Monday, February 20, 2006

let me explain a little about my program here in Salvador. cross cultural solutions is an international volunteer program that has placements all over the world. i participated in their china program in xi'an two years ago. i stayed for two weeks and taught english classes at a primary school- grades 1-5. the children were amazing and i had a great time. their english skills were so advanced that i had to learn very little mandarin to communicate. the ccs program is set up so that you volunteer part of your time working within the community, and the other part of the time is spent in cultural exchange- visiting a museum, taking a history class, going to a wedding ceremony, taking a language class, eating typical regional foods. then yo uhave your free time, where you can travel on the weekends or go out at night and check out the night life.
here in brazil, the program is the same. my placement is with the sisters of mother teresa and i am primarily working with toddlers in daycare. the kids are all from the local neighborhood, which is very poor. their parents pay little or nothing for this care and the kids receive attention, food, and interaction with other children. the schedule is very strict and the sisters and the local women who work there do a wonderful job with the kids. i feel like these kids are very lucky because their parents send them here, and they are able to have a "normal" day. i don't want to generalize, but i feel like there can be a lot of neglect when it comes to how some children are raised day to day. this is not true in all cases, of course, and there are many wonderful parents out there who do everything they can for their kids, but there is just so little education, money and opportunity in these neighborhoods that it is the little ones who tend to suffer the most.
so, at the daycare, we take care of about 15 children, it varies from day to day. and can i tell you how CUTE they all are? it is really a fun day- a lot of work, but their little smiles and big boisterous laughter does just wonders for your spirit. there are four of us volunteers and usually georgina and tamisera who are full time employees. tamisera is a young teenager and i want to ask her why she isn't in school, but my portuguese isn't very good (and i know the answer anyway- you can't go to school if you have to go out and make a living).
when we arrive in the morning we are greeted by 15 toddlers who are just finishing their milk. then they go to the chapel to say a prayer for the virgin mary (well, they sit there while georgina tries to lead them in prayer). then it is playtime! they have little bikes, and plastic rocking horses and a big crate full of legos and plastic dolls and blocks and rattles and squeaks. we spread out a blanket outside and the kids run all over the garden playing without a care in the world. today i worked with rafael, who is staying with the sisters for three months with his baby sister. they are both severely malnourished. rafael is the oldest of all the kids, at three years old, but he cannot walk and looks to be about one year old. he is so malnourished that his little body stopped growing, and his father held him all the time, so he never learned to walk. today the sister mary clare gave me the job of making sure he never sat down. he was to walk everywhere. i gave him a little pushcart and off we went. he did really well- i could tell that he really wanted to walk and interact with the other kids. at one point we abandoned the pushcart and i held a ball out in front of him, like a carrot, and had him follow me all over the courtyard. it was so rewarding to see him toddling around by himself! the sisters do such good work for these kids- rafael's mother was smart to bring him there (she's expecting another baby any second now).
after play time, we bring the kids inside and have them wash their hands and get ready for lunch. we tie their little bibs around their necks and sit them down to eat. georgina leads them in songs and prayers and then we dish out the food. every day it is rice and beans, with a different protein filler. today it was hard boiled eggs- but some days it can be ground beef, sausage or scrambled eggs. the kids eat a lot (for some of them this may be the only good meal they have all day).
after they eat- we strip off all their clothes and it's potty time! all fifteen sit on the toilet at once- and you can~t believe the crying! they hate pottytime, but all sit there like they are told. after they have each done thier 'business'- we give them a bath and put them in fresh diapers, then it is off to bed for a nap. we try to give each kid an extra bit of attention as they are going off to sleep.
this all sounds so easy and carefree- but usually, everyday, there is a wrench thrown into the plan. i have learned how to deal with fifteen little voices crying out to be held- how to hold a child while giving another some water and wiping up the table, all at the same time. i have learned what many mothers have learned before me- how to mulitask!
gotta go- more later!

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