Being a PST Trainer


Reading this week:

  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

This past week I got to travel back down to Chongwe to help train the new intake of RAP Volunteers. Every week during PST they bring down one or two currently serving volunteers in order to help out with training and to give the new PCTs some perspective on how their service will go. I was excited to go down because I always like to have a hand in training the new guys in any job I have, and I was excited to share some of the stuff I learned.

This week was pond staking week. They had briefly learned how to stake a pond the previous week, but this week was all about the hands-on. On Monday, when I showed up to training, the first thing we did was stake ponds. They split into small groups of all PCTs and staked some ponds while I wandered around and offered some pointers. I have staked a pond or two in my day at this point so I had some tips to share. Plus it is always funny to pass on the random stuff our trainers focused on, and in this case I taught more than one person the clove hitch.


On Wednesday they had another practice day at staking, but they switched up locations in order to give them some practice on a new spot. They did fine. This all was in preparation for their big practicum which occurred on Saturday. For this, each PCT was supposed to bring a member of their host family, and then the host family would help them stake the pond. This served to give every PCT a helper (it’s hard to stake a pond by yourself and you ideally have three people) as they staked ponds without the help of other PCTs. More importantly, it also gave the PCTs practice explaining pond staking to someone who had probably never staked a pond before, and also gave their host families a chance to learn about what the PCTs do out there in the field. They have only recently started bringing host families to events like this, and it is a lot of fun to show them the work they are helping to support when the PCTs become full-fledged PCVs.

Saturday went mostly fine. All the ponds were good; they were scored out of 20 but 2 bonus points were available, and of everyone I scored they all got 22/20, except for one PCT who got 21/20 because she had forgotten how to do the evacuation point and just guessed. She guessed mostly correctly. Right at the end of the pond staking it started to rain and we all got soaked, but we got it done.


PCTs during a non-pond-staking training exercise.

During the rest of the training I offered my own perspectives and experiences about what I had seen over the past year. The other major thing I offered during training was my site presentation. Every PCV that comes down to help with training gives a presentation on the work they have done and their site. The PCTs enjoy seeing people’s sites and it gives a lot of ideas about the things they could do and ways to improve their work and their site. My big message, however, was to convey accurate expectations of success. Like all sorts of jobs where you are there to help people out, your productivity in terms of things like ponds staked and fish stocked only partially depends on you; you need to have people willing and eager to do the work. If a lot of people want to build fish ponds you will help build a lot of fish ponds, but if no one wants to build fish ponds despite you getting out there and telling people the Good News of the Gospel of Aquaculture, then you aren’t going to build any fish ponds and that is not your fault!

They understandably tend to send PCVs down to training who have done a lot of aquaculture work, so that gives PCTs the impression that everyone works super hard and does all sorts of things while at site. That’s not always accurate. The first two generations of volunteers at my site couldn’t get anyone to build a fish pond, and they’re digging them now but they were also reminded that I am the last volunteer they are going to get. Success in Peace Corps service can be defined in a lot of ways, but you can’t focus on just easy to measure metrics like square meters of fish ponds started during your service. Just being in the village helps to accomplish goals 2 and 3, learning about your host nation and teaching your host nation about America. So that was my big message and I hoped I conveyed it. That was the biggest lesson I learned during community entry and I just hope these guys don’t have to wait that long to figure it out.