Peace Corps dream: Lindsey Hall serves as a literacy specialist in Uganda

READING TEACHER: Lindsey Hall, a Big Rapids High School graduate, is now a Peace Corps volunteer in Aura in northwestern Uganda. She works with students to help them develop reading skills. (Courtesy photo)

READING TEACHER: Lindsey Hall, a Big Rapids High School graduate, is now a Peace Corps volunteer in Aura in northwestern Uganda. She works with students to help them develop reading skills. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Lindsey Hall lives in a two-room building without electricity or running water, and it’s part of a dream she’s had since she was a child. Hall is a Peace Corps volunteer in Arua, a town in northwestern Uganda.

“I remember being 12, when we started having internet access, looking at the website and seeing the different places you could go and things you could do,” she said. “The Peace Corps was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to do it at a time I felt I had skills to contribute to the community I would be placed with.”

After graduating from Big Rapids High School, Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Hope College. She then worked with Teach For America, a part of Americorps, and taught special education in Denver for five years.

After earning her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado-Denver, Hall felt she had the talents necessary to make a difference in the Peace Corps, an independent federal government agency designed to promote world peace and friendship.

READING TEACHER: Part of Lindsey Hall's duties include working with Primary 4 (roughly equivalent to fourth grade) students. Pictured, she conducts a reading comprehension exercise with a classroom. (Courtesy photo)

READING TEACHER: Part of Lindsey Hall’s duties include working with Primary 4 (roughly equivalent to fourth grade) students. Pictured, she conducts a reading comprehension exercise with a classroom. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve always wanted to see the world and particularly to see parts of the world that are not as commonly seen by most people,” she said. “I’ve wanted to do work in developing countries in a way that was sustainable and meaningful.”

The Peace Corps accepts volunteers who are at least 18 years old and can make a commitment to live and work abroad for 27 months — two years of service, preceded by three months of training. For a month, Hall lived with a family about 45 minutes from her present home to learn the language and culture of the Arua region.

“You go to language classes during the day and you stay with your family at night,” Hall said. “It’s immersion learning, where you learn the cultural do’s and don’ts and how to say things.”

After the month-long stay, potential volunteers undergo a verbal exam to determine their language proficiency. For Hall, it means being able to speak and understand Lugbara, a language spoken in that part of Uganda, but mostly in Congo and the Sudan, she said.

Hall works as a literacy specialist, supporting the efforts of both practicing teachers at Arua Demonstration School, a primary school, or elementary school, and teachers in training at the teachers’ college adjacent to the primary school.

“My role at the primary school is to help improve the teaching performance of the teachers,” Hall said. “I run workshops around reading — how to teach reading and methods that can be used in the classroom to be more efficient.”

Primary school classrooms often have more than 100 students for each classroom teacher. Resources are limited and teachers often have only chalk and the chalkboard at the front of the room to provide instruction for dozens of pupils.

“I try to give them more engaging teaching strategies they can use,” Hall explained. “A lot of the schooling is based on call and response and rote memorization methods. I’m trying to work with the teachers to introduce and implement new techniques. For example, using song and using movement.”

TEACHING TEACHERS: Lindsey Hall, as a Peace Corps literacy specialist, conducts workshops for practicing teachers and teachers in training about integrating more engaging teaching practices and ways to create teaching materials to supplement lessons, including "posters" of the alphabet on the sides of grain sacks, which last longer than paper. The posters are then used to help students practice letter recognition and sounds. (Courtesy photo)

TEACHING TEACHERS: Lindsey Hall, as a Peace Corps literacy specialist, conducts workshops for practicing teachers and teachers in training about integrating more engaging teaching practices and ways to create teaching materials to supplement lessons, including “posters” of the alphabet on the sides of grain sacks, which last longer than paper. The posters are then used to help students practice letter recognition and sounds. (Courtesy photo)

In addition to working with teachers, Hall works directly with a group of students in P4, or Primary 4, a grade level similar to fourth grade in this country. She team-teaches and works with Anguko Anet, a Ugandan teacher.

Hall tries to help the students gain as much reading ability as possible. She provides reading intervention for a group of 46 students.

“These are the pupils we believe can make the most progress in their reading skills,” she said. “I work with them about three times a week for about 45 minutes each time.”

She works with P4 students because in P1 through P3, instruction is provided in Lugbara with a little bit of English taught as a subject during the day. At P4, instruction switches nearly completely to English.

Next year, Hall hopes to work with younger students, strategically working on English skills before the pupils reach P4 and need to be more proficient.

Additionally, Hall also is working to develop a student library at the primary school.

The school day begins at 8 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m., with a break from 1 to 2:30 p.m. for lunch. It’s a longer lunch period because many students need to walk home to eat their midday meal as parents can’t afford to buy the lunch available at school, Hall said. By 4 p.m., many formal lessons are finished, however, and students utilize the remaining hour by reading books in the library.

“Pupils come after school to read books,” she said. “They can’t check them out because we haven’t figured out a good system to do that. Without a computer or something, it’s difficult because of how many students are there at one time. About 150 pupils a day read in the library for an hour or hour and a half — sometimes longer.”

READING TIME: Lindsey Hall is pictured in the Arua Demonstration School Pupil Library, which she is working to improve. More than 100 students will visit the library each school day to read for an hour or more. (Courtesy photo)

READING TIME: Lindsey Hall is pictured in the Arua Demonstration School Pupil Library, which she is working to improve. More than 100 students will visit the library each school day to read for an hour or more. (Courtesy photo)

Through the Book by Book Literacy Program, Hall and other Peace Corps volunteers are trying to raise money online to ship donated children’s books to Uganda. Twenty schools will each receive 1,000 books, including the primary school where Hall works. The website for the Book by Book Literacy Project to benefit the school in Arua is booksforafrica.org/donate/to-project.html?projectId=183.

Throughout her first year in Arua, Hall said she’s learned a lot through trial and error when it comes to her instructional skills, but she’s also learned a lot about herself and where she wants to go next.

“I have time to analyze my feelings about specific situations,” she said. “I have a better idea what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are.

“After a year, I’ve learned a lot, but there’s a lot I realize I still don’t know.”

Hall still has a second year to finish in her Peace Corps assignment in Arua. After that, she’s not sure what she’ll do next. She knows she’s interested in educational systems in developing countries and wants to see other parts of the world. She’s considering graduate school, but hasn’t made any decisions yet.

For the remainder of her visit home, Hall will speak to area high school students about her experiences in the Peace Corps.

“I definitely want to offer students a window into the different options they could explore in the future,” she said. “There’s a whole wide world out there. Sometimes, growing up in Big Rapids, I didn’t always feel that or see a global opportunity.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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