Sarah, Alagra and I are the third generation of Minerva Fellows in Estero De Platano. The first two generations were pairs, only two fellows. Three is sometimes an awkward number for a group. It certainly presents certain challenges when trying to work in the community. For one, we take up more space. We take up more space in the houses we visit and the cars in which we travel. We probably have more disagreements than a group of two (although we have have not had any significant disagreements), but just as two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two. I think that having a group of three will allow for better ideas to flow and more projects to be accomplished during our time in Estero.
Union decided to send three fellows this year because Yanapuma, our host foundation, is trying to expand its projects down the coast. While we are not currently actively working in the expansion, having three people allows us the time to expand and seek more projects in Estero. For the first month and a half of our experience in Estero, we taught an English class in the primary school in the morning and had library hours for the high school students in the afternoon. Library hours are from 3-6 and students can bring their homework for us to help them. They can also use the resources of the library like books and a computer.
While we were learning the ropes and getting comfortable with our responsibilities, all three of us attended every responsibility. Starting at the beginning of October we changed things up a bit. We now have a schedule that calls for two people to be at each class and library hours. This frees up some time to start other projects. For example, for the time being I am assigned to help The Association of Women Entrepreneurs. This group cooks lunches every Sunday for the tourists that come to the beach. They are also working to open a restaurant. Their meetings are every Thursday at 4:00 PM. On Thursdays, Sarah and Alagra work in the library and I go to the meeting. Without the schedule, this would not be possible. I am trying to help the women to be more organized so that they can expand their business and make more money. Right now we are thinking about making a cookbook that they can sell to tourists and that can be sold in the United States. They will write the recipes in Spanish and we can translate them to English. A bilingual cookbook of typical Ecuadorian coastal cuisine could be quite the present for the holidays; information forthcoming.
Scheduling also allows us to focus more on the computer center. Construction of the computer center has been slow. The room has been painted. We have three bamboo benches and a long table. This is a good start but it took us a month and half. We still need another table and electricity. We need to secure the room with a new door, window and locks. These projects take a long time because it is difficult to travel to town and buy materials. There is also a question about who will pay for the materials. So far all of the materials and labor has been donated by town members. This is good because it creates a sense of responsibility for the center. People make sacrifices and that creates a sense of ownership. Yanapuma has committed to paying for the rest of the materials and so with more time in our schedules and the money, we should be able to complete the center promptly.
In addition to increasing our time for projects, we have changed up the method for our English classes. The students have no background with English at all so we started with the alphabet and numbers. The problem that we had is that we only have class with each grade once per week for an hour. The students did not remember anything from the previous class. The teachers are also not always the most reliable for classes. Sometimes they don’t show up for school and the kids leave; we don’t have class. Sometimes they schedule other things during our class. To change things up, we decided to make our English classes based on creativity. We are shifting our focus from something that is purely English, to something that is more arts based with some English mixed in. The goal is help spark creativity in the children which seems to be lacking. The school system does not really stress creative thinking or art; probably because art supplies are expensive. The first project we did was quite successful. We put all the vowels on our white board. Next to each vowel we put a few pictures of things that start with that vowel and the name of the thing in English. We reviewed the names of the vowels and taught the words for each of the things next to the vowel. Afterwards, each student received a half sheet of paper and drew with colored pencils a vowel and a picture. They also wrote the word in English and in Spanish. The older kids needed to use the Spanish/English dictionary to find their own words to draw. The students loved it. Drawing is something they rarely do in school and we thought it was sufficiently educational. If you have any ideas for art projects like this one or any type of creative project, please leave a comment or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are looking for any sort of project because we are going to have a couple of Saturday art days for the kids of the village. Our goal is to reuse household items both for sustainability and budget purposes.
Scheduling has been good for us in Estero. We are now able to do more and we have more flexibility with our time. There is always somebody in our group with a free moment to walk around and look for projects or simply to talk to people. I find myself frequently walking around the village looking for someone to talk to. This helps us to come up with new ideas. It also helps us to gain information about the community. Everybody sees the world through a different lens. In a small town of 600 like Estero, that means there are 600 different versions of Estero. We can only know a few of them, but learning from people and what they want is how we will be able to make good projects that will exist in a functioning state when we leave.