Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I cannot believe it...

It has been awhile since I updated my blog but it has been pretty boring here lately. Work has been slow and uneventful and well we all know my social life is non existent. But there has been a couple of “I cannot believe it” moments recently.

I have said it before but I cannot get over the wealth disparity here. I know it exists everywhere but it is just amazing clear here. For example, last week I was working in a new community and the women who showed up to the meeting were not wearing shoes. I mean I am not sure if they just didn’t wear shoes or they didn’t have any shoes to wear (I have learned to stop asking these sorts of questions because the answer is normally who knows or saber, as we say here). A couple of days later I am in Antigua at a procession where I see these 14 or 15 year old girls wearing $200 plus jeans standing next to people who have holes in their clothes. It blows me away that one day I am working with people who cannot even afford shoes and the next I am watching as the two worlds collide. CRAZY!

I have come a conclusion about development work, it is going to continue to be a long struggle until the education systems improve. In Guatemala the students are in school for only five hours a day, two of which is probably spent actually doing school work. The other three hours they are either having recess, cleaning, working on things for the big party they are having that month or just sitting in the classroom doing nothing while the teachers have meetings or talk on their cell phones (yes, the teachers here will answer their cell phones in the middle of teaching)! I love the work that I am doing but I have to say that the most frustrating thing is the lack of critical thinking skills. Many times unless I spell out exactly what I want to get across then it is lost on people. For example, I am currently trying to facilitate the development of the Cooperative that we are forming. I have been working on the procedure manual, when the meetings will be conducted, how long a president serves, what are the rights and obligations of the members and so forth. During these meetings I try to ask open ended questions to get them thinking about things but many times this does not work. They can’t seem to grasp the question unless it is a direct one with a clear answer so this has lead me to my conclusion that so much development work could be improved if the education systems were improved.

Another example is with my English class that I have started to teach. For homework I assigned five sentences in Spanish that they had to translate to English. They had all the information in their lessons, all the verb conjugations, the vocab and the articles that were needed to complete the homework. I got to class yesterday and none of them had done it because they couldn’t find the answers in the lesson. I explained to them that the sentences where not in the homework but that they had to use the knowledge and information in the lessons to translate the sentences. You would have thought I was speaking French because they just stared at me and told me they didn’t know how to do that. I almost fell out of my chair. Maybe I am being a little harsh but I really believe that until the education system improves it is going to be very hard for the development work to achieve its goal!

This past Sunday, Domingo de Ramas or Palm Sunday, marked the beginning of Semana Santa or Holy Week. This means that no one works, the kids do not have school and I have nothing to do. It also means that there are beautiful processions and delicious food. This past Sunday San Martin hosted a massive Youth festival for kids all over Chimaltenango and Solola, 10,000 people to be exact. All I have to say is that I was up at 5 am because of all the noise, I could barely get out of my house to go to the market and I have never felt so out of place in my life. My sitemante, Candy, and I decided to check out this massive festival which was held at the soccer stadium and let’s just say I never want to experience that again. Most people in San Martin have seen us and are use to us but the other 9,000 people gawked at us like we were aliens from another planet who showed up for the party! But what are you going to do but stare at the tall girl with curly hair and the blond, blue eyed chick, we are aliens!

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