Before departing for Namibia, I was asked time and time again what my job here would be. While I knew I would be working in the Community Economic Development (CED) sector, I knew nothing beyond that. Literally nothing. Assuming I would be helping with small businesses in one way or another, that’s what I told people – albeit hesitantly.
Peace Corps develops sites before each group arrives and compiles descriptions that Volunteers receive within their first few days of training. Everyone reviews the descriptions and identifies their top choices based on interests and previous experience. Then, we interview with the Program Manager (PM) and explain our choices. At this point I don’t remember exactly what my top picks were, but I remember there being a lot of options that included youth development.
Fast-forward two months later when I moved to my site, and it turns out that my primary project revolves around youth livelihood and entrepreneurship! While it may sound like I work with children or teens, the term ‘youth’ is actually defined in Namibia as anyone 18-35 years old.
I never saw myself as a teacher, but that is now at the top of my job description. I teach at a Community Skills Development Centre (COSDEC), which in an American context, is basically a technical community college. More specifically (and taken directly from my site selection report), COSDEC is a government supported institution with a mandate to provide vocational training skills to out-of-school youth and the general community in order to increase employability and equip trainees with entrepreneurial skills on which they can start their own businesses. And that’s where I gained my new title, Miss Zoe. While teaching is just one of many responsibilities I have at the COSDEC, it’s definitely the one that I least expected.
Over the past few months, I taught a 3-month business management skills course. The course was optional to trainees and without a formal curriculum, so it was a humbling experience to say the least. Five trainees dedicated themselves to attending every week so that they could obtain their certificate at the end of the course, and almost every week I would scramble to plan the lesson and activity. Someone laughed and asked, “Why are you only teaching to five trainees?” But I realized I would much rather teach to five students who were engaged and wanted to get something out of the class than 40 students who could care less. Quality over quantity, as they say.
Not to mention I get pretty bad anxiety when it comes to public speaking, so starting with a small group benefited my learning experience as well. Because that’s what it was: a learning experience. For them, and for me. I learned about lesson planning, effective ice breakers, the best ‘do now’ activities for each topic, the value in homework, simplifying and rephrasing. I learned about these trainees’ future goals and how they planned to use their newly found entrepreneurial skills. I even learned a thing or two about topics like creating a business plan, registering a business in Namibia, and bookkeeping basics. Like my fellow volunteer Laura pointed out, “it’s okay to admit that you don’t know everything”.
I remember teaching my first class for an outreach program here at the center and the topic was marketing. I studied marketing in school and had been working in the industry for a few years prior to volunteering – I thought “this should be easy”. Right? Wrong. I went through the material so quick that I finished in 30 minutes. I spoke so fast that, combined with my accent, I’m pretty sure that not a single person in the room understood what I was trying to say. Turns out that it’s one thing to “know” about business, and another to actually teach it.
And I’ve gained a new appreciation for teachers. Teaching requires a lot of patience, planning and enthusiasm. To teach effectively you must put yourself in the shoes of the students to make sure you’re speaking their language (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally). But when your students understand the content and get excited about it, it’s so rewarding.
The best part of my first teaching experience was receiving a text from one of my students saying: “Um [sic] proud of my certificate, thank u very much Miss Zoe”. While it was just a simple thank you, it meant a lot. I’m looking forward to many more opportunities to practice and improve my teaching skills in the future because, in the end, I’m thankful for a job that pushes me (far) out of my comfort zone and that is helping me to develop skills that are useful beyond my Peace Corps service. If I can inspire even a handful of youth to follow their passion and start their own business in Namibia, I’ll consider my time here a success.