Sometimes, actually that’s an understatement, most of the time I feel like I’m doing nothing work-wise. This last month and a half has been more cancellations, sports days and fiestas than actual class time. After my return from Semana Santa, I really didn’t feel like teaching the hard stuff, so I made my classes participate in “jovencicios” as a way to ease back into the school groove. Jovencicios are ejercicios (exercises) for jovenes (youth) that generally involved them doing an activity and reflecting on the activity in the end and relating it to their lives. Two hours to entertain teenagers, especially after a long break from school, is no east feat. And what I thought was a good idea to keep the youth entertained ended up backfiring.
This is what my life consists of when work is cancelled. I think most people know my dog better than they know me…
For one of my jovencicios I focused on the idea of communication. I placed colored pieces of tape on the backs of each of my students and asked them to organize themselves in groups without talking (the no talking failed miserably). The jovenes were extremely frustrated with my straight-forward directions, but after a little critical thinking were able to separate themselves into groups. At the end I asked the students to reflect on two things; communication and critical thinking. I asked them how they felt about my initial directions and they were quick to say they were confused and didn’t understand, as I knew they would be. I had done this exact exercise in staging in Houston back in September and felt equally confused. I pointed out how even though the directions weren’t detailed, they were able to figure it out and complete the activity. Then came the next question, how were you able to separate the groups when you couldn’t speak? While some of them confessed they had talked and peeked at their colors, many of them had to use hand signals and physical contact to complete the activity. I asked it if was hard and I got the common response of “no.” (shakes head)
After came the inevitable ‘how does this relate to life’ questions, and only crickets could be heard. Despite my prompting with other questions (‘What happens when we lack something communication wise?’, ’What if we don’t have the answers to our questions?’, ‘What if we aren’t quite sure how to get to end goal because there directions aren’t clear?’) the critical thinking fell short and I lost many of my students to whispered chistes of their fellow classmates. thankful, sometimes my charlas make me reflect on the very same questions I’m teaching to them, turning it into a bit of an inception moment, and my frustration levels lowered as we moved onto the next activity.
Because the last volunteer had a lot of struggles with this school, I decided to start them all off on the same level of charlas and activities, so I repeated the jovencicios with the second year students. Two things happened during this class: 1. The good part was that the students were able to connect the purpose of the activity to life experiences. To say I was ecstatic was an understatement. It was a little win, but in the grand scheme of my work it was a major accomplishment. Unfortunately this didn’t last long. 2. The bad. During my charla I had two students walk out. Without any sort of notice, they collected their belongings and left the school grounds. And this where I get frustrated.
One day at school I let a group of girls from the primaria classes play with my hair during recess. This is typically what happens when I wear my hair down. They told me it felt like a doll’s hair!!
Just a month prior one of the two students had shared with me his intentions of dropping out of school and heading to the states. He first questioned me about what it’s like living in the states, and if there is desert there. Then he asked about our current president and the Visa process. Finally, after putting two and two together, I asked him if he was planning on going to the states. Reluctantly, he said yes. He had an uncle working somewhere in the desert and my student wanted to go to work as well. I asked him if he was planning on finishing out the school year with me first. He said he didn’t think so. This student is 16. He is a very intelligent student, but one that has checked out. For me, this is a sad and grave situation. Someone so bright with such a great future ahead of him, so maleable and young, has given up on his education. He is willing to unknowingly put his life on the line in hopes of living a better life. I think of the gangs, the drugs, the death that he’ll encounter on this trek and my heart goes out to him. And this were my frustration sets in.
After this student walked out I went straight to my director (principal) and explained that, once again, students were walking out on me during class. He explained that the some of the students had asked permission to leave, and he gave them permission because we were just playing games. Talk about a hit to the gut. Exasperated, I was forced to explain to this 34 year old man that this student did not have my permission to leave, and that while yes, we were playing games, there was a purpose to the things I was doing. That all of my lessons build on each other, even if they seem like there’s no point to them from someone watching us from afar goofing off a little bit. With that he quickly back-tracked and asked another student to go to the parents and explain the situation. And that was it. No discipline. No apologies. No concern. Nada. And while my director might just see a child walking out on a class, I see a child walking away from an opportunity for a better future.
It’s hailed twice here so far. I’ve been told it’s very typical at the start of the raining season, but my host sisters told me it was the first time its happened in 5 years… I may never know the truth behind the hail.
Since this I have had a lot of really good experiences, and a lot of really bad ones. At the start of May I participated the 4th annual National Youth Forum, Guatemala Joven: Escuchando Nues(which was almost called off due to budget cuts), and was able to bring 4 invitees; two teachers and two youth. The three and half day event focused sharing information on sexual education, drug and alcohol abuse and leadership for participants to bring back to their communities. Jovenes (youth), socios (work partners) and volunteers (ME!) worked together and were separated into groups to better target the goals of the foro. The Youth in Development project, as a whole, is supposed to promote volunteers, youth leaders, and community leaders working together to support today’s youth, and this was exemplified during the forum with guest participants brought by the previous years’ volunteers. Foro was an example of the ideal working situation. Not surprisingly though, not much stuck.
All the foro participants and facilitators!! YAY YiD!!!
While I loved foro, I was also extremely frustrated by it. Out of the 13 volunteers that remained in our group, some of us (myself included) live in very rural areas that do not have the resources or community interest that many other volunteers have in their sites. While others have a Municipality and mayor and Espacio Amigable (Friendly Space) to fund their activities in their own town, I do not. In an activity where we identified when resources are available to the community my socios and jovenes had one common answer; me. Talk about pressure.
Top: Myself and Mari, another volunteer, facilitating a charla on Establecimiento de Metas (goal setting) Bottom left: One of the teachers and my two students during another charla. Bottom right: myself, two volunteers, and two invitees working together during an activity.
Top left: Jovenes participating in an activity during our charla. Top right: All of my invitees and myself at the end of foro! Bottom: the Quiché department doing a reflection after an activity from foro.
Since coming back to site, I haven’t had much to do besides reflect. They do say in Peace Corps you learn a lot about yourself, but I sometimes feel I’m learning too much (ha). While I missed a good week of school due to E Coli (5 weeks of diarrhea with no running water… #pcvproblems), classes have also been cancelled due to Mother’s day celebrations, sports days, unknown committee meetings in Nebaj, Kermesse (aka party day) and the current upcoming soccer tournament (and the ‘trainings’ that took place during school hours). I’ve had school cancelled and walked all the way there without knowing until I arrived at a locked gate. I am ready to work and make a difference, but I’m put on hold. And that’s the worst part of being a volunteer – the waiting.
Photos of me after many, many hikes. Top right I the tea bag says ‘mujer’ which means woman… it was pretty god though!!
There are a lot of good and bad parts to service. There are also a lot of good and bad parts to any job though. When I think back to what I was doing before this, and where I was in my community, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, and sometimes that’s hard for people to understand. Especially when all they hear are the complaints and frustrations that I go through on a day to day basis. I can walk around my block and sit down with an old man and laugh together as he tries my sunglasses on, or find myself sharing strawberries with a toddler who’s smile widens every time I visit, or joke with the local camioneta owner about the men who bother me on a daily basis, or show up to a lunch that ended up being a memorial with 100+ people and be welcomed with open arms, or laugh with the people in the street when my one dog shadow turns into a wolf-pack of 6 or more dogs all jumping on me for some lovin’.
All of these photos below were taken at my site. I live in a very beautiful place, even if right now I’m stuck inside most afternoons because of the rain. I could;t have asked for a better site!!
In the many conversations I’ve had with people back home, I’ve had a lot of people say it’s okay to come home, but what they don’t see is that I am home. There are many things I miss about the states and many things here that drive me nuts, but I wouldn’t want to give any of it up. While I often find myself with my hands tied in terms of work, it forces me to look outside of the box and find a new way to do things. I am learning to adapt to my surroundings and see things from a different perspective. I am learning things I couldn’t ever get from an office job or years of schooling. Things I can’t even begin to explain to people back home. Not everyone can do peace corps, and Hell, not very many can even understand it. Out of the 20,000 people that apply each year, there are only 4,000 positions actually available. Of those 4,000 volunteers many decide it’s not for them (a very noble decision), or are weeded out due to a number of personal, medical or administrative problems (I arrived here in a group of 28 and there are 19 of us left with 18 months to go). We are a special group. Maybe a little crazy to some. But I already knew I was a little crazy 😉
Chasing waterfalls? No, I’m chasing a dream.