Friday, October 24, 2014

Sugar Coffee, Rain Clouds, Baseball, and Dominoes

24 de octubre 2014
Just going to give an update on life since nothing crazy different is going on but it's been a little while since I've posted.

Classes are still chugging along. 
Technology classes with 4th-8th are a roller coaster. One week I planned poorly and because of that, behavior was difficult to manage. I lost my patience but was slapped in the face with kindness and love in return from my kiddos. And loved every bit of the pain in my cheeks. This past week, we got enough batteries for every child to have a keyboard and it went much much smoother. They all wrote their own stories all starting with "Había una vez" (Once upon a time) and ending with "Colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado." Some were from their imaginations while others were stories they had been told (and some, quite morbid!). But I fell in love. I decided I didn't want them to delete them so I made sure they were saved. That led to me sitting for 3 hours, copying their stories onto my iPad. I then created a story page to print for each student, copying and pasting clipart (to accompany their dogs, frogs, goats, dolls, motorcycles, etc) below so they would each have their own mini cuento. Each, meaning all 54 of them. Haha this next week they're going to retype them and share (because did I mention, I had to correct so many misspellings and lack of punctuation??). I hope they like them!
English classes are always a blast and I'm learning as I go-better ways to teach from last years lessons and more fun games and activities to make the class less-copy and more-play/practice. In the community class we are so much farther than I've ever gotten. I have to admit, I'm loving that part of it and I really feel as though they're learning a ton-they prove me right every week as I speak more and more in English and they understand me!

Working with our kindergarten teacher is still just as rewarding and fun. We've finished setting up the classroom and making all sorts of interactive posters on the wall (a calendar that they have to put the numbers on and change the month, an attendance one where they put their names that are written on ducks in the correct pocket with "male" or "female" and change the days next to "Yesterday was..." "Today is..." And  "Tomorrow will be..." Etc). We are now deep into planning, ensuring that we follow the manual from the Ministry of Education (and making a list...a very long list... Of the didactic materials we are lacking and want bought lol Hopefully that dream becomes a reality! A kindergarten with no scissors, crayons, colored paper, glue, etc is truly a challenge) and creating "projects" based on themes chosen by the little munchkins themselves. After yesterday's journey around the community observing all around us, we chose our current project: Animals! I just spent today printing out the story of "The Little Red Hen" (where the hen is making bread and with every step in the process she asks for help but the duck, dog, and cat refuse. Of course until she asks who wants to help eat it! And she says no! Haha). I then found clipart of the characters, cut them out and glued them to cardboard (from boxes of granola bars and crackers I didn't want to throw away) and glued them to Popsicle sticks. The teacher wasn't there today which gave me time to finish the lesson materials in the hopes that Monday she likes it and the kiddos can act out the story :)

The Biblioteca Tecnológica is at a standstill. We received the phone call from the Presidential Palace saying that all they needed was my committee president's cedula number. This *could* mean that they are going to cover all of the funds needed. But we are waiting... And have no way of calling them to find out (the call came in as restricted). So then there's all the institutions and small business owners that we brought solicitation letters to. Do we go as a follow up and start collecting funds and materials? When we might not need any of it? Then there's the location... We called again to find out the status of the solicitation letter and its response. Still no word from the head office. And we were told that they will have to come personally to see the state of the office first. Bueno. When in the world will that be? We don't know. 
But we had a meeting with the community last week. Wanting to keep the motivation and excitement alive even though there weren't many results to share (to accompany all the work we have done!). It didn't go well. Beautifully planned and ready to be executed but life in the DR stood in our way. After 3 hours and getting their hair done and uniforms ready for their dance routine to start out the meeting, my 5 dancers were ready to go. And halfway through the first song, we lost electricity. Way earlier than it normally goes out. And then the CD refused to read in the computer (which was all set up as a back-up plan with my portable speakers! We were so prepared, damn it). Also, only 6 adults showed up from the community... So we postponed our final dinámica/activity (which I was in love with) for the next meeting.
But such is life!

This week, I was told that our psychologist, the one who I've teamed up with for the Escuela de Padres y Madres and the one who hungers for knowledge and new ways to do things, is leaving us. Headed to a new community and we don't know if we will get another one. That hit me hard. Without her, the parenting school will fall through the cracks because the only one who can keep it running is our director. And he now has his first grade class in the afternoons-when the meetings are scheduled... She is, however, going to the community where Tiffany (a phenomenal new volunteer) is living and working. So while it hurts to know she's leaving, I'm very happy for Tiffany and the community of Las Rosas because they are going to have such a blessing working with them. Someone who has a passion that's hard to find these days. And they will only benefit greatly from it.

Yesterday, non-work related, I hosted a Rosary session in my house. You heard right. About 15 women from the community came over and we said the rosary together-complete with the mysteries, prayers, scripture readings, and songs (I've almost got the Hail Mary down in Spanish! Haha). They've been making their way around the community, doing this once everyday of the week in the homes of those who wish to host and I was asked by Dominga (my goddaughter's mother) if I wanted to be next! Afterwards, I made juice (from a package, not all natural-don't get too excited) and we had crackers to accompany it. What an honor. And I have to say, I felt the presence of a very special person from back home-you know who you are and I hope you felt it too.

For now, I believe that is all :) As the world keeps turning here, changes are being made while other things are staying the same. But we continue to drink coffee with way too much sugar, sit in plastic chairs watching the rain clouds roll in, and play a little bit of baseball or Dominoes in times when we just need a break. 
Abrazos y besos to all back home. As you know, I miss you everyday.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Beauty within the Darkness

Sometimes there's no electricity and the world around us is dark.

Sometimes siblings nag each other and it turns into a fight.

Sometimes parents don't always make the best decisions and their kids are left to suffer.

Sometimes men do wheelies on motorcycles and hurt themselves or someone else.

Sometimes teachers are tired and don't teach their best class.

Sometimes money is tight and hunger strikes.

Sometimes a child is left behind who doesn't know how to read.

Sometimes good people sleep when there's a world to change out there.

Now, answer me this. The above; the Dominican Republic? Or the United States?
You don't know for sure. Neither do I.

Problems exist everywhere. First world countries, third world countries, your neighbor's house, or yours. There is darkness, exhaustion, confusion, and complacency. I see flaws everyday here. But when I go online (my only portal back home), these flaws and others are seen too. Posted all down my newsfeed from friends and family back home. Some of the articles from home sicken me more than what I witness here.
So today I want to celebrate. Celebrate the beauty that lies within what seems to be darkness in the life of the DR. Things that make me proud, smile, laugh, and sing. Because there's so much of it. And I'll admit, I haven't done them justice. I challenge you as well, to read these and then make a list of your own from back home. Because some try and find the good, while others drown in the depths of the ugly. 
Which will you choose?

Today, I witnessed a movement that is being spoken of from the top dogs in the Ministry of Education. Many movements such as these are shared but never executed. Here, in my little campo of Mariano Cestero, we executed one: Recreo es Divertido (Recess is Fun). Recess is a half an hour a day where the kids are free to run, play volleyball, jump rope, basketball, etc while the teachers grab little chairs and sit outside the school grounds in the shade. Fights often break out. Kids fall and cut themselves. Or ride bikes in the dangers of the street where motos whiz by. 
Today we shut the doors. The director had his bank of games and the kids all got together to play WITH the teachers. There were competitions and games galore. Everyone was engaged. The teachers helped monitor, play, and teach. It was an absolute blast. I lost my voice from screaming so hard. And when I left, hearing the screams from the kids didn't make me cringe thinking about the fight that just broke out, it made me smile knowing some team had just found victory.

This week and last, I've been working with our new kindergarten teacher. I've seen so many that look at the content of this grade and pick and choose what they want to teach. Never changing the room to organize it how the manual says and often write a daily schedule and never follow it. But she is different. She approached me, admitted that she knew little of how to teach kindergarten, found all the materials and information and said, "Let's work together." As a team, we've started rearranging the room, making new signs and posters, organizing all the beautiful resources available that have gone untouched, and read what needs to be done and how. It's still a work in progress but she approaches me everyday with new things to do, new ideas, and new questions.

My English classes with 7th and 8th grade have gone on for three weeks now. We start every class with the song, "Happy" by Pharrel Williams and we sing and dance together. They genuinely know the word 'happy' and what it means and work hard every single Friday. They listen, write, practice, and lose their "vergüenza" in order to learn as much as possible. They're excited for class each week and always remind me on Thursdays that we have class the next day. I feel such pride and love for them and hunger for the hugs I'm given everyday. And hey, if all they know on the final exam is the word "happy," I will honestly still be just as excited.

My committee for our Biblioteca Tecnológica is a rock. A few members fall out occasionally for life reasons but we continue to push forward, always picking up the slack where it falls. When we get together, whether purposely to talk of the project or not, we are motivated and ready to continue the fight. The process is long, but my faith in us goes unbroken.

Viviana is my 25 year old mother who is working on reading. She has taken classes in the past and always given up. A few months back, she approached me and asked me to teach her. Every week since then, once or twice a week, we have class. Her motivation and passion is incredible. And shows in her progress. Her self confidence lacks at times but through various activities, I've been able to prove that she is improving and I now hear less and less "I forgot" from her. And in the weeks where I get crazy and am unable to have class, I see her reading her notebook outside on her patio or under the shade of a mango tree. Never giving up even when I falter.

Kilvio and I made a trip to Loma de Cabrera, Santiago de la Cruz, and DaJabon to hand in solicitation letters for help with our Biblioteca Tecnológica project. One stop was with an institution called "Save the Children." I met a woman, Anita, who works in various communities with many initiatives and ways to promote the rights of children-in all ways (education, health, discipline, etc). Her passion and drive for making a change in her own country was impossible to ignore and bursting from the seams. She's excited to team up with Peace Corps volunteers because our goals and purposes are the exactly same. And it's true. We were limited on time, but after exchanging numbers and promising to get together soon to share ideas and projects, I left her office exploding from the chest with love.

And there they are. Certainly not all but recently what's been making my heart beat faster and grow with pride and love for this country and these people. Tonight we won't have electricity, but I know all that is singing in my soul will be enough light to bring out the sunlight of tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Call of a Lifetime

We might have our project funded entirely, all at once, and by the President of the Dominican Republic.

When I see the numbers on a check or in our bank account, I will update.

Also. I updated this one Facebook but not here. In the last two weeks, we've gotten water through the faucet THREE times. Once even on my laundry day. It's been over half a month and I have yet to see the bottom of my water tank. GLORIA A DIOS.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


1 de October 2014
Wow. September flew by. And as I lay here absolutely exhausted from today's classes (all 5 of them), I'm struggling as to which parts of my many thoughts to address. But I shall try and share them anyways, hopefully somewhat cohesively.
I may have mentioned this before but it still amazes me. When I first received that blue envelope with my invitation and copious amounts of information, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by what was about to be my reality in a country I had only ever seen on a map. Overwhelmed by the fact that I was going to live away from home for TWO whole years (and 3 months). And overwhelmed by the unknown: what would I struggle most with, my everyday life or my PC job?
Overwhelmed. And now? More than a year later, I am looking forward and backwards. All that I've done, not done, and what's left ahead of me. 8 more months. 2 years used to seem so incredibly long. But oh how it has flown by... And I've only got 8 months? That's not enough time for anything. I feel panicky and doubtful.
But then my thoughts continue. Would a year be enough? Another year after these 8 months? 2 years? The answer I know to be true is a deafening "No." And sometimes that kills me. Whether I'm home in the states or here, there are always ways we can better ourselves, always ways we can better others, and always ways we can change the future. A single lifetime will never be enough. Here nor there. Here, things just become more challenging with the cultural differences. There are things I want to change. Things I want to scream. Ways I want to make them listen. Sometimes I doubt myself, with reason. Things don't always have to be the way we do them. Other times, I doubt myself when I see how poorly the kids behave in school and how physical abuse is used as punishment and it works. And I think to myself, "Well, I guess my methods would never work here. It's just a different world." 
And then I do another backflip and prove myself wrong again. I had 5 technology classes today. Planned, prepared, and executed the way I would back in the states (with limited resources, of course). And it went beautifully. From 4th grade all the way through 8th, we did a dinámica, an art activity to gauge their understanding before teaching any material, and then an introduction to the mini keyboards. They behaved. Had a blast with the dinámica and art. And took such good care of the keyboards and worked flawlessly in pairs (because there isn't enough for all). 
My methods do work sometimes. So what's the problem? Complacency? A culture that for years and years has functioned one way doesn't just change with one person. And if that culture allows for more time to eat breakfast, more time to sit outside the school grounds during recess, less time planning at home, and less caring (because sometimes, the more we care, the more it hurts us)? Why change?
This is my reality. There are things I would never be able to change in 2 years, 3 or even 10. I have to accept this... it's still a work in progress and may forever be. But I will never like it.  But there are also things I was never supposed to change...
So I will just continue to love my kids and love when I have my own classes with them (no matter how crazy it gets and even when I get accused of "robbing the kids' recess time" when I simply ask if we can start on time because I want to successfully teach two more classes in the time allotted to me...).  I'm certainly not always right, and sometimes when I am, I'm ignored. It's just one of those parts of life, PC life maybe, and it's okay. 
At the end of the day, we are alive and well and trying to make tomorrow better. For now, it's just about tomorrow. And that's all we can do.

When a Single Day Trumps Nearly All of Last Month

26 de septiembre 2014.
Start of English classes.
I was with three kiddos in the clinic. 2/3 from fighting. And I may or may not have flipped out about the lack of responsibility in the teachers in front of some parents and lit the match that may start a wildfire. I was lecturing this poor child who got a stick to the stomach about how he needed to approach an adult when he was first hit in the head with the stick. He apparently did. And she did nothing. The parents there agreed with me and one father went storming off to the school. It may fizzle out but I got some passion out of them. That's why it's still just a lit match.
Planning for the first official Escuela de Padres y Madres meeting next Friday with our psychologist, Doris.
Having Doris beg me to invite her to the next teacher conference we have (after having no one go with me to this last one) and saying that she wants to soak in and learn as much as possible with me here in this last year because the more she learns and seeks knowledge, the better teacher and person she'll be... It doesn't matter if it's an entire weekend or if it's in Santiago or at her neighbor's house. She said, "Invite me, and I'm there." Wow. 
Meeting with GRUJDECO to continue plans.
New plans made to motivate another community group that exists but is currently dormant to work on the water project and another to work on their electricity project (Vara de Vaca never has luz). In this way, we can animate them to find their drive again AND tackle more community projects on our list without taking on the full responsibility ourselves. Win-Win? I think so.
My promise to continue bugging the president man. Oh yea, I'm gonna be such a pain and I don't care. But if your old, saggy ass is going to hit on me because I'm white and give me your business card? You asked for it buddy. And for those reading this back home, excuse my vulgarity? 

That is all.