Guatemala, UPAVIM, children, you.
With such a large world, it becomes easy to think that one person cannot possibly do anything to invoke positive change -so it is easy to sit back and watch.
This summer I realized just how easy it is to help. I became involved in a trip to Guatemala through Nourish International, and my experience as a volunteer teacher has been so much more than I expected it to be.
Even at first glance, the level of poverty in the area surrounding UPAVIM -the school in which I worked- is evident. However, there is something about La Esperanza that holds true to its translation: Hope. It both amazed and inspired me to see that those who have so little, yet they are still grateful for all that they have.
I think that was my favorite experience: the cultural change, especially with regards to school. As a first-generation Filipino American, I think that I was more used to different cultures than some of my other organization members. I have visited the provinces in the Philippines in which my dad lived the majority of his youth, and it was actually a bit worse off than the area where we stayed in Guatemala. However, I was never able to experience Filipino schools, and although it was stressful at times, this became my favorite part of my experience in Guatemala.
I worked in Reforzamiento (“Reinforcement”), an after-school program which provides opportunities for learning to those who cannot afford school. However, unlike in America, there are no laws against truancy. Children are not dragged to school by their parents. Children came to Reforz voluntarily. Most always had notebooks with them, always came in smiling, were always happy to be there.
This is not to say that teaching was always easy. Surprisingly, teaching in mostly Spanish was not the difficult part, rather the culture in which students were raised, combined with the lack of schooling, made teaching tricky. Most days, I would help kid of the appropriate age level in writing letters, reading, multiplying and dividing. However, there were days where I would teach a twelve-year-old how a sentence has a period at the end and the difference between certain letters. After a good twenty minutes, repeating “espacio” (“space”) multiple times to show the difference between a letter and a word gets tiring.
But that’s the beauty of it. While there were few who did not want to cooperate fully, there those who would not stop no matter how long it took. My fondest memory (but also most frustrating) was when I had to teach a seven-year-old how to write the number one. Our supervisor – a native Guatemalan- wanted them to write the number one a certain way (like 1 without the base line), and the little boy I was working with could not seem to get it; his numbers kept turning out oblong, even after his friend and I drew examples. I even had to resort to drawing out dots for him to trace, but he still could not write the number one. After an hour of attempts, the moment he finally drew it made me ecstatic! Through cheering and smiles, I made him high-five me plenty of times to show him how proud I was of him.
THAT, is how one person can make a difference.
It was not always instructional time for the kids, as we often went to the canchas, which was the cement area where kids played. Even in the Reforz room we often played games with the kids. We came to realize that anything was good for them, as long as they were not on the streets. In Reforz, they were not exposed to gang violence.
And at the end of the day, many students voluntarily give the teachers a kiss good-bye on the cheek out of respect and gratitude. As an aspiring teacher, I think this is the one thing I will truly miss the most, as I know this would not be considered “okay” in America. Even if the day was exhausting, you were left knowing the kids appreciate what you did for them. Some days, your cheek would be more slobbery than others, and the “Gracias, hasta manana!” was always worth it.
Notice: Use of undefined constant AKISMET__PLUGIN_URL - assumed 'AKISMET__PLUGIN_URL' in /home3/nourish1/public_html/home/wp-content/plugins/akismet/class.akismet.php on line 845