NOMET: NOMET (Negros Occidental Mobil Educational Training) is a two weeks training, put on by 27 Peace Corps Volunteers traveling to 4 different cities, for local educators. In two weeks NOMET will train just over 2000 Filipino educators in multiple subjects including differentiation, interactive strategies, word and excel, human trafficking, public speaking, understanding by design, critical thinking, HIV, listening, and more.
It must be a big deal for educators because they don't have many professional development opportunities and getting a certificate from us at the end of the training can be used for promotions and raises. Peace Corps is working in conjunction with DepEd (the department of education), the Filipino government agency who manages and runs all public education in the country.
DepEd and the local high schools where we are putting on the trainings are taking great care of us. They provide vehicles for us to get from one school to another, they feed us amazing food, they set us up in nice classrooms with cots and/or mattresses, bedding, pillows, fans, and sometimes even air con units :-) It really has been a pleasure to have sessions with Filipino educators. Even though they don't typically ask questions, they are very attentive, kind, and grateful for our expertise and efforts in the end. They seem very hungry for anything that may help them improve in their profession. And they all want pictures with the presenters to add to their FaceBook site.
Da Brain: My session is on the human brain. I've been very interested and excited about how the brain works (sometimes without our permission) for a couple of decades now in an effort to best assist the struggling young people I work with in choosing to live more desirable lives. 95% of what we now know about the human brain we have learned in the last decade so my presentation has to do with brain research and how "what we are learning about how the brain works" can relate to education, especially Filipino education.
So I present on the amygdala and emotional hijacking, scatomas, learning on a cellular level (neurons, dendrites, axons, synapse, and neurotransmitters),neuroplasticity, myelination, pruning, changing habits, mirror neurons, and the power of visualization and manifesting. I have lots of stories, video, activities, we juggle, do breathing meditations and the Macarena, I blow an air horn at them to put them in their amygdalae, and yes . . . I tell them Boudreax and Thibideaux jokes. Did you know that the Filipino people have their own Boudreaux and Thibideaux and they call them Juan Talmad and San Jose. So they also love Boo & Thib.
I had actually been asked to present this information to three education clusters in Dumaguete back in November during the Peace Corps training. I was very excited for the opportunity because I had little pieces of information, activities, video, articles, and ideas scattered all over the place. The idea of putting them all together was exciting and it took me about 40 hours to create a four hour PowerPoint presentation that incorporated everything I had.
So having the opportunity to read more research and beef it up and present at NOMET was also exciting. Alana and I actually went to a one-day presentation on the brain in Loveland a few months ago while we were home. I put another 60 hours of work into the PowerPoint and ended up with a 72-slide presentation that would take me approximately five hours to deliver (classic Jacques style . . . way to much).
NOMET sessions are 1.5 hours long and I got them to agree to give me 3 hours, then I cut about 12 slides that weren't pertinent, ran it by some of my peers for helpful feedback, cut and consolidated more, and after presenting it in the first two trainings and cutting it back some more because I could see Filipino eyeballs spinning counterclockwise and on overload, I think it is a pretty good presentation . . . and fun for me to do. It's now down to a sharp 2 hours and 45 minutes if I don't entertain any questions (which isn't difficult in this culture because they don't ask any questions).
Here is one of the stories that I heard from a peer Peace Corps Volunteer. She came to my session then told me that her grandfather used to tell her this story before she raced cross country events to remind her about how powerful the brain is and when we convince it of something (visualization & manifesting) it can do amazing things through us. I looked it up on the internet and added it to my presentation. Fun schtuff!
Loud Drips Can Scare You To Death
by Bill Sones
In 1936, in India, recounts Nobel Laureate Bernard Lown in "The Lost Art of Healing," an astonishing experiment was conducted on a prisoner condemned to die by hanging. He was given the choice instead of being "exsanguinated," or having his blood let out, because this would be gradual and relatively painless. The victim agreed, was strapped to the bed and blindfolded.
Unbeknownst to him, water containers were attached to the four bedposts and drip buckets set up below. Then after light scratches were made on his four extremities, the fake drip brigade began: First rapidly, then slowly, always loudly. "As the dripping of water stopped, the healthy young man's heart stopped also. He was dead, having lost not a drop of blood."
For those of you interested: BrainClass Summary
- The brain can focus on one thing at a time and moves towards it's focus.
- The brain thinks in pictures and doesn't quickly understand "don't."
- The brain is more concerned with survival than with learning. (amygdala)
- The brain can block out what we haven't been trained to see. (scatoma)
- Learning is connecting what we want to know with what we already know.
(the law of association) (relevance)
- Practice makes permanent. It takes 21 days or 2000 times to form a new habit.
(the law of repetition) (myelination) (pruning)
- The brain learns by observation and imitation. (mirror neurons)
- The brain does not know the difference between make believe and reality.
Americans: Let's talk about Americans. It has never been so blatantly obvious to me how funny we are until I joined NOMET. We are hilarious! First, we are big people. To watch 27 Americans walk through a crowd of Filipino people is like watching a herd of horses cut through a field of goats. The average Filipino woman must measure in at about 5 feet. The short American women in NOMET are 5'5" and most of us range between 5'8" and 6'3".
I have a female Peace Corps friend who is a wonderful and beautiful person, is about 5'10", and probably weighs close to 200 pounds. She jogs most mornings, is healthy, bright, strong, and takes good care of herself. I love when she jokingly kisses her arm muscles then growls "aaarrrrgggghh!" and does a Hulk Hogan pose.
The other day at the school's canteen (cafeteria) where we were eating, the 5-gallon water jug needed to be changed. You know, the one that's turned up-side-down in the gravity dispenser. My friend was going to throw a new jug in (about 30 pounds) and the Filipino lady running the canteen (4'10", 90 lbs) insisted that she wait for a Filipino man to do it. Well this guy shows up and he is 5'5" and all of about 135 pounds. My friend could have crushed him. So we laughed and let him do it.
Not only are we big people, we take up a lot of space. I have been watching Filipino people travel; they usually have one small bag. Americans have huge overstuffed backpacks, a carry on backpack, a computer bag with books and electronics, and many of us also have plastic bags stuffed with nonsense we got from the local markets or stores. We (yes, me too) are collectors.
The first training site we traveled to we put all 27 of us, and our luggage, in two 12-passenger vans. Now you can get something like 42 Filipino people in two vans like these. We were so stuffed in there I couldn't move an inch and my knees were slammed into the seat ahead of me. The hot two-hour ride on bumpy poor maintained roads with tons of traffic and road construction nearly killed me. After that, we have been using three vans, one just for our luggage.
On the four-hour ride from our first training site to our second training site, that we started after the closing ceremony of our first training, at 7pm, we stopped midway to eat at McDonalds. You would have thought we went to Disney World. A huge group of Americans coming into McDonalds all giddy and chatty and anxious to eat "real American food."
The principal of the school we were headed to drove two hours to meet us at McDonalds and feed us. She paid for everything. She could have easily took us to a local canteen and fed 30 people (there were three van drivers) for about PhP 2500 (PhP is a peso) ($50). Instead, her bill was PhP 4000 ($80). In the Philippines, PhP 1500 is a lot of money! Very thoughtful and kind of her. Filipino people are amazingly gracious hosts.
When I went to sit down in the middle of the restaurant one of my peers told me that we were occupying one of the private side rooms, probably so we wouldn't scare the locals. After we destroyed that room with french fries boxes and empty coke cups, most everyone disappeared. When I inquired where people were someone said, "Oh, they are just outside the room sitting in the comfy booths now." 27 Americans were now taking up about 1000 square feet of McDonalds space. We take up a lot of space.
We eat a lot. I think Filipino people are very used to eating what is available, making sure everyone gets some, and being satisfied with that. During meals they take very little and not many go back for seconds. I can't tell you how many times I have heard "is there any more coming?" from my American peers since I've joined this teaching troupe. Or the first 20 of us would come away with all the food served and the ladies in the canteen would cook some more for the latecomers. You cannot fill us up! If they served enough food then we were looking for to-go boxes so we could eat the rest later.
We laugh. Filipino people are very conservative. Because they are such happy people they generally giggle a lot, and are fairly quiet about it. When Americans laugh Filipino people look over to make sure everything is alright and they aren't going to have to use the new AED just introduced to their school. Of course we laugh a lot more when we are with a bunch of other Americans and I rarely understand what my peers are laughing about.
Speaking of that, I seem to be the old man in the group. It's cool. My "peer's" ages range from 22-27 years old. When they asked me how old I was it took everything I had to hold back telling them I could be all of their fathers. Instead, I told them, "I decided on a hike in the wilderness two years ago that if people can change their address, and people can change their names, and people can even change their genders these days, I was going to change my age. So I cut ten years off and now am 37 years old." They looked at me like dogs listening to an ambulance coming down the road and are satisfied with that answer.
We have an amazing amount of technology available to us. I am using my mother's computer that we got for her in 2005. It is an old, beat up, white covered, macbook. One gentleman that was helping me set up my room for one of my presentations looked at it and said, "Very expensive." When I told him that it was old (it looks old and beat up) and a cheaper model he said, "Very expensive."
We were riding to our third training site the other night and I was in a jeepney with 13 other volunteers. Half way through the ride I noticed that there were 6 computers out, 3 iPods, one IPhone, one iPad, and 10 people had ear phones in. People were listening to music, watching movies, reading the Wall Street Journal they had downloaded earlier, and playing games.
We are often disconnected from each other and each in our own little world. When we get to new classrooms where we will sleep during a training there is a mad dash to get the bed nearest the few electrical outlets provided for us. A common question asked is, "Is there WiFi here?" We are experiencing a long brown-out (break in available electricity) today and there is a joke among us that we caused the power outage. Americans are bored, playing Bananagrams and Deck Monopoly, and very few of us are thinking, "I could read!"
I really never noticed how funny (funny peculiar, not funny ha ha) Americans were until I spent quality time with a group of us traveling together in a foreign country. No wonder Filipinos stare!
Lawyer Up: During the 10 years I worked at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado, I heard the Dean of Students Philbert Smith say many times, "(Student's Name) broke (insert rule here). Gather your lawyers because I'm sending him home." Philbert is a wise man and he came to expect that even though a student broke a "non-negotiable" rule that warranted his or her removal from the school, there would be students and instructors protesting and coming to the rescue with their lawyer crafted arguments in an effort to change the course of Philbert's decision.
On the four hour ride from our first to our second training site, I was working on paring down my presentation even more. At the same time there was passionate conversation going on in our van that I wasn't paying attention to. Then my friend sitting next to me asked, "Do you want to add your name to the signing of this letter?" "What letter?"
We have only two non-negotiables in the Peace Corps. First, no riding on motorcycles. I guess Peace Corps over the decades has experienced too many volunteer deaths involving riding on motorcycles so they have banned us from using them. I don't blame them because riding in traffic on the roads here, even with experienced Filipino drivers, is harrowing at the least. Probably around 30% of Filipino men make their living as professional drivers and it is a highly skilled job to drive these crazy Filipino roads.
Stella is one of our regional managers and has a reputation for being crafty in how she finds out about volunteers breaking rules and ruthless in her consequences. She reminds me of a Filipino Columbo. She has sent 5 people home in the last 6 months for riding motorcycles. She doesn't actually see them riding, yet she sees the burn mark on their calves from the muffler and the volunteer cannot come up with a good enough story when she catches them off guard and confronts them about it.
The second non-negotiable is that our regional manager must know where we spend the night EVERY night. It is a safety and security concern and I believe a good one. So, Jenny (name was changed to protect the innocent) apparently was headed to Bacolod and didn't make it and stopped to stay with another PC volunteer and forgot to call Stella and then lied about it when Stella confronted her. Jenny is a good volunteer; nice, friendly, hard working, and doesn't have intentions of breaking rules.
Back to the letter. So my friend starts reading it to me because it is getting passed around email and someone has it on their iPhone. Apparently people in the Peer Support Network started writing it that morning and volunteers started emailing it to each other all over the country to get signature support so they could get it in the Country Director's hands before the 7am meeting the next morning that would determine Jenny's fate.
The first part of the letter I liked because it talked about the danger of non-negotiables and asked for cases to be handled on an individual basis. Then it got into Jenny's situation and read "She didn't have any load on her phone to text Stella and was out of pesos." I asked if she ate dinner that night. Could she have texted Stella from her volunteer friend's phone? Was she was traveling, taking busses and boats, and feeding herself, with no money? Two members of the Peer Support Network were riding with us and one of them responded, "I guess we could change that."
Then it went on to explain how she lied to Stella because she was scared of her and of going home. I asked what part of the situation Jenny was willing to take responsibility for? The response, after a bit of silence, was, "I guess we could change that too." We did that a few more times with the next few statements about Jenny's situation and by the end three people in our van said, "I'd like to take my name off of the letter to (Country Director)."
Personally, I like the way the Peace Corps Philippines staff manage their volunteers. The staff is about 90% Filipino and their characteristics, values, and work ethics are more like Americans. They work very hard for our safety, comfort, and success. Peace Corps Philippines been at it for 50 years now. Most of the staff have a lot of education, have been working with PCPhilippines for between 5 and 20 years, and seem to me to be wise, skilled, and competent. And I think I'm going to miss Jenny.