Natalie Vaughan Herrera – Okinawa

Natalie Vaughan Herrera
Okinawa, Bolivia

One thing I did a lot with the kids was play chess. Also, we played lots of cards (can you believe it? I don’t remember the name of the card game we always played–was it Lobo?) We listened to music and talked a lot. Sometimes I helped the kids with their math or chemistry or physics homework. Later in the year, Dan and I were often together hanging out with the kids. We went to karaoke at Oscar Limberg’s chicken joint sometimes. We played outside with the basicos. We went to the medios’ afternoon parties and their parties at night. We ate at their houses and drank their refrescos. We watched their soccer games. We “paseared” with them. A couple of times I went with Sor Nora to the smaller communities. Once my sister and I helped some 1ro students paint a lady’s house with paint that they’d raised money for.

Hometown: Shreveport, LA

Education/Work: I majored in biology and minored in Spanish at Centenary College in Shreveport. I started volunteering the summer after I graduated.

Time in Okinawa: I arrived in Okinawa on August 16, 2000, and was there until the end of the 2000 school year. I visited my family at Christmas and returned to Bolivia in January 2001. I volunteered in Okinawa for the 2001 school year and finished my service on December 23, 2001. That means that I was in Bolivia during the infamous election of 2000 (and watched George W’s inauguration at the Sors’ house) and when the September 11th terrorist attacks happened.

Fellow Volunteers/Sors: The sisters that were at San Francisco while I was there in 2000 were Sor Gera, Sor Carmen, Sor Lucila, Sor Lucía, and Sor Anabel. Some of them got switched around at Christmastime, and the ones who were there in 2001 were Sor Gera, Sor Lucila, Sor Lucía, Sor Anabel, Sor Nora, and Sor Ely. Also, the novitiate Sor Eli Mencía was there for a while when I was there.

Living Arrangements: In 2000, I lived in one of the nicer houses in the Japanese "compound", along with Paula Holtman and Marina Large. At the same time, Courtney Carpenter and Dan Herrera lived in another house there (the usual one that volunteers occupy.) During that time, there was no fence around the houses, and kids came and went as they pleased. In 2001, I lived in the other Japanese-owned house (the one that volunteers usually occupy) with a bunch of different people. First was Marina Large (until May 2001); then Janet Herrera (May-June 2001), Dan’s sister who came to fill in when we were short a volunteer; then Paula Holtman (during July 2001) who came back to visit; then my sister, Susan Vaughan (during July 2001) who also taught a few classes while she was here; then by myself for about a month; then with Kris Meiergerd (August-September 2001); and finally with Adam Rudin (September 2001-December 2001) until I left. Needless to say, there were a lot of changes that year! Aside from the people coming and going, one big change was that the Japanese association built the fence around the "compound" and installed the (loud!) bell which the students made frequent use of. Also, there was a "sereno" who manned the gate a night. The fence really changed a major part of what I understood my mission to be–hanging out with the kids. Of course, they still came and played games and studied and hung out, but there wasn’t the same come-and-go set-up that we were used to, and I think that some kids that would have visited if there were no fence, didn’t come, because the fence intimidated them. Admittedly, sometimes I was glad that little hooligans (e.g. little Ademar with the dirtiest feet in Okinawa and his two sisters!) couldn’t come to the door or window and yell "ticher" when I was busy or sleeping, but the bell was certainly harder to ignore!

Teaching:

In 2000, I taught exclusively at SFX. I took over some of the other volunteers’ classes and some of the Sors’ classes, but I definitely didn’t have a full schedule–which was great, because I was adjusting and needed some time to reflect. I taught ciencias naturales to 8vo "C", English to 8vo "A", 1ro "C", 2do "B" and sometimes "A" (not much after I cried one day and Marina let them have it!), 4to "A" and "B." Also, I helped out with computers several afternoons (yes, computers were in the afternoons that year.)

In 2001, my schedule switched around some during the year, but basically it was the following. On Mondays I taught English at the school in Nuevo Horizonte (this didn’t change all year.) Padre Miguel set this up, and Freddy Huanca drove me there every Monday morning and back every Monday evening, about a 45 minute ride, since we went by Okinawa II each way. I taught English to kids in 4to basico up to 4to medio in Nuevo Horizonte. Each period was about 30 minutes long, and since school was sometimes cancelled for weather or holidays, I never felt like I accomplished more than teaching the kids some basic words and grammar and introducing them to some American culture (which they really liked.) On Tuesdays through Fridays, I taught English and biology and computers (as part of the morning schedule, which was how we did it that school year) at SFX. The volunteers had decided that if we were teaching various subjects, we’d try to teach them to the same grade levels, so I taught all three subjects to 1ros and 3ros for a while. Later I took over all of the biology classes and left some English classes to the parade of American helpers that came to Okinawa (see living situation, above.) Also, for a couple of months, I taught a 3ro basico religion class on Wednesday afternoons until the school received money to pay for a teacher.

Other Activities/Responsibilities: Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons I had "free" although it seemed like I was usually busy doing school work or doing things with the kids or helping the Sors. Several Saturdays I "babysat" the internas while the Sors went to meetings or on outings, but that wasn’t ever a regular part of my schedule. A couple of Sundays I went to the oratorio at the Rio with Sor Gera and sometimes I helped at the oratorio at SFX. Other times I was in Santa Cruz or Montero or just at one of the volunteer houses.

Free Time: One thing I did a lot with the kids was play chess. Also, we played lots of cards (can you believe it? I don’t remember the name of the card game we always played–was it Lobo?) We listened to music and talked a lot. Sometimes I helped the kids with their math or chemistry or physics homework. Later in the year, Dan and I were often together hanging out with the kids. We went to karaoke at Oscar Limberg’s chicken joint sometimes. We played outside with the basicos. We went to the medios’ afternoon parties and their parties at night. We ate at their houses and drank their refrescos. We watched their soccer games. We "paseared" with them. A couple of times I went with Sor Nora to the smaller communities. Once my sister and I helped some 1ro students paint a lady’s house with paint that they’d raised money for.

 

Memories:

I really don’t know how to choose my best memories from Okinawa. That’s sort of like trying to condense the Bolivia experience into a single conversation with someone–it’s way too big for that. But here are some good memories:

 

I have no sense of smell, which I’ve been told is a blessing in Bolivia at times. Well, once, it was a both a blessing and a curse. I was teaching English to 1ros during the 2000 school year and sweating buckets. The ceiling fan that we were lucky enough to have barely rotated, and there was nary a cloud in the sky to dull the sun’s scorching heat. The heat seemed to have rendered the kids semi-conscious, and I was standing up in front of them, spouting off words in English and writing occasionally on the board. I suppose a breeze came through the classroom, and that’s when the ruckus started. Miguel Angel Martinez stood up and started talking loudly and looking around. I was still new to the Bolivian accent and slang words, but I soon gathered that he thought something stank and he wanted to know the source. Obviously, I didn’t smell anything, and since the other kids weren’t all reacting the same way, I thought that perhaps Miguel Angel was bored and wanted a diversion. I said (honestly) that I didn’t smell anything and for him to sit down so that we could continue the lesson. We went on for a little while longer until more kids started smelling something too, and from their expressions, I could tell that it wasn’t a pretty smell and that it didn’t seem to be dissipating at all. But I didn’t want to let those kids out of the classroom. I’d been there long enough to know that once they escape, there’s almost no hope of getting all of them back into the classroom and the disruption spreads around to other classrooms quickly. So I told them that someone could go and ask Sor Lucila to come to the classroom but that in the meantime, we were staying inside. The lucky one who escaped to tell Sor Lucila left the door open and inevitably, other students sort of migrated in that direction, pushing each other to get near the door. When Sor Lucila came and confirmed that it did indeed stink, she wanted to know where the smell came from. Keen noses tracked it down to something in a paper bag in the corner of the room. Just as Sor was trying to find out what was inside and who the bag belonged to so that she could make that person stay in the classroom as punishment while the others went outside, the bell rang, and I had to be on my way to another class… I heard later that it was either Miguel Angel’s or Alexander Quiroga’s bag, but the most I heard about its contents was that it might have been a science experiment…? So…the class found out that I couldn’t smell and teased me about it whenever they got a chance, although they never tried to trick me into thinking that something smelled when it really didn’t. Those kids will surprise you sometimes!

Frustrations/Challenges: Among the most frustrating things were the propensity of the kids to cheat, the infrequency of classes (i.e. English class only once a week so the kids forgot everything between classes), the lack of books and other materials, the large class sizes, the lack of communication with the kids’ parents, and the lack of an infrastructure to deal with discipline problems. Some of these things are getting better–for example, there are more books and materials available now, and the kids’ parents are at least made aware early on if their kids are failing. Also, one thing that was a frustration to me at the beginning (and continued to be so to a lesser degree throughout the time) was the fact that classes were interrupted for almost anything–holidays, play practice, weather, etc, etc. When I realized that the point of school for most of the kids there (getting a basic education, spending time with friends as a kid, learning and enjoying traditional Bolivian culture) was different from the point of school for most kids in the US (going on to trade school or college), I could relax a little more when the kids had to go ensayar for a danza. I did have to learn when to draw the line, because the kids (and other profes) sometimes seemed to think that the volunteers’ classes were intrinsically less important.

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