Monday, October 10, 2011

A little bit of everything

Buenos dias from beautiful Comte. Everything has been going well in town. Since I last updated Comte now has a recycling center and English classroom in the grade school. Furthermore I have a new dog and am also renting a house on my own in town. Things are moving forward but time flies!

As far as projects in the grade school, everything has gone well with the recycling center and English classroom. In June 2011 the recycling committee had reached its funding goal to build a recycling center. Construction started in July. The construction was managed by a local constructor along with fathers and mothers of the grade schoool who donated their time and physical labor. The center consists of a cement floor, cement block walls and a metal roof. Since the opening of the center, the recycling committee has done various environmental education activities with the kids, promotion in the community and lots of work in the center. To-date the center has received over 100 bags of recyclable materials and will be scheduling the first pickup within the next week. I am excited for the results of all of the committee´s efforts and look forward to the future of the program.

The English classroom has also been a success thanks to the many generous donations received through CR-USA and PCPP. Construction of the classroom started in August 2011, managed by 2 construction workers in the community. To-date the classroom is nearly complete, only lacking ceramic for the floors, paint and windows. Construction should be complete within the following weeks. I am excited for the new opportunities that the classroom will bring to the children of the community and the English teacher. I cannot sufficiently thank all of the generous individuals who have donated their time and energy to this project. I believe that the project has been a success and look forward to seeing the kids in the classroom the next school year.

Another short-term project I did was a Junior Achievement program in the high school. The program lasted approximitely 5 months, in which the students learned how to plan and manage a small business through the creation of their own microenterprise. My group, AFE (Amigos Formando Empresas: Friends Making Businesses), decided to form a business that sold jewelry made from recyclable and ocean materials. Their product line was Recimar, a combonation of the words for recycle and ocean. Some of the tasks the group had to do were to sell actions, create and administer a market study, create a marketing plan, create and present a Pwerpoint presentation for a product launch, sell the product locally and in an event in San Jose, fill out administrative, production and financial forms, and pay dividends. The program was a lot of work but I was incredibly proud of the initiative, responsibility and hard work of my group. Some of the highlights were seeing them give a wonderful product launch presentation to over 100 people in San Jose and watching them sell their products in a mall in San Jose. Two thumbs up to AFE.

In the following months I hope to start a computer class for adults in my community. The high school has a computer lab and I am currently in the process of soliciting the use of the computer lab for evening classes. Fingers crossed.

I also now have a wonderful 5 months old german shepherd, Calla. I bought her from a family in my community when she was 1 1/2 months old. She has been such a wonderful companion and I am very grateful to have her. I am also officially the only person in town who walks their dog with a leash and one of the few people that teaches their dogs tricks. So I get lots of looks when I take her on daily walks and when she obeys commands given in English. She is also quite popular among the kids in town, possibly more popular than me these days. Sometimes when I walk her by the school all of the kids yell, "It´s Calla! Calla is coming!!" She loves the attention. She also obeys them when they give her commands in English, which they get a kick out of. They especially love "shake."

And as I mentioned above I also recently moved out of my house family´s house and am now renting my own small house in the community. I am enjoying the space, quiet and practicing new tico recipes in the kitchen.

So yes, that is a brief update of life in Comte. There is so much more I could say and so many things that have happened in these months and I regret not being a more faithful blogger. Hopefully I can give more steady updates from here on out. Love to friends and family in the United States!

Friday, April 1, 2011

English as a tool for basic development

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently working with my community grade school to build an English classroom. A number of years ago, Comte experienced an earthquake that destroyed a large part of the infrastructure of the grade school. As a result, in 2009 a number of buildings were found to not meet Ministry health and safety regulations and were therefore destroyed. The school director, school board and parents of the children have been working to fund the construction of 5 buildings on the school property. One of these buildings would be an English classroom. As Comte is located 10 miles from the beach and Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, English as a foreign language is an important skill for personal and professional development. While EFL is of great importance for youth and members of the community, its educational center lacks the proper infrastructure to provide an acceptable and equipped area for the children to receive their English classes. Currently, 100% of the student population receiving English classes receive their lessons in the kindergarten building and a church across the street.

The goal of the project is to construct an English classroom in the grade school. The classroom would provide the students with a secure and stable environment to facilitate the learning and exploration of English as a foreign language. The building would also be used to provide English night classes to adults in the community.

My counterparts and I are currently in the fundraising stage of the process. This involves raising the funds necessary to pay for the construction materials. The community as a whole will provide the manual labor of the project.

If you would like more information on this project, please follow the link below:

Please also feel free to contact me for a copy of the project application. Thanks for support!

Pura vida.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

70 degrees is cold...

March was pretty busy. I was working a lot on soliciting funds for 2 big projects at the grade school; the construction of an English classroom and the construction of a recycling center. I have really enjoyed working with my counterpart, the principal, on these projects. Together, we completed and submitted 3 separate solicitudes. It might not sound like a lot, but these things take a lot of time. They averaged on about 15 pages each, including annexes with budgets, timelines and more. Now the waiting begins. Hopefully I will be posting some good news in a few months.

Besides fundraising, I have been teaching a lot. I honestly never realized how much Id be teaching... but on the other hand I had no clue what Id be doing anways. I have found teaching to be rewarding and challenging. I truly enjoy each of the classes I teach. I feel especially proud when I see my students remembering and applying things that they have learned in class. At the same time, I find the classes challening in that you must constantly work to keep the group interested and motivated. That might sound like an "obvio.." comment.. but you dont think about it until you have to do it! Kudos to all the teachers Ive had. Especially the interesting ones!

Other than work, its all good in the campo. We are in the middle of summer time so it gets pretty toasty during the day. And when I say toasty I mean freakishly hot. I literally walked to and from the soccer field to watch a game one day, which is was a total of 20 minutes in the sun, and had a bright red burn on my nose and neck. I broke down the other day and finally used an umbrella. Its what most people in my town do.. just took me receiving a serious burn to walk around with an umbrella when it isnt raining. I used to think it was funny that everyone in my town got so cold when the temperature dropped the slightest bit.. but living in Costa Rica in the summer makes me understand... 70 degrees is cold these days!

Well Ill leave it at that for now. I am currently in an internet cafe at the border (I live by the border of Panama) so time to sign off and finish my errands. I came today to buy fruit for the recycling group to sell at a school event this week. We are waiting to hear back from a local cooperative as to whether or not we will receive the fund we requested for the recycling center. In the mean time, we are going to try to do occasional sales to build up our bank account. This week involves selling fruit at some soccer games. Little by little!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

1 year update (wait, what?! 1 year??)

Summer vacations are officially over and its back to it. Summer vacation for the schools in Costa Rica go from mid-December to the start of February. It was initially weird for me to refer to these months as summer vacations because, even though it is hot and sunny here, it is cold and snowing in Ohio. But after living in Costa Rica for almost 1 year, January and February are starting to look a lot more like summer.

I was able to go home for a few weeks in December, which was a wonderful break. I don't know how I truly thought that I wouldn't miss home, because in the weeks leading up to my trip back to the states, I was missing it more than ever. It was wonderful being home with my friends and family that I love. But its always an interesting experience going between 2 very different places in a short period of time. Comte is small, rural and simple. I've grown to appreciate living a certain kind of lifestyle here. It was a weird (and indescribable, so sorry, I'm not even going to try to explain it) feeling being back in big cities surrounded by commercialization. But I have to say, it was nice being able to get to a location that is 10 miles away in less than 15 minutes, not over 1 hour.

I came back to my town after New Years Eve, right around the time that the community was in preparation for its annual festival. The annual festival is run by either the grade school and the high school and involves 2 weekends of food, soccer, bull riding, and dancing. The volunteer before me rode a bull so a popular question during the festivals was whether or not I would be making the same attempt. I had to disappoint with a definite "no." Not now. Not ever. But the festivals were fun and it was nice having an event that the majority of the community participated in.

So back to work. The recycling project received a donation from Kids to Kids in January and is currently writing letters to some local organizations for donations of the rest of the materials. We are hopping to construct a center to hold the materials in the next couple of months. I have also started working with the school director to solicit funds to build a classroom for English classes in the grade school. Currently, the students unfortunately receive English in either the kindergarten room or the church across the street. If all goes well, the project will be a great benefit to the school. Smaller, individual projects will remain the same; computer classes, english classes, etc. Things have a way of coming up, so I guess I will wait and see what 2011 has in store for me.

Other than that, if the Ohioans could send me a little of their cool weather, that would be wonderful. Comte is getting into the hot and dry season, which is pretty brutal. On a more positive note, I will be receiving my 1st visitor in April (Mama Kight), which I am very much looking forward to. Take care everyone. Pura vida.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

And then there was rain..

Last week it rained gatos (cats) here, which is the equivalent of raining cats and dogs. The south of Costa Rica literally saw nothing but rain from Tuesday until Saturday. Flooding, landslides, roads closed, the works. Due to the condition of the roads, buses werent running, meaning no school. I guess you could compare that with a snow day in the states.. although not quite as fun because you dont really go out and play in the rain. Oh, and Comte reached a record low of 75 degrees last week. I guess thats what happens after 4 days of rain and no sun. It was quite exciting.

Things have been moving along here in Comte. 2 weeks ago I had my first class of basic english class for adults. In the class there are 17, 15 adults and 2 students from the high school. The first 4 classes were a lot of fun. The group gets along well and everyone is eager to learn english. We started with the alphabet, numbers and basic classroom directions and items. We are currently working on the verb "to be" and basic conversations. I think that the hardest part for my students will be the pronunciation. I never really thought about how difficult it is for people learning english as a foreign language, because the sound of a word can often be different from the way it is written. But so far everything has gone smoothly. I was actually really nervous about starting classes, mainly because Id never taught a formal class before and I am teaching adults. I was feeling this way up until the very start of the first class, but the minute I started speaking in front of the group, I felt right at home. About a month back we had a t-shirt design contest for Peace Corps Costa Rica shirts for the volunteers. A t-shirt design that one of the volunteers created that I liked read, "Peace Corps Costa Rica: Creating Unofficial English Teachers Since 1963." I think that sounds about right.

Along with english classes, work has been good. I am still teaching computer classes in the grade school and enjoying my time spent with the kids. Something that I enjoy about the classes is seeing their progress between week 1 and week 10. We are currently at the point where I can give them small projects using Microsoft Encarta, Word and Paint. Last week we discussed endangered species, which we researched in Microsoft Encarta.

Other work-related things I have been doing involve english coversation classes with the english teachers at the grade school and high school, helping the cooperative at the high school create a website and working with the recycling committee of the grade school to plan and implement a recycling project in the schools and community. I am still hoping to find a group of community members interested in working on a microentreprenuial project or a community credit union. I have presented in 2 community meetings, but nothing has yet to come of that. Even though it is not in my project goals, I think an important project I work on will end up being the recycling project.

So on another note, time flies. I have currently been in Costa Rica for 8 months, but it certainly doesnt feel like it. It makes me realize that I need to take advantage of my time here and the opportunities that this experience presents. Up to this point, I havent had much of an opportunity to travel. Since being in site, almost every month there has been a Peace Corps related activity in San Jose. I am hoping to travel more next year.

I think that sums up things for now. Heading back to Ohio in December for Christmas and looking forward to seeing everyone. Love and miss you all. Pura vida.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Independence Day

Costa Rica celebrates its independence September 15th. This past week marked celebrations, festivals and bands, lots of bands. On the 14th they had the running of the torch and lighting of the faroles (I dont know how to translate this, but its esentially a decorated box with a light inside). So in the morning the high school ran the torch from a town about 7 miles letter and then meet with the grade school that ran it through the town. In the evening, everyone went to the school for singing, typical dances and walking through town at night with the lighted faroles. The next part of the traditional celebration involved a soccer game. During the day I was told to bring a flash light and rain boots to play soccer later, which I didnt quite understand why. Around 7 pm, it all made sense. At 7 pm in Costa Rica, its pitch black. Furthermore, living in a very rural town, there arent many lights on the streets at night. So as the tradition goes, the football game starts at night. You wear boots because its the rainy season and you are playing on a muddy field. You bring a flashlight so that you can see the ball. And out of bounds doesnt really exist either. It was my favorite game of soccer that Ive ever played.

The celebrations continued the next day, with a parade through town and then a festival at the border. I think one of the most enjoyable parts of Independence Day in Costa Rica was seeing the town united. It was a good feeling to see everyone coming together to show their pride for their country. Its interesting being a part of traditional celebrations in foreign countries. Its hard to explain, but I felt pride for my community while at the same time reflecting on 4th of July celebrations in the States and feeling a renewed pride for where I come from.

Onto the work front. Last Monday was the parent-teacher conference in the grade school. Previous to the meeting, I had requested from the director a time to speak so that I could present the idea of a recycling project in the school. I would just like to note that public speaking is hard. Especially in a foreign language. I was a little nervous. Not just from the speaking in front of 50 parents in Spanish, but more that there would be 0 volunteers to help with the project. So I presented the project, receieved heads nodding in approval at the idea and then crickets when I asked if there was anyone interested in being a part of the committee. But eventually, thankfully, 1 by 1, hands started to raise, and when it was all said and done I had 6 volunteers. Awesome. More than I was expecting. We will have out first meeting next week and Im looking forward to having a concrete group of people ready to work on the project. Step 1, find a group of interested community members, check.

Monday, September 6, 2010

IST in San José and trying to get to a soccer game

Two weeks ago marked the end of my first 3 months in site. During this week, all of the PCVs from Tico 20 headed to San José for our first session of training as volunteers, known as In Service Training (IST). The idea of IST is to give the volunteers to share and receive feedback on their community diagnostic, as well as attend classes related to future work in the sites. The classes were helpful, especially now that I have a better idea of what projects I will be pursuing in my community. Some of the sessions involved resources for teaching ICT and EFL, funding opportunities and general health and safety. Beyond classes, IST meant a chance to relax, share stories and receive some generally needed support from fellow volunteers. I have to admit that the first 3 months have been difficult, what with being a new member in my community, trying to better my Spanish and attempting to lay the groundwork for future projects. It was good to listen to other volunteers stories and see that were all in the same boat.

Speaking of the word boat, today I was at someones house and I told them that since its the rainy season I should buy a boat (bote) to help me get around. I meant that I should buy boots (botas)... It rains a lot here, so I guess both would work.

So the week of IST passed well. I had a great time with everyone and took away a lot of valuable information. As much as I love San José, after a week out of my site, it was good to return to Comte. A man that owns a motorcycle repair shop by my house asked me the other day why he hadnt seen me in such a long time. I told him I was in training in San José for the week, to which he replied, "oh good, I thought you were lost. But now youre back and Im content." Yes, its good to be home.

So its back to the grind in Comte. Back to teaching computer classes, working with the english professors in the community, trying to get new projects started.. and back to soccer. Lots of soccer. Last weekend our team went to a nearby town to play in some matches against other local womens teams. I call the next part of the blog, "trying to get to a soccer game." So my friend calls my house at 8 in the morning to let me know that theres a game that day. She says to be at her house by 1130. The game is supposed to start at 12. At 1130, I arrive at the house. Nobody has yet to arrive. 12 pm, still waiting. At 12 pm, my friend, another girl on the team and her mom get into a rickety 2 door red jeep to drive around and look for the other members of the team. We go to one house after another, picking up all of the teammates. At 1230, most of the team is in the car.. there are 17 of us.. in this 1 little red jeep. It is so packed that a woman in the front literally yells to the back, "Hannah? Are you there?!" I yell back, "Yes!" She replies, "Oh good, I wasnt sure!" Ok, so we are off. Just kidding, because after picking up the last group of people the car wont start. Did I note that the ignition is basically a wire hanging from the side of the steering wheel, which she starts with the help of a screw driver? Oh, and while we are sitting there waiting for the car to start, someone on the other side of the street starts burning their trash, causing piles of smoke to enter the car through the windows. I want to close the window, but its so hot outside that I decide the smoke to be a better option. Ok, so car starts, finally. Everyone cheers. As we are almost outside of town we come across 1 last girl on the team. We literally discuss having her enter through the window, which might possibly easier than using the door. Around 1 we arrive. Nobody is there. We are informed that the other teams arent showing up. We wait about an hour, and bit by bit some girls from the town come to the soccer field and we finally end up playing around 230. We win. To get home, we start the car by pushing it down the street as fast as we can. So that was my Saturday. And the thing is, I wouldnt have it any other way.

Ps if I could snap my fingers and kill every mosquito in the world, I would do it. Ants too.

Pura vida.