One of the main reasons that Tree and I decided to slow our travel pace was so that we can participate in community. We want the opportunity to become part of local life—to connect to a place, its people and its culture.
By living in as opposed to traveling through a place, we experience the place more intensely. By shopping for our groceries at the local Mercado, getting our shoes fixed by the town cobbler, frequenting the local bakery, and dining at the neighborhood eateries, we get to connect with the same people every day.
And by connecting with the locals on a level beyond tourism, we are able to discover what the community needs in relationship to our particular skill sets and passions.
Recently, I have been asking myself how I can best be of service in Huanchaco.
I want to give a little bit back to the people that have been so welcoming of us, but I also want to feel inspired and invigorated by my efforts.
During our last dinner party, the answer was served up to me on a platter.
Our friend Kelly has a young daughter named Catalina, who is vivacious, very bright, and super headstrong, even by two-year old standards. A few months ago, Kelly put Catalina into a local preschool, hoping to give her daughter a head start on education, as well as to socialize her with other children. But after a few weeks of attendance, Catalina still had not come home with any drawings or projects indicating what she had been doing at school. When Kelly inquired about the curriculum from the teacher, she was dismissed with a blank stare followed by an impatient wave of the hand.
Furthermore, Catalina’s behavior seemed to be worsening. Whereas she had always been willful, now she was kicking, screaming, pushing, and biting. And then, the final straw, Catalina came home from school with a new word—malcriada, meaning spoiled or naughty.
Kelly quickly deduced that not only was Catalina not learning anything useful, to top it off, the teacher’s misguided attempts at breaking her daughter’s willful behavior with punishments and name-calling were severely backfiring. Kelly immediately pulled her daughter out of school—the only one in town.
But Kelly wasn’t going to give up on her daughter’s education that easily. She found other mothers in town who were equally disappointed in the poor schooling options available, and they got together to start a community school for children ages two to five years old. Still in the incubus stage, the moms set out to find teachers and contributors to the fledgling school.
This is where I come in! I get to be the English teacher, as well as a co-coordinator of the overall curriculum and weekly lesson plans.
So far the children only have school on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, but we hope to expand to five days a week in the coming months. Aside from the standard time spent on learning to read, write, and count, our curriculum includes fun things like show and tell, art, dance, music, work in the community garden, and litter clean-ups on the beach. On Fridays, we speak only English, and we play a decidedly American game that drives them WILD!
Nothing’s more fun than playing Duck-Duck-Goose with a class full of Peruvian pre-schoolers. In fact, I think “Duck” and “Goose” were the only English words they learned last week. Although, in all fairness to the english language, their Goose sounds more like Gaaaaaaaaaaaah, and instead of it prompting one child to get up and chase the other, they all jump up at the sound of it. Apparently they think the name of the game is Duck-Duck-GEESE and the objective is to hit each other on the head, say Gaaaaah, and then marathon race around the ring until they tumble on top of each other.
Oh well. What they lack in motor skills, they make up for in sheer cuteness.
We mix in intervals of free time and encourage the kids to play with whatever interests them, whether it’s the maracas and drums, the building blocks, the books and puzzles, the water and bean buckets, or the timeless favorite, the sandbox.
We end every class with a sun salutation, an Om, and a prayer for love and peace for all beings around the world.
I’m super excited about our little school. By having family, teachers, and community all involved in the children’s education, we are hoping to collectively teach them to live sustainably, to be compassionate, and to care for our environment. We want to show them the beauty of interconnectivity through direct action so that they appreciate it as truth for the rest of their lives.
And most importantly, we hope to instill in them a lifelong love of learning, exploration, and mindfulness.
In Peru, education is not free, and many of the local children cannot afford to go to school. To help tackle this injustice, we are throwing a benefit party in a couple weeks to raise money so that we can subsidize at least half of our class, which we hope to get up to around fifteen children by January.
Right now, our means are small, but our vision is grand. Maybe in a years time, the community school will have the infrastructure and revenue to make sure that every child in Huanchaco has a chance to learn.
I know that the median age of our pupils is only two and a half, but I see a class full of tomorrow’s community leaders—tomorrow’s hope. -Stevie
P.S. If anyone knows of any great homeschooling websites that offer free printouts, let us know! We are open to all suggestions that aim to help us achieve our goals. (Thank you Bree for your list of suggestions xo)