2009.05.10: May 10, 2009: Headlines: COS - Mozambique: Times Herald-Record: Peace Corps Volunteer James W. Kostenblatt is making a difference in Mozambique

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mozambique: Peace Corps Mozambique : Peace Corps Mozambique: Newest Stories: 2009.05.10: May 10, 2009: Headlines: COS - Mozambique: Times Herald-Record: Peace Corps Volunteer James W. Kostenblatt is making a difference in Mozambique

By Admin1 (admin) (141.157.40.112) on Saturday, May 23, 2009 - 5:03 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer James W. Kostenblatt is making a difference in Mozambique

Peace Corps Volunteer James W. Kostenblatt is making a difference in Mozambique

"(The students) wanted an English club, so I helped them do it. They wanted a drama club, so I helped them do it. And they wanted to try to make a film, so we did," said Kostenblatt. "I learned Portuguese. I learned to survive on xima (corn meal), beans, pumpkin and cassava leaves. I learned the value of rain ... of sunlight, and the danger of too much of it. I learned the value of anything written. I learned generosity." Such generosity led the mother of one of Kostenblatt's former students, Benedito Afonso, to invite him for a two-week stay in their home last year. "She killed chickens, goats, bought fish, rice ... she sacrificed so much just to have me stay at her home," said Kostenblatt of the woman, void of earthly treasure, enriched with a giving heart. "She washed my clothes while Benedito, his classmates and I worked on a short film we were making for the community."

Peace Corps Volunteer James W. Kostenblatt is making a difference in Mozambique

Making a difference in Mozambique

Peace Corps stint vitalizes NFA grad

By Carmen Ramos
Times Herald-Record

Posted: May 10, 2009 - 6:00 AM

Caption: Fourth-grade student Coby Spearman, front center, and his classmates listen to the call from Mozambique. Photo provided

NEW WINDSOR Today, in Chibabava, Mozambique, more than 900 teens are fortunate to have a greater familiarity with the English language, the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention, and the peace America can bring about, even during times of war.

The privilege is even greater for New Windsor resident James W. Kostenblatt, whose recent mission there as a member of the Peace Corps made it all possible.

"Few people know about the Peace Corps in this area. I don't know how that's possible. Everyone knows about the military, and yet no one knows that there's an opportunity for Americans to serve our country to promote peace and understanding," said Kostenblatt. "We've got to spread the word."

Negative image

What Mozambicans read in newspaper and magazine articles and see on TV generates the idea that America is all about war and killing.

"They think of the U.S. as gangsters. They can't imagine poverty in the U.S. We need to show people that's not who we are. We're not about walking into a country and starting a war. We can teach. We can build hospitals. We can build schools," said Kostenblatt. "We invest a lot in war, and to serve our country is great, but so is serving it for peace."

Kostenblatt's optimism comes as no surprise. He fell for the Corps as early as his high school years, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made joining even more significant.

In 2003, the Newburgh Free Academy graduate received a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations from Boston University. Two years later he was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and assigned to the Ministry of Education during his service in Mozambique.

By 2008, Kostenblatt had educated more than 900 high school students in English, prepared them for national exams and incorporated HIV/AIDS content into his lessons.

Two-way learning

Even out of the classroom, students learned from their teacher and a teacher learned from his students.

"(The students) wanted an English club, so I helped them do it. They wanted a drama club, so I helped them do it. And they wanted to try to make a film, so we did," said Kostenblatt.

"I learned Portuguese. I learned to survive on xima (corn meal), beans, pumpkin and cassava leaves. I learned the value of rain ... of sunlight, and the danger of too much of it. I learned the value of anything written. I learned generosity."

Such generosity led the mother of one of Kostenblatt's former students, Benedito Afonso, to invite him for a two-week stay in their home last year.

"She killed chickens, goats, bought fish, rice ... she sacrificed so much just to have me stay at her home," said Kostenblatt of the woman, void of earthly treasure, enriched with a giving heart. "She washed my clothes while Benedito, his classmates and I worked on a short film we were making for the community."

Donations from Newburgh

That same generosity existed back home and drew donations from fourth-grade students and staff at Temple Hill Academy in Newburgh.

"If we give you pencils and toys," the Temple Hill students asked during one of Kostenblatt's presentations, "can you get them to the kids in Mozambique?" Kostenblatt's family had already showered the students of Mozambique with supplies during their visit to Africa in 2006.

"This is the hope that our country needs," Kostenblatt said. "Our economy is crashing, people are losing jobs, but there is still something in us. Once we're aware of a problem, that brings us together to solve it."

Hourlong presentation

Keeping Mozambique close to his heart while planting seeds of hope among Americans remains Kostenblatt's objective. He has pieced together a presentation based on his mission, about one hour long, that consists of a video he made in Africa and slides. Add his emotions to the mix, and the testimonials come alive.

"James Kostenblatt has inspired our students in ways we could not," said Fran Weller, a fourth-grade teacher at Temple Hill Academy. "He brought a reality of the value of education to them, and I truly believe that he will make a difference in many lives."

"His enthusiasm and willingness to open himself to new areas in order to see his students succeed and reach their goals awed us all," said Tracy Lopez, historian for Sigma Tau, following Kostenblatt's recent visit to Mount Saint Mary College. "When he was done, we all wanted to join the Peace Corps."

Kostenblatt and his former students initiated a variety of clubs, organized musical and theatrical presentations, and participated in contests and athletic competitions. In each of the three years they collaborated, the students won first place in a Provincial Theatre competition, beating 18 other schools, including universities. The group also collaborated on Wake Up!, an English-language newspaper published weekly.

"I know what I hoped that they learned, but rarely does a teacher realize the impact he or she has made on the students," said Kostenblatt. "Does my high school math teacher know that I try to emulate his laid-back teaching style when I'm in a classroom? Does my high school music teacher realize how much she helped me build my self-confidence? I'm sure that they have no idea."

A Peace Corps recruiter

Kostenblatt's mission as a Peace Corps volunteer may have ended, but his work with the Peace Corps and in Mozambique is far from finished. Next month he makes his move to Boston, where he will work as a recruiter for the Peace Corps. On a more personal level, he stays in touch with former students in Mozambique, Abu Jose Antonio and Benedito Afonso, who have become like brothers to him.

"I'm going to get better filming equipment and go back and make a short film there, with my former students. They're writing the screenplay at this moment, and they'll send it to me through the current Peace Corps volunteer there. I hope to shoot it next summer.

"I am so grateful to have had this experience. It's allowed me to see some tough situations, but it has also allowed me to see so much good. I'm a lot more independent than I thought I was. I'm a lot more weak than I thought I was.

"I went to Mozambique naive and idealistic, and I've come back less naive, but just as idealistic. If I can make a small difference, imagine what all of us can do."

To request a presentation, e-mail james.kostenblatt@gmail.com. Information about the Peace Corps can be obtained at www.peacecorps.gov or 800-424-8580.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: May, 2009; Peace Corps Mozambique; Directory of Mozambique RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Mozambique RPCVs





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Story Source: Times Herald-Record

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mozambique

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By Benedito Afonso (197.249.79.186) on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 3:54 am: Edit Post

Thank you teacher James W. Kostenblatt for your incredible patience. You will always remain in our hearts!

Benedito Afonso


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