viernes, 24 de febrero de 2012

A day in the life

The other day I'm sitting outside my house in Guatemala and three guys from Italy dressed up as clowns casually stop by to borrow a can opener.  How did I end up in this world? :P However it happened, I'm glad I'm here. 

                The last couple weeks were really good.  I feel like everyday gets a little bit better with routine and communication and feeling more comfortable.  I can’t believe we’ve been here for almost 2 months now.   In the class the kids are learning about the family, different parts of nature, basic spatial math stuff, and language/writing.  Last week we had some special days that were fun and out of the norm.  The first was on Sunday with a huge activity called Kermes.  With these the volunteers organize and facilitate a campus wide activity for 2ish hours.  We do this every 2 months.  This time we had a huge scavenger hunt and everyone in each group was tied together through their belt loops which was a bit comical.  I worked with my kids with special needs.  At the end the grand prize was a bon fire with marsh mellows and this yummy German bread thing.  It was fun, although a bit tiring. Then the 14th of course was Día del Cariño.  Every class decorated their rooms and people shared cards and gifts.  We had mass mid morning as well.  Later that night all the tíos and tías had a fiesta with good food and a gift exchange and music.  It was nice, but to be honest for a minute here, I crawl into bed well before nine, so I didn’t stay for too long.  The second holiday was on that Friday.  It’s called Carnaval and I had never heard of it before now.  All the kids get really into.  There’re elaborate costumes, decorations, dance competitions, and a chance to hit people over the head with eggs (don’t ask me…).  Although we didn’t do this last part at the school because its messy, it’s customary during Carnaval to decorate egg shells and fill them with confetti and then smash them over the heads of other people.  Sounds fun, I’d give it a whirl.

Here’s a few pic of my kiddos in costumes J

This week that I just finished up has been really good.  I feel like we’re finally getting into a routine and the other teacher and I are learning how to work together.  We always start the day with a prayer that the kids trade off (and its even super great with the kids who are nonverbal, I love it).  Every day at the end of class we award the star stickers like an award where each kid walks to the front of the class and we applaud them.  I really like these things because the kids are learning to step out in front of a group of people and to be proud of themselves.  This week has also been really good because we started some different classes like music and physical education.  They absolutely love it, and I know I appreciate a change in pace as well.  I’m taking it on as a personal goal to hunt down some of these specialty teachers to see if they have space for us in their schedules.  My next mission – the religions teacher.

Up until this point, I’ve been arriving at class in the mornings, helping out throughout the day, heading off to my workshop, and repeating.  I’ve been a bit out of the loop on exactly what we’re going to learn in class and the curriculum and all the jazz.  Fortunately through a couple meetings with the volunteer coordinator and my supervisors, this was addressed and we decided that I would play more of a teacher role than a teacher assistant role.  That means I will have 3-4 hours a week to work with the teacher on planning classes.  I’m really excited about this and having a chance to come up with ideas and have a bit more structure in my mind of what we’re going to do day to day.  Our kids are all on very different levels and it doesn’t make sense to be teaching the same things to everyone.  Some kids will get very bored because they already know the material, and others will need to slow down.  The kids are actually split up into three different grades needing three different curriculums.  Now that there’re two of us, we can plan out these different curriculums and though maybe we’ll work on the same subject, like math, everyone will have their own work that meets them at their level.  Sounds good to me!  I will be working more closely with three kids who are in the middle level.  I see a lot of potential for them and they’re so great.

Also once a week the teacher and I, along with whoever else works with the kids with special needs, goes to a class or work shop about different disabilities.  I’ve really enjoyed it so far and it’s so applicable.  We’ve talked about autism and Down syndrome mostly and the best methods of teaching and managing behavior.  It’s fascinating, and also I love learning about these topics in another country with a different perspective.

                My occupational workshop in the afternoons has been going well too.  We’ve done some more artsy craftsy things and we planted baby trees one day.  I think the kids are really enjoying it although some more than others.  I’ve started having a weekly 10 minute meeting with the tíos to talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and any new ideas.  One lady in particular had a lot of really cool ideas I’d like to try.  Every Monday-ish I’m going to put up a new schedule of the afternoon activities.  This coming week I’m thinking… maybe… making hand puppets, paper mashay (I’m going with phonetics here because I have no idea how you spell it) balloons/piñatas, and nature painting like with fruit and such.  I love how every day can be different.

My section of boys who are 12-14 years old is good.  I’m still getting to know them and even took everyone’s individual picture to help me remember names.  A lot of time we’ll play uno or another card games.

I had my first family project last week, if I remember correctly.  I really like this idea a lot.  Kids with brothers or sisters get to do something fun together, just them, and a volunteer.  It’s pretty open as to what we can do.  Many people take their kids into town to buy ice cream and play games in the park.  My first project was with two adorable little boys who were maybe two or three?  We ate ice cream, colored, read books.  They were just too cute.  In March I have a project with some of my kids with special needs.  I know them and love them so I’m really excited.  And then I have a project with some older boys I’ve never met.  I hope it goes well.

Last weekend was probably the best weekend I’ve had here in Guatemala.  A huge group of us volunteers went to soak up some sun in Monterrico Guatemala.  I’ve always thought of myself as more of a mountain person, but being on the beach and watching powerful waves rolling in and not having a care in the world started making me reconsider.  It was the perfect weekend of relaxing.  All the food was really good and cheap, especially the sea food.  Everyone was really nice and no one was in a rush to get anyway.  This picture pretty much sums it up.

 and some more pics

sábado, 11 de febrero de 2012


So, Camp Courageous of Iowa will be starting their winter season with campers really soon.  I can’t help but really miss it (ahem, and of course you friends and family…)  and I remember those good days of being a counselor for 2 short seasons.  I know, I know, I’m in Guatemala!  On a crazy adventure!  But to be honest I usually think ten times a week “I wish I could take my kids to camp.”  Everyone of them.  I learned so much there about working with people with disabilities, the importance of humor and flexibility, and I think more than anything about empowerment.  I think to myself “what is it that made me fall in love with camp and this work?”  And in the midst of many things, it’s the empowerment that comes with accomplishing something hard, it’s the overcoming  of obstacles when most people think you can’t, and it’s surprising yourself with what you’re capable of.  Although here we don’t have caves to army crawl through to overcome our fears of bats and small spaces, and we don’t have zip lines to overcome our fear of heights, and we don’t have a karaoke machine to get over our fears of public speaking/singing, empowerment is still possible.  My new bell at the top of the tree climb is learning to spell your name.  And If you can learn to tie your shoes we’re going to celebrate.  So thank you Camp Courageous for teaching me so much and best of luck to everyone there 2012.
This week/week.5 is similar to last week in that it had a lot of ups and downs.  I started the position at the school with the integrated class.  The teacher I’m working with is a really sweet young grandma who is very gentle and has goals for the kids to learn.  There’re eight kids in the class and they range from 7-8 to 16ish years old.  Their ability levels range quite a bit as well.  I’m hoping with the two of us we’ll be able to give each kid enough individual attention to improve and learn at their own level.  In our class we have some kids who are pretty diligent and precise with their work, some kids who are mischievous and curious but have a great capacity to learn, and some kids who just love being at school and want to show you everything they’ve done.   To be honest, it has been a rough start.  For one we’ve only just received the supplies we need for the year Thursday and Friday.  This means that the lessons and worksheets have been a bit limited so far.  Second there’re a couple students who are really not into the going-to-school-thing, especially one older student who influences the rest of the group.  However we’re hoping things will get better.  We now have more supplies and the particular older student might be starting a class for carpentry instead of all of his time in the classroom.

Wednesday was a particularly hard day, because the teacher had to go to a meeting that lasted close to 3 hours and the students really tried to take advantage of the fact that I’m new and that I’m not fluent in Spanish.  This day had me guarding the door, the teacher’s desk, and all the classroom supplies.  Everyone was trying to get into everything and it was very hard.  Various therapists and passerbyers would stay in the classroom with me for a bit to help me manage the chaos.  It was rough.

I prayed a lot this week.  I had discussions with the teacher about discipline and rewards and our system.  Thursday was a much much much better day.  The teacher had to go to another meeting for about 1.5 hours.  This time the aforementioned older student wasn’t at class. Wow.  We did our work, I taught them about numbers, we sang “head, shoulders, knees, and toes”, and we had a problem free recess.  It was amazing.  And when there was the occasional behavior issue, I was able to explain what we needed to do and what the consequences were, and ta-da, it was magic.  Overall After this week, I know that this is going to be a hard position, but it will be good.  I know the kids have so much potential, I know I will need a lot of patience and inner strength, and I know that persevering and sticking it through to hit that bell at the top will be all the more worth it.

By the way, if there’re any special education teachers out there who want to give me any pointers – I’m all ears!

In the afternoons we have started the occupational workshop.  Now that I know what it looks like, I think I will enjoy it a lot and I’m excited at the chance to be a bit creative and do something fun and educational with the kids with special needs.  Because of our limited resources etc. many of the kids with special needs don’t go to school and spend their time at home while the tíos are doing all the chores and what have you.  The special education coordinator, who’s really great and enthusiastic, created this workshop so the kids could be engaged and learning something, and also have fun (I think).  So far we’ve made necklaces and bracelets with beads (fine motor skills), finger painted, and made creations with pipe cleaners.  Next week we’re going to plant seeds and I’d like to do an afternoon preparing food and another day learning how to tie shoes/buttons etc.    My job is to organized and facilitate the activities with the tíos, tías and kids.  (If you’re a camp person, it’d be like a rec specialist almost).  Every Wednesday we also have horseback riding therapy.  This is really great and everyone looks forward to it.  The horse place is about a 30 minute walk.  With the trip there and back and a few hours of riding, it’s a fantastic afternoon.  Here’re some photos of the horse therapy and our fun with pipe cleaners. 
Me and Francisca
La bonita Delmi

I have also decided on which section I’m going to accompany.  This means that I’ll have dinner and hang out with this section a couple nights a week.  I chose to hang out with the section called Santiago which is boys between the ages of 12-14.  This group is very different from the section with special needs and I think I’ll enjoy the variety.  I enjoyed my time with them so far.  We just talked and played cards and tried to see who could eat the most straight up lime without making a sour face.  I’m excited to get to know them.

I’ve also started to teach an English class on Wednesday nights with the años de servicio and tíos.  Although at the end of the day I feel so tired, I always have a great time with this class.  I don’t prepare anything, we just talk.  We go to the library which is empty and has couches.  Last time I brought the coffee maker and Charlotte from the states came too.  This past week we told ghost stories and just to let you know, telling stories and listening to stories is a great way to improve whatever language you’re learning.  This class is a bit challenging because everyone is on a different level.  I hope we get into a good groove.  I feel like this is such a great way to get to know more people and have a good time.  Some of them also know an indigenous Mayan language and it’s so interesting learning about that too.  I like it J

Apart from NPH I’ve been enjoying my free time with the other volunteers.  Last weekend a group of us went to Chichicastenango (Chichi for short) which is a town that has a large indigenous population and a huge market with lots of cool stuff.  We stayed in a hotel/hostel sort of place on Saturday night.  It was so nice just to get away for a bit.  There’s a well known cemetery there where all the tombs are bright colors.  We learned the Mayan perception of death is more along the lines of a person completing their mission on earth.  It’s a time to be grateful. 

Also there was this building by the market with history painted on the walls.   It told the story of the Mayans and Chichicastenango.

Popul Vuh is the Mayan creation story.  The story has a lot of similarities to the creation story in the Bible. I remember reading parts of it in one of my classes.  It was really interesting.

And of course, I’ve enjoyed escaping into the world of Harry Potter whenever I get a chance.  I’m about a 3rd of the way through El prisionero de Azkaban.  I’m so excited to have nerdy conversations with people and learn some new vocab.

Life has continued to be full here.  It’s been full of lots of challenges, and lots of good things.  And on this beautiful Saturday, lots of rest.