My Last mission

It’s so hard to believe that I’m now officially done with my mission work here in Tucuman. These past six weeks have FLOWN by faster than I could have imagined and I truly am grateful for this amazing experience that I’ve had teaching English in Argentina. Yesterday I returned from my last three day mission trip to La Soledad and I have to say that it was definitely the icing on the cake for my experience here. This mission was a little bit different than my past two missions to La Soledad. This mission was three days long (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) and we went with about 25 volunteers. Some of these volunteers are secondary school students at Santa Rosa and others have already graduated and are studying in the University now. I knew some of these volunteers before I left for the mission from various activities throughout my past 6 weeks here and others I recognized from visiting their English classes or going with them on the retreat. The leaders that went with us were Rossana, Sister Mariana and Sister Vicky. Sister Mariana and Sister Vicky are both also Dominican Sisters but they live in the other convent in Tucuman, which is very close to the convent that I’m staying in. Below is a picture of the Chapel and little house that we stay in at La Soledad:

photo 3 (11)

We left for the mission at around 8:30 AM on Monday morning and arrived in La Soledad around 10:30. After unpacking the bus and getting settled in, it was time to do some home visits! There are about 50 families that are considered part of La Soledad (they are very, very spread out so we often have to walk about 30 or 40 minutes just to get to one house from where we stay). Each of the volunteers has a “zone” that they are assigned to when they first become a volunteer for La Soledad. These zones consist of about 5 families that each volunteer gets to know very well and each time they come to La Soledad for mission trips, they visit the same families in their zone each time so they can continue to build their relationship with them. I went with one of the volunteers named Flor to her zone, which was about a 30 minute walk from the chapel that we stay at. Although it was far, it was very nice to walk with her and get to know her better. She is 20 years old just like me and is studying Economics at the University of Tucuman. We had very nice visits at the houses. We sat and talked to them about what us new in their lives, played with the kids, drank mate and ate bread and it was very nice getting to know the families. We also reminded all the families that we were having a clothes fair that afternoon so they can all remember to come to the chapel and buy some used clothes for their families for a very cheap price.

After our visits to the families, Flor told me on our walk back that one of the families in her zone that we had just visited has been having a lot of problems with abuse in their household. She told me that the father is very violent with his wife and all their children and even though they hide it, some of the other volunteers have seen marks and bruises on the children. There have been times when the mother has had to leave with the children and go to stay in neighbors or other peoples houses in La Soledad, but they can only stay in other houses for so long before they need to go back home. Some of the other women in La Soledad notified the police about the abusive father and so they came to try to take the father away but he his from the police so they were never able to take him. The family is in a very difficult situation; they are not able to leave because the father is the only one in the family who works and makes money because the mom stays home to take care of the children. It was very difficult to hear about this horrible situation and it broke my heart to see that the family is in such a tough place. However, I am happy that now that the volunteers and leaders from La Soledad know about this bad situation, they are able to have some control over it and look out for the family a little bit better. This is just one of the bad situations that the families in La Soledad face–there are many other problems that many have to deal with as well. I am very glad that this community has volunteers like the group I went with this time to give love, care and help to these people a few times per month.

Below are some pictures from the home visits:

photo 5 (7)  DSC_0597 DSC_0576photo 3 (13)    DSC_0588 DSC_0585 DSC_0601    photo 2 (14)DSC_0573

Once we all returned from our home visits and ate lunch together, it was time to start setting up for the clothes fair! (The last time I was at La Soledad we had a clothes fair as well..the clothes fair this time was for all the leftover clothes from last time and some additional new clothes that we brought as well). The clothes fair was very successful and just like last time, people were lined up outside waiting to come in and buy clothes. Right when it his 3 oclock, the time the clothes fair began, the mothers ran in and began grabbing articles of clothes. In no time, each mother was carrying piles of clothes to buy. I think these clothes fairs are a great opportunity for families to be able to have clothes for their families. These are really the only times that most of these families get clothes for their families so I think that it is wonderful for the volunteers at La Soledad to run these fairs.

Day 2 at La Soledad was very busy as well. In the morning, we once again visited the same families as the day before to talk with them, spend time with them and also tell them about the exciting events that were about to happen later in the afternoon! We told them that we were going to be having Communion classes for the children preparing to receive their first communion as well as Confirmation classes for those who are about to receive their Confirmation. In addition, we told them about the little tutoring session that we were holding for all the children who would like to attend and also that during this time we would be playing a movie for all the women in La Soledad (with popcorn too!). After the classes and movie ends, we told them that we will also be having a prayer service for everyone to attend.

We had a very good turnout at the confirmation and communion classes as well as at the tutoring session. Before we started the classes, I taught the group of children two songs in English as an ice breaker. We first sang the Hokey Pokey and then the song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. I first demonstrated the songs for the children and then we all did it together. Most children love singing and dancing, so this was a great way to start and get the students energetic and excited. They had so much fun when we started singing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes faster and faster and faster. This was a great way for them to be able to learn how to say the words of some parts of the body and have fun with it as well. Below are some pictures:

DSC_0631 DSC_0645We split all the students up into three groups for the tutoring session (Oldest students, middle age students and very young children). With the very young students, two volunteers worked with them to read two little books that were good for their age level. The middle aged students read a book about farm animals together as a group and then after I held a little English lesson for them. Similar to La Bombilla and when I was teaching up in the mountains, these children really did not have any English experience at all (even though it is technically a law for students to learn English in all schools in Argentina), so we started from the beginning. The English lesson went very well and the students did a great job. I always have so much fun with the children at La Soledad, they are always so excited to learn and they love asking how to say words in English because they never have the opportunity to speak with anyone in English. Below are some pictures from the different classes as well as my English lesson:

DSC_0685 DSC_0677DSC_0679  DSC_0626DSC_0676  DSC_0658  DSC_0614  DSC_0694

After the classes were over and the women finished watching their movie, we then had a small prayer service with all the people who were there. It was very nice, we sang some songs, read some verses from the Bible, and received the Eucharist as well. At the end of the prayer service, two of the volunteers walked around and placed either a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on each person’s head for a few seconds. This is an old tradition that began in the mountains with the Indian people. They believe that by doing this, God is sending His grace into each person who’s head it is placed on. I had never seen a tradition like this, but it was very powerful experience for everyone. I thought this was a bit strange at first, but then when someone explained to me the meaning behind it, I thought it was an amazing thing to do. Below are some pictures from the prayer service:

DSC_0715 DSC_0710 DSC_0722

Then it was day 3…In the morning, starting at 10am, the volunteers held Catechesis classes for any children that wanted to attend. While these classes were going on, me and three other volunteers walked to some other houses to deliver some food. This was a very nice experience because I was able to see some families that I hadn’t seen since my last visit to La Soledad and I got to meet some new families as well. When we came back, the Catechesis classes had ended and it was unfortunately time to start getting packed up and ready to leave. (It was game day for Argentina in the World Cup so everyone was anxious to get on the road so they could make it home in time to see the beginning of the game!).

One of the families who live next door to the chapel that we stay at in La Soledad always loves to be with the volunteers and the children love to come play with us whenever we have down time or sometimes they come and share meals with us as well. The family is wonderful and I have gotten to know the mother (Sandra) and the three children very well during my three visits to La Soledad. During my first time at La Soledad, when I held a little English lesson for a few children, Sandra attended the English lesson as well. I talked with her a lot afterwards too and she told me that she has been working very hard to try and learn English. She was taking notes during the English class that I held for the children and I worked with her on her English individually a little bit as well. When it was almost time to leave Sandra and her three children came over to say one last goodbye to me because they knew it was my last visit to La Soledad. With tears in her eyes, Sandra handed me a note and we then said our goodbyes. It was so sad saying goodbye to her and her three precious children. She told me that I would always be in her heart and she couldn’t thank me enough for the work that I have been doing here in La Soledad as well as throughout Tucuman. She truly is such a special person that I have had the pleasure to meet and I will never forget her. When I opened the note she gave me on the bus ride home from La Soledad, it brought tears to my eyes too. It said:

photo (11)Reading this note (written in ENGLISH) made me so incredibly happy and could not have been a better end to my mission work here in Argentina. I was so proud of Sandra and how far she has come with her English, not only with my help but with all of her hard work as well. I was so nervous and scared before coming to Argentina–being in a foreign country for 6 weeks was scary enough, but especially by myself in a place where I am not even fluent in the language. However, throughout this journey, I kept reminding myself that my time here in Argentina is not about me…it’s about all the people I am trying to help and serve; all the people who are in need and who I can possibly improve their lives just a little bit. This note that I received from Sandra showed me that these six weeks that I have spent here have been beyond worth it. God certainly had a plan for me when I was blessed enough to receive the Smith Fellowship and come to Argentina to experience all these amazing things and meet all these wonderful people. Now that I am done with my mission work here in Tucuman, I look back on all the classes I’ve taught, children (and adults) I’ve worked with, and I could not be happier. What an amazing experience this has been; I can only hope that I have made half as much of an impact on the people here that they have made on me.

Below is a picture of me, Sandra, and her three children as we were saying our goodbyes.

DSC_0727

Now that my mission work has concluded, I have a few more days before I return back to the United States to travel! Sister Cynthia, her niece Milu and I are going on a three day trip to visit some of the beautiful places in Argentina that I have not seen yet! In my next post, I can’t wait to tell you all about my experiences as a tourist! Adios!

My Despedida from Colegio Santa Rosa

On Friday, I unfortunately had to say my goodbyes to all the students and faculty at Colegio Santa Rosa after teaching there most week days throughout my stay here in Argentina. I knew saying goodbye to Santa Rosa would be especially difficult because I had spent so much time there, and it certainly was. I woke up Friday morning a little bit sad because I knew I would be missing out on a lot of Fourth of July festivities, parties and celebrations back home in the United States, but my day turned out to be one of the best Independence Days that I have ever had. Independence Day here in Argentina is on July 9th, but since Friday was the last day of school before the students begin their winter vacation, they had a small Independence Day Celebration on Friday morning, which I was invited to attend. Their celebration was held at the Tucuman Independence House, where the Argentina signed their document to be independent from Spain. It was a very nice ceremony to honor the country and celebrate Argentina’s Independence.

DSC_0436

After the ceremony was over and we walked back to Santa Rosa School, the students had a little talent show that they called “Top Talent”. I had so much fun watching this and seeing all the students singing and performing. Most of the songs were American songs and I was impressed how well they did with them even though they were all in English! It was such a fun afternoon and I was so happy to be able to watch all their performances. The students who performed were so so talented and had amazing voices! Below are some pictures from the talent show.

DSC_0459 DSC_0448   DSC_0449

After the talent show was time for my “despedida”. Rossana (one of the leaders from La Soledad and one of the people that was in our mountain visit crew) called me up on the stage with another one of the students and they read me such an amazing and sweet goodbye letter on behalf of the whole school. (It was so nice that I feel it’s necessary to type out in here). It said:

Dear Maggie,

The days and weeks passed so fast. We wish that your stay was better than you had imagined. We thank you for coming here and for sharing the sense of helping others. You always stayed with us, answering questions about your life and your trips!  We expect to see you again, you are always welcomed in out community! We wish that this experience has helped you to learn and grow as a person. We will never forget you and please don’t forget us! We want you to know that it is not a goodbye, it’s just a “see you soon”. We know that you can change the world just by being yourself! Continue sharing your love and your smile. Maggie, you are so sweet and sincere! You are amazing, please never change!

You are forever in our hearts,

Your friends at Colegio Santa Rosa

I’m not ashamed to say that hearing the students read me that letter made me cry. I will always be truly grateful for my time at Santa Rosa and I had such an amazing experience getting to know all the students and teachers. They all will always hold a special place in my heart as well and I hope one day in the future I can come back again to visit. Like they said, I hope this is not a goodbye, just a “see you later”. They then surprised me by handing me presents! The first one I opened had chocolates and candy inside (not that I need to be eating ANY more unhealthy things after my time here…I swear I think I’ve gained 10 lbs because of all the things people keep feeding me..but I can never pass up candy). They also gave me a few books on the history of Santa Rosa. I’m excited to read these and learn more about the history behind the Dominicans that founded this school and more about the school itself. Lastly, they gave me a poncho! Ponchos are very traditional here in Argentina and each province in Argentina has it’s own color poncho (Tucuman’s color is brown). This was such an amazing gift to receive because it’s so traditional to Argentina and it will always be a good keepsake to have as a memory of this trip. I am so so grateful for all of these gifts and I will always cherish the gifts and especially all of the memories that I have made during my time at Santa Rosa.

I also received a very special gift from one of the students at Santa Rosa named Emilia. She read through my blog and put together a collage of some of the pictures that I’ve posted on here and put it into a frame. It was such a nice and thoughtful gift and it was so sweet of her to go out of her way to do this for me. Emilia and I spent a lot of time together when we went to La Soledad for the clothes fair and it was so nice to get to know her. She also wrote me such a nice note that almost made me cry again. It said:

Dear Maggie,

I do this letter because I want to tell you that you’re a great and special person. I read your blog and I can’t tell you how glad I am that you enjoy doing this. I hope to see you soon! You will always be welcome here :). You can change the world if you want. Please never change! Keep your smile, your personality and the way you look at life. You’re an amazing person. Never forget that. It’s not a goodbye, it’s a see you soon! Never forget me because I will never forget you. You taught me a different way to look at life. Thank you for that. I hope this trip will help you to grow as a person. I hope to stay in touch with you after you return to the United States.

Lots of love,

Emilia, tu nueva amiga de Argentina

(Below is a picture of Emilia and I)

DSC_0527

What an amazing end to an amazing experience at Santa Rosa it was. Thank you so much to all of the students and faculty at Santa Rosa for being so welcoming and inviting me into your wonderful community. I will never forget this school and I will always be grateful for my experience with you all. I definitely will always hold a little bit of Santa Rosa in my heart; they truly helped to make a difference in my life and I and hope that I was able to make a difference there as well.

photo 2 (11) DSC_0505DSC_0481  DSC_0475 DSC_0463

DSC_0520

Hellos and Goodbyes

What an absolutely amazing day I had yesterday! Being my last week teaching, I have been very busy these past few days fitting in all the classes I can at each school to make the most of the rest of my time here. In the morning I went to a new community that I haven’t been to yet called Monteros with Sister Alejandra. It is about 45 minutes away so she only goes there to teach about once or twice a week. This community is closer to the mountains and the school that I was at today was much smaller than Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina where I usually am during the weekdays. The drive there was absolutely beautiful. We passed snow-capped mountains that were so breathtaking and picturesque. When we arrived at the school, the teachers and staff that I met were so welcoming and happy to have me there. I first was with the 5th and 6th year secondary school students (that means like juniors and seniors in high school in the United States). This school was so small that there was only one class of students per grade (it seemed like about 20-25 students per grade), so both classes fit into one classroom. When I walked in there was a big poster hanging on the wall saying “Welcome to Our Institution!” with streamers hanging around it. I could tell right when I started the class that their English was not too too strong, so I let them ask some questions about the United States and I answered them. They asked very good questions and they understood most of what I said when I spoke very slowly. They were a very fun group to work with and I enjoyed my time with them.

Next, I went to go visit some of the primary school classes. These students did not try to contain their excitement to talk to me. They didn’t really understand any English, but I tried to get them to practice a little bit and I spoke to them very slowly and simply in English as well, hoping to get them motivated. They all loved asking me questions and talking to me about the United States! In one of the primary school classes, one of the students even brought out his traditional drum (called the ‘bomba’) and played a song on it while the whole class sang a traditional song to the music! The song and dance traditions here in Argentina are so strong and I love being able to see and experience so much culture that is shown through music and dance. At the end of the morning, I was able to witness this song and dance tradition one more time! This Friday, most schools around Tucuman are having a celebration for their Independence day. Argentina’s Independence Day is on July 9th but they will be on their winter holiday at that time so they have the celebration before school lets out. For this celebration, it is typical for some students to do a traditional Argentinian Folk dance. For this school, the students in their last year of secondary school are doing it and this morning they were having a practice. I loved being able to watch and see how they do their traditional dances. It was very interesting to see.

photo 1 (7)   photo 2 (6)

Before I left, the director of the school surprised me with an extremely generous and beautiful traditional gift. It was called a “Randa” and was made right there in their town, Monteros. It is so beautiful and delicate with so much detail. I was so grateful for such a thoughtful gift and felt so happy to be receiving such a gift. It was hard for me to express my thankfulness in Spanish but I hope the school knows how truly grateful I am for the experience at their school as well as for the beautifully handcrafted randa. I cannot wait to bring it home and show it to my family and friends. It truly is a beautiful memory of Monteros and expresses the traditions and crafts that they have in that part of Tucuman. Below is a picture. (the words below the Randa say “La palabra ‘randa’ proviene del Aleman ‘rand’, que significa ‘tramado’. Es un tejido artesanal muy difundidoen nuestra sociedad monteriza, cuyos principales representantes se encuentran en la localidad de El Cercado.”)

photo 4 (6)

In the afternoon, I went to teach my last classes at Colegio Nino Jesus de Praga in La Bombilla. As always, the children were so much fun to talk to and play with in between classes. Being at a school with students who grow up in such dangerous and violent situations, in class it usually is difficult to get their attention and focus, but this time Sister Carolina and I had a different approach to helping them learn vocabulary. Sister Carolina teaches Religion at the school so I went to her religion classes with her and she brought them a little religious board game to play. When they moved to each new spot on the board game there was a picture, and so I would teach them how to say whatever was on each picture in English. They were able to focus on the game very well because they were having fun with it and they also liked learning the words in English as well. This was a good way for them to have fun while learning new English vocabulary words as well.

At the end of the school day, the students all gathered together to say their final goodbyes to me and sing me a goodbye song. They call it a “despedida” and it was so sweet of all the students and teachers to do for me. A lot of the students wrote me little goodbye cards and they are all so heartfelt and cute. After the students and teachers sang me the despedida, the students that I primarily worked with on English and one of their teachers planned to have a little going away party for me as well. They made “papas fritas” (french fries) and it was such a nice time to spend with the students before I had to say goodbye. Below are some group pictures of me with the students and teachers at La Bombilla on my last day.

photo (1) photo 3 (8)   photo 2 (8)

photo 5 (2)

 

I will forever remember all of these students who were so incredibly loving and enthusiastic and they will all hold a very special place in my heart always. I also give so much credit to all of those teachers who do so much for the students with absolutley bare minimum resources. The teachers care about the students so much and try to get them to learn as much as they can even when the students can be extremely difficult to work with at times. All of the people I met at La Bombilla are special in their own ways and I feel that by meeting these teachers and getting to know the students and the way that they live have both challenged me and helped me to grow in ways that I never thought could be possible.

I have never truly witnessed children grow up in as difficult of a situation as these students have. They are surrounded by so much violence and don’t know how to act any different. In this school it was normal for students to get in fist fights in the middle of class, scream at each other and at their teachers, throw chairs and books around the room and at each others, and much more. The students come to school in clothes that are often dirty and ripped and shoes that are two sizes too big or too small, and usually never have a pen or pencil to write with, yet their hearts are so so big. It made me so sad saying goodbye to these students because most of them are most likely headed for the future that their parents have, which is living in this same place and never being able to experience other places or understand how to treat others nicely and respectfully.I wish so much that there was more I could do for these children and show them that there is more to the world than the situations that they are in now. I also wish that the school received more funding from the government so that they could provide the teachers with the resources that they need to give these students a good education. It broke my heart when I was saying goodbye to the students and they would ask me “when will we see you next?!” and I had to respond that I didn’t know. I truly hope sometime in the future I can come back and do more to help the children in La Bombilla. What an amazing experience I had with those children and even though I came to their school to teach them, they ended up being the ones teaching me. I wish them all the best of luck in the future and they will continually be in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that the English I taught them sparked a little bit of hope and desire to keep learning and growing in their education; and most importantly, dreaming big and never forgetting that if they work hard they can go far in life.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

I’m usually not a fan of rainy days, and I definitely have not been a fan of rainy days this week! On Friday, I was supposed to go to La Soledad with a group of volunteers and stay overnight until Saturday…however, due to the rainy weather, we had to cancel the mission trip. La Soledad has only dirt roads, so when it rains a lot, it becomes a nightmare. There is mud everywhere and it is nearly impossible to drive there on the roads. Therefore, we decided not to take the chance and go to La Soledad this time, but of course, I have been doing many things in the meantime.

On Friday, one of the volunteers from La Soledad named Lourdes picked me up after I went to lunch with Rossana (one of the women that we went to the mountain with and one of the leaders from La Soledad). Lourdes took me to back to her house to hang out for the day and then sleepover for the night. Her two younger sisters (Milli and Josefina) have both been in my classes at Santa Rosa and Milli is a volunteer for La Soledad as well! It was a great day with them, we talked and relaxed and had a lot of fun. Later that night some more of the volunteers from La Soledad came over to Lourdes’s house. It was one of their birthdays so it was a very nice celebration together. All of them were so nice and I’m so happy I was able to meet some new friends and get to know the ones I had already met a little bit better. I hope to stay in touch with some of them even after I return to the United States. They are all great friends and I’m so lucky to have met them during my time here. Below is a picture of us on Friday night.

photo (10)

On Saturday morning, we woke up and after eating some breakfast Lourdes, Milli, Rossana and I headed over to Campus Santa Rosa for a luncheon that the school was putting on for the families. Thankfully the rain had stopped by this time and it was an absolutely beautiful day. They were serving locro at the luncheon (a traditional Argentinian dish thats typical for winter–it’s like a soup with lots of vegetables, meat and sausage). Many children do not like locro very much so the volunteers from La Soledad were selling empanadas and panchos (hot dogs), for them as an option as well. All the money raised was going to the fund for the La Soledad volunteers to go on their mission trips. Before the luncheon began, we made signs and set up the stand to sell them. Once people started arriving, the line for our stand went out the door. Because my spanish isn’t the best, instead of taking orders from the customers, I was back in the kitchen helping to fill the orders. When the line got very long. the kitchen got even busier. There were orders coming in faster than I could move and let me remind you, it takes an extra second or two to process the order that someone is telling you in another language…so that made my job even harder. Thankfully I had helpers and after we got the system organized, everything ran smoothly and quickly. When we finished selling food (aka when we ran out of empanadas…that didn’t take long), we were able to relax and enjoy the lunch. I saw lot of the students that I have had in class as well as many people I have met throughout the past four weeks here as well.

When the luncheon was over, Sister Cynthia’s nice Gaby picked me up with her two friends for my next event for the day! We were going with a group that Gaby works with to help teach songs to children in a very very poor neighborhood. They were helping the children prepare for a recital that they will be putting on in September. We got a little bit lost on our way there so I did not get to see all the songs being practiced but I was there for a couple. The kids loved to sing and loved all of the hand motions to go along with the songs. I was even able to learn a little bit of the songs as well, but they were a little bit difficult to learn in Spanish so I mostly stuck to the hand motions. The children loved having us there and showing them love and attention. When we pulled up to the place where all the children were, they ran up to our car and when we opened the door they were reaching to grab our hands and jump on us and hug us. They were all so sweet and I wish we could have had more time with them. However, it was very sad to see the harsh reality they lived in. Outside the fences of the area we were singing there were stray dogs attacking each other, garbage everywhere and a horrible smell of garbage as well (they live right near the garbage dump), and houses that barely gave any protection.  Most of the children were wearing dirty clothes and had dirty faces and when we brought out cookies and snacks for them to eat they were so excited and jumped at them immediately. This community is very violent as well. We all saw it first hand when a man from the community came in in the middle of our song practice and tried starting a fight with a little boy (maybe 10 or 11 years old) because he had been causing trouble outside. Myself, Gaby and some of the other volunteers took some of the very young children around the corner so they didn’t get hurt or have to see the fight. The men that were with us teaching the songs thankfully broke up the fight but it was still very frightening and sad to see a grown man about to fight a little boy. However, despite that little incident, everything else went great and the children loved having us there. It was so much fun playing with them and singing with them, and it ended up being a perfect afternoon. Below are some pictures of us with a couple of the children after song practice.

photo 1 (6)        photo 2 (5)

photo 3 (5)

This morning (Sunday), I went to mass like usual at La Bombilla and helped out with the catechesis classes. It was so much fun as always. I am going to miss those kids when I leave…I have had so much fun with them every Sunday! When we returned the sisters were all working hard to make a delicious goodbye lunch for Sister Liliana who is moving to Buenos Aires tomorrow. She has lived here in Tucuman for 10 years and now thinks that it is time to move on to live and work somewhere else.We had asado for lunch (the traditional Argentinian barbecue) and it was delicious! We had a lot of fun and although the lunch ended with some tears when the sisters gave her a goodbye card, it was overall a great afternoon. Below is a picture of most of the Dominican sisters (some live in the convent that I am staying in and some live in the other Dominican convent in Tucuman) as well as the asado we had for lunch!

photo 1 (5)       photo 2 (4)

This evening, Sister Cynthia was  invited by one of her former students to attend a prayer group that he and some other brothers and priests organized for a poor village near by. This prayer group was held in a public park so anyone could attend that wanted to. It started out by the leader reading the whole group a Bible verse and then we broke into smaller groups to reflect on it and answer some questions to get us thinking more deeply. Although it was a little bit difficult to understand some of the comments and reflections that were made about the reading, I thought that this was a great way for people in this poor community to come and dig deeper into their relationship with God and take some time to think about the Bible. This was a great thing to see happening and I hope that these prayer groups will continue to help improve the lives of the poor in this area.

Tomorrow I go back to teaching (it’s hard to believe it’s already my last week teaching here because the schools go on winter break starting this upcoming Friday!). It’s gone by so fast! This week I will be at Santa Catalina School, Santa Rosa School, La Bombilla, and visiting a few other new places as well! There’s never a dull moment here in Tucuman…I’m sure you’ve realized that already by the amount of things I’ve done these past four weeks! Adios until next time!

Clothes, Close-ups, and Celebrations

What busy, yet amazing past few days it has been! It’s so hard to believe that I’ve already hit the halfway mark, leaving me with only about two and a half more weeks left here in Tucuman. On one hand, it feels like it was just yesterday that I stepped off the airplane into this who new part of the world, but on the other hand I feel like I have been here for months after thinking about all the things I have experienced so far! Anyways, I am yet again here to report to you all of the new and exciting experiences that have happened to be since I wrote to you last. I am now back staying with the Dominican Sisters in the convent after saying a sad goodbye to the Buffo family. They were all incredible hosts and I could not have asked for a more welcoming, friendly and comforting family to be a part of for a week. (Mr. and Mrs. Buffo, if you are reading this, thank you so much again for your generosity and opening your home to me! I am so grateful!)

This past Sunday, my last day at the Buffo house, I went to a special mass with Mrs. Buffo and her oldest daughter Juliana. This mass was called Corpus Chrisi and it happens once a year in Tucuman. The mass was held outside in the City Center of Tucuman. There were thousands of people that came out for this mass and it was incredible to see so many people outside having mass together in one place. Hearing the huge crowd singing and praying together was so amazing. The priests were also holding confession outside during the mass so people could go to confession if they wanted to as well. What was most amazing, however, was what happened after the mass. The city center is basically one big square and after mass they began a huge procession all around the city square and a priest holding the Eucharist in a huge monstrance led the crowd. Once the Eucharist passed where we were standing we all knelt onto the ground and then began to follow the procession. This procession lasted for about 30 minutes and was filled with various prayers, songs and reading of Bible passages (none of which I could understand, however, but it was all incredible to listen to nonetheless). The procession ended with the singing of the Argentinian national anthem. I loved experiencing this because it just showed how central Christ is in the lives of everyone here. I was amazed at the amount of people that were there and how many people were following this procession. I had never seen anything like it and I will always remember how amazing of an experience this was for me. Even though everything was in Spanish, and I couldn’t understand the exact words and prayers and songs, it still was an incredible spiritual experience that I will never forget.

photo 2 (3) photo 1 (4)

On Monday, I woke up and taught at Santa Rosa School. Like usual, the classes went very well and were a lot of fun to teach. On Tuesday, I went with a group of students from Santa Rosa to La Soledad. Each year, they have a clothes drive where all the students bring in old clothes to donate. The class that brings in the most clothes gets to go to La Soledad for the day and have a clothes fair to sell the clothes at cheap prices to the members of the community. When we arrived at La Soledad, me and three other girls walked and visited some of the families in the community to talk with them and remind them about the clothes fair. A lot of the people remembered me from the last time I was at La Soledad so it was so nice to see them again. Some of them came up to me saying some of the English words I taught them! (That made me very happy and proud). We then went back to the Chapel where the clothes drive was being held and after eating lunch we began to set up. It was scheduled to begin at 2:30 but there were already mothers and children waiting there at around 1:15. They were all anxiously looking at all the clothes we were setting out to plan which ones they were going to grab to buy for their family members. There were many times when the women started to drift over to the tables and try to start shopping early but we had to stop them to make it fair for everyone. Finally, by 2:15 there were so many people there waiting we decided just to start it early. Right when we said they can begin, the shoppers literally RAN over to the tables, most of them grabbing anything that looked remotely like something they would want to buy. The shoes that we set out were gone in a matter of minutes and the clothes that we had neatly folded on the tables turned into a pile of clothes thrown everywhere in seconds. I was amazed at both the amount of clothes that these people were taking and the urgency they all were grabbing the clothes with as well. However, then after really thinking about it, I realized that this probably is one of the only opportunities for these families to get clothes each year. Many of them never are able to really leave La Soledad and they just don’t have the money to buy new clothes either. These people are in so much need they are desperate to buy these used clothes for a cheap price while they have the opportunity. Most people left carrying heaps of clothes in their arms that they had just bought for their families. It made me very happy that Santa Rosa does this each year to give these people an opportunity to have new clothes for prices much lower than they would get the clothes elsewhere. Overall, my day at La Soledad was so much fun and I loved being able to bond with all the students there. We had such a good time together and they were all so nice! I also had so much fun with all the children at La Soledad and I look forward to going back there for another mission trip this Friday! (Below are some pictures from the clothes fair)

DSC_0351DSC_0387   DSC_0391 DSC_0355 DSC_0397 DSC_0378DSC_0416 DSC_0358  DSC_0353DSC_0402

Today I went into Santa Rosa to teach just like I would any other day. Usually, like I have said in past posts, I feel like a celebrity when I walk in and have all the students running up to me to say hi and take pictures with me and (for the younger children) ask for my autograph. However, today I ESPECIALLY felt like a celebrity. I walked to where I normally hold all my classes and when no one was there at the scheduled time, I was a little bit confused. Then some students came up to me with a man and a woman who were holding camera equipment. They asked, Maggie are you ready for your interview to be on TV? Ms. Soledad, the head of the English department at Santa Rosa had mentioned something about me being interviewed, but I did not know it would be that day nor did I know I was going to be on TV!! I was beyond surprised, and frankly a little bit nervous…I’ve never been on TV before! I went into a little studio with the camera crew and the students and looked over the questions they were going to ask me on camera. I knew how to answer all the questions…but the thing I was most nervous about was answering them in Spanish! I quickly began to ask them what certain words meant, how to say the past tense of certain verbs I was thinking about using, etc. However, when they noticed how nervous I was to do the interview in Spanish, they said I could answer the questions in English and they would just add Spanish subtitles. The interview went very well! They asked me questions like what my mission is here in Tucuman, what I have thought about my experience so far, and more questions similar to those. I was really excited to share my thoughts about Argentina and tell them about what my goals are during my time here. After that, the camera crew came into one of my classes with a secondary school class and began to film me teaching as well. They said that they are also going to come to some of my primary school classes tomorrow as well so they can get the full spectrum of all the classes I am teaching during my time here. They said that once they finish it all, they will send me the link so I can watch the news story online. I’m not too sure what to expect…I probably will be embarrassed when I watch myself being interviewed, but it has been a fun experience nonetheless. I will also post the link to the interview and news story on here for all of you to watch too!

Today was Sister Cynthia’s birthday, so it was filled with lots of visitors, good food and even better desserts! For lunch today we had a big celebratory lunch and many other nuns who are friends with Sister Cynthia came to eat with us too. We then turned on the Argentina vs. Nigeria soccer game for the World Cup and watched that while eating birthday cake! For dinner two of Sister Cynthia’s nieces came over (Juliana and Gaby) as well as a couple other Sisters as well, and we all ate pizza together in celebration for the birthday as well. I thought that it was overall a great day and I hope Sister Cynthia enjoyed it as well. I felt honored to be included in her birthday celebrations today.

Happy Flag Day!

Happy Argentinian Flag Day everyone! Also, hello from the home-stay house that I have been in since Wednesday night and will be in until Sunday! A lot has happened since I have returned from the mountain…but most importantly, my soreness from the horseback ride is finally diminishing and after being washed many times, my hair does not smell like fire anymore from sitting around the fire so much to keep warm.

So, like I said, hello from my new home-stay house! Since Wednesday evening I have been living with the Buffo family, who also lives in Tucuman. Mrs. Buffo is the sister of Sister Cynthia and also an English teacher at Santa Rosa! She graciously offered to let me stay with her and her family in their home while Sister Cynthia is off traveling and teaching classes in Cordoba, Argentina. I have had such a great time here these past few days and I have loved to be back in a home and family environment. Mr. and Mrs. Buffo also have five children that are currently living at home as well and they all have been very welcoming and gracious hosts. The oldest is Juliana, then Raul, next is Matias, then Joaquin, and the youngest is Trini. They also have another son named Juan Martin who is currently studying in Spain, but I was still able to meet him via Skype. I will be here until Sunday and I don’t think I could be with a more welcoming and nice family. I am so grateful to have been a part of their family during my stay here and I hope to stay in touch with them long after I leave as well. Below is a picture of some of the members of the family after we got ice cream this afternoon. (Not pictured: Raul and Juan Martin)

photo (9)

Anyways, I have been keeping very busy this past week, like always. On Monday, I began teaching at Campus Santa Rosa, which is another location of the same Santa Rosa school that I have been teaching in since I arrived here. Campus Santa Rosa, which is located about 15 minutes outside the city of Tucuman is much newer than the Santa Rosa I go to in the city center, and since it is newer, they only have primary school students and the first year of secondary school. Boys can also attend Campus Santa Rosa so that makes it a little bit different as well. Just like all the other schools I’ve been to, I felt extremely welcomed by all of the teachers and students. I had three classes that morning, all with primary school students. They were all second and third grade students so they could not speak too well in English, although they did know a lot of words. I decided to read them the book “Are you my mother?” by Dr. Seuss, one of my personal childhood favorites. They loved the story and we had a mini discussion about it afterwards. I used a lot of hand motions and stopped many times to help them understand some tricky parts of the story but they overall did very well with the comprehension of the story even though it was entirely English. After we read and went over the story, we had some to have fun and sing some songs in English as well! We first did the hokey pokey, and if we had leftover time we did Old MacDonald and The Wheels on the Bus. The students absolutely LOVED the songs and had so much fun with them.

I had never felt more like a celebrity than I did at the end of that morning. I’m not kidding, after my three classes were over there were at least 20 little primary school children following me around with paper and pens asking for my autograph…They all thought that since I live in the United States, I must be famous. However, unfortunately for them, I live in Ohio and I am not famous, nor do I know any famous people, but it definitely does make me happy to be seen as a star every time I walk into their school.

In the afternoon, I went back to Santa Rosa School in the city center for four more classes with the Primary School Students (totaling to SEVEN classes that day with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders). By the end of the day I was EXHAUSTED to say the least, and my voice was practically gone from all of the singing we did. Every class I had on Monday absolutely loved the songs and I heard them singing them with their friends in the hallways and during recess time even after class had ended. Below are some pictures of me with two of my Santa Rosa primary school classes. The first picture is at Campus Santa Rosa with the 2nd graders and the second picture (where I am nearly being choked to death by the hugs of the little girls) is at Santa Rosa school in the city center with 1st graders.

photo (7)    photo (8)

On Tuesday morning, I met with the director of another school that I will be teaching at during my time here in Tucuman. It is called Santa Catalina School and it is attached the the convent of the Dominican Sisters that I am staying with! (Very convenient location!) The director was so excited to have me working at their school as well and we planed out the days that I will be going there to work with their English classes.

In the afternoons on Tuesday and Wednesday I went back to La Bombilla. I sat in on some of their classes with them on Tuesday and if there was time at the end of the class I would teach them some English words. Then on Wednesday Sister Carolina and I planned a lesson where we had a class discussion about the flags and national symbols of both of our countries. I explained many things to them like our flag, what the bald eagle represents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our National Anthem. They, in turn, explained the major symbols of their country to me as well. After that, I taught two classes of English to the 6th grade students. This was one of the most difficult things I have had to do throughout my entire time here. It was very tough because the students would pay attention and participate for a short period of time but then would drift off and begin leaving class, fighting with other students, playing music on their phones, or other distracting things. They did want to learn and they did write down all the words that I was writing on the board and teaching to them, however they just did not know how to behave properly in class, which made it very hard to keep them focused and practicing the words. By the end of the two classes, I did teach them the basics and when I could get them focused they did a good job understanding, which was really great to see. By the end of the day many students were even coming up to me saying ‘good afternoon’ and ‘how are you?’, which made me very happy.

Both of these times at La Bombilla, like usual, it was very difficult to see how violent these students are towards each other and how disrespectful they can be to their teachers. The teachers all work so hard to mold them into moral and hardworking students; however without the support of their parents and the environment that they go home to everyday when school lets out makes it really difficult for the students to change. They grow up seeing how their parents, older siblings, and peers act towards each other and they don’t know that there is any other way to act. Most of the people in La Bombilla, including some parents, have never even left that community–they have no idea how much more to life there can be if they work hard, try hard and become the best person they can be. Even though many people say how horrible La Bombilla is and how dangerous, dirty and violent it is, I love going there so spend time with the children. They just all have such big hearts and I rally enjoy just making them happy and feel loved while teaching them English as well.

On Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon I started teaching at Santa Catalina. It is an all girls Dominican School and just like at Santa Rosa, it is Secondary School classes in the morning and Primary School Classes in the Afternoon. I first taught two 80 minute classes for the older girls and taught them the same kinds of things I do with the secondary school girls at Santa Rosa (School Systems in the USA, Thanksgiving and other Holidays). The girls were so into the conversation and asked so many questions about my life in the United States and how we do things. I always love when the students enjoy asking questions and participating because it makes the class so much more fun and they get to learn about the things that they are interested in. The younger children (1st grade) first wanted to show me what they had been learning in English class. They were learning how to describe classroom objects (ex. big, blue book or small yellow pencil). They were so proud of the words they were learning and so excited to share them with me. They were even more excited to do the hokey pokey afterwards. My classes at Santa Catalina have gone great so far and I look forward to having more in the future. Below is a picture of me with some of the older girls after one of my first classes at Santa Catalina.

photo (6)

 

So like I said in the beginning, today in Argentina is Flag Day!!! (aka no school and no work!) Yesterday, most schools had ceremonies for flag day either during the day or after school. Here in Argentina, it is traditional for the fourth grade to participate in this ceremony to make a promise or pledge to their country and flag. Today, I went somewhere called Hogar Eva Peron for little boys who are orphans or their parents are not able to take care of them. I went with Luciana, one of the students from Santa Rosa that I went on the retreat with, and about 15 other volunteers who go and spend time with these children every Friday. Today we colored pictures that had to do with the Argentinian flag and Flag Day with the children. Afterwards we went and played outside with the little boys. They would not stop hanging on us, hugging us and holding out hands. You can tell how much they truly love the volunteers who go each week and how much they mean to each of those boys. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to post any of the pictures on here of me and the children because their pictures are not allowed to be shown in public but I just had the most amazing time with them today and had so much fun with each of them. Even though it was only my first time at Hogar Eva Peron, by the time I left I felt like I had known those little boys for years. Today was definitely one of the best Flag Days I’ve ever had.

 

Living on top of the world: My week in the mountains

I went into this week very unsure about many things:
1) If I would survive an 8 hour horseback ride through various terrains including mountains, rocks, rivers, mud, forests, etc
2) How I would last almost a week without ANY communication with the outside world
3) How I would be able to handle the extremely cold mountain weather without any heat or running hot water
4) Lastly, I had no idea of how much of an impact the lives of these people would make on me and how I would leave having a brand new outlook on the world around me

So I’ll begin with the horseback ride. Since we were traveling into a community that is tucked deep and high up into the mountains, the only way to get there is by horseback. So early on Tuesday morning we drove about an hour away to a place called Siambón, where our horses were waiting for us. Sister Cynthia, one of the La Soledad leaders Rossana, a man named Marsalis and I packed our small bags onto the horses backs and from there we were off. The entire ride was extremely breathtaking. There were mountains on every side of us, we crossed rivers and saw huge fields of beautiful grasses and hills. I thought I would get bored sitting on a horse’s back for 8 hours, but I couldn’t take my eyes (or camera) off the scenery around me.

DSC_0318     DSC_0023 DSC_0997 photo (5)
After about four hours or so we made it to a very very small community. When I say small I mean SMALL (like 4 families). They were very welcoming and they brought us in to rest and we took out the lunch that we brought to share with them.Their little community was just so tranquil and quiet with the most beautiful view. I was so surprised at how they live with so few people and so far from stores, streets, cars and civilization. After taking about an hour break we got back on our horses to finish the rest of our trek.
We rode for a few more hours and would stop whenever one of us had to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. When I thought we were almost there, Sister Cynthia told our group, okay it’s time to start the climb, we’re about 2 hours away! At that point I was in a lot of pain…let me tell ya, sitting on a horse is only comfortable for the first maybe half hour…for me it got more and more painful with the minute. But there was nothing I could do at that point but just keep moving forward, so up we went. The higher we got, the colder it got as well but the view just kept getting better and better. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. None of the pictures I took really do it justice, it was just breathtaking.

Finally we started to see little clusters of houses and people. I kept thinking we had arrived but nope..we weren’t there yet (at that point my legs were on fire and I was unsure I would ever be able to walk again) but again, I had no option but to keep moving. We finally made it to the school that we were staying at and we were immediately greeted by some of the other teachers and some people who live nearby. Exhausted, we all went inside, put our things in our rooms and sat down for some tea and bread as they made us dinner. (For them it is traditional to have tea or mate and bread every day during breakfast, merienda, and usually any time a guest comes to a house…I have never eaten more bread than I did this week. I’m definitely going to need to start a diet when I get home). Overall, our first night was very nice and everyone seemed so excited to have us there to visit.

There are about 20 families that are considered a part of this community up in the mountains but they all live very far away from the school and from each other. Most children walk about an hour or two to school every day, others ride horses, and others have to live in the bedrooms in the school because their walk to school is about 3 or 4 hours. The teachers also live at the school because they all live down in the city, so they live and teach at school for 3 weeks and then they go home and spend a week in the city with their families. The reason they do this is because it’s just so far that it would be pointless to do the 8 hour ride at the beginning of each week, which is why they stay for longer periods of time. The teachers who live at the school work so hard; they teach Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and then cook for and take care of the children who live there as well. I give a lot of credit to those teachers because they could just stay down in the city and teach there but they come all the way up to the mountains to take care of and give an education to the students up there who need it.
Since they are so far away from everything the only form of electricity they have is from solar panels that some houses and the school have installed, but they don’t always work. Therefore, a lot of time they have to go without electricity and hot water. There is only one family with a TV in the community and there is no cell phone service, internet, stoves, refrigerators, etc. I was so amazed that there were people who actually live this way! In the United States I’m used to always having a warm shower, having someone come and fix the electricity the second it goes out, and heating up food in the microwave whenever I need to. These people have such a different way of life; each kitchen has a little fireplace where they heat up water to make tea, coffee, use warm water to shower, etc. They cook everything over the fire as well: meat, soup, pasta, bread, you name it, it’s cooked over the fire. It was just such a different way of living and I was amazed at how they make everything work. To be honest, when I first got there I was extremely nervous that I wouldn’t be able to last the whole time living this way because I’m so used to a whole different lifestyle..but again, I was there and there was nothing I could do about it then! (Below are some pictures of some of the kitchens that we saw in the mountains).
DSC_0151 DSC_0338 DSC_0205Below are some pictures of some of the houses that we saw up in the mountains. Most are made out of adobe bricks and paja (which is similar to straw) for the roof. Each house also has a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and before we would leave every house, we would all come together and pray. This shows truly how central God is in each of these families lives, even though they may not have access to weekly mass or prayer services. The houses were very sturdy and most families had a kitchen (room with fire pit/fire place to cook food), bedroom(s), room to hang meat and store food, and various other types of rooms as well).

DSC_0230    DSC_0146DSC_0272 DSC_0255    DSC_0199  DSC_1177DSC_1179  DSC_1168

My first full day there, (Wednesday) I woke up to a lot of children’s voices outside my room. Since we were staying in the school I figured school had begun. After getting up, getting dressed and eating breakfast it was time to teach my first English class in the mountains! There are about 50 students enrolled in the school (the school is for children from kindergarten until 15 years old) but there were only about 15 students in my class. A lot of children just don’t go to school if their parents need help with work around the house or if the boys need to go hunting with their dads. So the amount of students in class each day always varies. The other teachers told me that they were so grateful I was there because the English teacher has been out for two months because she was ill. I went into the class thinking that since they had an English teacher at one time they would at least know a little bit…but I was wrong. I asked if anyone knew how to say ‘hola’ in English and no one responded…so I started from the beginning. The first day I taught them numbers 1-10 and basic getting to know you phrases, similar to the ones I taught at La Soledad, (hello, how are you?, I am fine, and you?, What is your name? My name is,  how old are you?, etc…). It was tough for them to grasp these words and pronounce them at first because they really had never even heard anyone speak English before. However, by the end of the class they were doing a good job and when I saw them around for the rest of the day they loved to say ‘hello!’ And ‘how are you?!’. My first class with them was overall successful and even the teachers were in the back taking notes and participating in the class as well.

DSC_1091 DSC_0037
After my English class was over, Sister Cynthia, Rossana, Marsalis and I left to go visit houses and begin to interview people for the documentary that Sister Cynthia is making. The documentary features the elders in the community and about how they preserve the tradition of the indigenous people and use the herbs for medicinal purposes. Visiting these houses was such an amazing experience because we were able to see how these people actually live on a normal day. After walking for about an hour and a half through hills and valleys, we walked into where the first family lives and my face turned the color of a ghost… I was immediately shocked by how much of the real experience I was actually getting: there were 4 men killing a cow and they then proceeded to skin it, open it up and cut it up for future eating. After my face returned to a normal color and I made sure I wasn’t going to get sick, I went a little bit closer and took some pictures (for all of my viewer’s sake I won’t post the pictures on here, if you are brave and would like to see them please contact me individually). I then walked in further and met the woman they were going to interview, two of her older daughters who must have been in their 20’s or 30’s, and one of her granddaughters who was too young to go to school. The family was so welcoming and invited us in for mate, bread and water. The rooms were all made out of adobe bricks and the little granddaughter named Tamara showed me around to every room, the kitchen, bed rooms, and various other places they hang their meat, eat their meals, etc. It was so interesting to see how they live because it looks so very different from how a person would live in Tucuman or in the United States. It kind of felt like I was living back in the olden days because they had no electricity or technology. However, they got along just fine and served us a delicious lunch. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between that food which was cooked over a fire and the food that is cooked on a stove or in an oven in Tucuman. I had an absolutely wonderful experience my first day  and I loved getting to know all of the people, seeing how they lived and everyone was so incredibly welcoming that they made it very enjoyable.

After walking about an hour and a half again back to the school, we were excited to take a warm shower because it was sunny all day, which means the solar panels could heat the water. However, unfortunately there was some sort of technical difficulty so, you guessed it, cold showers!!! Usually a cold shower wouldn’t be too bad except for the fact that we were way up in the mountains where your fingers and toes are constantly freezing and you have to be wearing multiple layers of clothes at all times…so a cold shower is not really an option unless you want to catch pneumonia. The next best option was to heat up water over the fire and use that warm water for the shower instead. It was not ideal but better than nothing. That night a doctor arrived who comes up to the mountain twice a month to help people here who are ill. He was very nice and it was interesting to hear about his many experiences up in the mountains. I asked him what the people do if they are sick during a time when he is not here and he said that for absolute emergencies they can radio to the city and they can send a helicopter to pick up someone who needs it. However, sometimes the helicopter is unavailable and people have to carry the sick person down the mountain (about an 8 hour walk) to be helped. However, over the summer when it rains a lot, the river gets very very high and extremely dangerous to cross, so sometimes it’s not even possible to walk down to get help.

On my second full day (Thursday) I again woke up to the sounds of the students voices and after getting dressed and eating breakfast I began my second English class. We began with a review of the numbers and the ‘getting to know you’ phrases from the previous day. They did a good job remembering these but definitely needed refreshing on the pronunciations of the words. I then taught them numbers 11-20, phrases like good morning, good afternoon, and good night, family vocabulary words, and colors. They again did a good job with these and we ended the class with them being able to say things like “good afternoon brother”, “how are you grandmother?”, and “what is your name, friend?”. However after two hours of learning English that day instead of one hour like the previous day, they were starting to get very antsy.

That day at school was a little bit different than most days because the school was having a special event called “Jornadas, familia, escuela, y communidad”, where the parents of the children were invited to come in for lunch with their children as well as a workshop/meeting to follow. The older children’s workshop was about respecting their bodies and sexual relationships, while the younger students workshop was about oral traditions within their community. Both workshops were very nice and very important for both the students and parents to understand. They showed the significance of applying all that they talked about in the workshops into their daily life.

DSC_0084   DSC_0054 DSC_0087   DSC_0059
It was also the first day of the World Cup, which is a huge deal here in Argentina, just like it is all over the world. Since we were in a place that only has one TV in the whole community, the person brought their Direct TV to the school and all the students and families gathered around to watch the opening ceremony and the beginning of the first game. All of the students were very excited for this because they never get to watch TV and ‘football’ is very popular in South America. The teachers served all the students tea and bread while they watched before it was time to go home.

DSC_0110            DSC_0113

The next morning (Friday) I taught my third and final English lesson to the children before they left to go home for the weekend. When they would see me around during the day outside of class they would always ask me the names of animals so I decided I should probably just teach them all the names of animals. They had fun learning these names and we ended the class with an overall review of all of the things we learned throughout our three classes. It was sad saying goodbye to the students when I had to leave but I made sure to tell them to keep practicing their English and to keep building off of what they had just learned from me. Below is a group picture of me and a few of the students after our last class, a picture of the students lined up before being dismissed from school, as well as me with some of the students who live at the school and another one of the teachers.

DSC_0141

DSC_0121

DSC_0131

After my last English class, we departed to do more interviews of the elders in the community. Again we walked for about an hour to the furthest house and then worked our way back to other houses as well. However, the weather on Friday was less than ideal; it was freezing, cloudy and raining off and on all day. But that didn’t stop us…we still went to many different houses and were able to get fantastic interviews. One of the women even sang us some traditional songs of the indigenous people that they call “coplas”, which is played with a drum. Seeing this 88 year old woman play this song was one of the most interesting and amazing things I have ever seen. She had seen and experienced so much in her life and I loved being able to witness her playing a song that is so traditional to their culture. Below is a picture of her playing the songs as well as other pictures from the many interviews that we had throughout the week.

DSC_0179  DSC_0198DSC_1159DSC_0019  DSC_1170 DSC_1183 DSC_0017 DSC_1118 DSC_0289  DSC_0305DSC_0265 DSC_1042 DSC_0303DSC_0203

When we finally escaped the rain and cold, we took “showers” with water boiled over the fire. It was nice to finally be warm and dry. Since it was our last night sleeping at the school, we made empanadas for dinner! I was so excited to learn how to make them so hopefully I can make some for my family when I get home (if I remember how to make them correctly). We first made the dough, then cut up the beef, egg, and vegetables into small pieces and cooked it, then we put the dough into little balls to prepare it to be rolled flat, then we filled the empanadas before putting them over the fire to be cooked. They turned out delicious…empanadas are definitely my favorite food that I’ve had here so far!

DSC_0210

When the doctor was on the mountain he went to visit one man that was having a serious intestinal illness. He looked at him and decided that he needed to be taken to a hospital by helicopter. The doctor called the hospital on the radio and they said they would be there to get him the next day. On Saturday morning, we woke up and rode on horseback about a half hour to get to the house that the helicopter was going to. When we arrived there were tons of people there preparing to having the helicopter come pick the man up. They had flags set up, they cleared the ground for the helicopter to land and many extended family and friends had come for support. Seeing this made me happy that the man was getting help, but also sad that it was so difficult for someone to be taken to a hospital if they needed it. I wish that there was a more steady way that these people could get help when they need it. However, I did learn a lot about the medicinal herbs that they use when they have sicknesses, which sometimes may even help more than a hospital! Below are pictures of the man going into the helicopter.

DSC_0235 DSC_0245 Afterwards, we stopped by a family’s new house and Sister Cynthia said a blessing for new houses and sprinkled Holy Water all around the house. Afterwards we began our trip back down the mountain. As we left on our horses with all of the things we packed, we looked behind us to see a bunch of little children running out of their house to yell “Hello!” and “Goodbye!”. It made me happy that even though I was only teaching the older kids English, the little ones got a little something out of my lessons as well. Hearing the children yell those English words as we were leaving really did solidify the fact that coming all the way up to the mountain was worth it. It was definitely a good way to end the trip.

We decided to do the first half of the trip on Saturday and the second half of the trip on Sunday so that we could get home earlier on Sunday. On Saturday night we slept at the house that we stopped at for lunch during our trip up the mountain. They were again very welcoming and the next day we were able to wake up early and begin the rest of our trip. The way down the mountain was MUCH scarier than the way up. I honestly was afraid for my life for a little bit of the way. It was very steep going downhill with our horses sliding on rocks and mud. At one point, when we were surrounded by forrest on either side of us, a cow started running along side us in the trees because we must have scared it. The cow’s running must have spooked my house, which then started running as well, slipping on the rocks beneath it. Thankfully it was only running for a very short time and nothing bad happened. Anyways, we made it back safely, which is how I am able to tell you about my amazing experience now!

Overall, I can’t describe how amazing of a trip this was to the mountains. Hearing the interviews for the documentary helped to show me how truly special and unique these traditions are. They live such a simple life in our eyes but there are years and years of history is behind every single thing they do; how they cook, the things they craft, the herbs that they use–everything has been passed down from their ancestors. Many people who are used to living with technology and the fast-pace modern life may not understand why these people don’t just move down into the city with everyone else…but they do not want to move down to the city with everyone else. They want to preserve the traditions and land that their families have had for many, many years. Being invited and welcomed into these people’s houses was such a special experience that I will never forget. Also, I hope that teaching English to some of the children gave them a base from which to expand their knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world. I will always be grateful for this amazing week and I will never forget all the incredible things that I had the opportunity to see.

Off to the mountains!!

On my second Sunday in Tucuman, I was excited to wake up yesterday and go back to the same church that I had attended last Sunday to go to mass with the children in La Bombilla. This is the community with a lot of violence, danger, drug influence and extremely poor families. In addition to being here last Sunday, I was also here last week with Sister Carolina to go to the school and teach English. When I got out of the car and walked into mass a lot of the children remembered me and ran straight up to me to say hello. I was so excited to go and see these children again because although they grow up in such difficult situations and are surrounded by fighting and violence, they truly do have such big hearts. I believe that us being there for them, showing them hope and care makes a large difference. Although it’s still very difficult to follow what the priest is saying at mass, I’m starting to pick up on some of the Spanish responses and the songs are beginning to be familiar. I’m always excited when it gets to the Our Father because thats the one prayer I know in Spanish which means I can actually participate in the mass a little bit.

After mass, we held the catechesis classes like usual. This week I visited all the classes but mostly stayed with the youngest group. Since they are still too young to keep up with the older children’s classes, I helped them color different pictures of the Trinity. They always have such a good time talking to me and learning new English words with me because they really don’t have any other opportunity to learn English besides when I’m there. I look forward to seeing all of them the next time I am working with them at their school and on Sundays…they truly are such blessings to work with.

photo 3 (3)

 

When I retuned from mass and catechesis classes, Sister Cynthia and I went to her brother’s house for a traditional Argentinian lunch. All of my students in my classes have been telling me I need to try Asado while I’m here, which is their typical Sunday barbecue meal that they cook outside. I was excited to finally have the opportunity to try it and find out what all the hype was about. Sister Cynthia’s brother has four children and the oldest was my age named Gaby. Gaby spoke English very well and it was so nice to get to know her. The family was so welcoming it was nice to be back in a family atmosphere, similar to one of my family dinners at home. The Asado was an assortment of beef and pork cooked on the barbecue outside and it was delicious! (Below is a picture)They served it with some peppers and onions, salad, and a potato dish. Since lunch is the main meal in Argentina, there’s always a TON of food and with their generous portions I’m never left hungry.

photo 5 (1)

Here in Argentina, no one eats dinner until EARLIEST 9 pm…usually people eat closer to 10 or 11, which is very different than in the United States. It was kind of weird getting used to it at first, but after a week, my eating habits have conformed to the Argentinian way of life. To hold everyone over from lunch to the very late dinner, it is traditional to have tea time or “Merienda” around 6 or 7 pm. At merienda everyone usually drinks tea, coffee, or the traditional ‘mate’ and eats a light snack of bread, cookies or crackers with an assortment of cheeses and jams. We went to have merienda with Sister Cynthia’s brother and his family at a place that overlooks a beautiful view of Tucuman. Gaby then invited me to hang out with her and go to her church where she sings and plays guitar every Sunday. Although I had already gone to mass that morning I agreed because I figure I’m only here for six weeks so I might as well take advantage of all the opportunities to see new places and meet new people. It was a really fun evening with Gaby and all of her friends were so nice. However it was nice to return back to my room last night after an extremely long day and a very busy week.

After doing one thing after another and going from place to place non-stop for the past ten days, it was nice to finally have my first day off to relax! This morning I was able to sleep in, do my laundry, look at some of the other Smith Fellow’s blogs and find out what they’re all up to, read, and most importantly pack for my upcoming 6 day trip to the mountains! From tomorrow (Tuesday) until Sunday, Sister Cynthia, me, and two others will be working in an indigenous village way up in the mountains. I don’t know too much about the indigenous people but they have been living there for hundreds of years. They have no lights, wifi, and the nearest place to get cell phone reception is a two hour trip up to the peak of the mountain. Volunteers and priests rarely ever make it to their community because it is pretty difficult to get to. The only way to get there is an 8 hour ride on horseback. So around 7 o’clock tomorrow morning, we are driving about an hour to where our horses will be, and horseback riding all the way up the mountain to their village… (AHH!)

I do not have much experience with horses or mountains so this will definitely be a new experience for me. However, all the people here that I have talked to about the trip to the mountains has only had good things to say. They all say it is a beautiful and breath-taking trip as well as a life-changing experience. I look forward to learning about the culture of these indigenous people and about all of their history. Sister Cynthia is working on a documentary about them and I am excited to help her out with that while we are there. I am also excited to get to know all the children and students in the village and teach them English. I packed the warmest clothes I brought to Argentina, (hats, gloves, jackets, sweatshirts, flannels, leggings, sweatpants the whole nine yards). Because it is such a high altitude, everyone says that it’s very cold, but then when the sun is out it gets quite hot.

Because I will be away from internet connection, cell phone reception and wifi I unfortunately won’t be able to do any blog posts from now until Sunday. But I am hoping that this time away from the technology and the rapid pace of every day life will be a good time to reflect and really just live in the moment with all the people we will be working with. Although I am very nervous, I am so excited for this brand new experience and for this time to appreciate the blessings in the world around me and challenge myself to move once again out of my comfort zone and expand my horizons. I look forward to updating you all on this exciting experience when I return!

Solidarity in La Soledad

Today I returned from my mission trip in a rural community called La Soledad with three other volunteers. I left knowing really nothing about the community nor what I would be doing or the people I would be working with… so I was a bit nervous, but the experience ended up being amazing. After driving for about an hour and a half, I looked out the window to see us driving on a dirt road into an area with a vast amount of land and many farms. We passed by small clusters of tiny homes but everything was very spread out. We pulled into the little chapel in La Soledad with a little bedroom, bathroom and kitchen attached, which is where we would be spending the night. Once we cleaned the rooms a bit, chased out the three frogs that were in the kitchen, and got settled in, we left to go and begin our visits to some families in the area.

DSC_0968

There are around 40 families that are a part of La Soledad and about twice a month, a group of about twenty to thirty volunteers go and visit with the families, hold catechesis classes, holiday celebrations, and different activities for the children in the area. The volunteers are usually students who attend or went to Colegio Santa Rosa where I teach during the week, as well as anyone around Tucuman who wants to participate and help out. This time, however, it was only me and three other volunteers so there weren’t nearly as many volunteers as usual. We walked along a dirt road for about 30 minutes to get to the furthest house and work our way back towards where we were staying. The houses that these people lived in showed how extremely poor these families were. They were all very run down houses, many made out of tarp, metal and sticks. It broke my heart that these were the conditions that people actually had to live in, especially when it is moving into the coldest months of the year here in Argentina. When I was there I could not stop thinking about the fact that I would be leaving their community tomorrow, going back to my room to take a hot shower, eat a warm filling meal and sleep in a comfortable bed; these people can not just leave whenever they want like I can. However, despite the impoverished and bad conditions that they were living in, they were all so incredibly happy and grateful for us to be there. Each person I met was happy to meet me and the children immediately grabbed onto my hands and jumped on my back wanting to go and play. All of the children had so much happiness, energy, and such big hearts. They may not have had many material things and possessions, but they had more happiness than most children I have ever seen, which in the end is truly what gives a person a fulfilling life.

DSC_0889  DSC_0926DSC_0921 DSC_0915

We visited about ten families in total and all of them were so happy to see us, just as we were to see them. Although all the other volunteers knew these families very well already it was so nice for me to meet them all and get to know them a little bit, especially because I will be returning to La Soledad for another mission trip in a couple weeks. One of the women at the houses that we visited had just lost her mother about a week ago and was extremely sad and grieving. It was really nice to be there for her and comfort her in her time of loss and need. Overall, it was a great experience being welcomed into the homes of many different families in La Soledad and getting to know many children and people in the community.

When we returned, we planned a lesson for the catechesis class in the morning, ate dinner, and watched a movie before going to sleep. In the morning, it was very cold when we woke up…when it is cold out not many people here leave their houses; therefore, no students made the walk to be at catechesis class when it began at 10 am. However around 10:30 there were about 5 students who showed up. Since there were not very many, I did a little English lesson with them until more students showed up for catechesis. They were so excited to learn and wanted to be able to speak English so badly. They basically only knew numbers in English so we started with the basics. We went over basic ‘getting to know you’ questions and phrases such as “Hello, my name is ____. What is your name?”, “I am ____ years old. How old are you?” and other phrases similar to those. More students showed up for Catechesis so the other volunteers held the catechesis class while I taught english to some of the students in another room. More and more students began trickling in as the lesson continued. Even the mother of some of the students came in because she wanted to learn English as well. We went over basic vocabulary words, numbers and colors also. At the end, I wrote down all of the things we learned on pieces of paper for each student and the mother so they could go home and practice on their own. By the end of the lesson they could pronounce the words all pretty well and they understood what they all meant. They were so excited to practice with their friends once they were done as well and I heard them excitedly speaking all their newly learned english words to the other students around.

DSC_0939_2 DSC_0953

After my trip to La Soledad I felt really happy because I could tell that those children and the mother wanted to learn English so bad, and they finally had the opportunity to learn a little bit. Just during the two hours or so that we were working together, they tried so hard to learn all that they could. It makes me so sad that they have such minimal resources at the school that they attend that they can’t learn much English, but I hope that what they learned from me today made a difference for them. I am excited to go back to La Soledad in a couple weeks and see how much they have improved after some time to practice, and to keep teaching them more to build off of where we left off from today. This is truly what I came to Argentina for; to give others hope that they can have a bright future if they work hard and receive an education. My trip to La Soledad helped me to realize that even though children may grow up in a place that seems like they have nothing and they are in a horrible living situation, if they are given just a little hope and motivation, they will take that and run with it. I hope that throughout the next five weeks I am here, I can give that to everyone I encounter.

DSC_0965 DSC_0957

Retreating and reflecting

So I’ve officially been in Tucuman for one week now! I have done so many wonderful things here since I’ve arrived and I am so excited to continue to go to new places and continue teaching at the schools I’ve been to already. Every day I’ve been here has been packed with a pretty full schedule; that’s why it was nice to take a step back from being at the front of a classroom and spend a day and a half away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and help out on a retreat with a group of students from Colegio Santa Rosa. The girls on the retreat were all about 16 years old and the retreat house we went to was about an hour and a half away, overlooking the beautiful mountains. It was such a calm and secluded location, which was a great environment for the students to be able to pray and reflect. The girls were all so welcoming and so excited to have me on their retreat with them. Right from the start, I would begin talking to one of the students and within seconds 10 more girls would start to swarm around to hear what I had to say. They were all so excited to hear about the culture I live in, just as I am excited to hear about theirs. Below are pictures of the group of us who were on the retreat and the site of the retreat house.

DSC_0882 DSC_0831

The theme of their retreat this year was “transformation”, which I thought was a great theme to have, especially for girls their age. There are a lot of transformations that occur during high school and it is important for the girls to realize how the transformations that Jesus portrays in the Bible can be parallel to their own lives. We began the retreat by having the girls watch the movie Brother Bear. Although it is a children’s Disney movie, it is filled with a lot of symbolism, showing how transformations occur in life. The girls did a lot of reflecting and praying and we had many discussions about their thoughts both on the movie and Bible verses that show transformation. Although it was difficult for me to understand a lot of the detail that was being said in the discussions, I always understood the overall ideas that they were expressing. All of the girls liked to practice their English with me here and there (I also enjoyed when they practiced their English with me because that gave me a little break from Spanish), but one of the students named Luciana was especially good at English. It was really nice talking to her and she helped me out sometimes during different activities if I didn’t fully understand the directions because of the language barrier. Below is a picture of me and some of the other students reflecting in the little chapel at the retreat center.

DSC_0857

After we ate dinner we all went outside to have a bonfire and sing songs. It was a very nice way to end the night. (Picture below). Again, most of the songs were in Spanish but I enjoyed just listening. The next morning, everyone had the opportunity to go to confession. I asked the priest if it would be okay if I confessed my sins in English, but he told me I should try it out in Spanish, so I did. Surprisingly I ended up being able to do the entire thing in Spanish…So I’ve officially had my first confession in Spanish! I was very impressed with myself after but I definitely made some grammar mistakes. We then went to mass with Padre Pedro (the same priest who says mass in the very poor community that I went to with the children before their catechesis classes this past Sunday), which was very nice. I also met a Friar who also lives in Tucuman and teaches at the Dominican University here. It was very interesting to talk to him about Providence College and the Friars that we have at school. (Picture Below).

DSC_0863     DSC_0833

The retreat ended with an activity where each person in the group sits in the middle of a circle and everyone decides on a word to describe the kind of person they are or a word that describes their life in general. It was such a nice way to end the retreat because all the girls were able to hear nice things about themselves from their peers and say nice things about their peers as well. The word that the group picked for me was “servicio” or service.

DSC_0870

Overall, I was so happy that I went on this retreat with this amazing group of girls. I hope I added to their experience and gave them things to think about to deepen their experience with God. I look forward to seeing them all when I’m back at Santa Rosa tomorrow morning to teach. I thought this retreat was also a great opportunity for me to step back and soak in all of the things that I have experienced so far in Tucuman. I have done so many amazing things already so this was a chance for me to really appreciate all of the different people I’ve met and things I’ve seen. I need to remember to stop and soak in all that I am doing more often. It happens too much that we move so quickly from one day to the next that we take for granted all of the amazing adventures we have. This retreat was an opportunity for me to thank God for all that I’ve been blessed to experience so far on this trip. Tomorrow afternoon I am leaving again for another overnight trip to La Soledad with four other volunteers. I’m not really sure what to expect but I am excited for the new experience! Adios!