Friday, March 28, 2014

Working with foreign volunteers and finding new ways to communicate

I´ve been working as a Bolivian cooperante tecnico, working alongside volunteers for nine months now. This has been an experience like no other mainly because of the different contexts one gets to know through the ICS program.

I´ve gotten to meet not only people from overseas, but also people from my own country, who, without this experience, I would never have come into contact with.   

My focus during the past three cohorts was to work with children in Aldeas SOS Infantiles centres.  These are care centres that are provided to poorer neighbourhoods by Aldeas in partnership with the local government.  In every cohort I worked with an assigned volunteer, sharing the responsibility to create lessons for kids between 3 and 5 years old.

I´ve learned that there is no greater truth than that the recipe to bond with kids is through teaching and learning.  

My first experience with creating learning modules I shared with Poopy, a dark haired volunteer with a big heart from cohort 5. Through her love of painting and drawing she found her connection with the kids, despite speaking little Spanish. 

At the beginning we didn’t really know what to expect from working with kids, we thought we were there just to do what the ¨madres¨ told us to do. But soon we discovered that we had lots of freedom to develop different areas with them. 

Poppy was the one who came up with the idea to work through painting, focussing on subjects like number and colours, mainly because of the quantity of kids who were far behind on these subjects.

It was a great start and there were a few amazing events that we held with the children at that centre like mask day and pizza day. To this day when we go back to the centre in Portada Triangular the kids still ask about Poppy. 

For cohort 6 the person working alongside me in the children’s centre was Becky. A blond, churka (that means curly haired) funny girl with a good vibe. She had experience in the field of working with slightly older kids. Although I had been working with the kids in Portada Triangular for 6 months she astonished me with clear ideas of what she wanted to achieve and how. With a level of organisation I’d never seen before!! 

During the three months of cohort 6, from October to December, we developed a nutrition module that not only explained about healthy eating but also where food comes from and how it helps make your body strong. We even created songs about food and nutrition and that became our way of interacting with the kids.  

I was amazed not only at the change in the kids, who at 4 years of age could tell me that protein was good for your muscles, but also at the change in Becky. From entering the centre with very little Spanish, she left being able to run entire classes with over 15 young, shouting children, entirely on her own in Spanish. One of the things I’ve learned is that probably the best place to practice any language is with kids, because of the simple reason that they will try to understand you even if what you´re saying is completely wrong.

By January we stopped working with kids from Portada Triangular because they needed volunteers in another centre called Rincon Portada. We worked there for two months only. This is the last group of children that I worked with. Liam was in charge of our work in the children’s centre, having to coordinate activities for the volunteers of cohort 7 and almost 30 kids from Rincon Portada.

Liam is a caring, tall guy that likes to wear shorts to work even when it’s freezing outside. He also has experience working with kids from 8 years old and up. Although we already had all the lessons planned he too added his own touch, creating a exercise module to fit into our nutrition and healthy living module.

Kinetic was the way he interacted with kids, this time from babies of 6 months to 5 years. This was the biggest group we have worked with and it was definitely a challenge. Liam, like the volunteers before him, didn’t have much Spanish on coming to the centre but like the other volunteers he too found a way to communicate with the children.

As for me, somehow working with people that doesn´t speak you language and kids that mostly don’t do what you say makes me feel comfortable. You take nothing for granted and have to rely on more creative ways of communication like drawing, singing, dancing, exercising or even mime.

Being with kids has really opened my mind, but especially seeing how each new volunteer has approached them. Everyone learns and communicates in different creative ways from the kids to the volunteers and I feel very happy to have been a part of this.

- Edelweiss Murillo

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post Edelweiss. It is good to hear the perspective of a Bolivian Cooperante and how positive you have found ICS. Thank you for your commitment to International Service.
    Jo Baker
    CEO, International Service.