I got an internship working in El Monte, a small town an hour + busride from Santiago. Every Wednesday I wake up at 6am to get on the metro bound for Estacion Central at 7am, pay 1000 pesos (2 dollars) on a bus that has curtains to get to the El Monte Plaza by 9:30. It’s my favorite day of the week for no other reason then that I get to go to this small town, so I never hit snooze.
I go with one other girl from the program named Melanie and together the two of us walk through the town to get to Santa Maria, the school that we work at. The town is small. Impossibly small, with dirt roads and small houses that have tin roofs. Shops that sell bread and coke-a-cola pop up along the road sometimes but they are indistinguishable from the surrounding houses. Past the houses there are farmlands, and mountains, and sky. It is truly a town in the middle of nowhere. That being said, there’s a liveliness to the place. Buses and horses (as in horse drawn carts) fill the streets, and there people walking at all hours of the day.
When we get off the bus we walk three “campo” blocks (about a half a mile) to the bright yellow building that is the school. Here I work with Fernanda the English teacher helping them mostly with pronunciation since Fernanda is not a native English speaker. The first class is with students 13 to 15 years old, the second class is with students 7 to 10 years old. Melanie is only with me for half of the first class before she goes to the special school to teach yoga to the kids there.
When it hits 1pm I walk back into town. Magdalena, my supervisor, lives about a half an hour’s walk from Santa Maria. Magdalena runs The Corporation, a charitable organization that provides a support network for the elderly in El Monte. She works as a volunteer as do a number of other women from the community. She gives us lunch and coffee, while some of the women from the corporation and her chat about the news (community and country based). Then we walk to the Corporation to volunteer.
The Corporation is a large open building that looks a lot like a warehouse. There’s things piled high on all corners and small shacks in the back half. The elderly sit in chairs in a circle in the front half, where they can socialize. The farmers give food donations to Magdalena so that she can sell the Abuelos fruit and vegetables at a very cheap price (for example: a kilo of apples for a dollar). They offer exercise classes that Melanie and I help with, or sometimes we’ll take blood pressure, or they’ll administer flu shots etc. Everything is free for the Abuelos. Everyday they hand out bread and tea as well.
Melanie and I aren’t there long, and they don’t give us much to do, but it seems to put a smile on some of the Abuelos’ faces to see us, so it’s worth going.
We walk back to Santa Maria around 4 to teach a yoga class. We have a few students, girls from the school, who meet us after school to take the class in the grass outside the gym. I love this part of the day because the girls get really excited to see us. It’s like we’ve started a special club with them. Melanie is a licenced yoga teacher in the states, and she’s designed the class to be a self-esteem inner reflection class. She wants the girls to focus on their lives their decisions and their futures. It’s really touching to hear them talk about what they want to be when they grow up, because they’re such bright kids in such a bad area.
Blademir drives us back to Santiago at the end of our long day. But eventhough it’s long, it never feels like it. Wednesday is my favorite day of the week, and if I had the option I’d spend everyday in El Monte.
Friday I work out in El Monte too, but it’s not quite as long. I get a ride out to Santa Maria with Stephanie the school psychologist at around 8:30 in the morning. I work with Fernanda for an hour or so in another English class, then I walk to the school for special kids that’s in town. The school is a bright green and has about 100 students, all with disabilities.
They’ve put me in charge of an art class with kids of about 7 to 12 years old. At first I was nervous about teaching art (something I know next to nothing about) to children that have a hard time paying attention in a language that I haven’t quite mastered. But I got some good advice about working with kids that if I just put the idea in their head and let them loose, they’d do what makes them happy and express themselves the way they want to. So I created a class about Expression through Art. And every Friday they get a different medium (sculpture, finger painting, charcoal, acrylics etc) to experiment with. I have them do some laughing yoga (which is basically everyone standing around in a circle laughing) then I show them examples of the medium using my lovely Kindle, then we close our eyes concentrate on how we feel today. When they open them they play with art.
The kids are ridiculously cute all the time. They climb all over me and call me Tía. Every Friday before I leave the classroom the teacher walks the kids over to the wall calendar and they count the days until they get to see me again. It always makes me want to stay longer.
Unfortunately I don’t have any picture of the school, or the teacher, or me working with the kids because my camera died shortly after these pictures were taken. But this is what El Monte looks like…other pictures soon to come