Sunday, October 11, 2015

New team, new beginnings, new season's greetings

Marta completed her volunteership with Lichutam and left us in September. Since then, a new team has arrived! We are now the Fantastic Four of El Polochic Valley: Anne, from Germany, Georgia, from Greece, Patrick, an Irish gentleman, and Katerina leading the team.

Here are the our new volunteers' impressions of the first week.

A First Week in Polochic, by Patrick

My first full week of life at Lich'utam has just come to an end. And finished in style I might add. I'm the only male in the house, living with three girls from different parts of Europe. “So lucky” you might be thinking, and you might be right, but our notions of lucky might be slightly different!
As the only male I get my own bedroom, while the three girls share one large bedroom. For me that's pretty darn lucky.

At the end of last week, at the beginning of October, we all met each other over the space of three to four days. This was a nice touch; to start volunteering with people at the same time, to share the same experiences and to be able to talk about all the novel things as they occur to all of us, at the same time.

This week we spent our mornings in the classroom, acting as assistants to the teachers, or in my case, a very old student. I found my thirty one years of life experience close to useless when Anna, my teacher, started teaching in the indigenous language Quich'i. Even as she taught in Spanish, I noticed many of the fourth graders in my class spoke and wrote better Spanish than me. However in Maths, I excelled, I was able to move around the class, supporting the students with their maths formulas, equations, multiplications and fractions. Maths in my class has become the universal language.

Our school provides education for children from kindergarten to sixth grade. I'm helping the fourth graders. Fourth grade is a mix of ages. There are ten year olds and there are fifteen year olds. Many students struggle with literacy and are easily distracted in the classroom. The result is a classroom of students of different ages. In one case, a gentle fifteen year old boy has been passed out by his younger brother who is now thirteen and a grade above. I hope the elder passes his exams this week.

After school, we rest, cook lunch and return to the kids in the afternoon. They are always very happy to see us. We plan on doing activities with them to reinforce their literacy and maths, computer skills and personal growth. It should be an interesting, challenging but very positive summer.

To top of the first week, we four visited one of the Lich'utam founder's family members. We stayed on his farm for some rest and relaxation and saw the beauty of Polochic from the air. Soaring up into the sky in his two person flying trike was a treat I won't soon forget.  

My New Far Away Home, by Anne
Stunning landscapes, swarms of mosquitoes and of mischievous kids – little rascals –  that is how I got to know Nueva Mercedes during my first days. 
In order to gain new experiences, open my mind and see more of the world after finishing my studies, I left good old Germany for faraway Guatemala. I spend my first month in Antigua, a beautiful historical colonial city, to improve my very basic Spanish skills before I started my volunteership. In week four I had to say “¡Hasta la vista, Antigua!” and “¡Hola, Nueva Mercedes!”. Together with Katerina, Georgia and Patrick, my new house-mates and co-volunteers, we set off on the long journey crossing the whole of Guatemala to reach the little village. After a typical Guatemalan bus ride (a lot of fun for me!) through small streets, overfilled cars and many shaking bodies, the tropical heat and a stunning mountain landscape welcomed us – the motto here is “Natur Pur”. Our first stop before we saw our new house was the colourful Teleman market in order to refill the empty fridge at home and provide for our survival in the first week there. An inviting wooden hut will be our home for the next months to come. Spiders, lizards and toads received us in a friendly manner – although it takes some time to get used to. But in contrast to my worst fears, up until now I´ve only seen snakes and scorpions just from afar – and let´s hope it will stay that way! The following day,  we went on the first visit to our new workplace – the Nueva Mercedes primary school. Hundreds of big, dark round eyes stared at us accompanied by countless “¿Cómo te llamas?“  and ¡Bonito tu pelo!“.

 A very particular welcome indeed. 

Soon, the first encounters, a few games and conversations with the kids made it clear to me that there is potential here. And hopefully we can help to foster this potential at least in some of the kids. Unfortunately it is not always that easy. The Guatemalan way of life in many aspects is incomparable to the German or European one. Especially regarding education there is so much to be done. Poverty and complicated living conditions don´t make it any easier. But some motivated and engaged people, who I have had the privilege to get to know during this short time fill me with hope. Hope, that it is possible to make a difference if we work together – not only here in Guatemala but globally. And even if it´s not feasible here “die Welt einzureißen” (to change the world), I am still happy for every single smile I can bring to people´s faces. That´s why I am really looking forward to the next five months that I will be here.
Guatemala, here I am – show me what you´ve got!

 Georgia's first impressions:

Strongest first impression: the kids! Those little faces that took them about 2 minutes to get to know us and since then they did not hesitate at all to call our names and ask us to play with them. Even though the conditions at school are not easy, everyone is trying their best with the resources they have; the teachers, the kids, and us. And of course, it is worth it since you see after a while some results of your work. For example, at times, during our afternoon activities in the primary school, a few distracted kids, not interested in the ongoing group activity, ask for our help in doing their homework. I remember one kid who, the first time I asked him to write down what the teacher was saying, didn’t like it and made fun of it. However, after the third day he was already used to my presence and he started asking me to approve what he had written. Another example is that a few of them after finishing their exercise come to me before and after they show it to their teacher in order to get a big “¡Perfecto!” o “¡Muy bien!”. They really seem to enjoy that moment judging by their big “¡Gracías!” smiles. 

In general, I have really enjoyed my first days in Nueva Mercedes and even though it is sad that the school year is over in the second week of October,  I am looking forward to starting our projects and morning activities with the kids. Hopefully, there are going to be many of them. This is why we tried our best to get their attention, make them like our activities so that they are motivated to keep on coming to our extracurricular educational afternoon sessions where we make them discover the world!

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