Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Visitors.

The month of March was crazy for us at the Hogar. We had tons of visitors, from the H.O.P.E. group, to friends, to even the Ambassador of the United States. Having visitors, especially friendly faces, is always wonderful. It's always interesting to see the change in the school when a visitor comes, especially a big one. The teachers are always in better moods, they are suddenly on their best behavior, and the lazy ones aren't so lazy anymore. Everyone's hoping their class will be the one walked into, the one that gets to show off (but I can't lie, sometimes I really like to show my kids off too), the one that gets acknowledged for doing a great job. However, there's always one thing that never changes, and that is the children. They continue to be their adorable, hyper, misbehaved, silly little selves no matter who is watching. The president of the Republica Dominican could be there and they still would stay themselves. It's these moments that remind me why I love this place, why I love what I do, and why I love each and every one of the children at the Hogar.

Having the H.O.P.E. group here was amazing, but it definitely came with a flood of emotions. I couldn't help but look at them and see myself when I had come to the Hogar on H.O.P.E. in the past. Their eyes were filled with excitement, energy and passion, their red faces not used to the heat just yet. It was such a pleasure to have them with us for a week, especially in our classes. Watching them with my kids almost brought me to tears. These kids that I truly love with all of my heart, that every day make me proud, no matter how small their accomplishments, were finding places in the hearts of these H.O.P.E. volunteers. This group was special. They were hard working, diligent and somehow never seemed to get tired. They gave their whole hearts out for the week that they were here and I hope they know that the kids will never ever forget them. And neither will we. Their presence reminded me of how I felt when I first got here. Before waking up early, the stress of lesson planning, teacher gossip, misbehaved children, and seeing children that were being poorly taken care of made me tired. As much as I don't want to admit it, sometimes a I need a little pick me up to put the fuel back in my engine, and that's exactly what this group did. Their praise and kind words for all of us reminded me once again why  I am here. I really can't thank them enough.

The next visitor was one of my best friends from Stonehill, which to be honest I was kind of nervous about. You know when you mix two groups of people? Like college friends and home town friends, and you just hope everyone gets along? I guess that's what made me nervous. Thinking back on it now it was so silly for me to have been worried. Joey came on a Thursday afternoon and was staying until the next Tuesday. I figured just Friday and Monday I would bring him to school. Little did I know that that boy was not going to want to leave. He absolutely loved the school, and the school loved him. All my kids loved having him in class, my favorite little 2 year old even learned his named and would scream for him every time he saw him, and he even got to spend some time with the older kids playing volleyball (or should I say surprising them with his skills). He meshed instantly. I was so happy to see someone so close to me share my same passion. He recently just told me he already has a plan for a way he wants to donate to the school for next year. I can't thank him enough, and I know the kids would be incredibly grateful. That is the beautiful thing about the Hogar del Nino and it's students. It does not matter your color, shape, size, age, or language, the children not only take you as you are, but they love you. You could come into their lives for one day, you could spend 10 minutes talking to them, you could even just sit with them for a little while and know that they will absolutely never forget you. And I know once you have been blessed enough to set foot in the Hogar, when one of those children melts your heart, you will never forget them either.

Visitors. They come in with a plan to do something for the school, to do something for the kids. Whenever we hear the word visita, we think 'more work'. Who would have thought they could have done so much for us. Each and every visitor brings us back, reminds us why we wake up every morning to go to the Hogar del Nino and why we will continue waking up each morning. They're a healthy reminder, some extra fuel in our engines to keep us going, to teach the children that we love so much.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Changes.

"All great changes are preceded by chaos."

I found this quote the other night and realized just how perfectly it applies to everything that is going on here in the DR. After a nice two week break at home with my family (as wonderful as it was) I could not wait to get back here. I missed my kids, I missed the school, I missed working and after all the snow and cold dios mio did I miss the sun and Domincan heat. Even so, the break was just what I needed, it gave me some new energy and fuel to start the New Year off kicking. Little did I know how much I was really going to need that extra fuel and energy. That chaos that precedes the change, well Nina and I felt it the second we stepped off the plane. We were waiting for our friends to pick us up when they called to say that a tire popped and they wouldn't be able to come get us. That meant we had to take a taxi, which from Santo Domingo to La Romana could be anywhere from $100-$200. Which is crazy. As we're waiting for our luggage (of course mine is pretty much the last bag) our friends call to say that if we pay the tow truck driver $40 they'd all come get us at the airport. Well if we'd forgotten where we just landed, we were quickly reminded. It couldn't get more Dominican then that! Not more then 20 minutes later did our ride show up; the tow truck. Luckily we made it home safely and not broke, but we really should have realized that was just a taste of the chaos that was going to continue.
Most of us went to school for, what was it, a 7 hour day? Well at the Hogar due to lack of space for the hundreds of students who attend, there are two sessions, a morning and afternoon. Well, there WERE two sessions. New starting this year, after months of construction, the school will have what we know as a normal extended day. All students will be at school from 8am-2:50pm. We knew this was a big change, but I don't think we were ready for the chaos that came before it. Our first week back before classes start this Monday, was filled with meetings and planning. There are 8 or 9 new teachers, two of which are English teachers. Our first meeting was one lead by the Director with all of the teachers intended to motivate us to give it our all this new year. We then silently watched as all of the teacher's classes (grades and subjects) were switched around and and changed, feeling pretty relieved that it wasn't us. We had no idea that we had spoken too soon.  In the fall, Nina and I taught 1st-4th grade English in the afternoons, now due to the extended day we figured now we would just be teaching both sections of those grades. However, we had an English teachers meeting where we learned that one of the new teachers would be teaching 4th, another teacher 2nd and 3rd and Nina and I teaching 1st grade together. I then understood the other teacher's frustrations at having their nice and neat schedule completely tossed and thrown around to be changed to something different. Nina and I were frustrated, even felt defeated. We thought; we're here to teach these kids English as fluent English speakers and now they're not even putting us to good use. However we figured well if there isn't anything we can do lets make these 1st grade classes the absolute best they can be. An experience like this year of service really teaches you a lot of things, one being patience and another flexibility. Especially in a country such as this where 8:00 really means 9:00 and honestly nothing is really certain or stable (ex: the Friday before classes started on Monday, there was no set class schedule). The next day we're getting ready to start planning when we find out Ramses will be now teaching in the Hearing Impaired school due to lack of staff and that Diane was going to be there to support him and needed us to help her out with the planning of her English classes. And then began the chaos. Instead of just planning for two 1st grade classes we now had to plan for two 2nd grade and two 3rd classes as well. This is where that whole thing about flexibility comes in handy. Honestly, as much as we were a little stressed we were very happy to have more classes and more work. We've found we feel a lot better when were busier instead of when we're looking for something to do.
As the week came to a close, we reflected on this whole topic of change. Its frustrating, its chaotic, but a lot of times it is for the better. We're so excited for this new year and all of the changes because as much as it is a lot, we can already tell that these are all positive things. The kids will now have full days, which doubles their time in school. How can that not be beneficial. This past week has just really reminded me to be patient and flexible, to appreciate change, and amiss the chaos, to find the calm in the storm and remember that everything happens for a reason.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Little Reminders

We have been here about three months and have begun to understand more about  ourselves and the children we work with. At times, it is easy to get caught up in our work and lives here. But today, we were fortunate enough to be reminded why were here doing what we are doing. All three of  us have grown close to three children whose names are Miguel Angel, Luz Elena and Karen. Miguel Angel and Karen are siblings and Luz Elena is their cousin. All three have very big personalities, one more sassy than the next. Both Miguel Angel and Luz Elena are twelve years old and Karen is nine. We know a little bit about their home lives and, needless to say, it's not perfect. Regardless, they are three of the happiest children we know. During the hour before lunch, we spend time talking with them while we gather materials for our classes. They sit with us, tell us about their classes, their dreams and their lives. In just three months, these children have made an impact on us, as have all of the children at the Hogar, but today was a little different.
     The Hogar, which translates into "home", is way more than just a school. It is a place for the children who live in La Romana to go. It gives them the opportunity to get off the streets and eat, possibly, the only hot meal they will have that day. During the time before lunch, Luz Elena was telling us how some children from the town, who do not recieve meals during the day, come to the Hogar to eat lunch even if they do not attend the school. She continued to explain to us that the principal allows food to be given to children who are not students at the Hogar, however, if the principal is not present in the comedor (or cafeteria), the staff will not always feed these children. With wisdom way beyond her years, Luz Elena proclaimed how wrong she thought that was and did not agree with it. As she was telling us this, there was a passion in her eyes that is unique for a twelve year old. In that moment, we were reminded why we began this beautiful journey to begin with. It began with a passion to do something. Sometimes we can get caught up in our own frustrations, fears, stresses or things from home, that we can forget what it is to do service to begin with. Carola ended her morning classes with a difficult class which resulted in a lot of frustration. She told me that she just wanted to give up and stop teaching that group because of their behavior. After this particular class, we talked about how sometimes it´s the worst kids who need the most attention. In addition, when the teacher is not doing their job very well, it makes our thirty minutes a day with them even more important. In just a few words from a little girl, we knew that although we would have times of frustration, we can and will never give up because we are doing something we are passionate about. Luz Elena reminded us what it is to be passionate about something and not forget what we came here to do in the first place. I know that I am so grateful to each and everyone of my children and I continue working, even on the hardest of days, for them. This may not be the only time we need to be reminded of this, but I know that we can always count on our students to do so. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

First Blog Post YAY!!

We've been here for exactly one month and 11 days today and we've loved every single second of it. As of right now we feel like we've finally gotten into the swing of things at the Hogar del Nino, our new home, La Romana, and the Dominican Republic. It has been pretty interesting to say the least. Days of coming into the school and having the children scream at us "VISITA, VISITA!" (visitors) are long gone as now they realize we're here to stay and either call us by our names, or the younger children call us "Tio" o "Tia" which means Uncle or Aunt. The Hogar is an incredibly special place with many different parts, however we're not involved in all of them. There is the 'Sala Cuna' or 'Crib Room' which is essentially a day care for babies from as young as 2 months old to almost 2 years old and Nina and I spend some time there, but more just whenever we have a free few minutes and need some adorable baby time.
Next there is the 'Nivel Inicial' which translates into 'Initial Level'. This houses the children from ages 2-6. Here there are four different sections: Nidos (ages 2-3), Maternal (ages 3-4), Kinder (ages 4-5) and Pre-Premario (ages 5-6). Within each of these sections there are three different classes, all having anywhere between 25-45 children. Monday-Thursdays mornings from around 8am-10:30, the three of us teach English to the 'Nivel Inicial'. Nina teaches the children in Maternal, I teach the children in Kinder and Ramses the children in Pre-Premario. Our class times can range anywhere from 15 to 45 mins and are on a sort of rotating schedule. So far we've all been teaching the kids lots of songs, as well as some of the numbers, some shapes and a few vowels. I think the best part is when parents approach us to tell us that their children come home saying my English teacher Carola or Nina or Ramses, teaches me a lot in English and they proceed to sing a song or count the numbers to show their parents how much they know.
Next there is the Upper School which has grades 1-12. However, the Upper School isn't run how we think when we think traditional 8am-3pm.. Instead, there are two sections of each elementary school grade, one runs in the morning and one in the afternoon, and high school runs in the morning while middle school in the afternoon. Currently there is major construction happening with this school in order to make a larger building so that the school hours could be more like a traditional schools which would then allow for more after school activities.Nina and I both teach elementary school English, but only in the afternoons. I teach 1st and 3rd grade and Nina 2nd and 4th grade. It definitely wasn't easy at first. Neither Nina or I studied education, therefore all of this was very new to us. In addition to these obstacles, others come when working with children who come off the streets, or come from lower income families or come from a poorer city  like La Romana. However, what we've found is that these children just need some love, attention, a little discipline and just to be reminded that they are important, because at the end of the day we love every single one of them and they are really wonderful children.
Currently the equivalent to an after school program is called the "Zona Verde", the Green Zone and it has it's own very special building. The main idea of the Zona Verde is to keep the kids off the streets when they're not in school and focuses a lot on art and music as well has what would be equivalent to an U.S. study hall. Ramses spends a lot of time here, teaching two art classes a week in the afternoons. Nina and I are also spending some time here working with some of the kids on a special project we'll explain in a few months.
All in all as much as our days our long, and we wake up early, I can confidently say we wouldn't want it any other way. These children our inspiring and never ever cease to amaze us. We're the lucky ones for getting the opportunity to work with them.
Although this blog post makes it seem like our lives are completely encompassed by our work at the Hogar, I promise we're having fun too! More on our lives and our new home in posts to come.