March 28, 2011

...Difficulty Reading

Growing up, many children pass through a phase where the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  is responded with a confident, "I'm going to be a teacher!" However, for me, I don't remember ever really having the desire to spend my days in front of a chalkboard. This aversion to life as an educator could be due to numerous reasons. (Personally, I believe it was the result of a particularly memorable game of 'School' with my three older siblings, when I was FINALLY allowed to play the sacred position of 'Teacher', and my brothers and sister took great pleasure in taking on the form of  Satan's hellions and simultaneously distinguishing any spark of interest I ever held towards the profession..)
Anyway, enough childhood trama....I've always known that teaching wasn't my vocation.  As an International Studies: Human Rights major, I spent my undergraduate years studying the anthropological, political, religious, and sociological aspects of human rights around the world. With this aquired knowledge,  I have grown into a firm believer that education is the most important and the very foundation of what is necessary for a country to succeed and for the rights of its citizens to be recognized.  The very idea, formation, development and implementation of any progress whatsoever to occur, it all stems from the quality and availablity of education. Without this, improvement is unable to follow. I have studied this. I have researched this. I have witnessed this. I have EXPERIENCED this--all while secure in the knowledge that teaching isn't for me.

Throughout my eight weeks here, I have been hit, kicked, punched, and bitten. And those experiences have not been the most trying. What I have struggled with more than anything else has been patience: To acquire the patience to sit with a child and attempt to explain long division ( in Spanish), to have patience while teaching kids how to look up words in the dictionary, or to find the patience to explain a concept for the fifth time because a child wasn´t understanding.

There is this seven year old girl, China (pronounced Chee-nah), who I work with nearly everyday.  Her mother has five children from five different men and is currently pregnant with her sixth child, so China lives with her grandmother. Due to this, China has no one to encourage her or push her to do her school work. So, at the age of 7, she is still unable to read. And not just this, she still has difficulty identifying the letters of the alphabet. The worst thing about the situation is that China attends school everyday. Each day, the education system repeatedly fails her.  So I have made it a personal goal of mine to work with her to learn her letters of the alphabet and God willing, help her begin to learn to read.

Another child I work with, Joaquin, does not even attend school. I'm not sure of his entire story, but I believe that he is a Haitian refugee and does not have the proper documentation to attend school here in the Dominican Republic. Joaquin doesn't come to the Oratorio on a regular basis, but he has been around enough for me to learn that he doesn't know his letters, his numbers, or even his age. I've tried asking him numerous times, but have received answers ranging from 8 years old to 29 years old (He looks to be about 7). The other day, while playing Bingo with a few of the kids at the Oratorio ( I was dubbed the official spinner), Joaquin runs into the room, full of energy and enthusiasm. He asked to play the game with us and of course, I agree. I spun and the arrow landed on B 5. Within seconds of calling it out, Joaquin is frantically pulling on my arm, asking "Do I have it? Do I have it?" So I said to him, "Well, let's see. Where's the letter B?" Well Joaquin proceeds to point to every single NUMBER on the Bingo board. When I tried to ask him what was a letter and what was a number, he couldn't tell me...Hard to believe, right?

So now, here I am, after two entire months of spending the vast majority of my day helping with homework, teaching English, and trying to figure out exactly HOW to help with homework and teach English, I am even more certain that I am being called to another job. BUT, over these last two months, I truly know that it takes an INCREDIBLY special, amazing individual to be a teacher. Both my sisters are such amazing individuals and I have grown to be be ever so thankful for the educators of our world.

I will say this: it has been incredibly rewarding to see the results. When a student FINALLY begins to understand their homework or when a child comes running into the classroom the next day to tell me that they received a perfect score on the homework I had helped with the day before. Those moments make all the other frustrating ones seem SO worth it.

March 13, 2011

...Drastic Revisions

I consider myself to be an extremely flexible person. I credit this to growing up as the middle child of seven kids. I was also an RA in first year residence halls for three years. I've seen a lot. I can handle even more. And situation that will shock me and few and far between.  However, sometimes I feel as though God is taking all of my weaknesses and testing me through this experience. The short list of simple pet peeves and idiosyncrasies I have seem to pop up everywhere here and force me to be re-evaluate my own comfort zone and tolerance.
Take personal space for instance. A definite quirk  about me.True, most people have a sense of personal space they don't want crossed, but I sometimes take this to the extreme. For example, I don´t like when people stand really close to me, hang on me, or touch my back when i don't see them coming. Oh, and i really don't like it when people touch my face. Even now, typing this out, I am laughing, just imagining the reactions of different people reading this. I mean duh. there are certain things you just don't do, right? Like its not socially acceptable to go up and play with someone's hair while they are in mid-conversation with someone else. And its not too typical to casually touch someone´s face while talking to them. And am I wrong, (with the exception of  maybe pregnancy), or it is really not okay to stand next to someone and stroke their stomach?  Well, the kids here seem to be just fine with doing all of the above, especially the latter. Kids love to put their hands on Kristen and my stomach. I'm always like, " Yep, thats my fat. Thanks". Really, You can´t make this stuff up.
Granted, I work with street children, but it still throws me each time a kid I don´t even know comes and sits on my lap or begins tracing the writing on the front of my shirt. Not much seems to be off limits. Just the other day in fact, this little girl was talking to me, just rubbing my stomach, thinking nothing of it, and she felt my belly button ring. Not knowing what it was she felt,  she lifts up my shirt to see what it is! While fighting shock and hystarical laughter, I tried to explain to the girl why this is just NOT okay. But, have you ever tried to explain to a child seemingly basic social etiquette? Not easy in any language...
I could go on, but I must be off to prepare for another week. I'll tell you, there is never a dull moment here in the Dominican Republic. Stay tuned for more! :) Love you and miss you all!

March 03, 2011

...Discover, Re-learn

Moving to another country and attempting to assimilate yourself into the culture is a process in which all aspects of your "previous" life are put into perspective. All of a sudden you find yourself  within environments and situations completely unlike any you've seen before. Of course this is an expected occurrence to some degree, but many don´t realize that the process of integrating oneself to a foreign culture requires a re-learning some of the most basic habits and customs. Even the most seemingly common and simple tasks you've never given thought to need to be re-evaluated.
Think of all the daily occurrences which our responses become close to instinctual: pulling to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle has its siren on, stopping at a red light, stepping to the side if someone needs to get past you, waiting in line at the checkout, etc.  All these actions make perfect sense to us. They rarely require an explanation because we've watched things done all our lives. Oh and by the by, everything I listed above is considered pretty much optional here in the DR...
Even as we face new experiences in our own culture, we unconsciously evaluate it by using our own background, culture, and social norms as a measuring device. From this personal evaluation, we deduce whatwe know to be the appropriate response or reaction for the current circumstances. Its basic human nature, we rarely are aware of it. But when this involuntary thought process is done in a foreign country, the "measuring device" often fails to calculate the culturally correct answer. The result? Numerous mix-ups, constant confusion, and never ending awkward moments.   

 Let me tell you a little story: it was a Monday in which children were asked not to come to Mano a Mano in order for the teachers to go to each of the children's houses for a home visit. (oh, Kristen and I weren´t informed that no children would be coming that day until about 30 minutes AFTER we arrived and we finally asked someone what was going on.) So anyway, Kristen and I leave the Oratorio with three other teachers and make our way down the street. We came to a house, where a small group of people were gathered looking solemn. they seemed to be waiting outside the house for us, and parted as we passed them on our way to the front door. As this was our first stop, I assumed that this was simply just the way a typical home visit unfolded. I made my way up the walk, smiling happily at each person in turn, putting on my most friendly face. As I entered through the front door, i froze mid step, My heart dropped into my stomach and my facial expression changed in one of shock and horror. In the middle of the room, less than three feet from where I stood frozen, was a casket which held a young man.  Apparently I had arrived at a funeral the way someone arrives at a party. A little heads up would have been nice, but the teachers felt no need to explain because their own knowledge saw the situation and immediately recognized it as a funeral.  I left the house unable to look anyone in the eye. A few minutes later when I was able to speak again, I turned to Kristen. Her face displayed everything I felt. And even though it was a sad event, the way the circumstances unfolded requires the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. That's what gets you through.