Peace Corps conversation.

If I had known I’d be going to Rabat for three days, I might not have made plans to go away for the weekend, but I didn’t want to renege on a stagemate, especially with time going so quickly – I might not have been able to reschedule! And I am glad I went. First it was Oued Zem, which is on the map but has no comments about it in any of my tour books; it’s Margaret’s site. It’s in a part of the country I hadn’t been to – the plain between Casablanca and the Middle Atlas – a big phosphate and agricultural region. We talked, took a walk around the town (it has a central park with a pond and a hotel, and a medina with goods only for locals, nothing touristy – the artisana is more for training than for working artisans, and she does some teaching there). First-year SBD Olga, her closest volunteer, came over and we made rice-noodle salad and spring rolls – another thing I might be able to add to my repertoire and impress people! I need to get some rice wrappers next time I go to Marjane: you simply fill them with the chopped fresh vegetables of your choice (chicken optional, cilantro essential) – yum!

The next morning, we went out to Boujaad, Olga’s site. She had been to my home for VSN training, so I didn’t feel awkward inviting myself. Her town is in the tour books – it has a lot of koubbas (tombs) and shrines – of a whole family of descendants of the prophet (in most places they are stand-alone, for the founder a town, but these were clustered) and we walked to those and then in the medina. Both Oued Zem and Boujaad were no-frills towns – the real Morocco, not the tourist one. Olga spent her early years in the Ukraine, and over dinner the night before, we asked about Ukranian specialties – for lunch she made a beet salad (beets, prunes, walnuts, garlic and mayonnaise) and (we helped with) latkes. I ate well over the weekend! The bus from Boujaad stopped in Khenifra – Linda met me there and after they told us the next bus was delayed, she walked with me to the taxi stand and waited with me there, so we had a nice chance to chat. However, it was good to get home!

When I was in Marrakesh with Rose last month, while sitting in the café our last morning, I saw a cart pulled by a horse and a donkey. Rose had gone back to the room, but when she returned, the cart came back and I pointed it out to her, but for whatever reason (maybe I was too relaxed?) I didn’t take a picture. Throughout that day we talked about what an odd couple they were and what a shame it was that we didn’t capture it photographically. Well, we left Margaret’s apartment to head for Boujaad and there was a cart pulled by a horse and a donkey! Margaret had never thought anything of it – she reasoned that they just figured out how to accommodate each other. If only it were that simple with humans!

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