Developments in English at CPJ and Other Happenings

Insert obligatory I’m-sorry-for-never-updating-this-blog-often-I-will-reform-my-ways apology.

Not to make excuses (I’m doing it anyway) but I’ve been a bit busy this week. My days began early and ended late. From my first Tuesday day-trip in a month that happened earlier this week, to attending my first birthday party in La Encantada (it’s a big thing), planning this month’s volunteer meeting and holding down the fort solo at CEDED for the first time since my first week here, it’s been eventful to say the least. Also fun fact: I’m going on a trip to Trujillo (a city north of Lima) next week with other volunteers. But before I get to that, I’d like to acknowledge some very positive things that occurred this week.

When I first started going to Colegio Peruano Japones, I didn’t have much confidence in the value of my work there. But even though the preparation for their presentation isn’t the most ideal learning experience at first glance, making the most of the situation has turned out to be somewhat enjoyable. For the past two weeks I’ve been going on Wednesdays and Thursdays to help prepare for the English program presentation that will be on the first of December. I worked with the older kids on Wednesday and for the first time since I started working with them, we got to listen to the music of the songs that each different grade will sing. You’d think we would be doing that sort of thing a bit earlier than three weeks before the big day, but no. Nonetheless, it was actually really fun to work with them.

Because “Black or White” was a tad bit too difficult for the fourth grade group, we switched their song to “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles and now the fifth graders will be jamming to some MJ. I gave the fifth graders “Black or White” last Thursday and by this week, one of the boys had essentially all of the pronunciation down and even spent time practicing and listening to the song. Until that point, I hadn’t witnessed any sort of genuine interest in participating in this show and just this one boy’s enthusiasm basically validated all of the time and effort that had been put into working with the other groups. We sat down next to each other and sang along  to a karaoke track for “Black or White” about a half a dozen times. It ended up being me singing most of the time and him chiming in for the “black or white” part as well as some air guitar solos in between the verses and chorus, but I think it was time very well spent.

In the Voices of Youth world, things are getting pretty artsy. Literally. For the next few weeks, a local artist is helping the kids create a mural to paint in the CEDED! This Thursday as well as the following three (or four, I think) meetings will be art workshops that will give the kids an opportunity to create their vision for the mural. I think I might be a little more excited about it than the kids – I participated in the drawing workshop that was held this Thursday and here’s a picture of me during the meeting:

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Pretty in the zone. There may or may not be two other pictures that are of a very similar nature. I still feel guilty for being a bit too absorbed in the project but I hope that it translated in a positive way. I hope.

I think it really goes without saying at this point, but I am trying my best to keep up with this blog. I know for certain that I won’t be writing next Monday to Wednesday because I’ll be traveling. Nevertheless, everyone should expect a very thorough post-travels blog post later next week!

To quote something Hannah said in passing earlier this week: “Things are happening.”

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More MJ but Less Fun

As a way of extending the Building Dignity’s resources outside of Lomo de Corvina, volunteers have the opportunity to also assist a few of the schools in Villa El Salvador to be teachers’ aides and instructors of English. (At the community center we don’t offer a class for learning English because past English programs at CEDED didn’t prove to enhance that area of their curriculum.) The two schools that are currently receiving help from Building Dignity are Colegio Buena Esperanza and Colegio Japones.

Colegio Japones is a public primary and secondary school with I believe, hundreds and hundreds of students. The woman, Erica, a teacher of English who enlisted our help is responsible for teaching dozens of classes, on top of preparing a show. The school will be having a special show later this month that will be featuring the work of the kids learning English and Wednesday was my first time going to the school to help prepare for their presentation.

When Emily and I arrived at the school we were able to just walk right in. No questions asked. When Erica wasn’t in the place where we thought she would be, we decided to ask someone if they knew of her whereabouts. Upon asking two women who looked like they worked at the school, they responded with a, “¿Quiénes Erica?” – they didn’t know who she was. Casual. A little later on we found out that Erica arrived a little later than us and after a long wait for keys to the space we were to use for this workshop, we got so started.

The group of kids I worked with are in fourth grade and are apparently the best kids in this particular class. Each grade is doing a different type of performance – young kids are singing a song about pumpkins to the melody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, another is doing a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs skit and the fourth graders will be singing “Black or White” by Michael Jackson. These schools in Villa seem to love them some MJ. Originally, Erica wanted them to sing “Smooth Criminal” but that was a pretty tall order. I barely know what the lyrics are to that song and I’ve been speaking English for a while now. (I learned that the addition of “Black or White” was the doing of another BD volunteer who goes to Colegio Japones, who came to the same conclusion as anyone else who has heard “Smooth Criminal”.) When the kids asked me what the significance of the song was, I realized that this was going to be more difficult than I already anticipated it to be.  If the kids aren’t able to figure out what the song is about, how should they be expected to know how to pronounce its lyrics? But that’s not all! Because this is a performance, we’re also acting it out.

On the fly, Emily created choreography for the first verse, chorus and second verse. We spent the second half of our time at the school rehearsing these parts with the kids. As recess was happening outside, allowing kids to bound in and out of the auditorium as they pleased, I saw myself and Emily continuing to sing “Black or White” a capella along with our interpretive dance, and I seriously questioned my purpose in the world. Essentially, this performance isn’t providing a comprehensive learning experience. The song is beyond their comprehension – they’re being asked to memorize and pronounce words they simply don’t know. Also choreography. The entire situation is just so strange and at times disconcerting, but we’re making the most of it.

In the meantime, I’ll be listening to “Black or White”.

Deep Thoughts and Michael Jackson

Directly across from CEDED is a school for elementary and secondary school students. For the past few weeks, (possibly even months) they have been preparing for their school’s anniversary. We’ve gotten glimpses of the dances, decorations and all the festivities that lead up to today and to say that I was looking forward to seeing everything come together would have been an understatement. This school loves them some build up, that’s for sure.

Earlier in the morning they had a little fair with stands that displayed the different foods from the various regions/districts in Peru. There were foods from the jungle, the sea and everywhere in between. Some people were selling food from their respective region and this lead to my first antichuco experience. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was an anticucho de corazón aka heart. Not that this little piece of info could have dissuaded me from eating it – it’s just something note. It was so good though. But what I was really looking forward to was the talent show that took place at night. I knew that a lot of kids that frequent CEDED programs would be in it and I was excited to see their performances. And boy, they did not disappoint.

My absolute favorite group were the third-graders who did a dance to Thriller by Michael Jackson. They didn’t just do the dance – there were theatrics. It started off with a boy dressed in a red tracksuit number and an afro wig, which was entertaining in and of itself. Behind him there were prop caskets and tombstones as if he was dancing in a graveyard, a la the Thriller music video. After he did his solo, all of a sudden the tombstones started to move and kids were coming out of the caskets! These zombies were very zombie like – watch out actors in the Walking Dead. As the zombies crawled out of their hiding places and got into position, little Michael Jackson took off his wig, put on some kind of Michael Jackson mask and then routine really began. They basically did the Thriller music video and pretty damn well. Granted, they are third-graders but they they were so full out, it was amazing. I was laughing out of pure happiness and tears were brought to my eyes.

As I watched the kids I know perform, I was filled with a huge amount of pride. It was really overwhelming when I realized this, because I’ve really only known them for a little more than a month. Yet as I watched them do their (despite appearances) choreographed dances, I was smiling for so long and so much that my cheeks started to hurt a little. Literally.

As mentioned before, sometimes I think about what it’ll be like once I’m back in the US. I’m often reminded when people ask how long I’ll be here and sometimes it’s hard to think about the fact that I will be getting on a plane and going home. Emily told me that the cyclical nature of international volunteers can have very adverse affects on the community that CEDED works with. After all, this organization is built upon creating genuine, meaningful relationships. How can one establish continuity with these relationships if volunteers who provide input on many of CEDED’s programs, leave after a certain amount of time and never come back?

I know that this may be naïve to say so early in my trip, but I feel like there’s an inevitability that I’ll be coming back to Peru and undoubtedly, Villa El Salvador. Never communicating or staying in contact with the people I’ve met here after coming home would deprecate the development of these friendships and the idea of letting them go to way side feels careless. I don’t know what will happen in the future; if my life will be at a point where I could even consider coming back to Peru. If anything, I think I’ll just leave that train of thought for the future and continue to stay in the present. However, I do know that I really wouldn’t mind being there for this school’s next aniversario.