Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poco a Poco

The month of April in Mercedes and surrounding areas has been exciting for both its inhabitants and the volunteers and coordinators at Li Ch'utam.  To start the month, there was the annual celebration of Easter, known as Semana Santa, a week-long festival of rejoicing, relaxation and prayer, and to finish the month was a community-fair in the regions commercial center Teleman.  Li Ch'utam very much so enjoyed these festivities but much of the excitement I mention refers to the developments of our team and our work.

The majority of the progress is seen by the development(s) of our IT after-school program.  In my first month here, we held classes five times a week for a minimum of two hours.  With only two computers for twenty students, there would be some days where only a half of the children got to work on their reading and typing skills.  This high ratio of students to computers was further problematic as the majority of the children were often bored and overly-excited to participate, thus becoming distractions to those focused on their lesson.  The sessions, however fun and exciting, were much of the time stunted by the lack of resources and organization.

To our fortune, our donation-call for laptop computers was answered and delivered in early-April.  With five computers recently brought to the valley, as well as two previously owned computers that have been fixed, we have eight functioning computers that have all been updated with programs that offer a diverse amount of subjects including mathematics, typing, reading, geography, problem-solving and more.  These two developments have been fundamental to our class, making each day more productive, as each child is getting longer and more challenging lessons.  This is also creating a popular trend as we see new students enter our classroom everyday as they hear about what we have to offer.

Many of the organizational issues we have experienced, such as overcrowding of the classroom and inconsistent attendance, likewise have been greatly improved by the new equipment and software.  In addition to other unsolved organizational issues, we are currently developing  a greater system to track each child's progress in particular subjects to make sure that our work is clearly effective in raising competency levels, and we are constructing small class groups of 8-10 children that will be assigned and announced daily to specific work days and time slots throughout the week.  We find this will be evermore so helpful with; preparation for classes, e.g. knowing which children we will be working with and how we can tend to their strengths and weaknesses;  and overall smoothness and tranquility of the class time.

Other developments related to the IT classes include preparation for construction of an IT-Center in Mercedes and greater collaboration with other education-related Guatemalan organizations.  Much of the IT-Center preparation is being handled by one our newest volunteer Samir Messaoudi who will be with us until the end of June.  We look forward to sharing more about this exciting project.  Picking up where last year's volunteers David and Caleb left off, we are in contact with Guatemala City's Campus Technology, that incorporates a number of different organizations and projects devoted to developing educational software.  Our two teams are equally excited to be working with one another.

With three volunteers, including myself, and more to come in the months ahead, we are becoming a stronger presence in the school-day classrooms.  Speaking on behalf of myself, my relationship with the third grade instructor Elda is growing and I am becoming more comfortable with sharing ideas and concerns with her.  She in turn has become more trusting in me.  For example, this past week she had asked me to create a classroom decoration and this coming week I have planned a self-portrait art project that I will be sharing with the children.

This month we were thrilled to have two of Li Ch'utam's founders Hannes Neimann and Henning Droege visit us, each being able to spend substantial time visiting the school and helping the IT-classes gain much of the momentum I have just discussed.  As a volunteer who has communicated with Hannes and Henning via emails and skype for the past few months it was a pleasure to be able to meet them in person and further get to know them on a greater personal level.  In addition to these visits, we also were so fortunate to have Bryan Lim, a Singaporean traveler, visit the project and create a video focusing on the IT-project.

Bryan's Personal Blog:

Much of the hard-work was celebrated in nights cooking and eating together, sharing experiences, ideas and future goals.  In these moments shared between a group of young men being from Germany, France, Singapore, Poland, United States and Guatemala, the project's title Li Ch'utam, meaning "coming together", could not stand further correctly.

A motto that I have heard again and again here in the valley and elsewhere in Guatemala, which is now becoming a Li Ch'utam mantra of some sort, is "poco a poco" meaning "little by little".  The road is long and challenging, but that is what makes it fun and worthwhile.

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