For the first two weeks in December, the church on my street does its own version of Christmas caroling, which includes occasional screaming, occasional faints, songs with the theme of Cristo viene!, loud instruments, and pleasant chants and songs about the birth of Jesus Cristo. It is a joyous time for all Dominicans. This singing might seem mildly amusing, and at times, it is, but I should also note that this praising starts at 4 am and stops a little after 6 am. A little too early for my liking. Anyway, it is more of a cultural event than a religious event, as many people join in, including the tigueres/ gansters, who at 6 then go to their respective street corners in the barrio and start playing their music, which is where they will be and what they will be doing until it is time to turn in for the night. After hanging my laundry, I drink my morning tea (gracias a Uncle Dan), and get ready for class.
Every morning, I go to one of the two schools in my barrio and work with the kids who are a little behind the learning curve of their peers. Literacy has become one of my main projects in my barrio. One school is a preschool, and while I am not sure how much I am actually doing to benefit these kids, they are the most adorable kids in the barrio, and I love them. They keep me grounded, which in a high- stress environment, is a godsend. The other school is K-3rd grade. The second school is where I will go today.
I arrive at 8 and ask one of the teachers which kids I should pull out today. She timidly and politely asks if I would mind going with the youngest kids, as their teacher has not shown up. After peering in and all the smiling kids start chanting my name to enter, I oblige. We draw. We color. I read lots of stories about snow and other things that realistically, these children will never see.
I have to bring my own books because there are no books in the school. I also have to break all the crayons into thirds because there are not enough crayons for each student to have one. I then draw things in their notebooks that they can color in because there are no funds to make photocopies or anything of the sort (stars, Christmas tress, snowmen). The lack of resources in the schools here will never cease to amaze me. They have nothing- no type of didactic materials, no games, no visual stimuli. They do not seem to realize the difference between visual, auditory learners, etc. and the schooling system insists that every child learn in the same manner: by copying verbatim whatever the teacher writes on the chalkboard. Because this method has clearly been a proven success.
An aside: 174 years is what it would a child in the Dominican educational system to achieve the same level of average years of completed schooling for a person in the
. 174 years. Average years of schooling completed in the DR=6. The average hours per day a child spends in school=2.76 hours. US
Working with literacy projects seems to be a major initiative with many volunteers from my group, and para mi, vale la pena. (Not pene, which I accidentally mixed up once, much to my chagrin and much to the comic relief of everyone else).
After the kids leave, the director inquires about funds I might be able to obtain for a holiday party. After giving her my tried and true speech, I can give you my time, my heart, and my hands while I am here, but I cannot give nor do I have money to give, I leave the school to return to my casita to lunch with Dominic. Yuca y pollo guisado. Mmmmmm. We nap my obligatory afternoon nap followed by coffee. Ya tu sabes. I visit with some neighbors, a tiguere pastor, and finally my friend, which inevitably is followed by more coffee. I leave for my Chicas Brillantes group at 6 pm, wondering where my days go. I arrive at the preschool where I have my afternoon groups and classes, and, surprisingly I encounter two of my Chicas Brillantes waiting for me. This never happens. We still start half an hour late because no one else was there, but two are on time. Miracles do happen!!!
Tonight in our group, we talk about teenage pregnancy. One in four Dominicans between the ages of 15 and 19 has a child. Twenty-five percent. Wow wow wow. We have some lively discussions about machismo, the culture or sex, the life choices we make, and how we hold the power to our futures. While it is by candlelight that we discuss these themes, it feels almost surreal on nights like this, when I peer into the faces of 10 young, almost women, clutching candles in their hands, and inquiring about things that most children in the
know by kindergarten. They are the future, and for once, I feel not frightened but hopeful. U.S.