English in the Interior

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I had the amazing opportunity to travel to a pueblo in Antioquia near Medellin, a beautiful city in the interior of Colombia, to help facilitate a weeklong English conference for local English teachers with the Marina Orth Foundation. Maureen Orth, a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960’s, helped build a school in her pueblo, Aguas Frias. She continues to support education in Colombia and is the founder of a great organization that promotes education English and technology in Colombia, currently in Medellin and the surrounding areas. You can learn more here: http://www.fundaorth.org

I joined Alex and Michael, two CII-6 volunteers, Barbara, Mary, Lori, and Tom, all veteran teachers, three of whom are RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), and the amazingly organized, friendly, and knowledgeable staff of the Marina Orth Foundation. We spent a week working with about 100 local primary and secondary teachers. The majority of the teachers worked in primary schools and Alex and I worked with Barbara, Lori, and Tom giving rotating workshops on activities, methodologies, and theory to use in their English classrooms. We sang songs, played games, read books, used TPR to practice vocabulary, made books, and more.

The teachers were wonderful! While the level of English varied greatly among the primary school teachers, everyone participated and soaked up everything they could to bring back to their schools. During the week, the teachers formed small groups and prepared a dynamic lesson that involved some of the methodologies used during the week to teach a theme that they cover in their English classes. The end presentations were impressive, they were so creative and many of the teachers challenged themselves to present in English! No easy feat for sure. I will definitely be using some of the ideas in my own classes.img_1342

This marked the first time Peace Corps volunteers have worked in the interior of the country since the program was reestablished in 2010. Partnering with the Marina Orth Foundation was an amazing and fun experience and hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future! Thank you to Maureen, Susana, Alejandro, Natalia, Adriana, and Alejandro for your hard work and support. Buena suerte con sus proyectos!

I will leave you with some wise words from some of the participants:

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Students are waiting for a teacher who takes advantage of the opportunities to improve their communicative ability.

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Ode to My Sitemate

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At the end of September, Jo Anne, my sitemate, finished her service. I was lucky to overlap with Jo Anne for five months. She is a whirlwind of energy, friendliness, and positivity. She introduced me to San Jacinto and many amazing people and friends in our pueblo. As the first volunteer in San Jacinto, Jo Anne got everyone ready for having gringas in the pueblo. By the time I arrived, people were excited to meet the new volunteer, but I was not a brand new oddity in the way that Jo Anne had been. Definitely still an oddity, but different.

Jo Anne is a woman with a fascinating history. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Jo Anne served for two years in Burundi in East Africa. The years after that were full of adventures both domestic and abroad. Through this she moved to Santa Rosa, California, where I served in AmeriCorps. She lived about two miles from my school and we never knew each other. What a small world!

In Colombia, Jo Anne was a Peace Corps Response Volunteer for the Community Economic Development (CED) program. As a response volunteer, her contract was for eleven months. Response volunteers have shorter contracts and are generally called to help pilot new programs or locations. Her group of ten CED volunteers was piloting the program for the first time in Colombia since the program reopened in 2010. When Jo Anne saw the description of service for the job she called to let Peace Corps know she was in. Luckily, they agreed!

Being placed in San Jacinto was a perfect fit for Jo Anne. Her work focused on the artisans in our pueblo, she met with groups of artists, encouraged them to think about their products in new ways, and helped create a catalogue for some of the co-ops to market their products. Weekly meetings were held with the cooperatives, usually starting and ending with icebreakers and a round of hacky sack. They were getting pretty good after a few months!

Jo Anne also formed “The Club,” a good group of friends in our pueblo. When she first arrived, she would make her way to Cerro Maco, the café in town, where she eventually befriended the owner, employees, and common visitors. This became her spot and people would know where to find her. This group, I am happy to say, are now also my good friends. The Club provides us with friends, amusement, curiosity checkers (what on Earth does fill in whatever expression or word mean?!), and occasionally horrifying movies (only kittens and puppies from now on, thanks.)

“Let’s Play a Game…”

Jo Anne doesn’t sit still much and often would pull out her deck of playing cards or an idea for a game to keep us all on our toes. These games would range from saying a Spanish word for every letter of the alphabet, to Simon Says, to Telephone, to passing an orange through a line of people without using hands, and more. While she was occasionally met with groans while saying the phrase “let’s play a game…” they were enjoyed. Even if secretly.

“No es el fin de mundo.”

This is Jo Anne’s motto. There are a lot of ups and downs throughout service as a Peace Corps volunteer and at times the downs can be way down. Jo Anne’s downs would cause her to share, reflect, allow herself alone time, and bounce back with the understanding that there are bigger problems in the world and the problem will actually work out. My downs were met with listening, reflecting, and reminding me how silly it is that we are still surprised when mishaps are repeated. Ultimately, the next day, it all starts new.

I have heard from returned Peace Corps volunteers that one of the most important things they took away from their service were the relationships they built in their communities and with their fellow volunteers. Jo Anne connected people and it was plain to see the strength in those relationships as she prepared to complete her service. While it is sad to not have Jo Anne in the pueblo, I am glad we had the time we did, and I am excited to have more adventures and to see the connections she made grow. After all, “no es el fin de mundo.”

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A Little Fall on the Colombian Coast

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Being around the equator means the Colombia doesn’t have four distinct seasons the way my beloved New England does. While checking the weather was part of my daily routine in the States (do I need to bring the hat and the gloves today? The umbrella? A pair of shorts just in case?), I have not checked the weather since arriving. It is either hot, rainy, or hot. While it rains we tend to get a nice breeze which I gladly welcome into my room until rain starts coming in and I sadly shut my window and go stand out on the porch. However, after it rains and the sun comes out, everything starts evaporating, upping the steamy humidity once more. There are some days though, with a little cloud cover, a little breeze, where you feel like you can take on the world and accomplish anything. Those are particularly nice days.

Autumn is my absolute favorite season. While on the Colombian coast it is still hot, with some rain, New England is changing colors and cooling off. That means apples, boots, sweaters, cider, a slight chill in the air, and more. With social media in full swing and people posting about apple picking, baking, feeling chilly, and the color of the trees, I decided to bring a little autumn into my pueblo. After all, Peace Corps second goal is to promote the understanding of Americans and our culture with the people of the countries in which we are serving. This includes baked goods in my book! Luckily, we have apples and I happen to have an oven in my host family’s home. So I picked up some apples and consulted with my friend, Kareena, who, of course, had a perfect recipe.

Slicing apples, cooking them, then baking them with cinnamon, sugar, and a strudel-esque topping made for a delicious treat to share with my host family and friends. I unfortunately don’t have pictures of the sharing part, it was too delicious and it was gone instantly! But trust me, it was a hit.

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History in the Making

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The Plebiscito was last weekend, Sunday, October 2. The Colombian government and FARC have been in in peace negotiations for about four years and it was time for the Colombian people to vote on wether they backed the Peace Accords or did not.

Leading up to the vote was a series of history lessons for me and I still have a lot to learn. Colombian has a difficult history of violence with FARC and para military groups and the area I live in now was greatly affected by the conflict. With this experience, people had strong opinions on whether they supported the Peace Accords and wanted them to got through or if they were not pleased by the terms and wanted a better offer.

My opinion on this, with my outside perspective and lack of personal connection to what so many people in my pueblo and those in the area experienced, is not key here. I am interested in learning more, hearing what people have to say, and seeing what the next steps will be.

The vote went no, by a very slim margin.

What will come next?

Vamos a ver.