Saturday, June 22, 2013

O.K...Paradise Doesn't Exist, But We Try

The members of Li Ch’utam arrived back to the volunteer house today exhausted after our first-- hopefully not our last--organized field trip with fifth and sixth grade students and maestro Ronny of Nueva Mercedes.  With twenty-five of us crammed in a mini-bus, our destination was Agua Calientes of Finca Paraiso, just outside of of El Estor, a beautiful lakeside town on the edge of Lago Izabal.  For a majority of the students, it was a first time experience leaving the Polochic Valley of Alta Verapaz, therefore being a mysterious adventure.

Our first stop was in El Estor where we sat alongside Lago Izabal eating breakfast, taking photos, and interacting with people passing by who seemed intrigued by our caravan.  Maybe it was the smiles on the kids’ faces that made it quite obvious to the residents of El Estor that today was no ordinary excursion for us.

Around noon we hopped back in the mini-bus and finished the trip to Finca Paraiso admiring the green, mountainous scenery along the way.  Practically running to the hot springs, each of us was extremely eager to take advantage of the time we had in this special environment.  We spent the day swimming, cliff-jumping, and taking mud baths in the hot sulfuric paradise.  Additionally, it was a welcoming day for our two new volunteers, Quentin Veuillet and Jess Lyga, to get to better know the students in a greater casual setting.  We are very excited to have two these new fresh energies, each appearing to have many ideas and skills to share with our project.

As much fun as the day ended up being it still carried with it a hint of finality as it was the last day in the Polochic for one of our volunteers, Samir Messaoudi.  Following our return to Mercedes, Samir thanked the children for allowing him to take part in the everyday activities of their village and school.  There were dozens of goodbyes with seemingly hopeful undertones of “See you soon.”  As a volunteer myself working within a limited time frame, to see Samir leave hesitantly (and likewise with Michal just over a month ago) it is a reminder to seize each day, and even more importantly stands as confirmation that the relationships that we are building with these children and soon to be young-adults are very genuine.

In some sense, I feel that we are entering a new chapter in the school year in Mercedes as we bring in our new volunteers as well as continue to build relationships with the children, teachers, and community.  The other day as Samir and I were traveling to Teleman we were encountered by the father of one of our students, Jose Julian, who was excited to shake our hands and compliment us on our work with the school.  He was so enthusiastic about the IT classes he even told us that he hopes to be able to purchase a computer for his household in the near future so that his children will have more time explore and learn.  Speaking of the after-school class, Jess, Quentin and myself have been brainstorming and plan to spend the next week, a national “Rest Week” without classes, to build a more structured and diverse agenda on activities, scheduling, and monitoring.  We are climbing steadily and taking some exciting leaps along the way.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Football and Freedom

We have officially entered the rain-season here in the valley where it relentlessly rains six-out-of-the-seven nights a week, giving us breezier nights of sleep where a blanket is actually necessary and fresh morning walks to school.  The banana trees, pineapple plants, vanilla vines, wild flowers, and our new organic compost outside of the volunteer house all benefit from the seasonal downpours.  Some days the roads are flooded and we have to march through the mud, and the grass on the football fields are growing so rapidly it won’t be long before it stands taller than some of the kindergartners.  It is incredible to witness the transformation as the rainwater makes apparent multiple constituents of the ecosystem I had never noticed in my first few months here.

The past couple weeks classes have been slowed down by a district and regional football tournament for the school children 13 and under.  The boys and girls at Caserio Nueva Mercedes participated and represented their home in these very exciting events, both placing second--each losing in a shoot-out--among four teams hosted by Constancia, a community a few kilometers away from Mercedes.  Early morning rendezvous in Mercedes were followed by pick-up-truck rides jam packed with almost 40 children (2 volunteers hanging off the back), introductions and interactions with children and teachers from Constancia, Los Recuerdos, and Miravalle, and nail-biting football matches.  Watching the kids play football on the school grounds daily with nothing on the line other than personal pride and glory, it was super fascinating to see all the individual energy synthesizing into one force with a common goal.  Like fingers folding into a fist, then and there appeared this solidarity that brought the kids to a different level I had yet to see, as they marched their way to championship games.  Although there were losses followed by hung-heads and tears, the children of Mercedes kept their composure maintaining their dignity.  This experience of seeing the children genuinely work as a team and battle for something is great motivation for me to pursue more “team-building” exercises.

The other day, director of LiChutam, Hannes Neimann, shared with me a very fascinating lecture presented by “TedTalk” which discussed how children are capable of teaching themselves,without adult supervision, about whatever subject given the opportunity and resources.  The example provided took place and continues to take place in India where the children are offered at no expense access to computers to browse the internet and play with the many applications the computers offer.  The concept of letting the child figure things out for his/herself is something I have been considering lately in respect to our computer class.  Seeing and hearing the lecturer’s presentation, combined with my experience of watching the boys and girls of Mercedes play soccer free-spiritedly but with a purpose, I cannot think contrary to fact that children need space to explore, move, and grow without adult-supplied-directions sometimes.  An important note-to-self as I hope to encourage the children to gain curiosity and understand the power a computer yields.

Today we began mid-term evaluations already marking the half-way point of the 2013 school year.  Having trouble believing that this means my time here is limited to only 5 more months, I couldn't
be more enthused about taking advantage of the time remaining.  Vamos!

Ted Talk Link: