So I have been volunteering at a school called Centeno Guell. This is a completely free school for kids that are deaf, blind or mentally handicapped. Many of the students that I work with on a daily basis have a couple of these disabilities if not all of them. This school was started 70 years ago by a man named Fernando Centeno Guell.The school started with 8 kids and now has grown to a population of 500+ students. The population it serves starts with babies all the way up to 21 years old. I have given you the gist of who and what the school serves but I have added a link to more information if you are interested. I must forewarn you it is in Spanish. I tried to search for one in English but I could not find one. For those of who that don't know Spanish...copy and paste it into a translation machine on the internet somewhere: http://www.mcjdcr.go.cr/magon/fernando_centeno_1989.html.
So I have been volunteering for three weeks now and each day is better and full of new surprises! The main department that I will be volunteering is with the visually impaired students, although many of my students are partially deaf and have some mental disabilities as well. I work in a classroom with Profe. Andrey and seven 14-16 year olds. I have yet to see all seven of the students in the school at the same time. Because of the "winter" months we are having and the immense amounts of rain, many of the students get sick and it is advised for them to stay at home. The most I have seen on a given day is four. Some of the students are Hillary, Julio, Jessica, Freideri, and David.
The work that I do with the kids is pretty simple but it is a blast. I work with these kids Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning. The Prof has me doing the daily agenda with them which consist of a piece of cardboard with two lines of velcro on it. Within the timeline are concrete objects velcroed to the cardboard that represent the schedule for the day e.g: a ball to represent Phy. Ed, a spoon to represent both breakfast and lunch, a little wood table to represent the arts and crafts we do at the classroom table, a wooden guitar for music class, a bell to represent recess and a wooden house to represent the time to leave. What I have to do is take their hand and move it from object to object so that they can feel as I explain, because they cannot see very well, what they will do through out the day. They have to rely on their sense of touch and hearing to know what the day will hold for them. This is done after we complete something and before we go on to the next task of the day. It is such a simple concept but one that I have never seen or heard of before.
Other work that I get to do with my students is helping them with their Phy. Ed Classes such as helping them walk from one point to another point, throwing a ball back or forth. I had one girl who thought it was a lot more fun to not throw it in front of her where I was but instead throw it behind her so I would have to run after it every time. The way I look at it, I am getting my exercise too. I also help them with their Arts and Crafts in which I am getting to be a pro at painting the cardboard roll of toilet paper and making flower pots out of them. As well as weeving pages of newspapers together to make carrying cases for the pencils and makeup. Let me know if you are interested and maybe we can have Arts and Craft time when I return. I also get to help feed the kids that need it. I am usually placed with David, who is secretly one of my favorites. He is partially blind, deaf and mentally disabled and has to use a wheelchair. It also takes a lot to get him to eat, it's a slow process. The other day I was feeding him breakfast but music class was going on at the same time. While I was feeding him in between bites I would make him dance by moving his chair and his arms along with the music. He was getting into it as well and was really liking both the music and dancing. Soon enough he was dancing on his own by just moving the upper part of his body. I was in awe that he was doing this because this is not like David. David is always crying and slouched over but today he was ripping up the dance floor... he was moving to the music! It was a sight to behold! At that moment, he had me cracking up and it made my day!
One day none of these kids showed up because of the weather so I got the chance to hit up an amusement park with another group to assist with moving wheelchairs and go on the rides with the little tykes! We hit up the spinning tea cups, the train, semi trucks and one rafting ride. It was pretty exhilarating. You can see the pictures below.
After the kids left I was asked to stay behind at the park with three other assistance to go on the big rides. I said why not! So one of the moms that was with us gave me her wristband and I slipped it on and soon enough I was was upside down and spinning in circles! A great day at work!
Ok ... back to the schedule. On Tuesday mornings I get the chance to work with four year olds who are visually impaired. There is one girl named Genesis who is completely blind and is pretty funny! The first day I worked with her she decided to play "Copy Cat" with me and repeat everything I said. She would say the same things as me even if I said them wrong, she cleared her throat when I did and laughed when I did. I have also gotten to be pretty close to Esteban, who is this little guy with the thickest glasses you will see and his hair all spiked up! He usually likes to play cops and robbers with me so that he can handcuff me and put me in jail. Then when I have to put him in jail... yea he just runs away!
These are my kids racing their cars during recess this past week!
On Thursdays, there are teachers for the school who work out in the schools of neighboring towns and I get to go with them and help out for the morning. I have only been to one other school so far and I worked with Brando and Lucia, both who are visually impaired. That day I was able to help them with identifying objects and working on their motor skills. Basically we got to run around, jump like frogs and play hopscotch. For me that is a pretty productive day! This last week I was suppose to head to a school in San Jose which is about 30 minutes on bus. Well after an hour and half of waiting for the teacher she didn't show. I thought it was my fault because I actually couldn't remember if it was 7 or 7:30 (go figure right?!) but I guess her students weren't in and no one had a way of contacting me. It was a little bit of a bummer but it was a good spot for people watching!
So that pretty much covers my mornings. My afternoons are pretty much a blast too. When I first started at the school, I was initially done at 1:30 everyday because that is what time the visually impaired students get done. I asked my director if there would any chance I could work more in the afternoons with any of the other groups that were in the school until 3:30. She, along with everyone else in the office looked at me like I was absolutely nuts. Why you may ask? Because I wanted to do more work when I could be going home to rest! If you ever want a job that lets you have about 30 minutes of a coffee break or rest period in the middle of the day for God only knows how long, move to Costa Rica and get a job.
So after a couple weeks of trying to get things figured out I landed a position in a classroom with 12, 10-11 year old deaf kids. These kids are full of energy and pretty much off the wall but I really enjoy working with them. The first day they started asking me questions... the only problem it was through sign language and I had no idea what they were saying. There hands were moving all over the place and my head was just spinning! At that time I knew one sign and that was for "Buenas Dias"... that wasn't going to work! I soon got introduced to the class and they got the chance to ask me questions such as where I am from, how old I am, how many brothers and sisters, if I had a girl friend, if I always have facial hair... ya know the typical ones! Then soon after, they decided to pick out a sign for my name. Instead of always spelling out their name, they pick a sign that represents them individually. For example, one of the girls has long hair so she points to her hair and drags her finger down along it or one boy has glasses so he points above and below his glasses. The sign they gave me that represents my name is to touch my earring that I have on the top of my ear.
After introduction they get back to work with their science class. The interesting thing about these kids I found out that day, is that Spanish is their second language as well, sign language being their first. Also if you didn't know Spanish sign language is different from American Sign Language. It is called LESCO: Lengua de señas costarricense It was really helping me because I was able to see what signs corresponded with what word. I even was trying my hand at signing along with them... no pun intended! Yea they was laughter going on at this time, but I would be doing the same thing if i were them watching this big gringo throwing down Spanish signs. Hell, I was laughing with them! They were also laughing because I had to squint to see the board... the joys of being with 10 years old again right!
Another story was that I was helping them with their math one day and they are doing basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It's been a while since I have done that and I may or may not have gotten a problem wrong for a kid...whoops. To my defense it is really difficult to try and explain how to subtract numbers especially if you have to borrow. It's hard enough to explain someone in English, let alone Spanish and in sign language... UFFFF DAAA! Oh well, it must not have upset them too much: 1) being that this kid didn't seem to care too much and 2) their teacher told me they always ask if I am coming each day. I am technically only assigned three days a week but I worked my charm with the teacher and she said any day that I wanted I could come it! Cha-Ching! I am also working on my sign language from a few books I was lent. I will also be starting to take sign language classes with one of the Friars that use to study LESCO once a week. I am super excited for this opportunity! This will truly be a test of preaching the gospel without using words!
The weekends here is Costa Rica are pretty chill. We usually all hang out together and keep ourselves busy somehow. Doing a little exploring of neighboring cities, bleeding Blue and Gold during the Notre Dame games every Satruday as we cheer on the Irish or enjoying a nice siesta on the hammock while we listen to the rain hit the tin roof and the thunder crack in the distance.
It's crazy to think that tomorrow will already be a month that we have arrived in Costa Rica. If anyone has the ability to slow down time... please do so now! I, along with my roommates I am sure, would greatly appreciate it! Even though it seems like it has gone quickly, we have been taking each day as it's own and appreciate the blessing we have been given.