(Written last week, but I´ve been experiencing major technical difficulties. More blogs to come soon!)
I’ve been in my school in Itzapa, a small village in the hills, for three days now. I have to say, when I signed up to volunteer I thought of it more of a vacation than work, but let me tell you, it is most definitely work.
First let me describe the school. After taking a 45 minute drive that I am surprised to have survived each day, the 15 or so other volunteers and I unload out of the van in Itzapa. We are promptly greeted by the smiling faces of the kids sitting outside waiting for school to start. The kids here actually like school. But children are not the only ones around. There are always stray dogs, chickens, horses, and even a few cows passing us by. Chickens actually live in an area in the school, keeping an eye on us.
I have been a teacher for about five years now and have seen and taught in many very different schools and with very different children. However, this is definitely the most unique by far. First of all, there are really no walls in this school. For the most part, all the classrooms are open, just under a tin roof. There is some bamboo separating my class from the other one. We do have white boards, but in most rooms you have to actually hang them by a string on the walls, which again, there are very few of. The “English department”, where students go to learn English, is in a family’s house across the street.
The mother of this family is Elena and she welcomes us into her house on a daily basis. This is where we are served lunch each day by Elena and her family, who do all the cooking. It is also where we hang out during our breaks. In addition, this is where the only bathroom for adult use, separated from the classroom by a little curtain, is located. Oh, and you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet here.
And now, the kids. They are seriously adorable and have so much personality for such little people! Most of the girls come to school dressed in traditional Mayan clothing, which is always fascinating to me. Many of the students work in the fields with their parents before school, so their day starts way before we even get there.
These children have very, very little. Many of them are malnourished and hungry. The families in Itzapa have all kinds of animals living with them, many brothers and sisters, and sometimes no running water in their tiny houses with tin roofs. The streets in the community are filled with garbage and there is constantly smoke in the air. There are also an uncountable number of flies and other bugs hanging around. This does not make for a very healthy lifestyle, however, these kids for the most part seem very happy.
I am teaching in a first grade class, although the ages of my students range from 6-9years old. They have tiny little plastic tables and chairs to sit at. We do language, math, science, social studies lessons with them, just like in any other school, but really there is no actual curriculum to follow, and there is very little structure. There is a lot I am trying to adjust to.
Right now I am really just helping out this girl named Casey with the class. Next week, the class becomes mine. Did I mention that the class is taught in Spanish? Yea. So, I’ve been going to Spanish school and practicing, but my Spanish is most definitely not good enough to keep up with these kids yet. We’ll see what will happen.
One thing I do find amazing, is that even though I don’t speak the language well, the kids still love me and every other adult around. There are things that can bond you with kids no matter what language you speak. I played jump rope with some today and gave others piggy back rides, and I think I’ve pretty much won them over. I still get some strange looks when I mess up and say things like “wash your hands” instead of “raise your hands”, but I think they will learn to be patient with me, at least I hope!
There is a long list of things that happen in Guatemala that would never fly in the US. Recess here at Itzapa is a great example. These kids are seriously flying around the place, jumping off of anything they can, being swung around by teachers in every way possible, and pretty much have no safety rules whatsoever. The first day I was kinds in shock and kept saying “Cuidado, cuidado!) (careful, careful!). I don’t even know if we have any sort of first aid equipment around.
However, my cries of “cuidado” faded quickly. These kids will fall, knock their heads, scrape their knees, and have a finger fall off and won’t complain. They will get right back up and just keep playing as if nothing happened. I have yet to see a tear. These are some tough kids.
Things have been pretty disorganized and actually really frustrating my first few days at school. For several days there has been nobody in charge around and to be honest I feel pretty lost. Also, the days are so long. We leave at 7:35am and get back around 5pm and then it’s right off to Spanish School. When Spanish school is over I have to hurry home for dinner. There has been very little time for me to even get basic errands done and that’s been kinda stressful. One thing I definitely wish is that I had a little bit more free time.
Hopefully things will be a little less chaotic soon, or then again, maybe it won’t be. I’ll keep you posted.
“Maggie May” –Rod Stewart