Monday, 13 April 2015

First Day of Work.

Breakfast: toast, cornflakes and empanadas smuggled out of the barbecue, is a bit of a scramble in the communal dining room, but by 8am we're ready to ship out. Most of the group take the minibuses towards the primary School in La Pintana, south of the centre. Jose and I head back to the airport to pick up Sophie, the last of the students, who had a family wedding and so delayed her flight by 24 hours.

She hasn't slept a great deal and looks a bit shell shocked, but to her credit declines the offer to head back to the hostel for a rest and insists on going straight to the School for the first workshop.

As we drive Jose explains that La Pintana is one of the poorer districts of the city with 80% of its population living below the poverty line. The School itself, brightly painted on the inside, is surrounded by high barbed wire to discourage drug dealers from trying to peddle to the children. We have to go through two security gates to enter. The others arrive and after checking in on Sophie begin a quick physical and vocal warm up to prepare for the session.

The sessions in the School are all focused on speaking and listening skills and each hour long workshop has been divided down into five or six activities each led by an individual student. Team teaching with this many can be difficult and so to avoid chaos we've also designated a lead facilitator each time, which we'll rotate as the week progresses.

In the main we have a really good time and the two workshop go really well. We've stressed the need for full focus from everybody throughout and the students work really hard to support whoever is leading an exercise. The children, having to negotiate English and Spanish, as well as the sudden arrival of sixteen strangers into their midsts, quickly join in and a hundred ways of communicating make themselves apparent.

The children leave with big smiles and hugs. It's certainly been a different learning experience for them. In the minibus heading home we begin our evaluation. Clearly the energy was right and the team had worked well together to encourage full participation and remove any insecurities that the children might have had about working with us, but there's a feeling that some of the exercises are unconnected and that we didn't develop the session in as coherent a way as we could have done. It was great fun, but there's more to find and develop for our next visit on Wednesday.

Back in the centre Antonia takes us round the corner for lunch in our Bellas Artes neighbourhood. Lentil soup, fish, rice and sweet jellied flan all for 3000 pesos (about three quid.) There's little time to dwell further on the morning's work as we've the afternoon to focus on. Antonia is worried that the group will need more than energy and teamwork to make an impact in the Senames. She also advises everybody to change from shorts to leggings.

We split into two groups. Julie and Antonia head with half of the students to work with 12-17 year olds at the Cread Sename Pudahuel  I go with Jose, our second translator, Consuelo, and the other half to work with the younger 5-12 year olds at Cread Sename Galvarino.

En route Consuelo explains the way the system here works. The children stay resident in the Senames for as long as it's the safest place for them to be and there is direct transference at 12 from Galvarino to Pudahuel. Regardless of their status they leave the relative security of these homes at 18. She tells me that if you're still in the Sename by that stage things are fairly bleak for you. Over 90% of the young people who are not reintegrated back into a family by then end up in prison. We're allowed to take photographs, but because of the vulnerable status of many of the children we're asked not to upload them on line.

We're met by Freddie, the avuncular principal, who welcomes us with a big smile and wishes us luck. He tells us competition to earn a place in our workshops has been fierce and that we should be clear if any of the children are disruptive that they're free to leave. Then a surprise as we're split into two rooms to work. This causes a moment of panic, but  it's quickly solved Aliyah, Hannah & Lizzie take the first group and Faith, Chloe and Rachel work next door. I move between both groups.

It's hard at first to understand the rules of the house. Children wander in and out, use the window as frequently as the door and half an hour in their form tutor, Osvaldo arrives with tea and biscuits for all. Both groups initially struggle to get any focus from the excited participants, but slowly and surely with perseverance a couple of exercises gain traction.

Aliyah's group find the groove first. In essence she runs the session, talking directly to the kids but staying close to Carolina and insisting everything is translated back and forth. She establishes presence, refuses to be ruffled and takes her time. Hannah and Lizzie provide able support, listening and gently encouraging those on the fringes to take part, sometimes they do and sometimes not. By inches games are bought into and exercises explored.


Next door the struggle is harder. All three of the students are really able workshop leaders, but funnily enough it's their competence in this that seems to be causing a problem. In the UK they'd switch fluidly from one to another in this kind of setting, but here it's causing problems and by the time each exercise has been explained and made ready the room has been lost and the kids are indicating their disinterest. They battle through, but we all know a regrouping is needed. It's a thoughtful minibus ride home.

The other group have also found it tough and a few tears have been shed - a mixture of shock at the conditions in which the young people find themselves and our own failure to make an instant impact.

Back at La Cascona Julie and I convene an evaluation session in the common room. Everybody is keen to talk and so it lasts a good two hours. There's a slight tension in the room between those who want to simply find the games and exercises that will make the workshop run smoothly and those who feel that, despite the problems of the day, we should be working towards some kind of sharing of work for Saturday. This latter goal seems impossible to those who've not managed to make much connection today. The conversation is direct, honest  but by the end of it all of us are determined to galvanise our efforts and try and push ahead with some of the play making and story telling exercises that we'd prepared back in the UK.

We knew it wasn't going to be completely plain sailing.

1 comment:

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