Teachers’ Day 2013

Latin America loves holidays, and there’s a day for everything: secretary’s day, environmental day, tree day, state employee day, and the list goes on.  Most of these holidays get little more than mention in red letters on the calendar, but this year one holiday has not gone uncelebrated, and that is Teachers’ Day.

5 year old David presents an ode to teachers by memory before his classmates

5 year old David presents an ode to teachers by memory before his classmates

The festivities began in the morning with Guajoyo’s first annual oratory competition, wherein representatives from each grade presented from memory a sort of  Ode to My Teacher by memory before all their classmates.  The first contestant was a kindergartner, who recited the poem completely from memory.  The other contestants followed, filling the shady schoolyard with flowery words praising the virtues of teachers. For all the informality that characterizes the way these kinds of activities are pulled together, there’s a great level of formality in the diction at such an event.  I found myself nervous as my turn came to approach the podium and announce the winners because of the high standard set by the presenters.

Profe Efrain, the director of the school for the past 18 years, beams in triumph after winning the competition to see who could remove their shoelaces first.

Profe Efrain, the director of the school for the past 18 years, beams in triumph after winning the competition to see who could remove their shoelaces first.

The afternoon would have seen classes as usually for 5th through 9th grade, but the students had organized a party for their teachers, complete with dance performances, games, a lunch, and all the DJing and emcee-ing done by students.  I had the privilege of seeing the preparation process, as clusters of little girls of all ages put together dance routines to bachata and reggaeton songs, and the older girls went around house to house to find people to help put together the pieces to make up the lunch.  The same organization that characterizes Guajoyo, giving it strength and resilience, is embedded in the kids here at the school.   It’s the kind of thinking that makes people say “I want to see this thing happen, I should probably make it happen.”

The teachers, lined up at the Table of Honor

The teachers, lined up at the Table of Honor

The girls played the largest role in organizing the event, preparing the food, putting together dance numbers, emceeing the event, and even making sure prizes were brought to give to the teachers that won the games they put together.  They were very proud of the event, and seemed to grow in stature as they took on leadership in putting on an afternoon of fun for their classmates and appreciation for their teachers.

The teachers watch the 9th grade girls perform a dance routine they choreographed

The teachers watch the 9th grade girls perform a dance routine they choreographed

The school's folk dance group, made up of kids from grades 4-9, performs a routine they will take to competition next week.

The school’s folk dance group, made up of kids from grades 4-9, performs a routine they will take to competition next week.

When activities like these go on, classes are suspended for the day.  The 7 teachers are all there is, there’s no such thing as a subsitute for days when the teachers have a meeting or other activity.  And with only 7 teachers, there are no teachers dedicated just to extra-curriculars like dance,  music, public speaking, and soccer.  This week it was a teachers’ day celebration, next week there is a meeting in a community down the road, so there will be no classes for anyone all morning, and likely in the afternoon as well.  These teachers work double, teaching the young kids from 7:30-noon, and then the older kids from 12:30-4:30.  They have to be experts in multiple subjects and able to command the attention of kids of various ages.  They are the counselors, janitors, coaches, librarians, chaperones, and friends.  They show up to work in a building that has gaping holes in the roof without funds to buy things like paper and dry erase markers, and they work with kids who have other demands on their time and attention like tending to their families’ corn crops and training to become latin america’s next best soccer champion.  And they show up to stretch young minds and open doors, and this week we told them Thank You.

Ciber Hermanas Solidaridas

The ciber cafe in Guajoyo, named “Ciber Hermanas Solidaridas” is officially up and running, kind of.

Darwin, vice-president of the youth committee, works at the now functioning (albeit without internet) ciber cafe in Guajoyo

Darwin, vice-president of the youth committee, works at the now functioning (albeit without internet) ciber cafe in Guajoyo

The Austin committee collected four donated laptops to send to Guajoyo last year, and what started as a simple concept turned into a full blown youth project to start a cyber cafe in the community.  We’ve spent the past several months figuring out logistics, picking paint colors, cleaning the location, and finally installing the four laptops in the new community space.  The idea was, with 4 computers they could either pick 4 lucky people to get to use them, or they could make them available to whoever in the community (and the other surrounding communities) wanted to use them.

With the computers each on their individual desk, the fans blowing, and the freshly painted windows letting in sunshine and a slight breeze, everything was ready to go — except for internet.  There are no internet lines to connect at the cyber cafe, and the modem we purchased that uses cell phone signal to connect to the internet was unable to get good enough signal to connect.

But still people came.

I was amazed the first week it was open to see dozens and dozens of people from the community come in each day to pay 50 cents an hour to use these laptops to look at pictures, listen to music, and print.  The second week, it continued to be full almost every day.  The third week, things started to dwindle, and we quickly realized we needed to reduce the schedule and not be open every day.

But despite the complications, the cyber cafe is still completely worth it in my eyes, and that’s because it has become a public space that young people can claim as their own.  The walls of the school, the meeting room, and other public spaces are covered in everything from “Jose wuz here” to gang symbols, but amazingly enough the walls of the cyber cafe, freshly painted purple, have no marks whatsoever on them.  This is a space that is respected, because the kids know it is for them.

June 22nd is Teachers’ Day, and some of the kids are secretly practicing dance routines and other numbers to present for their teachers.  The cyber cafe is a meeting place to put on music and practice their routines.  Although now with the reduced schedule we’re only open 3 days a week, each of those 3 days there are people meeting there, sitting on the porch laughing, listening to music and dancing inside.

I’m excited to see how this space is further utilized in the future, we’ve talked about everything from putting in a small concession stand to offering tables and board games.  And maybe, just maybe, one day our cyber cafe will have internet access too.

Photos, to make up for lost time

The 4 kids in my host family at the beach visiting an aunt

The 4 kids in my host family at the beach visiting an aunt

These are my brothers and sisters here in El Salvador

These are my brothers and sisters here in El Salvador

bobby

At a dance party with a bunch of kiddos celebrating one girl's 8th birthday

At a dance party with a bunch of kiddos celebrating one girl’s 8th birthday

This is my house in Guajoyo

This is my house in Guajoyo

Wedding!!!  Most people in Guajoyo don't get married, they just "accompany", which basically means moving in together with less commitment than marriage.

Wedding!!! Most people in Guajoyo don’t get married, they just “accompany”, which basically means moving in together with less commitment than marriage.