Today marks the midpoint of my time volunteering with Lichutam with barely four weeks in the Polochic. My short stay has flown by, marked by the methodical smacking of mosquitos. So from my peak here in the valley, I’d like to make a rough analysis of the work I’ve done so far as I also start looking towards an impending departure.
After the first day helping out with the afternoon computer class, the most pressing problem seemed to be the ratio of four working computers for the 30+ students who attended. Many of the children would initially occupy themselves with the approximately 50 books that comprise our mobile library, but after the first half of their two hour class, their attention starts to falter. As the volume in the classroom slowly rises, and the echoes of the voices of 30 restless children bounce off the tin roof, my co-volunteers and I leave each session completely drained. I decided to try and rally the reckless troops behind a loosely organized art project to both diversify the 2 hour session and give the children an interactive, creative outlet that seems to be missing during the school day.
The first day that I brought paints and brushes to class was a complete success. We started with the simple assignment of painting a flower, but based on the enthusiasm and patience of the kids, I have since been able to organize more involved projects such as making beads out of recycled plastic bottles. The kids’ complete embrace of every activity we have thought of, from paper cranes to bracelets to small writing tasks leaves us excited and challenged to fill this new niche.
I’m continuously amazed at the versatility of paint and paper, which leads me to contemplate the connection between the school’s lack of materials and the oftentimes slow and monotonous school day. On the bright side, the lack of first-world school supplies forces us to find unique ways to use the Polochic’s grossly underutilized resource: namely the garbage that can be found lining ever roadside and riverbed.
In the coming weeks I hope to further explore and test both the limits of my own and the kids’ creativity while simultaneously spreading the message of the importance of recycling. (This seems to be especially important here because the river that holds thousands of discarded pepsi bottles is the same water many people use at home.)
On a more personal note, I would like to comment on my rather unique situation of being one of the first women volunteers that has visited the valley. I think being female has made my experience distinctly different in some ways than those of my co-volunteers. From the first day at school I noticed a sharp divide between the boys and girls. The most obvious difference being the jeans and western t-shirts sported by most of the boys, while almost all of the girls wear a traditional skirt and top. While I have had a little bit more difficultly connecting with the boys, my relationship with the girls has been especially easy and open. I’ve already had more than several cooking lessons because to the horror of everyone here I don’t cook and can’t make tortillas. From accidentally sitting on the wrong side during a church service to my strange tendency to ‘dress like a boy,’ it’s been interesting living in a community that’s so divided along gender lines.
As the date on my return flight quickly approaches, I hope I will have time to expand the ‘art-class’ and spread out a little more in the community. If the next half goes as well as the first I think my only problem will be finding the willpower to pack my things.