Tales From a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Little Lebowski's Peri-Urban Achievers

When schools are on vacation for Christmas, it's important to find projects and activities to do to occupy your inevitable free time. As the break was approaching, I was planning on holding a basketball camp at my school during the break, since the school has the only basketball hoops I've seen in my neighborhood. I submitted a proposal to the Nun/Principal, after being assured by my counterparts and other teachers that it would be approved. After some deliberation, it got rejected because something about how they needed the space for construction workers to move around while working on a new school building. Although I believe that it still would have been possible to have the camp at the school during construction, since they have been working on the building for months during the school year, I'm just going to chalk this one up as differing ideologies that Sister principal and I have concerning what activities have priority at the school.

After the secondary project setback, I was searching for other activities I could do to avoid being stagnant. No work and no play makes Tyler a dull boy. So I decided to help out my friend Mike, another Peace Corps volunteer that lives in Cartagena, with his girls' softball/leadership camp. He had equipment donated from a U.S. organization. He planned the camp with one of his counterparts, Vilma, who is famous among the volunteers for wearing, to an official Peace Corps conference, a giant wolf t-shirt. It was pretty bitchin'.

Mike lives in a small town just outside Cartagena called La Boquilla. It's a bit higher on my "dirt roads/naked babies running around" index for judging how, lets say "simple," a place is than where I live. I never thought I would say it, but after staying there for two weeks, I missed all the amenities I had in Barranquilla like toilet seats, running water, and stoves that don't singe off your knuckle hairs every time you light them.

The camp started out great. About 25 girls showed up the first day. In the mornings we had workshops about topics such as self-esteem, nutrition, the environment, and leadership. We also taught a dance to the girls each day. Some went better than others. They really liked the funky chicken and the apache dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. They weren't really feeling it when we tried to teach them to move it like Bernie. After a short three hour break for lunch, we would meet up at the beach to have some softball drills and play a short game. Or this was the plan at least. We soon found out that many girls tended not to come back after going home for lunch. On Monday, most of them from the morning made it back for afternoon softball, but by Thursday, only a handful showed up. And on Friday, we had to cancel that day of camp entirely because no one showed up at all.

We decided we needed to get the word out about the camp to the community again. We made flyers and spent a hot, sweaty afternoon walking around the town spreading the word. We also decided to start the camp earlier and have it only in the morning, because once them girls done gone home fer lunch, they ain't gonna come back. The next Monday, about 50 girls showed up, which was way more than we could really handle. Luckily, the numbers thinned out to a manageable quantity later in the week. The second week went much better than the first week. Most days 20-25 girls came and most of them stayed all morning. It was great to see them improving over the course of the camp. Girls normally don't play sports very often in these communities, so many were excited to have an opportunity to participate in organized team sports, especially when all the equipment was available.

On the last day of camp, we held an Olympic type decathlon. We had events like softball tosses for distance or accuracy, frisbee tosses for the same, 50 yd. dash, and long jump. I was somewhat surprised at how well it went. The girls all seemed interested and focused until, toward the end of the morning, when a dead dog washed up on the beach. After that, the girls seemed a bit distracted, so we only got to finish 9 out of the 10 events. Still not too shabby.

This is Mike's blog, where he has a day by day recap of the camp: It's Always Sunny in Colombia

Funky Chicken time

Base hit!

Breakin' it down

They got the frisbee fundamentals down

Dangers of being an outfielder: getting hit by a bus

And how proud we are of all of them