Women's Group, Adult Classes, Eco-Mapping Activity...The List Goes On

I haven't updated this blog nearly enough lately.  I've been doing many diverse projects with Abriendo Mentes.  I've definitely had to learn how to go with the flow and be a bit spontaneous.  My work here has served me well for the future because before this experience I was not very comfortable with spontaneity, at least not in a work setting, but here I've learned how to respond quickly to new challenges. 

We started a women's group about 2 weeks ago, and we had been talking about starting this group for awhile, but we were still interviewing women about what they wanted to get out of a women's group.  We hadn't finished with the interviews when suddenly in Meradith's weekly e-mail about the activities for that upcoming week on Thursday it said: women's group first meeting.  I was very surprised by this, and my first reaction was to think that we were definitely not ready for this, and that we had not planned enough.  But now I realize that it was a very good idea to just hit the ground running and start the group as soon as possible, especially since the organization is taking a vacation during the month of July.  That first women's meeting we had about 6 women.  Before the meeting started I talked to three women about the direction that they wanted the group to take, and I was amazed by all the ideas that they had to offer.  The group was going to be much more economics-focused than I thought it would be.  Out of these three women one of them is my adult student.  She's a very hard-working woman that has a thirst for knowledge.  Her name is Milagros and she's from Nicaragua.  Surprisingly, almost all the women in the women's group are originally from Nicaragua.  Now there are a few women that are from Potrero as well, but there are also a few women from Spain as well.  At the first meeting we did a paper-quilting activity, and the women really enjoyed the activity.  I could tell that they were not used to doing fun, artistic activities together.  Some women weren't able to finish, but they made it clear to us that they definitely wanted to finish their art project next week.  The next day, a Friday, Meradith and I had an impromptu discussion with a few of the women who had come to the first meeting and we spoke more in-depth about their ideas for what they wanted to be doing in the group.  In that meeting I suddenly realized that I had an important role in the success of this women's group.

The weekend before the debut of the women's group I realized that I needed to get out of Potrero for a few days so I visited an elderly couple who were old friends of my grandparents when they lived in Costa Rica.  They were very excited to see me since they hadn't seen me since I was a little girl.  I travelled to Liberia on a Friday, and on the bus getting to Liberia takes about 2 and a half hours, while in a car it takes an hour and a half.  Spending the weekend in comfort was very much-needed.  Manuel and Carmen Maria are well-off and live comfortably in Liberia.  They had air-conditioning in a few of the rooms, hot water, and very nutritious meals.  Something I've been lacking in Potrero is healthy meals.  I haven't been eating very well because the food is very processed.  At Manuel and Carmen Maria's house I had traditional Costa Rican breakfasts every morning - a bowl of fresh fruit to start off with, and then a plate of gallo pinto with natilla, a block of cheese, plantains, and egg.  A huge breakfast!  I enjoyed staying with them, and seeing another side of Costa Rican life, the life of the upper middle class.  Their lives differ greatly from the village life that I've been immersed in for the majority of my stay.  I was very thankful of Manuel and Carmen Maria for treating me as if I were part of their family.

On the way back from my weekend vacation in Liberia it was much harder getting back to Potrero than leaving Potrero.  I stopped in Huacas, and in Huacas I waited for a bus to supposedly get to Potrero, but the bus didn't come for a good hour and when it finally came the bus driver said that there were no more buses that went to Potrero so I would have to get off in Flamingo.  Luckily, I had met a few men who worked at Las Catalinas, which is a huge development project here in Potrero, and they helped me know when to get off the bus.  One of them was from San Jose while the other two were from Nicaragua.  They have to work 11 days then they have 4 days off.  We got off the bus at Flamingo, and then I called my homestay family to see if they could pick me up.  I was hoping that just my host mom would be in the car so that maybe we could give the men a ride to Potrero because if they didn't get a ride with us they would have to walk.  They told me not to worry about the ride, but that they would wait with me until my homestay family came to pick me up.  They were very gentlemanly, and when the car came Yourleny, Verenice, Dilan, and Maritza were in the car.  Yourleny looked wary of letting them in the car so unfortunately we weren't able to give them a ride.  Before they arrived I was talking to the guy from San Jose about the negative perceptions that Costa Ricans have of Nicaraguans, and I am just continuously amazed by the hostility towards them.

Other than the women's classes I've been teaching the adult classes which have been going very well.  Attendance fluctuates, but sometimes as many as 10 students come which is very good for Potrero.  I've become close to three of my students - Patricio, Milagros, and Kenny.  Milagros and Kenny are a couple - Milagros is from Nicaragua and Kenny is from Tempate (a village nearby).  They came to Potrero a year ago for a job opportunity.  They take care of a vacation home owned by a couple from the U.S.  It's a beautiful home, and the owners let them use the pool as well as the bedroom as long as there are not guests staying there.  Patricio, lives next to them at another vacation home.  He is also from Nicaragua, but he's been in Costa Rica for awhile now.  The weekend after my Liberia vacation I went to Patricio's house with Kenny and Milagros, as well as Maritza to spend the day in the pool.  It was very nice of them to invite me to spend the day with them.  We talked about how most of the adult students that regularly go to the Adult Classes are from Nicaragua.  The same thing applies for the Women's group.  More Nicaraguans than Costa Ricans take advantage of the resources that Abriendo Mentes has to offer.  I've been trying to figure out why this would be, and the conclusion that I've come to has to do with the immigrant paradox that I've studied previously in the U.S.  Immigrants who move to a new country are in search of a better life and more opportunities so they are very progressive-thinking.  They are continuously thinking of their future, and making sure that their standard of living is better in their new country than if they had stayed in their home country which makes them more inclined to use resources that are made available to them.  This is my hypothesis at least.

The great thing about working with Abriendo Mentes is that I never know what I will be doing next.  Last week we did an eco-mapping activity which was something completely different for me.  Reshma, one of the other Abriendo Mentes volunteers, organized and planned this activity for Las Catalinas workers.  It was great to get the workers to start talking about environmental issues, as well as their work.  I just served as translation help, but I feel that I really learned from the activity as well.  The Director of Catalinas was very pleased with the activity because he says that some of the men never talk so to hear them talk about important issues was truly a great experience for him.

Well this week I'm going to continue working on the adult classes, the Women's group, tutoring the Abriendo Mentes kids, and any other tasks that come up.  I'll also help plan the Abriendo Mentes end of the session bash which will take place this Saturday.  This session is almost wrapping up.  Soon my mom and dad will be here and I'll travel with her during the month of July.  I'll be back here in August, continuing with the work.  Hopefully some of the activities will continue in the month of July.  I'm thinking that some of the women can take over the group so that it can continue in July, and the traditional dancing classes for the kids can also continue. 

I'm looking forward to my month-adventure with my parents, but I also feel a bit guilty that I'm leaving Potrero behind.  My host family is already making me feel guilty about leaving, and since this is the last week of English classes the kids and their parents are utterly at a lost when we tell them that we won't be having classes the month of July.  That shows you what a big impact Abriendo Mentes has on these kids and their families. 

Although I have mixed feelings about my impending vacation I think my overwhelming emotion is excitement.  We'll be traveling to Turrialba which is where my mother lived when she was a young girl, and we'll also be going to Pérez Zeledón which is where I lived the first time I was in Costa Rica.  As I said in my fellowship application one of my dreams has always been to give back to the community of Santa María in some way.  I wanted to see how an NGO actually works, and what it entails.  I'm coming to realize that running an NGO is not very simple, and requires skills that I don't actually enjoy/possess.  I've been learning a lot this summer, and am trying to process all of it to figure out what impact I could have on Santa María.  I'm still thinking about this, but it will be good for me to go back to the village where my love for Costa Rica was born.