Wednesday, July 14, 2010


As excited I am for the girls' progress, there are still days where I feel like we're accomplishing nothing. I had a chance to reflect on what our work means in the context of the "big picture" the other day when one of my students'grandmother visited.

A little bit of context: This girl was brought to the hogar around two years ago by her grandmother with her sister and cousin. Her grandmother has visited a (very) few times since I've been here and one day turned up with a very young woman who turned out to be this girls' long-absent mother. Surprise. Not surprisingly, this girl, at six years old, is one of our toughest little ones. She reacts very dramatically to just about anything and can be even more stubborn than I was at her age. She's been having a lot of trouble in school, a large part of which is a result of being so restless or indifferent during class that she's not learning anything during class time. Until recently she would alternate between calmly and blatantly refusing to do her homework and throwing herself screaming on to the floor at the mere mention of anything resembling school work. Nevertheless, Underneath all the tantruming and capriciousness shes a really neat kid. She loves to dance and sing and makes up all sorts of ridiculous songs and games. She is absolutely fearless and is constantly climbing, flipping, jumping on/off/over anything and everything. As I've been working with her it's been so fun to see more and more of her true character shining through as we chip away at some of these behaviors that have hidden this sweet little thing away for so long. But, let me tell you, progress is slooooow.

Somedays I feel like things are going nowhere, but the truth is she's making some progress. She hasn't thrown a tantrum over her school work in a few weeks now. She's got her alphabet down and finally is beginning to understand how vowels are used in basic Spanish consonants. She's discovered that she loves to add and subtract and will actually come to ask me if we can practice. But, honestly, she's still really behind and I feel discoraged some days.

Recently I encouraged her to read to her grandmother who came to visit, and as her grandmother tried to point out words and interact with her granddaughter, it became clear very quickly that she was completely illiterate. I was thinking about how complete and widespread illiteracy is here and it suddenly hit me, as I watched this girl sound out words to her grandmother who had absolutely no idea what even the names of the letters were, that these tiny, agonizingly slow baby steps may be huge leaps when seen in the context of the generations of poverty and lack of education she came from. It's easy to get so distracted by the fact that she can barely read "sapo" that I miss the fact that she may be one of the first people in her family to read "sapo," and that a good portion of her family probably only speaks indigenous languages and couldn't tell you what "sapo" means, even though Spanish is the closest thing to a common language Bolivia has.

Meanwhile, recognizing the terrible educational deficits makes me painfully aware once again of my finiteness. I think about the other girls in the hogar, the students over at the school lagging behind their peers, the children I pass everywhere who will likely never go to school, the parents and grandparents that cant even spell their own name...and I'm only barely keeping up with my eight main students. Ouch.

A tiny drop in the bucket or a huge leap forward? I don't really know, and I suppose in the end it's a matter of perspective.