Tag Archives: mentor

beans and brilliance

5 May

The following post is picture-heavy, depicting two very different but equally significant events.  But before I describe them, here’s your last chance to donate to the construction of our basketball/volleyball court project – gracias!

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This first series was taken on April 18th, the Friday of Easter weekend.  Here during Semana Santa or Holy Week, people don’t go to work (or church really for that matter) but rather spend most of their time bathing in plastic pools and eating habichuelas con dulce (literally, sweet beans).  Maybe I’ve been living on this island too long, but I’m actually a big fan of this culinary curiosity.  Doñas cook beans (typically kidney beans but my favorite version is made with black beans) until soft, then they blend them up, adding cinnamon, malagueta, chunks of sweet potato or squash, raisins, and loads of sugar and evaporated milk.  Served hot or cold and typically topped with wafer-like cookies, habichuelas con dulce are the symbol of Semana Santa in the Domincan Republic, sin duda.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

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Dominoes

Dominoes

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

...which they did

…which they did

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Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

The second event is something that over 40 other people and I have been looking forward to since October – the Chicas Brillantes graduation!  All of my Chicas dressed in their best clothes to celebrate their obtained knowledge and completion of the course.  The girls had decorated the church festively, and given that all the participants were able to invite their mothers, there were nearly 100 people in attendance.  I explained to the moms some of the topics we’d covered throughout the course – beauty, self-esteem, nutrition, anatomy, goal-setting, education, gender roles, etc. – and thanked them for motivating/allowing their girls to attend.  We had a guest speaker lead an empowering dinámica about confronting an all-too-common problem here in the DR – violence against women.  The girls performed various skits that stressed the importance of education and respectful behavior, and like most of our reuniones, there was plenty of singing, dancing, and giggling.  43 chicas, ranging from 5 to 17 years old, received a diploma and goody bag for demonstrating an acceptable attendance record, regular participation in meetings, and enhanced skills and knowledge.  We closed the ceremony in the way that any event in this country is expected to finish  – with a bountiful brindis.  Every participant brought food to share, giving way to a spread that even the doñas were impressed with – espaghettis (we made over 15 pounds of it!), empanadas, ham and cheese, bread, coleslaw, soda, and cake.

Rehearsing for their skits

Rehearsing for their skits the day before

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

"Repect" skit

“Repect” skit

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Education skit

Education skit

No Violence Against Women demonstration

No Violence Against Women demonstration

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

My brilliant graduates

My brilliant graduates

Bustle at the brindis

Bustle at the brindis

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

All in all, it was an enjoyably interactive graduation.  The mothers left full, enlightened, and giggly, and the chicas were proud to have put on such a successful and educational event for their moms to experience.  I look forward to continue meeting with the girls, mentoring them on whichever topics contribute to their knowledge, promise, and undeniable brilliance.

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under the big, tall tree

26 Jan

Peace Corps is all about the little wins.  When something good happens, no matter how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of your service, one learns to appreciate and cherish it  – who knows when such a little thing will make your day again?

Running water in the shower?  Awesome.  Luz all day long?  Exceptional.  I wasn’t the only one that showed up on time to a meeting?  Unbelievable.  My English students finally understand the difference between “throw out” and “throw up”?  Groundbreaking.  Just got a bag of mangoes delivered to my door?  Delicious.

Then, every so often, a little win turns out to be a milestone moment.

I continue to meet with my two groups of Chicas Brillantes every Thursday, once in the morning and again in the afternoon due to the school’s current two-tanda system.  Each week, seated on the cement floor of my living room, we discuss a different topic – inner vs. outer beauty, self-esteem, puberty, healthy communication, diet and nutrition, the media, etc.  We put our knowledge to practice through both individual and group activities, dinámicas, games, and their favorite, coloring.

a typical Chicas meeting - coloring.  here we're drawing the various food groups and discussing the different benefits we get from a balanced diet.

a typical Chicas meeting – coloring. here we’re drawing the various food groups and discussing the different benefits we get from eating a balanced diet.

It is not the easiest task I’ve ever taken on, especially because a lot of times I feel as though I’m simply babysitting 20 adolescent girls rather than actually getting any information across, but our reuniones are always the most rewarding hours of my day.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that they feel the same way.  For many of these girls, our Thursday meetings are the few hours of their week when they can still be kids; where only positive, constructive, engaging, and amicable interactions with others are allowed; where they can giggle, doodle, and eat popcorn rather than looking after younger siblings, cleaning the house, or helping their moms get lunch ready; where they’re always given encouraging adult attention in a healthy environment.

Last week we entered into the topic of adolescence – a potentially scary one for both teacher and student – where we discussed how our bodies change, why they change, and how we can care for them while doing so.

To illustrate the importance of relaxing and ‘alone time’ (a hardly-practiced concept in collectivistic cultures), I had all the girls lie face-up on the floor, making sure that they were comfortable and not touching anyone else.  Once all eyes were closed and there was no peeking, I explained to them that we were going to relax and do some visualizing.

Girls, we are no longer in Pescadería.  We are at the top of a huge mountain.  We hiked here together.  It is a beautiful day – the sun isn’t too strong, and there is plenty of breeze and shade.  We got to the top of this mountain together.  We just finished a delicious, healthy lunch, and each of us is now resting under our own big, tall tree. Your belly is full, and aside from the gentle breeze, it is absolutely quiet. Under your big, tall tree you are safe.  In this moment, under your big, tall tree, you are happy.  You have no worries.  From your head to your toes you are calm.  You are safe, happy, and relaxed.  And so you start breathing deeply.  You breathe deeply and can only think about how relaxed you are in this moment, under your big, tall tree.  The breeze allows you to breathe even deeper, and frees your mind of any bad thoughts.  With each breath you become more relaxed.  And with your eyes closed under your big, tall tree you are at peace, focused only on your breathing. 

I let them lie there for quite sometime, admiring their tranquility and dedication to such a foreign activity.  In that moment, despite the persistent and distracting noises that blasted from outside the walls of my living room, they were calm, quiet, and innocent. I savored that moment, their time under their big, tall trees.

After some more time, some more breathing, I reiterated how safe, happy, healthy, and beautiful they all were in that moment; how important remembering to breathe was.  I told them that it was time to start gathering our things from the top of the mountain, and that soon we’d be hiking back down together.  I explained to them that when they were ready, they could open their eyes and join me back in the living room.

But here’s the kicker – not one of them opened their eyes.  Whether they had fallen asleep or were just relaxing, all of my girls chose to stay put under her big, tall tree.  For me that moment was magical – to watch how positively they were responding to an idea that I had pretty much come up with on the spot; to witness how truly safe and comfortable they felt in my company; to understand that maybe I am making a small difference.

So that’s what I mean by little wins.  Who knew that a leading a successful 15-minute relaxation activity with 20 adolescent girls would be such a memorable moment?  I didn’t, but what I do know is that I will never forget that afternoon under my big, tall tree.