August 4-11, 2018
What an incredible organization this is! And what an incredible week! Some struggles, but so many positive things!
Visit the AFES website (www.artforelsalvador.org) and their Facebook page for their history and focus.
Here in Berlín, they have already done and are in the beginning stages of some great works. They helped repair an existing k-6 school in Caserio Mediagua and then built a 7-9 grade building on the same site so the students could have easier access to continue their studies beyond 6th grade. Without this building, the students would have to find a way to get to Berlín. Sadly, lots of students just stopped school after 6th grade. Yes, there is a law that says children need to be in school till they are 16, but it is not enforced. 2018 saw three 9th grade graduates going on to high school. Next year, they anticipate a total of 11 students wanting to continue on! This middle school project was completed in 2016. What a gift to those students! There is so much potential! These students will be the community’s future leaders and with a broader education, they could really make some positive changes!
The next project for AFES will be in Cantón Loma Alta. They will fund the construction of 2 classrooms on the second floor of an existing school building so that the high school students can have a space to hold classes. Currently they are holding classes in the corridor of their school! You will find more details written below.
AFES delegations come each year and sometimes more often for special occasions like graduations! They stay connected with the students and meet with school staff for updates and future planning.
This year, there were 5 delegates. We had to flip around their agenda a little bit since they arrived in the middle of a national holiday and school was not in session for part of their visit. We did everything that was planned, just in a different order. It actually worked out pretty well. One of the things they like to do is go door to door to visit all the students and their families. With school not in session, the children were actually home! They bring gifts of books for each child and take family photos. The photos from prior visits are printed and given to the families. It is a special memento. These visits took almost 2 full days. It was fun to see the children happy with their books. As we left each home, I would look back and more often than not, the children AND their parents would already be sitting and looking at their books!
The delegation also spent a day at the school in Mediagua. They did the program for Books for a Better World in the two classrooms first (see the blog for BfaBW) and then they split up into two groups: one group set up an art activity in a classroom and the other group played organized games in the patio area. They had it all under control so I got to play photographer. They flip flopped groups so every student could do each activity. They also brought in 4 pinatas, cookies and soda for a party. They did all this with the morning students as well as the afternoon students.
We spent a morning visiting 2 other rural schools to deliver books and do the program for Books for a Better World. The first was in Corozal. We had to go the ‘back way’ since they were working on the “main” road. It added about 15 extra minutes to the normal hour+ ride. Because of this, we left about a half hour earlier than normal. A member of the Directiva met us when we were about 15 minutes out and accompanied us to the school where we were welcomed in. The delegation was able to split up and do the program in each classroom. What a welcoming bunch of students and teachers! It is so fun to watch the reactions of the students and even the teachers as the delegation acted out a couple of books.
When we were done, we learned that someone down the road had prepared a meal for us. Sadly, we were on a bit of a time crunch, but you cannot say no – that would be rude! We thought we would visit a moment and bring the food for the road. But we ended up staying for about a half hour! They were making tortillas and Catarina had made Queso Fresco for us. We all enjoyed a toasted tortilla with the fresh cheese! What a delightfully warm and loving family! We were welcomed, fed and loved up. Several of the delegates tried making tortillas. It truly takes practice but it was fun trying. It also gave us an appreciation of how much time it takes (and how hot it is next to a hot fire) just to make that portion of a meal!
Catarina and Felipe’s kindness and generosity towards us is typical of most of the families in Corozal.
Our next stop was San Isidro. We were a little concerned because school only goes half day and it would take about 45 minutes to get there going the back way and it was already after 10 a.m. On the way we encountered another problem! A tree had fallen across the road leading into San Isidro … and a large truck tried to drive over it and it got stuck. Marvin (the driver) was waiting for his brother to come with an ax. In the meantime, Alejandro pulled out our old machete to start the process of clearing, but it was too old and rusty. Time to buy a bigger machete for the truck! It didn’t take too long to clear once the ax came. Marvin did the chopping. It was a really hard wood and took some effort, but we were soon on our way.
Wilfredo, a member of the Directiva was waiting for us and the teachers greeted us pleasantly and let us in. We did the book presentation upstairs in the 2nd/3rd/4th grade classroom. They were such sweet children! They were gracious and huggy!
This same day, we had a meeting with the staff of the Loma Alta school. We went mostly to let them know what the basic timeline would be to be able to start construction. AFES had said it would take two years and they are committed to that promise. August of 2019 would be the deadline. After some discussion with the staff, community leaders and the members of the parent group (oh my goodness, they actually have a parent group!!), it was suggested that AFES send what funds they have late May to start construction in June. This would be good for a couple of reasons: they could take advantage of the rain for the water they need for construction (one less expense) and that would enable the parents of the students to be able to participate and help in the manual labor for the school without conflicting with their farming. If we waited till August to send funds, Sept/Oct/Nov are heavy months for planting the beans and harvesting the corn. We feel it important to respect the time of those who will be working so hard to make this project a success. The commitment of time and labor from the parents will keep the costs of construction much lower. This is partnership!
On our last day we drove up to Perquin to visit a school called Amun Shea. One of the teachers from Mediagua came with us to see this unique model of education. This was my first visit and I was very impressed. They follow the curriculum that the Ministry of Education mandates but is so much more! Rather than a 3 ½ hour school day, students are there a full day. Before and after school they work in the school’s greenhouses which supply much of the food that is consumed by the students. They also sell some of the veggies. The students are involved in this process so they can put into practice some of the things they are learning: math in the construction of the greenhouses, writing, marketing, caring for the environment… proceeds help support their programming. There is also a huge commitment from the parents to support the school. They offer workshops like how to make a pizza, or accounting workshops – the special gifts and talents of the parents are incorporated into the school day. They also have pre and post school extracurricular options – sports and the arts. They have private donors as well as cooperating organizations who support them. They work with the 7 other public schools in the area and share their resources. Groups are welcome to come to their science labs which even has a small planetarium and in interactive globe.
We had lunch at Perkin Lenca (the owner of this is the man who began Amun Shea and still supports it). Then we went to the Museum of the Revolution and the Guerrilla encampment.
It was a full day.
And a full week!
After a final meeting with the Pastoral Team, the delegation left on Saturday morning to spend the day and the night at a beach near the airport. They had a flight scheduled very early so it was more convenient to be closer to the airport. That, and it is just pleasant to spend time at the beach! A well deserved break.