I can’t believe I have let so much time go by without writing! I guess things have been busy!
As I’m in the midst of Year 2 of my Peace Corps service, I wanted to share a little bit about some projects. Last year I had several projects going at both the high school and elementary school, keeping me busy every day. This year, the goal was to restart many of those projects with the goal to deepen the impact.
Without further ado, I present what I am doing today and the days ahead…
(Hover over the pictures to see the caption description.)
Every week, I work with the preschool and kindergarten classroom on a project based on “Filling Buckets.” The idea comes from a storybook called, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, which teaches young children the importance of kindness and empathy. The idea is that every person has a bucket, and we can either fill buckets by being kind and sharing, or we have the power to also empty buckets by being mean or excluding others from play. I found a copy of the story in Spanish, and we use the book as a central theme for the classroom. I also work with the teacher to use the book as a form of classroom management and positive reinforcement. We also use the idea of “bucket filling” for self-control and emotional recognition. Recently, we have transitioned these conversations about “bucket-filling” to a similar topic focused more on specific emotions and how to effectively express needs and desires.
I have also started working this year with new age group: 3rd graders. This year, the teacher and principal both requested my support to provide weekly lessons to the students on positive attitudes and friendship. There seems to be an issue of bullying and negative competition. The goal for this project is to recognize how the students want to be treated so that they will in return treat others the same way.
Similarly with the 3rd graders, I was asked to work with 5th graders also on leadership and friendship. However, the program with 5th graders is a little different and focuses a little bit more on communication skills and team work. We talk about peaceful conflict resolution, such as negotiation skill practice through role plays and comic strips. The students also participate in dynamic activities to share moments of leadership and team work within their group. Finally, this project is extra cool because it involves parents! The program includes three student/parent workshops to talk about tough subjects, such as self-esteem. I’ve really enjoyed this project as a means of connecting the students, teachers, and parents within one single program.
This month the elementary school received a donation of 150 books from Give-A-Book organization! The elementary school had no books for curious learners or resources for teachers. Through the coordination and support with Give-A-Book, we were able to solicit a request for donations. The money for the books was donated by First United Methodist Church in Troy, OH (my hometown church…super exciting and meaningful connection to bring to my community!). Once the donation was received by Give-A-Book, they purchased the books and sent them to my community. The children were overjoyed to receive brand new books! I truly believe that books open minds and allow imaginations to grow. I’m thrilled to have been a part of such a special new opportunity for the children in my community!
Last year, my main project at the high school was working to create a new life-skills curriculum for a weekly class at the high school called “horas guías,” which is pretty much a 40 minute class devoted to practicing life-skills and organizing class activities. Last year, I supported teachers by co-participating in the delivery of the lessons and activities. This year, the teachers have the project all to themselves. I’ve recently been working on providing individual teacher support to sustain the project independently. This project has been a challenge in a number of ways, but it has also been rewarding to see the students’ take-aways and listen to their opinions during class.
I began working with the student government last year at the high school as a means to encourage and support student-led projects. Last year the student government planted flowers in old tires to improve the ambiance of the school entrance. This year, the students donated new board games and soccer balls to be utilized during free time to the entire student body. The students also helped organize a bingo for the community to raise money to re-do/fix the high school entrance gate. I’m really proud of these students and the projects they led. In years past, student governments never really did much, and this was the first year that the group took leadership upon themselves to make a difference for the student body.
Grassroots soccer is a program designed to mitigate and prevent HIV and AIDS. It is a popular Peace Corps tool to teach sexual education through the use of dynamic activities and the use of soccer, an incredibly popular sport in Costa Rica. I’m currently working with the high school guidance counselor to deliver the lessons and activities to two groups of 10th graders. In Costa Rica, sexual education is part of curriculum from 7th-9th grade. The guidance counselor and I decided to implement the project for 10th graders to continue these tough, yet important conversations about risk and prevention.
Probably my biggest project of all has been the request of a $5000 grant to build an organic garden at the high school. Although my community has a high production of agricultural products, especially pineapple, mostly all harvests are exported. Fresh fruits and vegetables cannot be purchased in my community on a daily basis, let alone the organic options. Through this grant, the high school community will gain capacity in the area of organic gardening techniques, and the harvests will be utilized as part of school lunches. This project has also been a major obstacle and challenge, and we are currently facing a time crunch. But, finally being accepted for the grant was an incredibly rewarding feeling!
Mostly all of my projects take place within the educational institutions, minus the women’s group. From day one, I can recall mothers and women expressing the need for a space for women to meet. Starting in August of last year, the women’s group meets about twice a month to provide a safe space for women to share among each other and learn something new. The local social worker has come to several sessions providing workshops on communication, motivation, and wellness. Other sessions typically include DIY crafts, which are always really fun!
In my opinion, service with the Peace Corps is really about the connection to the community and sharing cultural ideas. I’ve lived in my community for about 20 months, and I can honestly say I feel connected. I walk down the street or into the schools and I say hello to everyone I see, and everyone knows me as well (now more so than just the blonde gringa…Yay!). Every single child in the community knows me and shouts, “EMILY!” at the top of their lungs. Those things I will dearly miss. Service to me is also about making a difference and digging deep into programs and projects that will make an impact. Sustaining new ideas and efforts that will last longer than the two years I’ve spent here. Sustainability is really tough; it’s never guaranteed, but it’s what we are really striving for every day.
Now, I’m starting to transition to the last months of my service and closing my leadership role in these projects. I hope to do a few more blog posts before I close my service in September. I’ve started the job hunt back in the U.S….fingers crossed something will happen! In the meantime, I’m enjoying my last few months in my small little community in rural Costa Rica.
Below you can see some other fun pictures from the past few months!
It's been a blessing of an opportunity here in Costa Rica! I'm thankful for the unique learning opportunities and constant adventures this journey has brought!