The Library (community center)

This is Gwen. Gwen is running the "tutoring" program that we have been volunteering at on Monday Wednesday and Friday fro 4 to 6. The first week of the program was also our first week of being here. She is offering "reading" twice a day - two hours in the morning and another two hours in the afternoon. I think her original idea was to just have the kids read - straight - for two hours (at least in the afternoon). Of course the first couple of days the kids did great and were entertained by the new books (remember there are VERY few books - the 45 we brought and maybe 20 more). First day there were maybe 9 kids. Wednesday there were 21! And, as kids will.... they have amazinglly become much more animated! Honeymoon period is over! We assured her that this is normal and will, unfortunately, get worse. Amazing how kids are kids despite the country!!!!
Gwen is originally from Canada and has a son that is 16. They live around the corner from the school in a one room house that Gwen purchased many years ago. Gwen used to work at the university here but the hours of work (7am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm) didn't agree with her, so she stopped. Her only source of income is money that her parents send her and she is trying to figure out how to fundraise for the school. We brought books, and have picked up some notebooks, school supplies, and little manipulatives we have used with our own teaching and learning. We have talked to her about wanting to continue once we are home and get our schools involved in a sort of "adoption" concept. And now, i think we have come upon a bit of an ethical roadblock and i'm not sure if it is cultural, plainly human, if we are too sensitive.... or if Gwen is just not thinking things through. Comments on this post will be appreciated and we also plan on talking to Gwen about it ourselves this afternoon. While Gwen really appreciates the gifts that we have brought, i think what she is really wanting is simply.... cash. Not cash so that she can buy supplies, but cash so that she can feed herself and her son in order to be able to continue to do nothing but help in the community. I get this. Even not for profit organizations have to pay their employees for the work that they do. But yesterday she went to Brian, the director of the school we learn spanish at and who arranged our volunteer opportunity, and told him that she would like to charge people who volunteer 50 american dollars each in order for them to have this experience. That having volunteers was a lot more dificult than she imagined and it will help offset this, as well as generate funding. Now we KNOW where she is coming from. She needs money. for us though, we find it rude that she would ask. We brought $200 worth of books to the school, have spent even more on supplies, have taken her to dinner, have basically run her afternoon classes and given her loads of ideas and support and have talked about going back to our schools and having coin drives and book drives and how to best get money to her and how to get books to her without having to pay custom taxes.... I think we have failed her. I think she sees our excessive american spending, our instant willingness to give and to buy her dinner, and to donate our time.... and i think we instantly felt taken advantage of when our funds became a mandatory cost and not an in kind donation. To the point that despite our LOVE of going to the school, which is one of my favorite things to do here, all three of us just want to stop going and have the attitude of "we didn't know we were so much work, and we are not going to PAY to volunteer for you". Of course this is childish of us and we know her enough now to know that this isn't really what she meant. She just wants to feed her son and devote all her time to this project and sees an opportunity to fund it. So.... you tell me, do we pay the $50 each or not?

Our school routine goes like this.... First, we read with the students. They read in Spanish of course and we try to understand and even to question them. We point out pictures on the page and they tell us what the Spanish equivilant is and we try to pronounce it perfectly and they giggle and laugh. Then we all circle up and review introductions, and numbers, both in spanish AND english. And then we introduce a handfull of new English words. First we did body parts and now we are doing Animals. Denise and i bought some plastic Animals and the kids write the Spanish and we write the English beside it and then argue over whether or not the "sheepdog" is a dog or a wolf. We let them win. Wednesday we sang old mcdonald!

And after we sing our new song, we review the other songs that we have taught. (they LOVE the hokey pokey) and then they go to their tables and write down the english words and illustrate it with pictures.

Working in this program has been very rewarding, fun, and a natural way for us to learn and find comfort! For some reason kids are a lot less intimidating to have broken conversations with than their adult counterparts :-)


  1. Firstly, I think what you guys are doing there is beyond words. Words like wonderful, amazing, awe-inspiring just don't come close. If the only question is to pay the $50 or not, I would say no. If that is something she would like to start doing, she should start it with the next volunteers and make it part of the information they see before they sign up and get in the middle of everything. To spring it on you halfway through the program is not acceptable or even good business. It could be part of the plans you are helping her to set up for the future. I would feel exactly the way you do. But, like you, I would continue to go because of the kids. I'm sure there are grants and such that she could apply for seperately for personal finance. You could suggest that as part of the (again, there is no adequate adjective) planning and organization you are offering to help her with. I think the $50 in general is a bad idea.

  2. I am loving reading of your adventures. It so reminds me of the "adventures" you planned or imagined you had when you were young.
    Perhaps had there been blogs when I traveled to South America, I might remember things better.
    What I do remember is the poverty among the working class and their federally designed compensation laws and minimum wage rates that encouraged servitude rather than our form of capitalism. It was almost impossible to get a "living wage". People looked for ways to find extra funds. It was expected to "tip" for services provided by teachers, police, bureaucrats, telephone installers and repairmen, customs agents and just about everybody simply because it was understood that they could not live on their wages. Being "shaken down" by the system overseas shocks most folks from Stateside. But that is the way it is - almost as expected as bargaining in the market.
    Gwen asked Brian about the possibility of being compensated for allowing her school to be used in this type of program, in addition to the public benefits her school receives from your in-kind donations that benefit the children. You did not state that she asked you directly and demanded of you after the fact for this help. It came from Brian.
    I suggest to you that she was exploring an opportunity - and it is mutually beneficial to you in having YOUR opportunity to experience this trip. She is, after all, teaching you at the same time you are teaching her other students. So please disregard your own upbringing and think of it as another example of experiencing the culture in Mexico and how it differs from that here. There is nothing "wrong" with what Gwen is considering. It is typical of her economic system. If you have the cash when you leave Puerto Escondido, be generous and give it to her. If you don't have the cash, you might consider giving her some of your things rather than packing them to haul back.
    List it on your grant expense report as "Gratuity to school staff for educational services rendered".
    - Dad

  3. Hi, Angela's Dad. I love everything you wrote.