Friday, October 21, 2016

Making English Fun Again!

Being a Peace Corps education volunteer in Colombia has its ups and downs. Serving on the coast and having to try and teach in unfavorable conditions with unruly students makes our stated goals and benchmarks sometimes seem unattainable and fruitless. However, every so often, there comes a day or a week where everything clicks and falls into place. Teaching is fun and results are seem almost immediately. This experience happened to me last week, and while it took getting off the coast to achieve it, it helped reaffirm that Colombia's future is in capable hands.

Back in April, I received an email from my project manager inviting me to participate in an English Immersion Week in the department of Antioquia (located in the interior part of Colombia) in a town called El Carmen de Viboral (which is located about 45 minutes outside of Medellin). I, along with two other volunteers, Alex and Michelle, would be working with the Marina Orth Foundation in helping them put on a week long English teaching strategies workshop for local primary and secondary English teachers. After much deliberation and discussion, all three of us decided to jump on board and support this effort the best that we could.

La Fundacion de Marina Orth (Marina Orth Foundation) was started by Maureen Orth, a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Colombia in the 1960's. During her service, Maureen helped construct a new school in her rural community of Aguas Frias, which is located in the mountains near Medellín. In 2006, she officially started this foundation which aims to provide students with a quality and sustainable education that is centered around the use of technology and English. The foundation is currently working with schools both in and around the Medellín area to implement their vision.

One of the cool things about this experiencce was the fact that we were paired up with RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) who had served in Colombia during the 1960's. My main contact, Mary, had served in a few pueblos around Medellín,so she was very familiar with the area. We started discussing ideas for the week and how I could best assist her back in May. As the date got closer, my level of excitement and anxiety continued to rise.

When Michelle, Alex, and I arrived in Medellín (albeit 6 hours late due to some mechanical problems with our original plan), we were picked up at the airport by two staff members from the foundation, Alejandro and Susana. We enjoyed a pleasant car ride to El Carmen, got checked into our hotel, and then made our way to find some food. We were super fortunate that all of our meals were covered by the Secretary of Education from El Carmen. Afterwards, Susana took us to a local cafe where we enjoyed a glass of vino caliente (hot wine - which was absolutely delicious) and more conversation.

When your flight is cancelled, the only thing to do is enjoy some Subway!
Vino Caliente - on point!
The next day, we met the other RPCV's to  go over the game plan for the week and iron out any unknowns or minor details. We spent the rest of the day just walking  around El Carmen and preparing ourselves for the week ahead. Little did we know at that time just how impactful and enjoyable the week would be...

Overall, the week just flew by! Over 100 primary and secondary teachers attended the workshops that were provided. I worked with the secondary teachers and had an absolute blast. They were beyond greatful and appreciative of the new techniques we provided them in the teaching of grammar, vocabulary, and English conversation. The entire week was done in English and I was just blown away by the high levels that the students possessed. It was such a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by dedicated, determined teachers that truly want the best for their students.

Below are some photos that help capture the week:

Secondary teachers ready to get to work!
Mary, an RPCV from the 1960's, answering questions
Everyone loves the fly swatter game - adults included!
Working on final projects
Teaching is hard work, so naturally we had to treat ourselves to some ice cream!
Introducing comparatives and superlatives
Was surprised with the traditional outfit of the campesinos (farmers) of Antioquia - and they chose blue!
Michelle, Alex, and I with Maureen Orth, the founder of the Marina Orth Foundation and Peace Corps Colombia legend
All of the instructors for the week
With Susana, one of the many dedicated staff at the foundation who did a great job of putting together this fantastic week!
Some absolutely beautiful words written by one of the participants
Group shot!!
I honestly could not have thought of a better way to end my service and time here in Colombia. I will forever remember this week as one filled with laughter, new ideas, and a reaffirmation for the bright future that lies ahead for Colombia and its people. Mil gracias to the Marina Orth Foundation for reaching out to Peace Corps and making this experience a reality. Hopefully this partnership can continue to grow and help teachers all across this beautiful country.