Hello! I’m Monica Pacanins. I’m originally from Venezuela but I grew up in a smallish town in Alabama, mostly in the Latin American community centered around the Catholic Church. Due to my multicultural upbringing understanding cultural differences came easily to me later in life. When I got to university and discovered Anthropology, I fell in love. I didn’t know exactly what I would do career-wise, but I had three goals:
1) To continuously challenge myself as much as possible. To always be growing.
2) To really understand people, how they live, and how they see the world. To attain the deepest level of empathy possible.
3) To do whatever I can to make life better, in whatever capacity, for people anywhere - Especially children.
Since graduating in 2012, I have done pretty much that (the first two at least) and often ended up in the field of education. After completing an Indigenous studies course and farm work in Australia and a 5-month self- supported, community service-themed bike tour across the U.S., I was ready to leave the familiarity and comfort of the West.
I taught in northeast China and then made my way through Southeast Asia. Later in Arizona, I worked group foster homes with students who had learning disabilities and taught English in a refugee center. The most difficult, yet most rewarding experience has been the opportunity to live and work in a very conservative, Muslim city in Palestine. I worked in an English center with mostly high school and university students. I was so moved by how welcoming and passionate the students were and how eager they were to learn and practice English. We often had group discussions allowing students to develop and express their thoughts and ideas. I know its cliché, but I really think I learned more from them than they did from me.
After my most recent job in southwest China, I was pretty comfortable with teaching and ready to challenge myself again. I knew that living somewhere in Africa, specifically in a rural environment, was something I still needed to experience. I also wanted to be doing something productive while learning and developing new skills related to education or development. I came across the Implementation Internship with Impact Network and knew it would be perfect. I knew this was exactly what I wanted and what to expect when I arrived in Zambia, yet I was still pretty shocked. It’s one thing to know about something from pictures and facts, but it’s another thing to see it all as it is and feel it. The first afternoon/evening here started with a bicycle-taxi ride into the village, I went back and forth between “Wow this is amazing!” and “What have I gotten myself into?” This is definitely the most remote and isolated place I have ever been, which is made more difficult by being the only foreigner here at the moment. I went to sleep that first night under the mosquito net with church music echoing from nearby and I had tiny, tiny doubts.
The next day I joined Teselia, a Teacher Supervisor, in her observations at the Joel Village School. Within the first few minutes of the first class I knew that I was in the right place. I couldn’t believe that all of this was happening way out here in rural Zambia; that others have worked and are working hard to make this possible, that in a place with so few resources, so many kids are getting a quality primary education, especially one that exposes them to technology and allows them the chance to use it. I attended 5 classes and in all of them teachers had prepared their lessons well from the curriculum using interactive group work and hands-on activities. The students all participated and stayed focused, which is not easy in the heat. They were completing their writing assignments at the end of class with sweat streaming down their faces, and even I was struggling to stay alert.
One of the highlights of the day for me was during a Grade 2 Social Studies class. The topic was Human and Child Rights. After introducing and discussing the topic, the students were put into groups to do role plays. It was all in the local language, so I didn’t know what was being said, but it was acted out and expressed very well, humorously too. The students were all engaged and laughing together. But my favorite thing of all, was seeing how each class had its own way of supporting and providing positive feedback to the students; like a little clap and chant they all do together when a student answers or demonstrates correctly.
I’m looking forward to contributing whatever I can over the next three months. I’m already so inspired by everyone involved in the organization -- the management, the local teachers and supervisors and especially the students. I’m excited to learn as much as I can about this model and the ongoing projects as well as the problems and ways to work creatively with others to solve them. I hope I can use what I’ll be learning in the future and continue to work in education development around the world.