After a month of volunteering with Nukanti in La Celia, a village in Colombia's beautiful coffee region, I'm going at full speed with the bilingualism project and I'm starting to feel grounded with the community. I can hardly walk around without being stopped every few metres. Students always want to say “Hi” and the younger ones like to run after me, asking me to translate various Spanish words in English. Up and down the main street, a stream of “Hello”, “Profe”, “Teacher” or “Veronica” follows me all day long. Although I'm not technically a teacher it feels wonderful to be recognized and appreciated. I always take the time to greet the students and take the opportunity to promote my Conversation Club and the new Theatre Club, especially to the better ones.
During my first week I introduced myself to each group and students practiced formulating questions in English. It felt weird to explain 12 different times the particularities of the Canadian winter. But I laughed every time when their jaws dropped after I explained that it can get as cold as -30 Cº in Montreal and that one winter we even got -50 Cº in Winnipeg.
I have been alternating weeks between two high schools – Liceo and Patio Bonito. Both welcomed me with open arms, but the schools could not be more different. The Liceo is the “urban” high school with 300 students and 3 English teachers who split their time between 12 groups, from 6th to 11th graders. The Liceo is like a well-organized beehive; everybody is busy and attend to their respective tasks. It feels like a normal North American high school.
With only 115 students, Patio Bonito is a smaller school and a complete different world. It’s the “rural” high school, a 12-minute ride up the mountain on the way to Peirera. Sometimes I wonder if Patio Bonito isn’t closer to Balboa, the next village. Transportation is an issue. There is an hourly bus leaving La Celia that can drop me in front of the school, but coming back is a different story. We don’t always know for sure when the bus from Peirera will drive by the college. It’s difficult for some students too. Some have to walk an hour to get to school.
While the Liceo focuses on academic life, this institution teaches less academic hours, but compensates with an agricultural specialization. There is a small farm with a coffee plantation attached to the school. Being a rural school, there is a relaxing and jovial atmosphere. It feels like a small family. I have daily chats with the maintenance staff and Marleni, in the kitchen, always makes sure that I have a fresh cup of tinto whenever I walk by. She has understood that I need the caffeine to keep going.
It is through my conversations clubs that I have fully realized the benefit of Nukanti's program and the value of my presence in La Celia. It is also how I developed a better connection with some kids. Every week I'm impressed when I see students excited to attend the conversation club. It’s true that I’ve been pulling my hair to come up with fun and different activities for them. Over the past month we have played at “Guess What I’m Doing”, “Guess What I am”, “Write a Postcard” and this week I prepared fortune cookies… without the cookies. I now have a fan club of regular students, most of them 6th graders. Sometimes teachers participate too. I can see that they are learning and genuinely interested.
Nukanti asked volunteers to organize a project during their volunteering time. I decided to put together a show with interested students. We will prepare small numbers in English and present them in front of the school, the community and hopefully the students' parents at the end of October.
It’s actually two shows….. I can’t do one at the Liceo without organizing one at Patio Bonito. We now have two months to work on the texts and practice, practice, practice, and hopefully, we will end up with two great shows to present before I leave. The teachers at both the Liceo and Patio Bonito will also do a short dialogue. The kids are delighted, and I am too. I could not be happier to have chosen to volunteer for this project.