Rewinding of My Summer in Peru

This summer was like running a 5k – it’s a short race (3.1 miles) so it doesn’t seem that hard, right? This summer’s eight-week programming received a similar response from myself and a few friends. Eight weeks? Workshops that are only a couple of hours long, a few days a week? What will I do with myself? Little did I know that like running a 5k, it is not advisable to go into summer programming without having any sort of mental preparation (let alone physical), eight weeks is actually pretty long, and most importantly, hydration is key. (Thank you, 80-90 degree weather and humidity levels upwards of 60%.) And despite it’s “shortness” this summer has proven to be anything but uneventful.

Undoubtedly, the most meaningful part of my summer with Building Dignity was the music program. As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been in charge of the program since early January and it’s been full of challenges and successes that continue to motivate me to improve and expand the program. Recent developments have led to conversations about continuing music workshops in the community of Oasis, when we originally had intended on only offering workshops like music, English lessons and art for the summer. It’ll mean teaching in two communities (La Encantada and Oasis) and continuing the grand migration of instruments to and from the two locations, but I’m 100% committed. Because the music program is currently dependent on me being here, I’ve also started to compile an archive of all the materials, lesson plans and activities associated with the program, so that whoever comes after me can have a solid foundation of what the program has done and what level the kids are at.

Even though this summer has had its fair share of challenges, I am a little bit sad that it’s come to an end. When I compared the summer programming to the school year’s, I used to focus on how less tired I was at the end of the day or I would think of the all the ways that summer has been more intense. But as the summer wound down, I started to realize that the school year had it’s own set of challenges i.e. learning how to play guitar in Spanish, trying to remember how to do geometry when I barely even got it while I was in school, helping pre-teens with trigonometry…  I focused on how much I missed getting on a more personal level with the kids I helped tutor during the school year, as opposed to the less personal dynamic that was applicable to many of this summer’s programs. On the flipside, the school year is academically intense. I’ll still have music as a respite from helping research Peru’s legislative bodies and studying mathematical terms in Spanish, but the fun and free atmosphere of the summer will most definitely be missed. If anything, I’ve learned that some times ideas can change drastically depending on the perspective. By having experienced two different cycles, I’ve grown to appreciate things that I hadn’t really considered before and however stress-inducing this summer has been, I’m grateful for it.

It’s been a busy two months, with daily programming in two locations, visitors from the United States, welcoming new volunteers as well as saying goodbye to volunteers who I had known for as long as I’ve been here.  If anything, crossing the finish line (we’re back to the running analogy) that in this case, was March 1st was pretty satisfying. A pancake breakfast has not been included, but I think we can make that happen at some point.

Little Reminders

As mentioned in previous posts, a continual goal of mine is to always be aware. That can be sort of broad, but it’s the bare bones of the idea. Essentially, I want to do my best to find ways of challenging myself and continually think about how to efficiently and effectively do the best work I can. However, trying to continually think critically about how to improve programming or even find the time to be in the moment, is difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes the most random moments provide the best reminders of being in said moments. One came this afternoon, as I carried four guitars and a violin across Villa el Salvador.

This is not the first time I’ve done this. (Well, first time with a violin added to the mix.) In the past, I’ve had the help of one or two other people, but many a time I have made the grand pilgrimage from the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED) to the location in the neighboring community of Oasis, to enlighten the youth with the power of music. I love going to Oasis and working with the kids there – it’s honestly one of my favorite workshops to do. But as I walked (or trudged) up the sandy hill to catch a moto taxi, with two full sized guitars, two little guitars and a violin, I had to take a moment and think, “You are hauling five instruments across Villa el Salvador.” Across Villa el Salvador is somewhat of a hyperbole, but I guess I was feeling a little dramatic and in need of an NBC camera on my side to capture the blank stare on my face that everyone was supposed to know translated to what I said above. Nevertheless, my 5-seconds of being Jim Halpert were over very quickly. I got a grip (literally and figuratively, the guitars started slipping) and realized that yes, carry this instruments I will because I really love doing this workshop, no matter how inconspicuous I may look doing it.

What I think is significant about the little reminder I just shared is that I hadn’t really taken a pause like that for almost the entire summer – let alone, a pause that wasn’t involving any sort of worry. The workshop that took place this afternoon was the seventh one and being a weekly class, it also marks the seventh week of music this summer. When I became the in charge of the program, I was scared. My anxiety was the motivator for overly-elaborate lesson plans and overall self doubt. However, as time went by and I learned more about what worked and what didn’t, I got more comfortable. Now leading the workshop by myself harbors no anxieties as it in the past and coming to that realization was pretty revelational. My summer has been hallmarked by my involvement with the music program and now I take a lot of pride in that.

My mission of being in the moment while also thinking ahead is a continuing challenge and it can also be said that it will be for long after I leave Peru. But as I think about how this goal will affect me in the future, I also really have to eat dinner right now. Gotta stay in the moment.

Sick Day Blues

And a touch of introspection for good measure!

One of the first pieces of advices I was given pre-departure to Peru, was to be prepared for the inevitable conflict between the food and my digestive system. I’m glad I can report that I have been affected by no such illness. I just broke my clavicle. Ah, jokes. But really, I haven’t gotten sick – at all. Well, until Thursday.

Every day during last week I had felt a little unfocused and generally unmotivated. It was definitely frustrating. It all snowballed into an immense wave of exhaustion that hit right around 7pm on Thursday, which soon lead to me trying to keep down a fever and not fall over from walking as slow as a snail. The reasons for my continual struggle to keep motivated throughout the week suddenly became more clear as I lay in bed, re-watched The West Wing and “read” an embarrassingly high amount of BuzzFeed articles while trying to imagine what life was like without headaches, a fever and overall lethargy. I don’t think I had ever been so disappointed about having to take a sick day in…well a really long time.

The day that I missed was definitely not the most ideal of all the others in the week. Fridays are music in Oasis and it’s one of my favorite workshops. (That and music in La Encantada.) I’ve always been enthusiastic about being involved in the music program but the past few weeks have somewhat tested that, as I’ve taken a lot more of a leading role in their planning and instruction. More often than not, I’ve been worrying that the lesson plans I write won’t be successful or that no one will show up – and at the beginning those anxieties outweighed the enthusiasm I once associated with the workshop. But as of the past few weeks, I’ve started to relax a little bit and the experience is getting a lot more enjoyable.

On Saturday afternoon I taught music in La Encantada and I think it was one of my favorite workshops to-date. The evening went so well, I was afraid I would jinx it while on my way back home. One may scoff at the fact that only three kids came, but I was perfectly happy with it. It’s hard to teach guitar to a large group of people, let alone when you don’t have experience teaching guitar in the first place. (On a side note: my personal experiences with music classes in large numbers have only been in orchestras, which is a very different atmosphere and set up than the small guitar classes I’ve been in previously.) But this afternoon’s little group was just perfect. Quality about quantity, right?

On that note, I’ve also realized that planning and running the workshop didn’t have to be as stressful as I was making it out to be. The lesson plans I’ve written during this summer cycle have been chalk-full of definitions, exercises and activities with the intention of having the most comprehensive and fun two hours of music a person could have. However, figuring all of that out was stressful and the quantity of information packed into each workshop in conjunction with the once-a-week nature of the class was not very effective. So with that said, today I decided to keep it simple and keep it basic. I started us out by practicing a simple warm-up exercise, playing the strings fret by fret and going back down, with the kids playing along with me to a particular rhythm. The next thing was learning three basic chords – two ways because the group was so small and focused. After that, I wrote out a simple chord progression that we all practiced together. All that and a small snack at the end made for a very successful afternoon.

In reflection, I could have never imagined the progression of my involvement in with music at Building Dignity. In the earliest stages of planning how I would be involved with the various programs, music was definitely not as high a priority as it is now, for me. I envisioned a much greater emphasis on Voices of Youth, the youth leadership group. But as I am taught time and time again, everything is subject to change – in ways that are very small or very grand. After that, it comes down to how you adapt and collaborate with the people and resources around you. Pretty simple, right?

Beats and Rests

During the last cycle of programs, Voices of Youth was also being brought to a neighboring community called Oasis. In an effort to strengthen our relationship with the kids who participated in Voices of Youth, this summer we have started doing other workshops as well. Every day (except for Sunday) there is a workshop. In the past, I rarely went to Oasis due to conflicts in schedules, but with the new summer programming I’ve been going a couple of times a week. Said conflict was the fact that I had music in La Encantada while Voices of Youth in Oasis ran at the same time. That still holds true today, but now I get to go to Oasis on Fridays for their music workshop.

Last Friday was the first class of this summer and it went really well. Emily, Niko and me were there as well as the twenty-seven kids who came. It was a big group, especially compared to the groups in La Encantada of usually no more than ten. We split into three groups, guitar, cajon and violin. The violin group  consisted of older kids who specifically asked for violin, and the rest of the group was divided between Niko and I, for cajon and guitar, respectively. It went pretty smooth and everyone enjoyed that week’s lesson about how to read music.

This week was a little different. With Emily traveling on business and Niko having left to continue with his travels, I thought it was going to be just me. But luckily, Andy, who has been teaching guitar in La Encantada was available to help out. Even after doing a myriad of workshops with Interact, class presentations in school and even more recently, helping a little with lesson plans for Voices of Youth, I had never doing anything like write a lesson plan essentially from scratch for this two-hour class. It was challenging, but I found a lot of help from reflecting on what types of activities I did in school. For example, one review activity I had the kids do was inspired by a game my Calculus teacher taught me last year.

Today’s lesson was about beats and rests. The main activity was a make-your-own song type thing. Each small group got a long strip of poster paper with a music staff that had five measures on it. With the small packet of cut out notes and rests, each team had to create their own song so that each measure had the correct number of beats in each one. Each correct measure was five points and each error was minus one. I even threw in some bonus points for having a title for their song and or if they could play it! These kids love competition therefore, the game was automatically more interesting. One mistake I had made was not practicing what it sounds like for each different type of note (whole note, half note, quarter note, etc) for enough time, so the lesson might not have sunk in as well as it could have. Nonetheless, the kids caught on and they had a good time.

The past few weeks have consisted of many days that started early in the morning and ended late at night and sometimes work was brought home (i.e. music in Oasis). But even so, I think that they have been some of the most successful weeks of programming that I’ve participated in since I arrived. It may sound really self-indulgent, but really honestly every night on the short bus ride home, I think about how much I really enjoy what I’m doing and how much I will rue the day I have to go home. More often than not, that train of thought segues into something that makes me stressed out in the end because I’ve been here for almost five months and I just know that the next five will pass by even faster and how am I supposed to encourage genuine community building when I know I have to leave at some point and I don’t know if I’ll be able to visit again and then I get so caught up that I end up having to walk half a block more because I forgot to get off at the right place.

In summary, things are most definitely in full swing these days and I am trying not think about when I have to go home. (Although for curious minds, I will be coming back before the second week of June. More explanation to come soon.)

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My posts have been lacking in photos lately, so I figured I’d add this one. Yesterday, Voices of Youth went on a small visit to EcoRec, a local green house/recycling organization that is helping us plant vegetables in our garden. Fun fact: EcoRec is right across the street from my house! Really, I can see almost all their plants from outside my window.