Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pa-ty, I think we are crazy

My good friend and fellow volunteer Tricia and I have been working on separate “healthy living” projects in our respective communities for the past few months. My project has been focused on an exercise club in my school – focused mainly on soccer, basketball, and baseball/softball for both boys and girls. Tricia has been teaching cooking class once a week for some of the older students in her school focused on healthy ingredients and techniques. Additionally, she has been working on improving the nutrition of her community by trying to integrate more protein into their diets with the future building of tilapia pools. Both of our projects also included money to take the participating kids on an excursion where we would try to tackle some sort of athletic achievement. In our minds we both wanted to take the kids to hike the San Miguel volcano (a potentially amazing achievement for them and relatively close to our sites) but quickly learned that it is a DIFFICULT hike and essentially impossible with 40 kids. When we both realized that our original idea was way too out there we both were caught scrambling for a replacement place of the same type of caliber to bring our students. You know they say, “Two minds are better than one,” so we decided to put our minds, money, and excursions together. 

Somehow we ended up with the idea to climb the tallest mountain in El Salvador-
Cerro El Pital. What sounds better than "I climbed the tallest mountain in my country?"We figured the kids would feel really motivated to go on the trip, which would help with keep attendance high for our lectures and classes. It sounded good on paper (not so much logistically speaking) to take 40 kids from the eastern most departments of El Salvador to the opposite side of the country to climb the country’s tallest mountain. The kids, teachers, and community members were understandably stoked with the idea, especially because this would probably be the only opportunity they would have to see such a noteworthy place. Unfortunately, we got a little ahead of ourselves and announced the location before having all the details worked out (plus even when we have details worked out ahead of time, something always happen). There were so many issues during the planning that Tricia and I both almost quit the project about 100 times each. I think it is only because we had each other to lean on when they other one was feeling hopeless that we were able to pull this off. Additionally, neither of us could bear to tell our communities that El Pital was impossible given our serious financial restraints and inability to coordinate everything given the circumstances, so we brainstormed for two painful weeks on all the ways we could make this dream come true. Even up until two days before the trip we were unsure if we could make it happen, especially when our contracted bus up the price from $600 to $1000. But our communities together really came through in the end. My host mom (school director) was able to contract a different bus for $800 and my community development organization paid the $200 difference. Tricia’s community came through big and provided endless amounts of energy food for all the kids—to keep the kids happy and occupied during the long, long bus ride. So, we decided to go for it, but felt SO crazy to be attempting to tackle such a long journey, overnight with 40 kids with just two Peace Corps Volunteers (plus Brian and our regional leader Jess who were nice enough to come and help us out). Crazy, but doable...

Eventually, the big day arrived and given the challenges of planning the trip everything seemed to go pretty smoothly (well for El Salvador). We had a few problems here and there throughout the day. My community arrived 2 hours ahead of Tricia’s at the meeting place (no one’s fault, just unfortunate planning), my host mom freaked out about the bus climbing half way up the mountain and the ability of the bus driver to drive appropriately, then we all freaked out about getting down the mountain in time and catching the last bus back to meet with our bus, there were definite struggles for some students and teachers trying to climb up the mountain as well (many did not finish), and of course the long journey proved to be a little challenging for the students and teachers, especially when we arrived at our lodging place at 9:30 p.m. after getting up at 1:00 a.m. Needless to say, it was a long day. 

But the trip was worth it in so many ways. 

The journey up the mountain was a beautiful one--giving the kids a view like none other before in addition to experiencing the bitter, bitter cold for the first time too. Most of the students and teachers were able to get up the 5 KM to the top and say they conquered the tallest mountain in their country, which is something I believe they will never forget. We came down from the hike, played some ice breakers, danced a little bit, laughed, and reached the lodging area with kids still anxious to play all together on the soccer field. We stayed the night in Alegria which is another beautiful town in the southern part of the country giving the students and teachers a chance to see another incredible place in their country. The next day we had a nice tour of Alegria and finished up the camp with a small ceremony complete with paper ribbons and diplomas for each participant. My favorite part of this trip, however, is that it gave our two schools an opportunity to meet and talk with other teachers and students--a rare exchange and a unique experience for both of our communities. They are already talking about the next thing we are going to do together!

Here is a glimpse of the trip:

Group of students, profe, and I at the top!

Karen and I (she is my favorite girl-7th grader)

Look out point! 

Playing dinamicas (ice breakers) while waiting for the bus
Kids playing soccer at 10 p.m. after our long day! What energy!

Next morning playing in the park at 7 am--more energy!

All in all a successful trip, but I am so relieved and happy it is over. I am not sure how we managed to pull off such a lavish trip on so little funds just her and I, but we did.  I think Patty and I are just crazy, especially because we may have already started discussing the next project together. ;)

*Special hugs and love to Tricia, her teachers, and her students. It was such a pleasure to share this experience with all of them. I could not imagine a better partner in crime to tackle the crazy. Love ya girl. 

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