Tag Archives: volunteering with kids in Colombia

Life in La Virginia – the kids!

I’ve already written a bit about life in this small town. There’s so much to tell – some of it flashing as surface ‘stuff’, more of it, hidden below, invisible to my eye as a foreigner who sometimes forgets to take off her rose-colored glasses in life.

Me with kids on my street.  On any given day they'll run with notebooks for a lesson or more likely want to come and see what my place looks like.

Me with kids on my street. On any given day they’ll run with notebooks for a lesson or more likely want to come and see what my place looks like.

What’s it like to be a ‘kid’ in a relatively poor town in a dry, hot place in the coffee region of Colombia, where the main business is the planting, harvesting, and processing of sugar cane? As best as I can tell…

Kids seem happy, curious, open even when shy, easily playing marbles or football on the street any time they aren’t in school or when the sun is too hot. Every kid seems to have a bicycle and can be seen cycling up and down streets or heading to the local store for dinner additions. Kids have lots of freedom here and discipline is a problem in all schools (public and private).  Kids everywhere in the country seem to be very kinesthetic and need lots of variety and change in learning. I’ve found it best to let them guide what I’m going to ‘teach’ them or what we’re going to talk about.

What do kids ask:  besides if I have kids and how old I am, they ask about violence in the states.  They seem to have the view of the states as so many have about Colombia.   They ask about shootings, murder and suicide.  The former is a known entity here, but suicide is pretty much unheard of, and that’s with all the poverty and recent killings around them.  The other thing they ask about is how high the buildings are and what it’s like to ride in an elevator.  Imagine! This is a town where only a handful of buildings are more than two stories high.  When they learn I am flying back to the states they want to know if I get sick – like taking a bus from Medellin or Bogotá.  (Fortunately not – taking the bus from Medellin was a 2-bag trip for me, one I’d rather not repeat…)

Me with 2 of the girls from Pedro Pablo Bello hanging out in Daniella's house (she's the one in the middle.  This after she made fun of my sunglasses with the glitter chipping aways.

Me with 2 of the girls from Pedro Pablo Bello hanging out in Daniela’s house (she’s the one in the middle. This after she made fun of my sunglasses with the glitter chipping aways.

Kids at the local fiesta wander about on their own. Maybe it’s because the town is small and relatively safe? Or that parents – or more likely mothers were on their way. Every kid seems to love  which is regatone, a type of latin music with a rap-like beat (or lack there-of). The louder it’s played the better, or so people must think.    This they share after they ask me how I like the music (hmm… well….) and with many holding (and drinking from) a can of beer. Maybe it’s better to ‘teach’ kids to drink at any early age. I don’t know.  And then there’s the dancing – sexy salsa which they learn before learning to walk – or so it seems to me.

As many kids have told me, drugs are also a problem.  While cocaine is really a ‘foreigner thing’, there is more than enough coke and marijuana to go around for everyone to become users.  While I’ve heard about the plethora of drugs all around me everywhere, especially in Medellin, I haven’t been approached – amazingly…  or sadly…..  It’s been here, wandering the streets that my senses have been filled most often with the smell of marijuana wafting through the cool night air.   One afternoon I was bushwhacking with the guys along the river when the smell hit us and we could see the glow of a light ahead.  By the time we got to the source, three kids – maybe 8 – 12 – were innocently munching mangoes.

Last day of class at the escuela, kids celebrating a 'group birthday

Last day of class at the escuela, kids celebrating a ‘group birthday

Dancing on the last day of school.  I had a salsa lesson from these 10 year olds.

Dancing on the last day of school. I had a salsa lesson from these 10 year olds.

Nancy, the primary teacher is one of the most gracious and joyous people I met in La Virginia.  Here she is on the last day pouring soda in between taking pics, dancing, and celebrating the kids.

Nancy, the primary teacher is one of the most gracious and joyous people I met in La Virginia. Here she is on the last day pouring soda in between taking pics, dancing, and celebrating the kids.

One high-schooler, though they don’t refer to it as high school, let me know that the only options for students revolve around manual labor – construction or sugar cane processing. He plans on leaving and going to University and he certainly was thoughtful. Kids have high goals as recent graduates talked about University plans to become engineers and architects. I don’t know what percentage of kids go to University – and how many come back here.

Two students came to join me on the street one day holding these blankets - and newborn pups.  The white one only 15 days old!

Two students came to join me on the street one day holding these blankets – and newborn pups. The white one only 15 days old!

And then there’s sex – girls shared it’s not unusual for girls to get pregnant at 14, 16 – and even at 12! Not that the U.S. is immune to this kind of problem – there’s just this universal challenge of young poor girls getting pregnant. I’ve met far more women with kids – and no husbands or father around which seems to be more the norm than the exception. And yes, kids are offered condoms – especially the girls. They are freely handed out. As one of the staff from the program pondered – ‘I don’t know why they don’t use them.” Is there the same problem in other cities or regions?  Or like in so many other places, including the U.S., the issue is economics.

I ran into Juan Carlos on the street one day - he wanted to practice English, a week later he walked me to my 'hotel' along the road, commenting on the garbage and the need for environmental education.  His English was excellent!

I ran into Juan Carlos on the street one day – he wanted to practice English, a week later he walked me to my ‘hotel’ along the road, commenting on the garbage and the need for environmental education. His English was excellent!

Every street seems to have one designated house that pulsates with music flooding the wonderfully cool evening.  These days that pounding music is accentuated by flashing Christmas lights that have been up for the last few weeks. There’s a point to all this stay with me… Escorted home one night by M. (with the hair), one of his students was celebrating a birthday a few houses down from me, and we were invited to come in. After being offered a drink and potato chips and singing happy birthday, the regatone was turned up to a decibel level that had my neck skin vibrating. That wasn’t the only thing vibrating: Boys leaning against the wall danced while girls gyrate their butts against the boys penises. The mother caught my eye, pointed and seemed to shrug.   I couldn’t help but think this was a pregnancy waiting to happen.

Marlon, the son of the woman who helped cook where I had lunch holding a balloon we found on our morning walk

Marlon, the son of the woman who helped cook where I had lunch holding a balloon we found on our morning walk

Dance is such a part of the culture and latin dancing is certainly provocative at its most innocent. But then there is dress: Provocative dressing is the norm, the tighter the better. I wondered out loud last night if there was an inverse relationship between a woman’s (poor) body image and economics. Here, there seems no body self-consciousness and the curvier the better so girls learn to flaunt from an early age.   I have never felt so thin.    Plastic surgery is huge here – not so much wrinkles – that doesn’t appear to be an issue:  it’s butt and boob implants.  If nothing else, an interesting way for people to spend their small, if any, discretionary income.

 

A decorated street in the barrio where the primary school is. The coolest decorations I've seen!

A decorated street in the barrio where the primary school is. The coolest decorations I’ve seen!

Many kids let us know learning English will be their saving grace and they want to learn. As I’ve mentioned before, after several years of classes, kids can’t say much. There’s no chance to speak and practice, especially in a town like this that has little if any access to foreigners.  Teachers are faced with the same issue – they may know their grammar, but speaking is a whole other thing and another ‘challenge’ for teaching kids the language.

I had a chance to go to a teachers' celebration day at a local park/farm.  Here's a kid feeding the pigs - no worries, I did too along with feeding the goats and sheep and....

I had a chance to go to a teachers’ celebration day at a local park/farm. Here’s a kid feeding the pigs – no worries, I did too along with feeding the goats and sheep and….

Nukanti, the wonderful organization I volunteered with is a wonderful drop in the bucket to provide kids a chance to expand their lives.  And always there’s the question, how to capture and harness openness, curiosity and joy!

Me petting a pony at Con Familiar, at the teachers celebration

Me petting a pony at Con Familiar, at the teachers celebration

 

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