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Guatemala, Day 3: The first lessons - JonM

Dec. 2nd, 2008

07:17 pm - Guatemala, Day 3: The first lessons

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The noise of the city woke me up before the alarm again, so I got up, showered and got breakfast. I ate my toast and cereal out in back, watching some of the other folks finish up their morning exercises.

Lisa showed up, and we piled into the van, loading it up with our gear and instruments. On the ride into Guatemala City we finalized our plans for the activities, and then drilled ourselves on Spanish vocabulary. The drive was pretty quick, and we got to the Democracia with almost an hour to setup and run things through.

We rigged the aerial equipment, staged the other props and apparatus, and then worked through our set of demonstration performances. Jenn, who speaks fluent Spanish, would be MC, talking to the kids about the activities and introducing us as we performed a short demo of our abilities. Jim and Jenn start with a couple of two person acro moves, followed by Noel, Kerri and I doing "the dragon", a highly entertaining three person acro move. Next, Mark would show off one of his shadow puppets, Dan would do some juggling, and then attention turned to the aerial rig as Lara did a quick trapeze piece and Kerri did some tricks on the tissue. Matt and Sari, who would play on the drums the whole time, would then be introduced and lead the whole group indoors to do a few music exercises. After the music, we planned to divide the kids up into the four groups, and break off to do some simple aerobic/acrobatic stuff to fill out the hour.

A few minutes after 9:30, the first group of kids arrived, a couple dozen 8-11 year old kids, with teacher and volunteer aides. They were pretty excited and sat down on the grass in eager rows. The demonstration went well, with only a couple of minor hitches (the wind made tricks on the tissue a bit difficult for Kerri), and the kids seemed to really enjoy watching us do our stuff.

When it came time to actually get up and do things, things got a little mixed. Some of the kids were really into the music and the acrobatics, and others looked like they were just there for the ride. All in all, it went pretty well and I think the kids had a good time.

The first group of kids left, and we waited for the next group, while talking about various points that we should change to improve the flow. Unfortunately, the next group of kids never came; there was only one bus to move kids around, and it was also being used for other purposes, so the kids couldn't get from school in time. The only way to make it work would be to have both classes present for each two hour stretch. Twice the kids for twice the time would put quite a wrench in our well crafted plans.

We secured the equipment and went off to lunch, to discuss options and changes we could make. At the comidor next to the Camino Seguro project, we got some delicious, inexpensive food, and tried to sort out a workable plan for the afternoon, where we'd have a couple dozen 12-15 year old kids mixed with thirty-odd 5-7 year olds, for a full two hour stretch. We decided to keep the age groups separate, still divide into four groups, and set up stations that the groups could rotate between. Jenn would join Kerri on the aerial rig, because clear communication would be vital there, while Noel would join me doing acrobatics.

With a plan settled and the food consumed, we hit the road, heading to the day care center that Camino Seguro operates. Providing services for kids 6 and under, the day care center allows the moms to drop their kids off somewhere safe while they go work in the dumps. A tranquil island surrounded by the slums of zone 3, the Day Care center's grounds were designed and built by University of Washington landscape architecture students.

In the back of the building is a fantastic wooden play structure, which was festooned with a dozen or so three year old kids. We hung out and played with the kids for a little while, swinging them around, playing games, and recovering stolen sunglasses, and then rode back to the Democracie, where we promptly took a nap on the grass.

Following our impromptu siesta, we reset the equipment and waited for the kids, who were only a few minutes late. First came the young ones, 30 or so very excited 5-7 year olds, and then the dozen 12-15 year old 6th graders, who were more laid back, but still pretty animated.

We ran the demonstration again, with me on the rope instead of Kerri on the tissue, since the rope is much less affected by the wind. The kids were way into it this time; I saw many a dropped jaw while Lara was up on the trapeze. With a bit more care this time, the procession into the building was much smoother. The music exercise was fun, changed up a little for the younger audience, although the kids kept rushing the equipment and had to be constantly told to move back.

We split up the kids again, keeping the older kids as one group since there were only 13 of them, and Noel and I took our kids outside for acrobalancing. We had the group of older kids first, and they were very cool; they were excited to be doing the tricks, and really got into it.

The next two groups, of the younger kids, were really tough to work with. They were super excited, totally outnumbered us and, with the language barrier added in, completely unmanageable. For each group we started off with some aerobic exercise to get them warmed up: running, rolls and the like. After that we did the basic balance trust exercises, facing each other and side by side. Then came table-tops, stacking kids in hands-and-knees positions, and then superman (front plank). If we had time, we would finish with thigh stands.

The young kids couldn't stay focused, and were running everywhere. Further, any time I got close to the ground, they'd immediately mob me; several times I had 5 kids piled on me, especially demonstrating the table-tops. On the plus side, pretty much every kid did all of the exercises, and they had fun doing it. But the 15 minutes seemed to drag on forever. I hugged Matt when he told me that the last group of kids would only have 10 minutes.

In fact, they had to go before we could really get started, so we had a reprive. After the kids left, we all stood there for a moment, completely shell shocked. Noel and I were glad to know that we weren't the only ones who were overwhelmed, although it sounds like we had it the worst, since the other groups had some kind of object to draw the kids' focus.

We quickly broke camp and headed back to Antigua, talking about what we could do to make the long sessions and large numbers of kids work for us. We had a lot of different ideas, but nothing really concrete. Arriving back at the hotel, we cleaned up and headed off to dinner, going back to the Peruvian place we went on Sunday.  The food was just as tasty tonight as it was then, and this place is definitely a winner in our book.

We stopped at the grocery store to get some more snacks for tomorrow, and then returned to the hotel. No big group meeting tonight, a couple of people are sick with a cold of some kind, and others just need rest after the hectic day today. Lara and a few others sat down to work out a plan for tomorrow, which we'll find out about in the morning.

I'm glad that the kids are having a good time, but we all want to figure out a way to do that which isn't so strenuous for us. At the least, we've got two days to try.