Tech Week Madness

In April my community and I were proud to host "Tech Week," in which 8 trainees came to live with families, shadow/observe projects, and facilitate their own non-formal educational workshops with youth here in Buenos Aires. In addition to the trainees my bosses and Peace Corps language teachers also spent the week here to observe the trainees interacting in the community and getting a feel for what type of communities would best suit them for their 2 years of service. Organizing the week was a pretty daunting task, however it all turned out successfully thanks to the coordination, patience, and flexibility of everyone involved.

The first day started off with a Sunday morning meeting at the high school, where 84 11th graders and I had been working for about 3 weeks to organize a "rally." A rally is basically a physcial team building competition which puts participants through a number of team challenges which they must complete in the shortest time possible. In this case we had 15 teams of 8 (4 males, 4 females), and 15 team challenges.

This was our final meeting before the big event, and there was a lot to do. You know you're in an active community when you can fill the high school with kids on a Sunday morning, and I was pleased to see that so many of the students showed up, even if that did mean the organization of the meeting would be more challenging. The group that had raised start-up funds allocated funds to the students who were in charge of purchasing items needed for the event, whike the administrative team worked to make name tags so that the rally participants cud be distinguished from students who needed to be in class. Another committee ran around the high school designating a place for each activity, and practicing each activity so that all of judges knew how to facilitate and score the challenge. I left feeling exhausted and a little unsure that we would be ready come the day of the rally, but I knew things always have a way or working themselves out in the end. Besides, when you have 84 teens working together with you it's pretty hard to feel down about anything.

After a long morning of battling the inevitable disorganization when you work with that many people, we headed to my friend Chamisa's site, Volcan, to spend the afternoon. She and her women's group have an amazing greenhouse, so we checked out their project and then played with some kids at their new playground. They've got a beautiful river there, so before leaving we all took a dip in the chilly water, and hopped back on the bus to my town, which is about 40 minutes away.

My group was already pretty tired after Day 1, and it didn't help that I had them going on a hike the very next morning. Several members of my community went with us to "the rancho," which is a mountain peak where a little beat up rancho used to exist, but doesn't anymore. We were a large group with lots of different ages/abilities, but eventually everyone made it to the top, and agreed that it was worth the early wake-up time and muscle power it took to get there. At the top we played some silly games and then everyone went home good and tired from the active morning. My boss, our volunteer leader (which is the position I'll have starting in June), and one of the Spanish teachers arrived just as we were returning from the hike. They would be joining us for the rest of the week observing and giving feedback as the trainees practiced giving workshops in my town and helped me to facilitate projects.

In the afternoon we hung out at the pool of one of my friend's while two of the trainees facilitated a workshop on communication skills with my favorite group of 12th graders. They didn't have school that day but did me the huge favor of showing up anyway so that the trainees could have participants for the session. That night we went to my friens Norma's house and had a fiesta with my English class. It was fun to see everyone interacting and practicing both languages, and my students did a little presentation about Tico culture in English. We ate traditional rice with chicken, danced and sang karaoke until everyone was about ready to collapse.

The third day was by far the longest and most tiring, but also extremely productive and enjoyable. It started early with my 7 a.m. Kindergarten classes. The trainees facilitated recreational activities with them while I taught English, and in spite of some bloody scraped up knees my little ones had a BLAST. It is so exciting for them to have new people in town, because that basically never happens. Afterwards two of the trainees prepared to teach a sports workshop to a group of 5th graders while I took the rest of the group to the other school to help me facilitate a recycling workshop with 1st graders.

One of the teachers and I are starting a recycling program at the school, so I recently created a very basic workshop that teaches kids (and teachers) about the 3R's of ecology (reduce, reuse, recycle) and the impact that recycling has on the environment. I haven't done a lot of environmental work during my service, and it is something that is extremely important to me so I figured I'd do my best to get a least a little something in before I leave. I am training all 137 students form first to sixth grade in order to hopefully leave the recycling program in the hands of students and teachers that have an understanding of the basics and a greater appreciation for the impact it can have on the community and the world.

After training two of the classes the trainees helped me to facilitate a session of "Hip Hop por la Paz" with my fifth graders. The project consists of 5 workshops with themes related to alternatives to violence, and and activity that uses one of the elements of hip hop (DJing, MCing, breakdance, graffiti) in order to get the message across. On this particular day we were talking about community violence and making graffiti walls that depicted what the kids envisioned when they thought of a community at peace. They then stood in front of a different group's work and were told to transform the peaceful community into a violent one. At the end, the returned to their original graffiti walls and needed to restore the peace by correcting the violence that had just been drawn by the other group. We used the activity to talk about how they felt drawing peace, how they felt drawing violence, and how it was for them to have to restore the peace once violence had entered their "community."

After the workshop I led dance auditions for the Arts Festival, which is a nation-wide performing arts competition starting at the local level in June. I had agreed to help the music teacher prepare a hip hop dance group, and today the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders had the opportunity to try-out. Some of the trainees participated in the auditions by dancing with the kids, and we recharged our batteries after a long day of facilitating sessions.

In the evening my boss, Carolina, gave a workshop on alternatives to corporal punishment and the importance of setting limits to parents from my school. I had been trying to publicize the event as much as possible but it was hard to with all of the other coordination that had to be done for this week. I started to get worried when no one had showed up and it was time to start but luckily around 12 parents/teachers came, so it ended up being a success. The highlight was definitely during a dramatization when one of the trainees was acting as the child and one of the parents was the father, and while acting out a scenario that involved corporal punishment the parent took his role a little too seriously and ended up spanking the be-jesus out of the poor trainee. You gotta be tough in this town.

The next day was the much-anticipated rally in the high school. After a hectic morning of getting the student organizers and participants in order, the event ended up being a huge success. We had 15 teams of 8, including the 8 trainees who were visiting me, and the 7 trainees who were visiting Chamisa, and Chamisa herself. In spite of them thinking I was a complete lunatic for having put them and the students through these ridiculous challenges, I think they had a good time. There were 15 challenges in total, including an upside-down rope climb, a soapy wet plastic slide, two different mud pits, an "electric" fence, a "lava" island, and many many more. You can see from the pics that these were not for the faint-hearted. The entire challenge took most teams about 3 hours to complete, they were total troopers! The first pic below is of me with my bosses, with whom I will be working to support volunteers in my third year. They are the primary reason I want to stick around for another year, and this pic pretty much sums up why! The second pic is special for me because it was taken with my very favorite group of high school students, all of whom I will miss so so so much!!!!! There are tons more pics on facebook so check them out.

In the afternoon after everyone had rushed back to their houses to eat and clean up (this was tricky because the water had been turned off in my town...bucket baths!), we returned to the high school where my other boss, Natalia, was giving a workshop to the 12th graders about educational opportunities after high school. The workshop went off without a hitch, and then we headed back to house of one of the host families for a party to celebrate the closing of tech week. It was nice to have some time with just the group of trainees and staff members, who really only get to see each other in a work setting during the training process and their service.

The final morning we had a meeting with my coutnerpart at PANI (child protective services) and then everyone loaded onto their bus to head back to San Jose. It was a lot of work but definitely worth it to have everyone here, especially since I'll be working with them in my third year of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. The week gave us a great opportunity to get to know each other, which will be really helpful as I attempt to support their work this year. I'm excited about this new group and VERY excited to move to San Jose and begin my new position. I've got lots to say about this transition so once I gather my thoughts (which hopefully won't take months this time around) I will post a little about what's going on in this full head of mine these days. PEACE!

Feliz CumpliaƱos Cuerpo de Paz!!!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEACE CORPS!!!!!!!!! Today Peace Corps turns 50 years old. Many volunteers are currently celebrating with members of the embassy in San Jose, eating cake and wearing fancy clothes. I just ate a bowl of plain beans and am wearing basketball clothes. I'm happy for them though.

Ok, next subject is C.O.S. It stands for Close of Service. I just returned from my COS conference, so I guess this means I'm actually about to close my service. Weird. My situation is slightly differnce since I am planning to stay a third year as a PCVL (peace corps volunteer leader), so I'm not freaking out as much as I would be if I was actually going back to the States, but still, it's a pretty crazy feeling knowing that my time living and working in this community is almost over. It became even more of a reality this week as I worked on work plans with teachers in the schools. I kept having to say, "Oh, I can't put that activity there because I won't be here anymore." I said it over and over again. Where did these two years go?!?!?!?

I am beyond content with my decision to stay another year. In fact, I can't imagine returning to the States at this point. Recently I've had more opportunities to spend time with staff members with whom I'll be working next year, and it's made me even more exicted about working in the office. To explain things a bit better, the role of a PCVL is to assist program managers and trainers to train new trainees, provide technical support to current volunteers, support staff on the administrative side of Peace Corps Costa Rica, and also spend 25% of work hours assisting a local organization or NGO in San Jose. I am still awaiting medical clearance to be officially approved as a PCVL, so I still don't know with which organization I will be working.

Lots of exciting stuff is coming up in these last few months of service (my official last day is May 27). In March I will be planning, planning, planning, and writing, writing, writing. Gotta plan out these last projects carefully and coordinate well with community members, as well as write my final reports for grant money and peace corps administrative requirements. They aren't lying when they say that getting out of Peace Corps taked just as long as it does to get in! In April I'll be helping my friend with the Copa Indigena, the first ever indigenous soccer tournament which ahs been going on for the last month or so. My friend Josh has spent his ENTIRE service organizing this historic event, and I will be one of many volunteers at the final games which are to be held at the brand new national stadium. This is a BIG DEAL!!!! I'll also be getting a special visitor from the States - one of the high school students who came here on the service learning trip last June is coming back for more...can't wait to see her!!!! Also in April I'll be climbing Chirripo, the highest peak in Costa Rica. I'm stoked except that I don't have any appropriate clothing for cool or cold weather, which is going to be a problem. There are other fun things around the corner but they aren't official yet so I'm not allowed to announce them. I will soon though.

The new trainees arrived in country today, which is pretty exciting. I really like getting to know new volunteers - everyone here is interesting in their own way, and it's fun sharing my positive experience with others, so I hope to have a chance to meet them soon!

I'm thinking of everyone back at home lots these days, and hope everyone is well. As always, I'll try to actually update my blog more often, but as you can see I'm pretty bad at this game. Pura vida!

¡R.U.M.B.O. al Cole!

For me there is no greater joy than working with young people. I spent last week in the high school with nearly 60 teenagers in what is by far my favorite project of all. It´s called ¡R.U.M.B.O. al Cole! "Rumbo" is slang for "let´s go" and the letters stand for "Recreando Unidos para Muy Buena Orientacion," which basically means "doing recreational activities for a good orientation" (this sounds lame in English but I´ve been told it sounds cool in Spanish). At the end of the school year in November I invited all of the graduating 6th graders (who will be entering high school next year) from 7 different elementary schools to participate in this week of recreational activities in the high school. I recruited a group of 25 eleventh graders, who will need to complete community service hours this year, and trained them in leadership skills and the facilitation of over 30 recreational activities. The 7th graders were the campers and the 11th graders were the counselors. I had the support of the high school principal, a P.E. teacher, and the school counselor, but we didn´t actually need any adults to run the camp (besides me, but whether or not I´m actually an adult is definitely debatable).

One goal of the camp was to provide 7th graders with a positive orientation to the high school environment and allow them to meet and form strong relationships with older students. A second goals was to provide the 11th grade students with an outlet to participate in a service learning project, gain leadership experience, and earn their required community service hours. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the project got all of these young people out of the house for the week, which is where they almost certainly would have spent the time otherwise.

Every day began with icebreakers and games done as one big group. A rotation of 3 different recreational/competitive activities followed, and each day ended with a teamwork challenge (kind of like low ropes course activities) and group discussion of their ability to work together to reach the intended goal of the challenge. The leaders were trained to encourage sportsmanship, teamwork and active participation in all activities, and groups that worked together well or were able to resolve problems in effective ways were rewarded though a point system that continued throughout the week.

My service provides me with countless opportunities to reflect upon and appreciate the many blessings I have been fortunate enough to receive in my life, and having constant access to camps over the summer as a kid is one of them. My summers in the States were always jam-packed with activities, summer classes, and camps galore. Here in my community the kids generally have nothing to do during vacation time, except maybe work to help their families. Both the 7th and 11th graders involved in this project took this opportunity to have a healthy, fun, energizing experience and ran with it. I could not have asked for a more positive group of campers and counselors. The best news is that the school counselor and principal want to make it a permanent project for incoming 7th graders, to be continued after I am gone. I´ll be spending the next couple months working with the 11th graders on a manual that will give a step-by-step of the planning and execution of the project and it´s over 30 recreational activities.

I´m so pumped and energized by this experience, I find myself missing it this week now that it´s all over. On the last day of camp one of the 7th graders said to me, "Why can´t we just do this every week?" and I´m starting to wonder the same thing....

Check out the video of the camp activities!!!! Be well, pura vida.

Peaceful Toy Exchange

Today was a good day. I woke up at the usual 5:00 am, ran sprints in the pineapple fields, strength training with my body weight and a medicine ball made of a rock-filled coconut, cold shower, banana-and-coffee smoothie...and that was all before 8:00 am. A little later I walked my 6-year-old host nephew over to a neighborhood Christmas celebration in a nearby park. There was music, dancing, relay races, soccer games, and best of all...a nonviolent toy exchange. Yes, the police department sponsored a huge toy drive that allowed them to bring a huge number of nonviolent toys to the party, and any kids who has violent toys at home could bring them in and exchange them for a shiny, new, nonviolent one. I loved it, and so did the kids. It was beautiful to watch all the kids run to their houses, come back with fake guns, knives, and other atrocious-looking things, throw them away and get a nice board game or soccer ball instead.

After the party my hsot nephew and I went on a long walk in the pineapple fields. As we walked we came upon en empty box that someone had thrown on the ground (very normal occurrence here). It was the box of a toy truck with pictures of the truck and others on it. Now, I don't talk about the economic situation of my host family very often, and you wouldn't know it by seeing the house that they rent, but they are actually quite poor. I nearly started crying as my host nephew RAN over to the box, squealed with excitement, and started hugging the empty box that he found on the ground. "Morgan, look! What a beautiful box! Can I take it home with us???" After checking to make sure it didn't have anything disgusting on it I told him we could (I mean, who's gonna say no to that request?) and we walked back to the house. We spent the rest of the walk talking about all the different things he could do with the box (cut out the individual pictures to make little playing cards, make a Christmas card for his Dad, make a poster to put on his wall....). Although part of this scenario made me sad, it's also one of those situations that happens to me every day here, that just makes me appreciate everything I've been blessed with so much more. It can be very hard not to take things for granted at times, but constant exposure to situations like this certainly makes it easier to appreciate everything. Here's a picture of him with the pictures he cut out of the box:

Getting back into the swing of things after going home has not been easy, but slowly things are coming together and seeming normal again. It definitely helped to have a day to just enjoy being in my community instead of working all day. Once the rush of camps in January is over and the school year starts again in February, time is going to FLY!!!!

Wishing you all a very safe, happy holiday, and hoping that everyone gets to do something to show their appreciation for all their blessings in life. Peace.

Just another conversation in the life....

Host Sister (to my 18 month old nephew): Huguito! Come here and have a piece of chocolate!

Host Mom (immediately after sharing her huge glass of coffee with him): No!!!!!! You can't give him chocolate, especially this late, it will make him hyperactive.

Morgan: Mami, are you serious??? You have been giving him coffee all this time, and you're worried about a tiny piece of chocolate?

Host Mom: You're right, go ahead Jaimie, give him the chocolate.

Morgan: No, I wasn't saying he should also eat the chocolate, I was just.....oh jesus, never mind.

Going Home: Is it Worth the Pain?

This title may seem a little harsh, but that is not my intention. I just got back from being the States for 2 weeks (OMG was it really 2 weeks????), and I must say that seeing so many people for such short periods of time was really tough emotionally. It was also wonderful, while it lasted, but it turns out there's a lot of people at home who I don't just like, but LOVE, a lot, and coming back to CR was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. It's not that I don't want to be here, because I do, but it isn't easy to leave everything behind all over again.

I am already much more settled in than I was, but I thought I would be in the States yearning to return, and that wasn't so much the case. I could have used another month there, easily, but then it probably would have been even more difficult to come back. I spent much of the time at home talking to people about my plans for next year, which were still undecided. I have thought for some time now about staying a third year and working in our country office in San Jose as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. The job entails supporting my program manager and training coordinator as they train and offer technical support to trainees and current volunteers. I have really good relationships with and so much respect for our staff, and the opportunity to work with them on a daily basis has always been appealing to me. Before I came to Costa Rica, I would have laughed in your face had you even mentioned the possibility of me staying away from home for more than 2 years. It seemed like an eternity at the beginning. Now I realize what a unique opportunity it is to work for Peace Corps, especially Peace Corps Costa Rica, and while I miss home very much I'm not yet ready for this journey of personal and professional growth (corny, but so very true) to end. Am I ready to be with all my family and friends in the States again? Of course! But what it comes down to is that this opportunity to stay won't present itself again, and I know that once I go back to the States I will be there for good.

Soooo, I turned in my letter of intent to stay another year just a few days ago. My bosses are looking for NGOs with whom I could explore my interests of community health and/or exercise science, and I'm looking forward to a complete change of pace in terms of working in a more scheduled, office environment, but with the variety and dynamic approach that is inherent in working for Peace Corps. Not only will I work in the office, but I will also travel to training sites to train new volunteers and do site visits to visit current volunteers and stake out new communities for future volunteer sites. I will also be in a bigger city, which I am beyond ready for. I have learned an incredible amount living in a small town, and I love my community with all my heart, but this girl just wasn't cut out to live in a little pueblo for extended period of time.

So that's my story for next year. Stay tuned for project updates, including an HIV/AIDS prevention soccer tournament, a recreational camp for kids making the transition from elementary to high school, and basketball camp. January is gonna be busy!!!!! Peace.

An Update: Long Overdue

Well, it's official...I am the worst blogger ever. I think about the blog off and on, but never seem to make the time to sit down and write any posts. This is sad because the times when I have the most to write about are exactly the times when it is hardest to make time to share them. Since AUGUST (when I last posted), a LOT has happened, and there is no way to share it all here. I went to Panama with a good Costa Rican friend of mine, and cannot wait to return. It is a beautiful country with very warm, friendly people. I ate the freshest seafood I have ever eaten, and made friends with an indigenous man named Salsa. The main thing that was missing...beans. They don't eat enough beans there. I only went for one full day, to Bocas del Toro, a relatively small group of islands. My next dream vacation - Panama City.

We finished Youth for Peace, the service learning project with several different youth community groups. I have a lot of photos up on facebook. Our final event included presentations by all of the groups and the training of about 20 new community members in the design and management of service learning projects. Thanks very much to everyone who supported my Peace Corps Partnership project to make that final event a huge success!

I also finished my adult English class, which will now become an open-to-all-ages-and-levels "English Club," which is probably the worst idea I've had during my service. It will basically be impossible for me to successfully teach a multi-level English class, when I question my ability to even teach one single level. But, oh well. This experience is all about doing stuff I am not prepared to do. Here's a picture of us celebrating finishing the text book:

Two world map projects have been completed in one of my elementary schools and in the high school, both of which came out pretty beautifully. I'm currently working on a third in an elementary school that is a few kilometers away.

The chicken farm is completely self-sufficient and sustainable at this point, which is great. There are only about 4 people working there at the moment, but I know more people will get involved once they see the success of the brave pioneers currently running the show. The organization, World Connect, who provided the funds for the project are coming to visit in a couple of weeks, which is exciting because I feel like they will be really happy with what they see over there.

Tomorrow I'm taking some teens to a leadership camp about an hour and a half away from our community, where they will learn how to facilitate recreational activities with young children. This is all part of my plan to then recruit them to help me with a recreational camp during summer vacation, which runs from Christmas until the beginning of February. I am looking forward to working a little less and enjoying my community a little more during the break, but want to at least do a week-long camp with the kids here.

Well, there's a VERY abbreviated version of some of the stuff going on around here...there is no way to talk about the millions of things going through my head right now as I face the last part of my service, but just know that it's a whole lot of craziness. I am not quite sure what is in store for me after May 2011, and am a little overwhelmed by the fact that I need to be making some big decisions to make that clearer in the next month or so.

Time to get back to the "real" world now, feel free to send me an email if you want more details on anything, I'd love to hear from you!

Pura Vida!