26 2 / 2014
As anybody who´s talked to me or has read my blog since I got to Estero knows that the kids here are a special breed. They are always playing, dancing in the street, climbing trees, swimming in the river, and curious about everything. My senior thesis at Union was about children throughout the world and how no matter their circumstances, they are all so similar. Kids want to play, draw, dance and run around. As an artist, I wanted to teach art classes in the school to bring about the creative and curious sides to all these energetic and lovable children. I have been teaching art here for about 7 months now and the kids all love it. I teach the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders each once a week. With the younger kids, I work mostly using colors, shapes, and numbers, as the majority of these students do not yet know the differences. I have done projects such as ¨connect the dots¨, ¨color by number¨and other exercises. Some days I simply read them a story and then have them draw the images they can imagine and interpret from the story. We work on drawing animals using only shapes or figures, and drawing certain animals or foods with the colors that most identify them. Las week they worked in partners to draw portraits of each other. Whenever they use their imagination and creativity, the pictures always come out unique and beautiful. For Valentine´s Day, I cut out pink hearts from construction paper and had them make cards for someone whom they love. I then taught them how to make flowers out of pipe cleaners so that they could give colorful flowers and a card to someone.
I personally think that having art in one´s life allows for an expansion of that person´s creativity, self-expression, and inflence on that person´s work or career. When people use their creative and visual sides of their brains, more often they are able to create new ideas and perspectives for their current lives and projects. It is important to have some type of art in everyone´s life, but especially in a child. It allows for them to learn in different ways as well as to expand their imagination and natural curiosity. Each week the children become more active and interested in their own creations.
26 2 / 2014
A couple weeks ago we had a meeting with the Padres de la Escuela (parents of the school) and the teachers to discuss a myriad of issues. The first that was brought up (a reason why Andrew and I had asked for the meeting) was from one of the parents concerning the assistencia (attendance) of the teachers at the school. The teachers often miss a couple days of school every week, or will often let their students out of class very early so that they themselves can go home earlier. When a teacher does not show up to school, the students are simply sent home. The fact that students are missing class a couple times a week is detrimental to their ability to learn and retain information. Kids have a basic right to learn, and these teachers are not giving them this right.
The fellows from last year had told me that the parents had brought up the assistencia at a meeting last year. But because nobody had any written evidence of their absences, the teachers lied and denied it all. This year, when Andrew and I decided to have a meeting with the parents and the teachers, I decided to start taking attendance on my own. By the time we actually had the meeting, I had about a month´s worth of their attendance. Within that month, there were only two times that all four teachers were present. When we brought this up in the meeting, we made it clear that the concern was only about the students. We did not want to cause a fight or invite blame, just to come up with a solution for this problem. This is not a problem for the parents or the teachers, it is about the students and their rights to a basic education.
Unfortunately, when the teachers rarely show up, or simply write things on the board for the students to copy (while they play music at their desk or take naps), the students fail to receive their basic level of education. There are far too many students of all ages and grades who cannot read at all.
When the topic of their assistencia was brought up, the teachers were livid. Anytime a teacher spoke, the parents all listened giving them respect. When a parent, or Andrew or I spoke, we were constantly interrupted by the teachers, yelling and screaming extremely rude things at everyone. They were very disrespectful to everyone involved, and refused to help resolve anything. They were appalled that we would take attendance and made crude remarks about certain parents.
As there was no solution made during this meeting, Andrew and I have thus decided to skip having another meeting with the teachers, and just go straight to the district. We are writing an oficio (an official letter of concern) for the district and will go with one or two parents to try and come up with a solution for the upcoming school year. These kids deserve someone to fight for them. They deserve an education.
22 2 / 2014
We have exactly 2 months left here in Estero before returning to the US. One of the main things we´re trying to do with our last couple of months is to inspire the people here that they can do so much on their own. A couple of months ago, Andrew and I were told that we might be the last fellows here in Estero. We recently found out that there will be 2 more next year, but we want to ensure the people here that they can do so much without the help of fellows or volunteers. There will not always be volunteers here, and our hope is to get these wonderful people to rely less on the help from people like us. Many people here, such as the Women´s Group, rely dependently on the fellows here and we are trying to simply ease that reliance. In doing so, we are workling hard with the Grupo de Jovenes (the youth group). This is the first generation of youth that the town has seen, who are mostly all in high school. They attend school in towns outside of Estero and aside from getting a higher education, they are also able to meet and learn from people who come from bigger towns. We are thus working on helping this group really become strong leaders in a myriad of projects for this town (such as getting cell phone service).
The problems that are prevalent in Estero derive from the fact that it is so small, isolated, and often forgotten by the government and the world around it. There are so many towns all over the country and throughout the world that just go unnoticed. It is not their fault, but it definitely leaves the people without much confidence or esteem.
The people in this town are not lazy or stupid. In fact they are some of the most hardworking people I have ever met. There is just a lack of opportunity and conviction. When they are constantly forgotten or passed over, it ensues a lack of drive in the people. The teachers don´t want to come to school everyday and often leave early, not allowing these children to learn to their fullest capacity. There also aren´t many jobs available. Currently, there is no running water (for the past month or so) and most days there´s no electricity. People want to work, they want a better education for themselves and their children, it is just extremely difficult when the government seems to forget about them and they lose their confidence to ammend these problems themselves.
The Grupo de Jovenes, however, has a lot more esteem. Their potential is incredible. They have a higher education, as well as the knowledge that there is so much they can do themsleves to help better the lives of the people of their town. They still fear that they can´t do certain things alone and without the aid of volunteers, but they can. My goal for the rest of my fellowship is to help create leaders within the people of the town, especially from the Grupo de Jovenes. We recently painted the inside of the biblioteca (the library where we often meet), and on one of the walls I painted a mural with a book filled with everything this group wants for the future of Estero (I will post a picture soon). Their potential is enormous, and the people of the town will only grow their own confidence if they see their own members of their own community as leaders, not just fellows. I am eager to see how these young, creative, and inspiring teens work together to better the community of Estero.
¨Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.¨ -Margaret Mead
22 1 / 2014
In the small town of Estero, there is only one primary school. It is located on the wáter and is within walking distance for all in the town. There are about 150 students and 4 teachers, all which was written about in a previous post. Often times, the teachers simply do not show up to school. The kids dress up in the uniforms and are turned away about twice a week. It is not noted or pressed when a teacher only shows up to school 3 times a week. This is very difficult for the children who want to learn and continue their education.
Last night, we had a meeting with the Becados and in the meeting Andrew and I decided to discuss some rumors that are floating around the town. According to many people, there will no longer be a primary school (Viña del Mar) for the upcoming schoolyear. We asked the becados to see if they knew anything or had heard anything about this. They had and told us it was already confirmed that there wont be a school here. I talked to a few more people who also heard this. Unfortunately, if there is no school here, the kids will be sent to a school in Gallera or Tonchigue (towns 30 minutes to an hour away— on the ranchero which is a public bus that rarely or never comes on time). They will also have to pay for the bus passes everyday— something that most families cannot afford. People will simply stop going to school. This is a huge problem, because people (every person) deserves the right to an education.
Andrew and I went to speak with the Director of the school this morning and she was unsure if anything was confirmed or not. We then went to the district to talk to the board of education. When we first met with a woman at the district, she asked us when we were returning to our country. We told her we leave in 3 months. She then asked us why it was our concern, if we won´t even be here when the school is shut down. If we´re not here, we need not worry about the people of Estero. This really upset me, as I am not here just to help the people for the moment. I want to help better their lives for the future. My heart and my work here does not leave when I leave. I still plan on helping this town after I return to the US, as well as continuing to work with the people to better their future through education and hardwork.
Luckily she came back and told us that for now, there will still be a school in Estero next year, but things might change in the near future. We will continue to make sure that the school will continue to exist, and if it does not, we have some backup ideas. If the children need to go to school in Gallera or Tonchigue, we will work to ensure that there are buses that will come solely to take the children to school (and at reliable times for free paid by the government).
One of the problems in the town is that many people lack confidence. This town is often forgotten in the scheme of Ecuador. Education in this country is extremely important and pushed, but only in certain parts of the country. Many towns on the coast of Ecuador are often forgotten, and thus when mistreated, the people here feel there is nothing they can do. They are often pushed down, and Andrew and I are here to bring them back up. They are all people and deserve the same basic necessities as everyone else. Basic education is one of those.
Here is another quote from Dr Paul Farmer (I recently finished the biography of Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder— which I recommend to all): ¨Clean wáter and health care and school and food and tin roofs and cement floors, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights.¨ None of us are better than another, and thus none of us deserve any less than another. These basics are the rights of everyone.
¨The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you¨ B.B. King
05 1 / 2014
This post was written a few weeks ago, in the middle of December. Because of my limited and infrequent access, I was unable to post this until now. At the end of the post I will share an update.
This week was a really tough week for me in Estero. I am witnessing the poverty here as a much more serious issue than I have before. A family I am very close with is currently going through a very serious medical drama. The daughter who is exactly my age has fallen extremely ill and has been in the hospital all week. I spent the last week with her traveling from hospital to hospital (and sleeping in the waiting rooms) with her and her mom as her illness gains more and more complications. The problem is that the illness isn´t new. She´s been sick for a while, I just didn´t realize how sick. Nobody did. About 3 months ago, her mother went to help take care of her and her 2 year old daughter. Because they didn´t have much money (this is one of the poorest families I´ve seen here), she didn´t take her to the hospital, afraid that they couldn´t afford the medications. The two (and the baby) came back to Estero while I was on vacation with my family. When her brother (a close friend of mine) asked me for some money to buy her random meds, I decided to see if there was anything else I could to. I went to their house to see her, and was shaken with what I saw. I found her on her hammock, barely able to breathe, skeletal looking, and swollen in random áreas of her body. I do not want to go into more of her medical business, but it was not good. I got her to the hospital as soon as I could the next morning (the closest hospital is about 1.5 hours away), and have been helping to pay for the medical care with the little money I have. Luckily, hospital stays are free in Ecuador, but the medications and basic essentials needed in the hospital cost money (drinking wáter, cups, adult diapers, shampoo and soap, etc.). I left at the end of the week to go home shower and get sleep, and was to return the next day, when her mother called me telling me further complications happened and she was being sent to Quito. I decided not to go to Quito because I am still needed in this town, but her mother has my phone and I have been in contact with her since.
The problem here is that the family didn´t want to or couldn´t help her when she needed it because they couldn´t afford it. This is one of the poorest families in the town and it is extremely difficult to watch a girl dying when it could have so easily been prevented. Another problem is the lack of formal education and proper medical care in this part of Ecuador. The parents didn´t realize that doctors and hospitals could actually help her, because there has never really been medical care in or near the town.
Often times people without education and proper healthcare are not aware of the importance of good doctors and good medicine. As Doctor Paul Farmer (a renowned doctor in Haití and other extremely poor parts of the world) puts it: ¨And when someone is very sick and people are used to seeing them die with the same symptoms and you give them meds and they rapidly recover, people think. And then they start talking.¨
***An update, as this was written in mid-Decemeber: She is still in the hospital in Quito and has recently come out of her coma. She was breathing through a machine, but according to her mother is now able to breathe on her (as of a few days ago). She still has tubes down her throat and cannot yet talk, but understands when spoke to. I am in constant contact with her mom throughout all of this as she still has my phone (nobody in the family can afford/ has a phone of their own). Her condition is very serious and the doctors still do not know when/ if she will be allowed to leave the hospital. Her name is Mirna, please keep her in your thoughts.
Sorry for a sad post, this is just one of the conditions that comes with living and working in an extremely impoverished part of the developing world.
09 12 / 2013
Since I arrived in Estero, it is very obvious how much sugar kids eat here, and how little many of them brush their teeth. In the house I am living in, the children never really brushed their teeth before I arrived. The parents don’t make them, and thus many kids in the town have completely rotten teeth. The girls in my house run out every morning to buy ice cream or candy, and continue eating fruits, candy, juices, etc throughout the day. Since my arrival, I have taught the kids in my house to brush their teeth, and they are now very excited to brush their teeth twice a day with me. I bought all the kids in my house toothbrushes, but I knew that the rest of the town needed a push to brush their teeth more regularly as well.
My dad is a dentist and I asked him for help a couple months ago. He was able to get a few hundred toothbrushes donated for the town, both kids sizes and adult. He also got hundreds of toothpastes as well. When my parents came to visit last week, we decided to go around and deliver the duffel bag filled with everything to the town and to the subcentro (health center). The people were so excited to receive this small gift and I am excited to help them continue living healthily. Although many of the young children have rotten teeth, I am hoping that by teaching them to brush everyday (as well as eat less sugary foods), by the time their baby teeth fall out, they can continue brushing and soon have beautiful and bright smiles! These kids are always smiling and laughing, and I want them all to have the best smiles possible!
29 11 / 2013
Last spring, before leaving for our prospective countries in July, all the Minerva Fellows took a course entitled “Social Entrepreneurship.” In this course we learned the importance of helping people in impoverished places work with what they have to create businesses and an income. As my fellowship placement did not require that I do this, I knew that I wanted to help motivate people of Estero in ways to improve their income and lives in any way I could. I also know how happy the people of Estero are and do not want to interfere with that happiness through introducing competition and greed. However, upon living in this town for the past 4.5 months, I have noticed some extremely talented and hardworking people. One in particular is a man named Carlos. He lives in his mother’s house with his own wife and kids, his mother, father, and two brothers. This man has recently built a workshop next to the house and makes incredibly beautiful and luxurious jewelry. He makes mostly earrings, but also necklaces (and I’m sure really any type of jewelry). The jewelry is made out of pearl shells, coconut shells, and compressed wooden branches that are found in the sea (he calls it “coral”). He sells to the tourists, but because his house and workshop are outside of the main part of town, many tourists do not know of his jewelry. I am currently making signs to help direct tourists to his shop, to help him gain some local support.
More so than this, I am helping him create a business through his talent. My parents recently visited Estero (more about their visit in another post), but beforehand I sent some of the pictures of his earrings to my mom. She loved them and sent the pictures around to her friends. They all loved them and gave her a few hundred dollars to buy a myriad of pairs for themselves and for gifts for $20 a pair. When I told Carlos that my mom was coming and wanted to buy many pairs, he quickly ran out to his workshop to make more. I then surprised him by making business cards for him with pictures of him at work and pictures of the jewelry. I am working on selling the pieces at Union this winter (through the help of my friends still at school), and planning on going to Quito with Carlos to help sell his jewelry to hotel gift shops and stores. They are all extremely unique and take much time, talent, and patience. When I told Carlos that I wanted to help sell them at my college and in Quito, he could not believe it. When I showed him the business cards, he was speechless, but quickly went back to work to create many more. This is a motivated, passionate, and talented man who deserves to share his gift. I want many people to know his jewelry and hope to help his business and success as much as possible.
29 11 / 2013