Sunday, April 3, 2011

Volunteering in paradise!

Learning English is not something that I had thought would be very popular in San Antonio Palopo, after all, many of the people, especially the older ones, speak limited Spanish and are often illiterate. Their mother tongue is Kaqchiquel (pronounced catchikell). But how wrong I was. I have been pleasantly surprised with the numbers arriving at the Centro door for lessons. To date, I’ve taught ten lessons, and with twenty lessons left before I leave on April 30, what a wonderful experience it is turning out to be. I teach for an hour and a bit every week night at 6PM.  There is palpable enthusiasm among the students, who range in age from 8 to about 48. My first class consisted of 9 students, for the second there were 19, and for the third, it was standing room only. The average, after two weeks, is about 17 students. I’m teaching conversational English – often simply things that they ask me to teach them, and things that I feel would benefit them in their daily work and lives. Julian, whose rooms we rent for the Social Centre, is one of my keenest students.  This is handy, as he has the keys! I see him most days outside of the lesson times, and he always tries to greet me in a different salutation in English. Luciano (the colectivo driver) comes when he can as well. He was delighted to learn: “Are you ready? OK, let’s go!” I have no doubt these words will be heard by tourists arriving in Panajachel anytime soon.  A wonderful side-effect of teaching English is that it has improved my Spanish. This week I am pricing an 8 x 4 whiteboard, as it would be a useful addition to the English classes, and to all the classes that are held in the centre. 

The English lessons are but a small part of my experience in San Antonio Palopo. Last Sunday night, I sat in on the Directivo's Board meeting. They're a group of local volunteers who oversee the running of the Social Centre. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours at the basico school, helping to fix some of the computers that were non-functional.  The days are full and varied, and always interesting. 

Felipa and Angelica, our two employees, do a stellar job in keeping things running smoothly. On Mondays, Felipa holds a clase de alfabetización en español  (Spanish literacy class) which runs for three hours. Angelica runs a similar class on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, Isabel from CONALFA, the government organization responsible for literacy programs, has a three-hour Spanish class, while Felipa holds a sewing class for women. Lately it has been embroidery and crochet lessons, but soon they are going to start a project (using the electric serger) where we will be teaching women to make washable sanitary pads. We are sharing fabric (and hopefully machines) with the school. Some of the impermeable fabric was generously donated by Fabricland at the Tillicum Shopping Centre in Victoria (250- 475-7501). The manager there was moved when I told her about San Antonio’s 2010 disasters, and what the fabric would be used for, and  she gave a substantial discount. Another regular project involves a class for mothers with toddlers, where they are taught good nutritional practices, and more. That’s the Thursday morning group, and then in the afternoon there are cooking and Spanish classes.

One of the most delightful days is Fridays, when the group lovingly referred to as the ancianas or, in English, the elderly ladies, come to the centre. They are given a healthy meal and do small sewing projects. Presently they’re making monkeys out of socks! There’s much infectious giggling filling the room as they try on various pairs of glasses (at times, upside down) till they find a pair that actually help with needle threading. Before their meal, they pray fervently, eyes closed, with profound sincerity. How I would love to have an entry into those minds as they pray, as they have no doubt experienced many sorrows throughout their tough lives.

On Saturdays, it’s a lively time at the centre, when the nine-to-thirteen-year-olds appear on the scene. Yesterday they were making fabric art pieces out of scrap material. There’s much hilarity as they dive into the mound of fabric on the floor, searching for the perfect piece for their artistry. Sadly,  many of their pictures are of the terrible mudslides that so recently changed this little town forever.

I had hoped to be blogging more regularly, but somehow the days are so full, that by the time the English lessons are over, the tropical tiredness sets in, and, well, you know how it goes.

Hasta pronto .... Tricia

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tricia. LOve your article. Thanks for sharing. John Edgel has gone back home but we communicate regularly. Keep up the good work....JOhan at