Saturday, September 8, 2012

A typical Salvadoran Day

The day that I about to describe is actually not all that typical. It is not everyday that I find myself in a bus packed with 40 students under the age of 12, 30 parents, and 5 teachers from my school heading to the capital. What I mean by typical is that this day represented perfectly just how unstable and unpredictable life is here in El Salvador. Days here are often filled with the both the best of times and the worst of times, so I find myself describing life here as “disastrously okay.” What do I mean by that? Generally, no matter what I do, how hard I try, no matter whom I am with, how much I plan, life and its events always seem to end up with or in some sort of disaster. However, even though there is always some kind of disaster, it always ends up turning out okay. And for that part I am grateful. At least it always turns out okay.

Back to the bus trip I mentioned above…

A few months ago my host mom/school director suggested doing an excursion from my site to the capital to visit the Zoo and a very popular, amazing children’s museum with the younger students. The inner nerd in me agreed completely. I love museums (especially this one in the capital) and educational field trips. The only problem was funds. How were we going to raise over $500 to do such an extravagant trip? Very few parents would be willing to put forth enough money to make the trip possible. So, I looked into potential Peace Corps resources and applied for a grant (SPA), which focuses on variety of different needs areas including biodiversity and environmental education. For my grant application, I decided to develop a 1, 2, and 3rd grade environmental unit (which features a trip to the museum and zoo) based on a book designed for Environmental Education volunteers that includes various lessons on different topics including: animals, trees, insects, worms, recycling, water, forests, etc. The book is more suitable for older kids, so I was forced to make a lot of my lessons and change different parts of others. Despite my lack of knowledge in the teaching and lesson planning department, the class turned out very well including lessons on the following topics: conservation, ecosystems, the circle of life/food chain, animals, insects, trees, soil, recycling, water, and a few more. I tried my best to make the lessons fun, interactive, unique, and special each week. For example, I taught The Giving Tree when I gave the lesson on trees. The week on water we watched Planet Earth that documented the importance of water and its power.

The kids seemed to really enjoy the class. It even helped raise attendance records in the afternoons (when I gave the class to 2 and 3rd grade). The teachers made several comments that the students also seemed much more motivated during class time. The promise of a trip to the zoo will sure do that to a kid! We offered the trip to the zoo to the kids who came to the classes the most often and their parents. The trip would be free for all except that each parent paid $3 for the insurance of their child. With the grant application I explained that a trip to the zoo and this children’s museum as the final class would provide a real life example of conservation (zoo), a special opportunity that these kids would otherwise never have, and be a real educational but fun experience.  Based on that we were able to receive adequate funds to finance the trip completely (with the parents paying insurance for community contribution).

After all the classes the day to take the big trip to the zoo arrived. And it arrived early. We had to leave Upire at 2:30 a.m. to arrive in San Salvador at 9:30 a.m. to begin our tour at the museum. Just getting there involved some hiccups... 
  • Disaster #1: Purely getting up at 2:30 and making sure 70 people fit into a bus together. Trust me, it is not fun.
  • Disaster #2: Bus breaks down. (It turned out Okay: we got in running again. Eventually).
  • Disaster #3: 70 people who have to go the bathroom. No public bathrooms. Use your imagination.

We finally arrive at Tin Marin around 9:30 a.m., which is a children’s museum in San Salvador that is absolutely stunning. It is filled with all kinds of hands on learning and experiential activities for children (and adults!) of all ages. This part of the day was my favorite—just seeing a number of children from my community who never have had the opportunity to come to the capital let alone experience this grand museum and all it has to offer was truly special. The museum has a life size plane, train, model lunar vehicle, a planetarium, a model volcano, a play supermarket, a Theatre, a bubbles area, a painting area, among other amazing exhibits, which for kids in rural El Salvador to see all of these things is a rare and memorable event. Of course, this part did not go as well as it sounds. 
  • Disaster (not necessarily a disaster, but certainly buts a damper on the day) #1: For every ounce of happiness the children had, the parents were filled to the brim with negativity. All the things I thought kids would complain about-being hungry, tired, cold, bored, etc all came from the parents.  When are we going home? We have to keep walking? Where is the food? It is so cold here. I am tired. I don’t wanna…Grr. Soon, I was a human disaster filled with anger and resentment listening to these complaints, rather than hearing just ONE thank you. Not a single Thank you came my way.
**Here I try to remember that most of these parents are not used to such long days. They are not used to excursions, walking all day, and being in an unfamiliar place. So, I should be more understanding of their feelings and frustrations.
  • Disaster#2: Stemming from the issue above leads to an argument over whether or not we should continue with the plan and go to the zoo too. The plan was to leave the museum at 12:30 and be at the zoo until 2:30-3. We did not leave the museum until 1:30, so most of the parents wanted to bag the zoo plan. My host mother stepped in lamenting the fact that we would never get the opportunity to go the zoo with these kids again (for free!). So we went. This leads to more of Disaster #1. Cue more angry, tired, annoyed parents. Great.
  • Disaster #3: We get to the zoo. Most of the parents don’t want to pay to go in ($1—which was agreed upon before the trip that the parents would pay this one fee) so that turns into another semi argument. Arguments are not fun when: 1. you have 70 tired people 2. you have 70 tired people yelling at 1 Gringa whose Spanish is mas o menos (so-so) 3. when said Gringa wins argument and the resulting backlash…
But eventually we all go in the zoo and are there for a couple of hours (1:30-3:30). The kids and even parents seemed to really enjoy seeing the animals. The snakes, zebras, and rare birds were probably the biggest hits. The kids just would not stop talking about the snakes though. All in all once we were in I think everyone really was thankful that we decided to go there as well. By 3:30 everyone was pretty much done for the day, which was fine by me (I had been up since 1 a.m.). We were leaving the parking lot of the zoo around 4 on our long journey home (the bus smelling like weird fried foods that everyone bought at the zoo).

The trip home was long. And eventful. 
  • Disaster #1: A bathroom emergency of unknown proportions (guilty, yours truly). When we finally stopped I had almost peed my pants.
  • Disaster #2: We get about 1 hour from home and we come to a complete stop. What do you know? A tree had fallen in the street prohibiting us from passing. We call 911 and the police and the Mayor – of course none of them come. We resolve to spending the night, but then the police come an hour later.  YAY! However, they end up just watching and staring as my two neighbors (one being the driver) and my host brother tie a long metal chain to the tree and to the bus and then proceed to drag the tree out of the way. Problem solved! Although we did manage to ruin someone’s entire front yard in the process…oops. I guess the police can handle that…eventually.
  • Disaster #3: We get home at midnight. I walk into my room and it is covered in water. Yep, my room had flooded with that night’s storm. I spent the next hour cleaning my room, the next hour eating ( I got home absolutely starving), and finally fell into bed at 2:30 a.m. – a full 24 hours later. 
  • Disaster#4: Waking up at 5 a.m for Dia de Comercio. Talk about a walking zombie. And because of a meeting in my community I was at the school all evening after market day until about 7 p.m. Body shut down. 
The final disaster was the following Sunday. I probably looked like I had been hit by a train. But I digress...

Needless to say, a lot went wrong. Sorry this post is just a bunch of complaints (which maybe on paper don’t look that bad, but trust me in the moment were pretty awful). Ironically, I still see the day as a huge success. And I wouldn’t take it back for the world. Despite the complaining parents, rowdy children, a 24 hour experience of epic tiredness, the long journey in a crowded bus, bathroom issues (some of the worst issues you can have on a 6 hour bus ride), food issues (lack of snacks), and the worst of all not receiving one thank you from anyone on the excursion, I (in the cheesiest of ways) still am so glad I did this project. I got to see some my community’s poorest children have a moment they will hopefully never forget. I know I won’t ever forget their faces that day as they strolled the museum and the zoo asking questions, participating in the activities, talking about animals and they things they had seen, and sharing what they learned throughout the day. 

So all in all through every disappointment and challenge of this long long day, everything turned out okay. And after having been here a year and getting used to these disasters that are just so typical, “okay” has become downright awesome. 

kiddos and I

1 comment:

  1. wow,you made it happen,::]] you helping children learn and see animals places,that they might not ever have gotten to do..Sometimes adults act more like kids then kids do.You hear common phrase in the states,tha they need a vacation from their vacation.Probally same complaints,,tired too much walking long hours of activity.ect.I did laugh about some of the disaster,especially chaining the bus to the tree excurision,and bathroom stop haha.but you will look back and laugh lol.good job buddy,By the way,love the pic.what beautiful children