Sunday, August 14, 2011

La Paciencia

         Last weekend, I accompanied the last brigade on the eight hour journey to San Pedro Sula in order to drop them off at the airport. As I sat in the car on the way back as we climbed our way up mountain hills and rocky roads at a mere 10 miles per hour, I realized how the journey and the condition of the roads is also a metaphor for my time here. It takes us anywhere from three to five hours to get from the city of La Esperanza to Santa Lucia but we've been told the distance is only about 30 miles, however because of the unpaved roads, thirty miles is quite the trek! If there is one thing that I have learned during my time here, it is patience. Just like traveling to the city takes a long time, moving forward and making a change here is also a long process.
First, I have learned patience with time. Nothing will start on time here. Whether it’s a meeting that starts an hour late or traveling to a school to meet with the fifth and sixth grade girls, only to have to wait for an hour while they finish their recess and then pulling them out of class instead, I have learned that time is not really a concept here. Letting go of this sense of this control has also been a beautiful thing!
Patience with groups. Helping lead my first brigade made me realize how long it truly takes a group of 18 people to get anywhere. Everything takes three times as long and once I realized that, I could breathe a lot easier.
Patience with myself. I have days where my Spanish hits a wall or where I feel so overwhelmed with all the work there is to do and will often get discouraged. But I have to realize that my Spanish will come little by little, that I have learned so much, and that even if the work I am doing here only makes a small change, a drop in the ocean is better than none.
Some of the students at story hour after school

Patience with the type of work I am doing. I am learning that development work is hard, very hard. While there are many people who want to help, this type of work must be so much more than good intentions. It is not only looking at the programs we want to implement but also at the cultural practices, at the problems evident in the community, and at the way the community will receive the help (which is not always in a positive manner). Trying to establish a mutual relationship that is not just give on one side and all take on the other is a very challenging task. A lot of times, those communities living in poverty are built on an “aid dependency culture” in which organizations come in and give them what they need instead of establishing an alliance where there is work put in on both sides. In some ways, this type of aid does more harm than good and the community has to be invested in the project or it will fail. Building a sustainable relationship takes a long time.
Patience with the students.  Everyday I look forward to working with the kids in the library, it is one of the best parts of my day!  However, the school system here can be so frustrating at times. The culture of machismo is aggravating and yet this is just part of the culture that I must learn to deal with. In the after school programs I help with, we do a reading club. The students read a book and either write a summary or give a summary in person. However, because their schooling has mostly consisted of copying from their teacher, thinking critically to write a summary is not a learned skill. I tell them not to copy the book word for word, but they don’t know any better.           
Also, in the girl’s empowerment program Yo Puedo, we travel to different schools to talk about self-esteem and then the girls do their own little craft (a crocheted napkin or work in the school store) as a means of learning microfinance. The money they make goes to the school and the girls learn valuable skills. The program is a means to help girls feel like they do have a future besides becoming a mother and staying in the house, a common theme for the women here. However, because the girls are so used to subduing their thoughts and remaining quiet in class while the boys speak up, it is often very hard to get them to share, another cultural phenomenon that is ingrained from a young age. Yet is not their fault, it is just they way it works here and by recognizing this, I can also recognize that making a change for the better may not be my own concept of change but rather completely different from what I expected.
The students with their paper bag puppets at the after school program

 Patience. Things here happen little by little and that is ok. Just like riding on the roads is not always comfortable and sometimes feels like an exasperatingly long time for the amount of ground covered, being patient means I just have to sit back and enjoy the ride and know that one day we will reach the destination, it just may take a lot longer than expected.

         On Wednesday, I’m going to Nicaragua for a nice vacation with the other volunteers. We’ll be going to the Lago Nicaragua and to the beach for a few days! I will have limited access to e-mail for the next few weeks but please stay in touch still! 

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