Good Ol’ Horas Públicas

For three seconds, heading out of the community center to go home felt like it had the dozens of times I had done it during my first months here. That fleeting moment to feel like an entire period of time and it wasn’t the first time that’s happened lately. Nostalgia is in the air these days. At least for me.

Perhaps I’ve been feeling rather sentimental because we’ve begun a new program cycle – one that brings us back to programming with a greater educational focus. It is a similar beginning to the one that spring boarded my experiences with Building Dignity. Now that the kids are in school, Horas Públicas, an oldie but goodie, is back and tonight it came with full force. For many volunteers, it’s probably the least enjoyable and most stressful program, but for some reason (one that I am still trying to figure out) I’m somewhat fond of it.

Exactly 36 kids passed through the community center this afternoon to receive help with their school assignments and or, to have a space to work. With only four people, including myself as tutors for the afternoon, it was undoubtedly a big challenge.

I feel fortunate to be able to reflect on how I’ve grown since my first Horas Públicas seven months ago. Can we just take a moment to think about how that was seven months ago?  At that point, I was three days in and I still felt like I had just stepped off of the airplane, eyes red from little sleep and a mind that tired from racing to catch up to everything that was happening around me. Sure, engaging with the kids and putting in the elbow grease on balancing mathematical equations (as told by one of my first blog posts) turned out to be more transformative than originally thought, but in the moment it was pretty stressful.

Nonetheless, this afternoon didn’t feel overwhelming. Several months ago, I would have emphasized how challenging it was to have to work with such a myriad of homework levels that was scattered upon several different people. But tonight, the hardest part was trying to help three elementary school kids with their homework assignment that told them to draw human behavior. Horas Públicas can be somewhat hard to navigate (figuratively and sometimes literally – making ones way through a room of studying young people can be surprisingly difficult) but I’m proud to say that it isn’t as overwhelming for me as it once was. I think that’s something that can be said for many aspects of my life here.

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Lessons in Horas Públicas

Before I started working at CEDED, I always anticipated that Voices of Youth would be one of the most challenging programs I would be involved in. Challenging in the sense of integrating my own skills, the prospect of dealing with teenagers that I didn’t know at all and trying to get them to feel empowered enough to become catalysts for positive social change. Just those things. But to my surprise, one of the most exhausting programs I’ve been involved with is horas publicas.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-11am and 4-7pm, the center is open for kids to get homework help. The morning sessions are usually very low maintenance, as the younger kids are in school and the older kids don’t necessarily need the tutoring. However, once it hits 4pm, the community center comes alive.

I’d say that the average total number of students that come in within the three-hour session would be at least 15. Students always outnumber volunteers. For example, tonight there came a point where I was juggling probably three or four kids. (Not literally, of course.) It’s a little crazy but somehow the kids get their questions answered and homework gets finished. Somewhat ironically, I always end up helping kids with math homework. This is ironic to me because I have never felt very strong with my math skills and yet here I am, helping ten-year-olds add and subtract multivariable equations. I think we can all agree that the more impressive feat is that ten-year-olds are adding and subtracting multivariable equations.

I’ve already experienced frustration with trying to work with the kids and tonight was no exception. I worked with one girl for probably an hour on her homework assignment that really should have taken about half that time. She just completely disengaged because she originally wanted to just use the computer to get the answers, but I told and showed her that we had a book that had the same information. It got to a point where she just completely stopped communicating with me. She even started crying a little. I’m not entirely sure if this particular situation was the cause of said reaction, but nonetheless, it was heartbreaking. I made sure not to coddle her but also not completely abandon her while she was in this rather fragile state. I told her I was going to check on other kids for a minute and when I came back, she had begun to read the book I showed her and was writing down an answer. It was progress. It wasn’t smooth sailing from then on and I will save everyone the trouble of reading about that, but I can say that we did end up finishing the assignment.

To say this evening’s horas publicas was tough would be an understatement. It was exhausting. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying your very best to communicate or help someone and receiving nothing in return. You can’t over-do it and you can’t just give up. It’s made me begin to believe that learning is a two way street when it comes to the relationship of a teacher and a student, in that there has to be a willingness and enthusiasm in learning, or else it’s just harder than it needs to be.

Lluvia and K-Pop

Winter in Lima is pretty similar to winter in Santa Cruz, except for the humidity. My hair looks like it’s constantly in curlers. Today it drizzled the entire time; enough to make my hair wet after walking down the hill to the market but light enough to not make the roads muddy. It’s pretty cold but that’s going to change in about a month.

Compared to the past few days, today was very calm. I spent the morning and early afternoon catching up on blog posts (as you see below), news and listening to NPR. At home, I would listen to my iPod in the car but low enough to still be able to listen to the radio at the same. Save for my Radio Disney years, NPR and PRI are the stations that I’ve listened to my entire life and it felt surprisingly comforting to listen to the correspondents. This past summer I would keep CNN or CSPAN on while housesitting for friends and I didn’t realize how much I would miss it while in Peru. Getting news online doesn’t feel the same.

At around 3:30, Ana Maria and I set off to the community center, or CEDED, which is what everyone in Villa El Salvador knows it as. (From now I’ll be using that abbreviation – I apologize for any future confusion!) Horas publicas are 4pm-7pm on Friday evenings and I was anticipating around the same number of kids to be coming. However, after Ana Maria left to go buy ingredients for a baking class that’s on Saturday evening, and the clock read a little before 4, I became a little anxious. I hurriedly set up all the tables and chairs in preparation for the kids. As the clock read five then ten minutes past four, I was a little concerned. Soon, Ana Maria came back and she explained to me that on Fridays, virtually no one comes because well, it’s Friday night! I completely understood. Who wants to do homework on a Friday night? When it’s really cold and raining a little like today, that causes less kids to come by as well. I have to say that I was a little disappointed to hear this, because I wanted to see if Sebastian would come by and I could ask how his algebra homework went. I guess I’ll have to wait until next week.

After Ana Maria explained all of this to me, she asked me to come to the market that’s below the hill where CEDED is located. It’s smaller than the market at the Ovalo Mariategui, which was the first market I went to earlier this week. We were looking for pineapple for the pineapple cake that the baking class will be making tomorrow. We found the fruit and I bought these tangerines for two soles. They looked delicious and tasted even better. I have a feeling I’ll be going to that vender a lot while I’m here.

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When we got back, there were four kids there: Javier (7), Leonel (10), Jiomar (13) and Diana (13). I didn’t know their names on Wednesday, but Javier and Leonel are brothers and were the two boys that I helped with looking up words in the encyclopedia and writing the aforementioned ceviche recipe, respectively. Today I helped both of them with some English homework as well as geometry. I’m still impressed/shocked by the amount as well as the difficulty of work they get. Javier’s homework consisted of having to write the numbers 50 to 100 in English. About half way through the 60’s, he wanted to go sit on the other side of the table next to Leonel, who was playing games on a laptop. It was almost like pulling teeth to get him to finish the 70’s. Really, all he was doing was copying the same thing over and over again and we both knew that it was a tedious assignment. After he showed me that he could write down the one’s place number without looking at the previous ones, I told him that if he finished the 80’s, he could be done. After all, it’s due on Monday. Once I offered this deal, he whipped out those numbers in a fraction of the time. The power of incentives, right?

One of my favorite things that happened today was when I helped Diana print out something for a school assignment. I went over to her computer and it was an article about K-pop! During my year on Interact’s District Council, I learned a lot more about different Asian pop-culture and K-pop was one of the first things I was educated on. While printing out Diana’s article, I couldn’t help but think of all my friends back home.

I have a feeling that there will be many days like this one, but hopefully, with less rain.

La Primera Horas Públicas

I’d like to start off by apologizing for the absence of posts. Wednesday and Thursday were pretty big days for me and by the time I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep. So I will try to save you from a long, long, post by separating the days into two separate posts, although I’ll be posting them on the same day.

I arrived in Lima on Tuesday morning and as described in “Day 1” it was pretty jam packed with getting to see Villa El Salvador for the first time. Wednesday involved a lot of similar excursions.

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Emily, one of the Directors of Building Dignity, led me around the stores in Villa El Salvador for things like a bus pass, cell phone cards, the best banks to use and food. The open air market in V. Salvador was very busy and alive when we went to pick up the items in the picture above. (Emily said it was most likely because people were buying food for lunch.) I bought bananas, apples, tangerines, carrots, tea, bread, laundry detergent and a bottle of yogurt. The yogurt here is different than in the states, as it’s more like a kefir.

After all of the shopping, we took a taxi up to BD to prepare for that afternoons “horas publicas” or tutoring. My host, Ana Maria joined us in knocking on some doors in the community of Lomo de Corvina, which encompasses the smaller communities on the hill where the community center is located. During our walk, Emily told me about one example of arbitrary the government can be. BD is expanding and includes trying to find spaces that are bigger so that more people can participate. It’s pretty hard to do, especially because BD is essentially the only non-profit in the area. Several months ago, the government said that BD and a couple of other organizations could build on a particular part of land. BD would host its programs there and so would these other organizations. However, after the government said that the land could be used, they retracted it by explaining that the land was in the name of the community and not the government, so they couldn’t build. They’ve been trying to settle this for several months.

From 4-7pm, we had “horas publicas”. More than a dozen kids came throughout that time, mostly elementary school aged. At first, I was incredibly anxious because I was afraid that my level of Spanish wouldn’t be good enough to help. But one of the first homework assignments I helped with was how to prepare ceviche and I could easily handle that. Later in the afternoon, a boy named Sebastian came in and had algebra homework he needed help with. I can barely explain math in English, let alone in Spanish, but after Emily asked me how good my math was, I was determined to help as much as possible. This kid’s homework was HARD. He’s 12 years old and he was adding and subtracting linear equations and also having to change the signs of the terms for each time. (I’m still a little unsure whether or not we did it correctly. But in any case, we got them done.)

In the classroom that I had my AP Calculus class last school year, my teacher had huge posters of different mathematic functions etc. and also what to do with positive and negative integers. I sat in a seat that was faced towards it most of the time, and I am so glad I was. Those posters saved me. The mental image of the posters and my Spanish to English dictionary which was being held open at three different places for the first couple of problems got the job done. We got to a point where I asked him if he could do the last couple of problems by himself and he said yes. There were a couple of mistakes, but when I asked him why they needed to be changed, he was able to figure it out and everything was correct. I’m not sure who felt more gratified with the success of the homework, me or Sebastian. By the end of the problems, my cheeks were flushed by how much I was working and my anxiety was gone. This afternoon is another session of tutoring and I hope that Sebastian comes in so I can ask how his assignment turned out. And to my surprise, I’m even a little hopeful that he has some math homework.