Tuesday, July 5, 2016

La Shita

No, it's not a swear word, it's the name of a town. La Shita is one of my caseríos about an hour outside of Jesús by car. You have to climb a hill to almost get there, then you climb another hill to actually get there. It's about 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) as opposed to Jesus' 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), which basically translates to hace friaso (it's freaking cold). It gets so cold there that most of the children have scarring on their cheeks that you can tell is from the cold and wind damaging their skin.
La Shita: pretty much all there is in town, the high school (green)
and the elementary school (blue) and then the TAMBOS building that you can't see.
The people live in surrounding areas.
I've been teaching in the colegio (high school) en La Shita for about a month. I teach a one-hour entrepreneurship class on Mondays and Fridays and I will continue to do so through the end of July. There's no regular transportation to this town; there's only one combi (bus or van thingy) that goes up in the morning to take teachers to the primary schools along the way and to the one secondary school where I teach. Other people who want/need transportation can also take this combi if they know when and where to catch it. It then leaves La Shita at 1:00pm sharp (the only time Peruvians are on time is when they're leaving work) to return the teachers to Cajamarca, where 95% of them live.
The full combi; this is after it cleared out a bit actually.

I catch the combi where it turns off the main road to Jesús and takes the dirt road to La Shita. Yes, it's a dirt road. It's one full hour on a dirt road, a terrible dirt road, packed in a combi with more people than actually fit in said combi. I leave Jesús at 6:40am on Mondays and Fridays to catch this terrible combi that drives up a terrible road so that I can teach terrible children. Well, the children could be worse, I guess, but the ride is pretty awful. The worst part may be that the teachers have to pay for this transportation Monday through Friday and if they have to stay longer to teach remedial classes, they have to stay the night in the freezing school or walk back to the road between Cajamarca and Jesús, which would take about 2-3 hours.

I'm teaching cuarto y quinto grados (kind of like juniors and seniors in high school), and let me tell you if you think our kids in the US are unprepared for life after high school just come to Jesús and you'll be thanking your lucky stars for the educational system in the States. These kids can barely pay attention for 5 minutes much less understand concepts like a business plan, mission, or cost analysis. After watching how this school functions I realize it's not the kids' fault--they're trained to take celebrations more seriously than school, there's very little discipline in most classrooms, many of the parents set a less-than-desirable example, and the commitment level of even the teachers is low. How can I expect the kids to be good students when they have no standard for what that is?

My students looking like they're being studious,
but they're just copying what I have on the board
as fast as they can so they can go to recess.
They're also really cold because of the wind
coming through the broken windows.
I can't. I teach them for one or two hours a week and I have to come to grips with the fact that I may change absolutely nothing in their lives for the better. Maybe something will stick, maybe it won't. A fellow volunteer reminded me of something she read in another Peace Corps volunteer's blog about how these kids may never remember what we taught them but they will remember how we made them feel.

Either way I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated with the broken system, with the disorganized school, the loud-mouthed kids, the long dusty ride, my class schedule changing every day I'm there, the broken windows in the classrooms that let the freezing wind in, the obsession with fútbol (soccer), the teachers wearing track suits or sweatpants that aren't PE teachers, the lack of actual teaching, the amount of bullying and hitting that goes on between the kids, and the list goes on.

I was just fine, but I guess after a month of experiencing all this I'm having a hard time just swallowing it. I'm a doer--I want to DO something to help. I'm an extremely practical human being. But there's only so much I CAN do here and that hurts. I feel powerless to help and just keep sinking deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

Some of the kids "playing volleyball." They
don't know how to play proper volleyball
(says the former volleyball player).
There are several positives, too, that I need to keep in mind. First of all, without fail, every Monday and Friday the director manages to feed me breakfast and lunch. We get this from the primary school because it actually has a program for feeding the kids to fight off malnutrition, which is depressingly high in the district of Jesús. She also pays for my transportation to and from La Shita out of her own pocket. In my opinion, that's very generous. Secondly, a young, good-looking doctor gave up his seat for me on one of the rides and he's even taller than me. This doctor always gives up his seat, if he has one to give, and stands uncomfortably with his shoulders up against the roof of the bus. Thirdly, the teachers really do care about their students, but I think perhaps they feel a lot like I do--wondering if what they're doing everyday is making any kind of dent. Only they have to live with that feeling for the rest of their careers; I only have to deal with it for another year.

Every Monday and Friday is a brain-exhausting, claustrophobia-inducing, heatstroke-causing, patience-trying experience, but without sacrifice there's no service. And the director, doctor, and teachers have shown me pieces of the kind of person I want to be: generous, sacrificial, and patient. So at least I'm learning, even if no one else is.