The First Week.
A week in a strange place seems like a month. Every experience is unique and new, truly an adventure. The bus up into the mountains and meeting my host family was exhausting and full of little stories. But, I'll stick to a few highlights.
My host family is pretty wonderful and really makes an effort to engage me in family activities and conversations. Already they've invited me to a family birthday and a soccer game. Sandra and Sergio Catalan have three boys 12, 16 and 19. They enjoy sitting in the kitchen talking and laughing together until early in the morning. Thanks to ear plugs and and a very busy schedule I've had no problem sleeping through all the noise, morning roosters and dogs.
As planned, my first week has been very focused on getting my language skills up to speed so I can start contributing to "el Proyecto la Pedrera", the project to assist children in the community outside the town. With my use of the language I have a lot of bad habits to break. My personal demons are trying to coin everything in present tense and making up words when I don't know the right ones. Adding -ar to English verbs when I don't know the right one just gets me into trouble. On the other hand, people here seem to have a lot of patience, correcting me and helping me to get through. But I'd like to keep the focus of this site on La Pedrera.
Some background on the project: The language institute, Casa Xelaju, has been building this program for about 15 years. They provide sponsorship so that students can attend school. The public schools are "free" but provide only a desk and a teacher. the student's families must purchase uniforms, books and school supplies as well as pay fees for class materials. In impoverished areas, many parents cannot afford even this basic part. As a result, kids often do not attend school and are put to work in the family business, selling things on the street or even possibly working in sweatshops. El Proyecto La Pedrera provides all of these things and more. Students who are sponsored also attend an afternoon program where they get supplemental math and reading instruction as well as other skills when there are volunteers to teach them. Students who are not sponsored are also able to attend. The program also provides a snack, vitamins when available, and support for good hygiene practices. As part of the support provided by MATC staff and faculty, I was able to bring about a months supply of vitamins as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste for every child.
On my first day at Casa Xelaju, Sandra, the Institute's volunteer director filled me in on some of the details. There are currently 3 other students working with the la Pedrera community. Morgan is working teaching literacy 1-on-1 with an older woman. Brian and Chris are two energetic young men who have started a computer inventory and are getting the lab ready for our students. They are also taking time to play soccer with the kids and get to know them better. For example, they had a talk with the boys about behavior and the need to show respect towards women. Teresa de Leon is the tireless full-time teacher in the program.
Though I had originally planned to spend the first week exclusively on my own language skills, I was prodded and went up to the community on Wednesday and Thursday to meet Teresa, see the facility and look over the computer lab. I really only got a cursory look. There are about 20 computers of various types, sizes and operating systems. There has been an attempt to connect the computer to a wireless internet connection but without success. There will be many more details to come. On Thursday and Friday, I coaxed my teacher into helping get a handle on basic camera and computer terms, as well as finding additional learning materials.
I did manage one purely cultural excursion one afternoon. I went into the central market to explore see what was there. I thought this little family playing in the street was typical of joyful experiences you can find on the street in unexpected places. I purchased their CD for about $2.50 and they allowed me to take this photo for you. If I can manage to upload the sound clip, you'll get the full experience.