Galapagos Volunteering – Part Three

The horror of being involved with getting the kids ready for school! Maybe I am a lone Dad who finds this part of the day a touch frustrating but I suspect this may be a common problem even in the more perfect of Stepford households. I feel lucky at home that we have had au-pairs to herd the fruit flies out of the door and Mo who loves this ‘quality time’ with the children when she can. Suffice to say that asking a child to put their shoes on 20 times makes me think of Einstein’s quote about doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, yep I am going mad…

So the toys go out of my pram but with the help of a taxi we make it. The headmistress seems happy to see us and we get the obligatory peck on the cheek, smile and burst of Spanish which my brain fails to translate and I hope is nothing more than ‘good luck, you’ll need it’. The kids are gone, no need for embarrassing parental delivery to the door and we head to the classrooms we were shown yesterday. How will the kids fit in? Will they enjoy it? Get anything out of it? What about us?

Outside the new school

Us at our new school

Being in the Galapagos an appropriate quote from Charles Darwin enters my mind:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Yes we will have to focus on being adaptable. I am feeling a little bit more comfortable than Mo as I am quite used to computers but my first discovery is that the PCs are all running Ubuntu Linux and Open Office, all of course in Espanol, no Windows in sight! I start to wish we had covered computer language in my Spanish classes. The class and the computer teacher pile in and we exchange ‘buenos diases’ but this is the only conversation I have before she launches into the lesson. The sound is terrifying and despite the teacher’s best efforts at asking for ‘Silencio’ it makes my head hurt, I wonder about Guantanamo and if this was the sound they played to the detainees to break them? Luckily by the end of the day my hearing has adapted and I guess filtered out unnecessary sound. Maybe this is what Mo complains about when I don’t hear her? Being a boy, I think it is only being able to focus on one thing at a time.

Computer Room at School

The very well equipped computer room

The lessons are mouse control games for the youngest (a free programme called Psycache) and either word processing or spreadsheets for the older ones. With zero direction (Willy had warned us we had to be proactive) I just go round the room helping anyone that is struggling, a couple of minutes with each is all that I manage but on the first lesson I get a big hug off one kid at the end, aaawwww…

I wonder how welcome I am, as the teacher makes no effort to converse with me the whole day? I doubt she feels I threaten her job security as my Spanish is pitiful (I hear from Mo a day later that she had the same level of conversation when her class was doing computers and I was off looking after a feverish Lara so maybe it wasn’t just me).

In the break I chat to Luis, another teacher who is loads friendlier and we have a lengthy conversation where we both practice each others’ languages. He makes me feel really welcome although some questions leave me wondering what the best answer is? What do you say to someone that states you must be very rich as we are travelling for a year with 5 of us and in the Galapagos which is only visited by rich people? When I admit, truthfully, that an iPhone costs about a thousand dollars I don’t think I changed his opinion! Ecuadorean teachers earn between $400 to $600 a month (a bit more in the Galapagos, I later hear)! Tricky and not something I have an easy answer to.

I notice many of the computers are not in use and doubling up is common so I investigate the others. After fixing 4 mice I feel I have added some value as that is 4 more computers back in action, the wires have been routed so the cable is bent sharply at the mouse end which makes them work intermittently. I actually watch a student unplug it and try and force it back in bending the pins so it wouldn’t fit. Mystery solved and with a biro to bend back the pins and a bit of rerouting they were mostly sorted. I also fix the projector for the teacher but feel that plugging the lead in has not stretched my technical capabilities.

Then I find that many of the PCs have the programme shortcuts deleted so they aren’t getting used either so I put these back on, we now have just 3 PC’s out of action, one has a bust hard drive but the others just need Ubuntu reinstalled. I suspect these problems come from the students just switching the power off to the PCs rather than shutting them down properly, I’ll have to work on getting this translated.

For Christmas my secret Santa present at work was a mug with ‘I Love Spreadsheets’ in a big heart so it was great to see such a useful and powerful programme being taught in primary school. The biggest difficulties I can see are that there is such a wide range of abilities in each class. Many children need one on one help, which I can give some of but is almost impossible for a sole teacher. I also feel for the brighter pupils who are far from being stretched and fill the time playing solitaire, loading up music and photos from USB thumb drives or just chatting, fighting etc. Mixed ability classes without streaming may be a socialist ideal but makes me foam at the mouth with frustration at the waste of young talent and drained enthusiasm not to mention the ability to focus extra resources at the other end of the scale!

Rant over. Happily I have to go and find our children at break time. They are bombing around the playground followed by a group of new friends and having a ball. Great news and one of our main concerns is gone. I go to find Mo…

The class teacher of 4B is not there so Mo has a class of 25 that she is teaching all day with no warning or preparation?!? Mo looks stressed but is managing. She is not following the lesson plan but teaching whatever she can think of with an English slant.

12.30 can’t come soon enough, Mo and I are exhausted! We walk back into town to try a new restaurant for lunch. Rosita has been recommended for their Almuerzo set lunch. It is a dollar more expensive than others at $5/head for a soup, main course and juice but apparently worth it. We order 4 to share and it is more than enough so we will have 3 in future. The only dessert option are ice-creams at $2/each, expensive but really, really good as full of proper fruit.

Mo, boosted by a coffee, braves the centre again for some more sessions with the children while I become a domestic goddess and dash round sorting laundry ($1.25/kilo in case you wondered about me scrubbing in the sink) and getting extra bits for the early dinner we have planned. I pick up some ice-cream and discover some Sauvignon Blanc in a shop by the pier, Mo will likely need a glass or two as she looked frazzled.

I think Mo has been amazing. Not only has she worked so hard at learning enough Spanish in 3 weeks that she can converse, she managed to run a class for a whole day. We were told that they were the most challenging ones and needed the most help so to do it single handed… I am just glad our roles weren’t reversed!

We head to the beach and spot some more wildlife:

Marine Iguanas

Spot the three 2ft long Iguanas on the rocks, they blend in really well

Crabs and a bird on a rock

Lots of crabs, can’t be good eating?

Continuing the domestic goddess theme dinner is Nigella’s Spaghetti Puttanesca (she calls it ‘slut’s pasta’ but ‘whore style’ is apparently the correct translation) but without anchovies (amazingly I found capers and olives!). Tableless we eat on our laps and generate some more washing out of clean clothes, I hope our requested table arrives soon.

Mo prepares for her class the next day, googling ‘crowd control in class’ while I look for computer fixes online. We are very pleased that our apartment has acceptable WiFi.

I pick up the laundry and we have an early night, I suspect we will sleep well!

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. katebil
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 07:59:26

    Wow, well done Mo for surviving being thrown in at the deep end! Sounds like you are going to get a lot of self satisfaction out of the volunteering, how long are you doing it for?


    • Mo
      Nov 13, 2012 @ 16:06:26

      Hi Kate, thanks! Headache inducing but immensely rewarding, especially the hugs and smiles from the children in my class! We’re booked for a month but I will be very happy to revert to classroom assistant now the regular teacher has returned and hopefully help out with other groups too! Right now, I have a couple of unplanned days off as I’m nursing a little injury from the weekend but more of that in an upcoming post! Hopefully can get all my diary blogging up to date too whilst everyone else is at school! Its such a friendly, laid back place, we’re really lucky to be here! Mo x


      • katebil
        Nov 13, 2012 @ 20:39:00

        Julie did mention you’d had an accident – hope you are on the mend now! Looking forward to all the updates – and where is flat stanley!?? xx

      • Mo
        Nov 13, 2012 @ 22:55:45

        On the mend I think, thanks! And as you can see, Flat Stanley is alive and well, having a ball!! x

  2. Chris lambah
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 14:28:13

    Every days a school day guys!:-) but not like your experience!!!
    Wow, so glad you got Mo that wine… It sounds like she needed it

    Every time I have a glass from now on I will tip a little bit in the garden to honour your trials and tribulations… So I don’t have to do it

    Brave peeps!


  3. Trackback: Galapagos Volunteering – Part Four. Five go to school! « The Clark Family's Amazing Adventures

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