Monday, May 23, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Secretary

As my Peace Corps service comes to a close (only a little more than five months left), I wanted to take some time to focus on the people that have helped to make this experience so special and amazing. One of the main projects that I have undertaken during my time here is teaching English to approximately 30 community members, split over two different courses. These students have become very important to me and have helped shape not only my service here in Colombia, but also my views of the people of this beautiful country.

As a tribute to these amazing students, and as a way to give everyone a better idea of the people that I have been interacting with during my time here in Repelón, I am going to highlight a different student each week that I am currently working with. Hopefully these little snapshots will give everyone a greater idea and apprecition of the absolutely phenomenal people that have continued to amaze and support me.


Sitting in the back of the classroom, quietly observing the other students, 23-year old Johana Peña Ujueta is the ideal student. Always on time and courteous, she diligently attends class, takes notes, and participates when asked to do so. Sometimes her quiet demeanor can be deceiving, but her perception and ability to understand new cocnepts makes her a success both in and out of the classroom.

Born here in Repelón, Johana actually had the privelege of spending the majority of her childhood on the breathtaking island of San Andres, a Colombian gem off the coast of Nicaragua. She remembers walking along the sandy beaches with her older sister, Angelica, and younger brother, Ubaldo. Swimming in the ocean and throwing handfuls of sand at each other, customary actions for any child, were always a part of trips to the beach.
When not doing pirouttes in the water or exploring hidden caves and other exotic locations along the beach, Johana loved playing baseball with her mother, soccer with her parents and siblings, and with childhood dolls with her sister. PLay time eventually gave way to an education, where Johana excelled. At school, she aboslutely loved attending math class, but, interestingly enough, hated her English clases. Luckily, that isn't the case anymore!

Following high school, Johana moved on to college, where she received her degree in System and Technological Adminstration. She possesses a vast technical knowledge, ranging from graphic design to commercial web applciations, along with an understanding of Office 2010. All of these skills, plus more, have helped her flourish in her current job as a Technical Administrative Secretary at the local Repelón City Hall.

Despite not growing up in Repelón, her recent time back in the pueblo have reinforced her appreciation for the charisma and gentleness that the people here possess. Despite the extreme heat (it's good to know that foreigners aren't the only ones that are negatively effected by this!), she enjoys knowing she is helping to colaborate with people that want to better and advance the lives of the local people.

One of the things about Johana that I find most interesting is the fact that she is even in my class. As stated earlier, she despised her English classes. Just hearing the word "the United States" made her angry. Part of the reason was because it was forced upon her at school. She didn't have the option to learn other languages that she was more interested in. However, over time, those ideas have changed. As she grew up, she began to realize the advantages to having an understanding of English and eventually developed an interest in visiting Disneyland and Hollywood. Along with the USA, Johana would also like to visit Brazil, the Bahamas, France, and Dominican Republic.

It's always interesting to me what the motives students have for learning another language. In Johana's case, a childhood disgust has slowly turned into a new love and enjoyment. When classes first started, she never really particpated or provided answers. Her dedicated attendance told me that she was serious about learning. Little by little, her amount of participation has increased. It all cumulated into her volunteering to complete a review sentence last week for the very first time! I was so proud to see her finally have enough confidence to put herself out there. I'm excited to see just how much more she grows over the next five months!

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