08 Sep
  • By Theresa DeSouza
  • Cause in

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?”

by Caitie Lezell

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?”

– Switchfoot

Monday begins my third week working at UPAVIM, and though I still have an extraordinary amount more to learn about this organization and this neighborhood, I’ve certainly more or less established a daily routine. And so, I figured that it would be appropriate to share what “a day in the life” looks like for me.

As I’ve said before, I am working in Reforzamiento, a tutoring program within the school portion of UPAVIM. I am there with two other volunteers, Linda and Paul, and our boss, Reyna, the spunkiest little Guatemalan I ever did meet! It is wonderful company, to be sure.

Our mornings start rather slowly (which is nice; it allows time for the coffee to kick in)… an hour of cleaning, lesson prepping, etc. We then spend two hours working with children who don’t go to any type of formal school, for whatever reason. We have four or five children who regularly come during this time, a few different ages. A large majority of our children throughout the day come from extraordinarily difficult home situations, be it due to poverty, abuse, a combination of the two, or something else entirely, and so unfortunately to have children such as these with little to no schooling background is not all that uncommon. I am still learning the details of these children’s particular stories, why it is that they are not in school, so on, and so forth… and though we are only able to do so much with them for such a small amount of time a few mornings a week, I am so thankful that they are able to have some form of an education, some bit of time to just be a child in a classroom with a teacher and books and toys.

And then for the next hour, in comes Prepa! “Prepa” is the equivalent of kindergarten in the U.S.; I learned recently that this particular group is actually a year younger than Prepa, meaning it’s more of “prepping for Prepa,” or, something along the lines of a preschool. At any rate, they are a dozen or so of the cutest, silliest little guys and gals, and spending an hour each morning singing, coloring, and counting with them brings me more smiles than I could ever begin to tell. We are moving on from crayons at some point in the next week; next stop: colored pencils. We’re all very excited.

We then have a two hour break for lunch, which is certainly a nice change from the twenty minutes (if that) I would generally have for lunch at previous jobs. Those two hours generally consist of siestas and Facebook.

After lunch begins more of the tutoring portion of the day. Linda, Paul, and I are technically meant to spend the first hour with the first grade, while Reyna has “real” Prepa, the second hour with the second grade while Reyna has third, and the third hour a mix of fourth, fifth, and sixth, but scheduling never works out quite that smoothly. These three hours are a mix of independent homework time and mini-lessons attempting to reinforce (hence, the name of the program, “Reforzamiento”) what they are supposed to be learning in school in the mornings. In theory, we try for a day of math, a day of reading and writing, and a day of social sciences each week, with the occasional English lesson here and there, but, you know, sometimes theory and practice don’t quite match up. And for reasons I certainly don’t understand, the kids, especially the older ones, love math. And so while it gets us off track more often than not, if they are actually excited to be doing multiplication and fractions and geometry, who are we to stop them?

The younger children are precious and so much fun, of course, but I truly love working with the older kids. As I have mentioned before, I am hoping (long-term) to work in the field of social development in Central America, particularly with teenagers, and this has so far been a really wonderful way to start with that.

(I may start giving adult ESL lessons one afternoon a week as well, but that hasn’t started yet. I do hope it does, though!)

One of the primary purposes of Reforzamiento – aside from the obvious academic portion of it – is to serve as a safe haven for these children, as a way for them to stay off of the streets, away from the violence and the negative influences of this neighborhood and its surrounding areas (or, in some cases, out of their violent homes) for just a bit longer each day after they finish school. And so each minute that they can spend inside with us, the better, as far as I’m concerned, and I know I’m not alone in that opinion.

I won’t pretend that it has been easy for me adjusting to life here. Living in La Esperanza is extremely challenging in and of itself, and I had an overwhelming number of second thoughts my first few days here: is this actually the type of work I want to be doing? Am I actually ready to commit to eight months? Am I capable of this work? Can I handle living in a neighborhood this dangerous for this long (and do I even want to)? But, in complete sincerity, at the risk of sounding so extraordinarily cliché, each morning and each afternoon, these children rid me of those doubts. They are beautiful; they are so resilient; they are so much stronger than I will ever be. To just stop and think about all that they have already had to witness and learn and endure at such young ages, and then to see their smiles, their joy, and their love: it is truly overwhelming at times. They have assured me each day so far that I have been here with them that, yes, for now, I am content. I am not going to change their lives; I do not have the ability to just make better opportunities exist for them, to keep them safe, to give them back their innocence. But, if nothing else, each day I can give them hugs, smiles, and at least an hour to just be children. And for that, I am so thankful.

(I know it’s a bit blurry, but here’s some Preppa cuteness for your viewing pleasure!)

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Originally posted on Caitie’s personal blog: http://ladycaitie.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/this-is-your-life-are-you-who-you-want-to-be/.

Thank you Caitie for sharing your blog with us!