Montero, Bolivia; Okinawa, Bolivia
I remember the first day of classes. What a riot! We had 20 minutes with each class in which time we were supposed to introduce ourselves and discuss what we would be covering during the year and what materials would be required. Well, the schedule was incomprehensible, so that I didn’t know when I was supposed to be where. I had no idea what material we would be covering during the year or what supplies would be necessary. So, I basically ran into the classrooms, introduced myself in two sentences, told the class they needed a pen and a notebook and ran right back out of the classroom.
Hometown: Collierville, Tennessee (outside of Memphis)
Education/Work: University of Notre Dame; Program of liberal studies and Computer Applications
Other volunteer sites:
- Aug. 2001 – Oct. 2002; Hogar Sagrado Corazon in Montero
- Oct. – Dec.2002; Instituto de Idiomas Mary Knoll and Hogar San Francisco in Cochabamba
Time in Okinawa: January 2003 – November 2003; Departure Nov. 23, 2003
- Volunteers: Kris Meiergerd, Adam Rudin, Kathleen Curran.
- Sisters: Sor Lucila Guerra (Director), Sor Eli, Sor Marina, Sor Nora, and Sor Elizabeth.
I lived in a house owned by the Japanese Association in the Japanese professors complex. My first three months I lived alone in the house. Later I was joined by volunteer Kathleen Curran. We were allowed to use this house in exchange for my work teaching first through eighth grade English at the Japanese school. When I arrived the house was in pretty bad shape, even after Kris worked hard to clean it and prepare it for occupation by me. After speaking with the president of the Japanese Association several times, workers did come to the house to make several improvements such as painting the entire exterior and interior of the house, replacing the laundry sink out back, and sealing all the holes in the roof to eliminate animal infestation. When my father came to visit we also made several home improvements including fixing the broken toilet and windows without glass. Despite all of its problems, or maybe because of them, I really grew to appreciate this house. It does offer a bit of peace and separation from the kids. It’s a nice respite when lots of work needs to be done, but remains full of surprises. Bugs flood the house during hard rains and certain seasons. Little frogs are known to make themselves at home, and a plethora of pet lizards constantly accompany residents!
I taught, as I mentioned, in the Colegio Particular Boliviano Japones, first through eighth grade English. At Colegio San Francisco Xavier I taught English to eighth graders and freshmen. I also taught Computers to Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors at SFX. I supervised study hours for the internas two nights a week and one afternoon as well.
I really enjoyed forming a volunteer music group with Sor Eli. We lead the music at mass once a month and sang at a couple of other events. Practicing and playing with the staff basketball team was fun. I also relished playing some volleyball with the students and helping coach them in the Olympics. In addition, several volunteers joined the Okinawa Tinku group and practiced many hours for the celebration of the Okinawa Festival in August. It was an amazing experience to participate in the Okinawa community in such an active and authentic way. That was one of my very favorite activities!!
In the little free time we had, I enjoyed trying to learn guitar, taking advantage of communal prayer opportunities such as Eucharistic adoration and Thursday night mass, visiting the orphanage in Montero, exercising, cooking, and hanging out with the other volunteers. I also really cherished visiting the Colque family, the parents and five daughters, who became one of my families away from home in Bolivia.
I have so many great memories of my time in Bolivia that I don’t know where to start. I’ll just share a few of the most unforgettable.
I remember the first day of classes. What a riot! We had 20 minutes with each class in which time we were supposed to introduce ourselves and discuss what we would be covering during the year and what materials would be required. Well, the schedule was incomprehensible, so that I didn’t know when I was supposed to be where. I had no idea what material we would be covering during the year or what supplies would be necessary. So, I basically ran into the classrooms, introduced myself in two sentences, told the class they needed a pen and a notebook and ran right back out of the classroom. The kids were shocked and speechless after my strange in- and- out appearance. I had no idea what I was doing and neither did they. Needless to say, my first real classes were much more structured and a whole lot longer!
Now, a story about the infamous month of May! I’m sure you’ve heard about the craziness of the month of May. The volunteers always complain that they can’t accomplish anything amid all the chaos. You see, each day begins with the rosary of the aurora at 5:30am. Classes take turns organizing this event and each teacher is responsible for one day. Then there are all the preparations for the big Marian festival at the end of the month. For this fiesta, each class must write and practice an original song, for the serenata a Maria. Each class has to decorate a corner of their room for Mary and collect goods for the poor. In addition, my year the boys prepared pyramids while the girls prepared dances for the fiesta. Each teacher is responsible for supervising a class on all of these projects. Kathleen and I had fun helping several of the classes with their dances. And the fiesta was really beautiful in the end! But the most amazing thing to me was the rosary of the aurora. Kathleen and I tried to leave every morning at 5:15 am to pray with the dedicated of the community. It was a beautiful start to the day that just put everything in perspective with prayer first, leaving you exhausted for the rest of the day!! One of the crazy things about the rosary was that those in charge for the day would drive around Okinawa in the Mary mobile, a car with big speakers playing Christian music, at 5am, announcing the beginning of the rosary and calling everyone out to pray. I was lucky enough to have responsibility for the rosary on my birthday. So, I arrived at the school at 4:45am and awaited my students assigned to drive the Mary mobile. At 5am my students finally arrived, covered in mud after getting the car stuck on the way to school that morning. What a sight and a funny start to the rosary! I was privileged enough accompany my students in the Mary mobile, cruising the streets of Okinawa with the music blaring at 5am. I remained in the car as those chosen to lead the rosary joined us and we directed the large crowd that morning in prayer. It was quite the experience. What a birthday treat!!
A general memory I have is of all those surprise parties organized by the internas or the sisters. If it was for the volunteers it seemed that we never knew and never were in the right spot at the right time. The volunteers had acquired the Bolivian habit of showing up late for everything. By the time we arrived, the people hosting the party weren’t always so happy to see us. But we always had fun at the parties and never lacked the occasion to celebrate. We danced, danced, danced!
Speaking of dancing, I have wonderful memories of joining the community preparations for the Okinawa festival. You see, Adam bought a Tinku outfit and really wanted to learn the Tinku dance. Adam asked if I wanted to sign up to dance in the festival with him and the Bolivians. I was hesitant to agree because I didn’t know all that it would entail. Without agreeing, Adam went ahead and signed me up and am I ever grateful for that! I had the best time getting out in the community three nights a week to dance, meet people, and not only learn about, but fully participate in the culture. It was a blast!! There were not only high school aged kids, but younger ones too, learning the steps and practicing each night. I really felt I belonged through this interaction with the community. A particularly fond memory of our dancing was decorating our hats and shoes at a local family’s house in preparation for the big celebration. The whole family was sitting in their store- front late one Friday night assisting us to wrap our sandals in yarn and add pompons to our stark hats. It was a night I will never forget, along with the following two days of dancing, dancing, dancing!!
A final memory is of my last day of service in Okinawa. The volunteer music group was scheduled to sing at mass on Sunday morning, before my scheduled flight on Sunday night. Well, Kris and Adam, two crucial members of our group, went to a neighboring city to work on the Okinawa Video on Saturday. Since we had not practiced the music for the mass before they left, we planned to rehearse an hour before the mass on Sunday morning. Well, Sunday morning came and Kathleen and I were the only two ready to practice. Even Sor Eli wasn’t there. The time passed, and we gave up on practicing. We began to think they might not even make it in time for mass. As 9:15 a.m. rolled around and still there was no Sor Eli and no Kris or Adam, Kathleen and I began to worry. Having the two of us provide the music at the 9:30a.m. mass is a scary thought! We would have no instrumental accompaniment. At 9:25 Kathleen asked the priest if he could stall a little and he gave us 10 minutes, during which time Sor Eli arrived. As the priest prepared to enter the church for the mass Kris and Adam ran by the church entrance, finally! Needless to say they made it to the front of church just in time for mass to start. What an adventure!
As for classroom memories, I had good days and bad just like everyone. The most unforgettable thing that happened was the fireworks in my eighth grade typing class. The students didn’t bring the fireworks, they made them!! What happened was for their last class I took them to watch a movie in the high-tech multi-media room of SFX. Well, it had rained heavily the night before and there was a little water on the floor that leaked into that dark dank room. Anyway, the room looked fine to use. Everyone entered and I tried to plug the TV/VCR cord into the outlet in the wall. A tiny spark popped out when I stuck the plug a little bit into the socket, so I quickly pulled it out. One of my little girls said, “You don’t know how to do it teacher, I’ll do it”. Before I knew it she had the plug out of my hand and into the wall. At first I thought, “Good, she did it.” After a second of peace, sparks started flying like crazy out of that wall! Then smoke filled the room. My first reaction was to yank the cord out of the wall, which mildly burned my hand. Meanwhile the students ran screaming and shoving out of the classroom. The smoke continued to roll, so I followed my students right out that door. Sor Lucila came and asked what was happening. She didn’t seem too surprised when I told her and blamed the wet outlet and an old extension cord. The extension cord was ruined—fried—but I hoped no damage had been done to the TV/VCR. Luckily no major damage occurred, but instead of trying to use that room again, we headed out to the cancha for a game of soccer. Soccer never fails in Bolivia!