I like looking at the photos Katerina took on my first day with kids. I didn't know anything about them, each of them was just a name I couldn't remember no matter how many times they would repeat it, couple of big brown eyes staring at me and a bunch of hands touching my skin. Now I'm starting to develop a special bond with them, I'm beginning to understand their way of working.
At this point I must tell you about a person that definitely marked my first weeks in Mercedes. It was one of the girls from the first grade. The first time I met her, we started working on maths and I had real difficulty in explaining simplest equations to her. Then, the next day I spent an hour trying to teach her how to write a letter 'e'. No matter how many times she repeated it after me, she couldn't get it. I felt horibly frustrated for the first and the last time during my experience so far. I couldn't understand why something so obvious to me, was so difficult for her. Now I've been working at school for the last three weeks and although the girl still has problems with 'e', we became friends.
Now I understand that the kids' learning environment is completely different to the one I was studying in. The teachers often let them go earlier than they should, the breaks are longer for no reason at all, the classes sometimes don't take place at all. Besides, the children are often undernourished and unable to focus on a subject. But also, for example, the desks are designed for the right-handed people and the left-handed ones, like the girl I was talking about before, find it harder to adjust to that. Assisting at school requires huge amounts of patience and understanding.
What I find important is the ability to forget about oneself while working with children. Bringing problems and miseries to the classroom makes it extra hard to help them efficiently. And what are the problems the volunteers have to deal with? Water and power cuts, colonies of ants, tropical animals, and the most importantly, longing for all the places we call home and all the people we love.
The village is very small and apart from a school and a church, there is nothing else there. This means that what we can do in the evenings is limited to spending time at home, reading books, watching movies and talking. Moreover, it is hard to become considered part of the community by local people. They speak Q'eqch'i and sometimes I get the impression that because of our cultures being so different, they don't think much of two european girls who don't understand them and their life and ask for help with problems, that make up a part of their everyday life. But, this is also one of the reasons why i came here. I realise this is a unique opportunity for me to get experience in the field I'd like to work in in the future, which is teaching, to live in a reality completely different to the one I have lived in all my life, to develop my language skills and to grow as a person.
Despite of all the difficulties, I've never regretted coming here and I doubt I ever will. Everyday life in Mercedes takes a lot from you, but it gives you much, much more than you could ask for.