Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meaningful Life Events III

This is the third and final post showcasing narrative essays by students in our Pilot class at the Loyola Intensive English Program. Pilot students are preparing for full academic admission to Loyola University New Orleans by taking two credit-bearing intensive English courses and two other academic courses at Loyola.

Ashley Rivera of Puerto Rico
Our Pilot students were recently assigned an essay that required them to reflect deeply about a life event. They were asked not only to narrate this event but also to probe its meaning. Like the essays by Miguel and by Meng in our two previous posts, this third essay by Ashley Rivera of Puerto Rico admirably delves into the meaning of a life experience.

Ashley has not yet chosen a major but is enjoying exploring different fields through her courses at Loyola. She likes the sciences, particularly biology. She is also an accomplished athlete, especially excelling at track.

Ashley has chosen to write about her experience helping to teach and to build a school for poor but eager children in Honduras. Ashley's experience in Honduras is marked by contrasts, which she highlights beautifully - contrasts between the poverty of the children and their overflowing joy, between their scant resources and their thirst to learn, between the physical difficulties of their lives and their enthusiasm at play.  Most especially, Ashley notes the contrast between her fortunate circumstances in Puerto Rico and the far less fortunate circumstances of those she has come to serve in Honduras. Here is Ashley's expressive and moving essay.

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Helping in Honduras
By Ashley Rivera

I had wanted to travel outside my country for a long time. Finally the opportunity was presented, as I got the chance to teach English in Honduras. In the summer of 2011, I traveled to a country totally unlike my own.

I excitedly stepped off the plane at San Pedro Sula. The airport had no air-conditioning. The first faces to greet me were a large group of young children screaming. The young children were anxiously waiting our arrival, holding up signs. After children greeted us we got on a large yellow school bus with ripped cloth seats. The minute the bus started, Spanish music blared from the speakers and the hot air lashed at our faces. The kids stuck their heads out the window, taking in all the scenery.

Staring out the window I saw poverty all around. I saw kids walking down the street with no shoes, and houses made out of wood and cardboard. I also saw tall mountains all around. When we arrived at the school where we were going to teach, the kids that greeted us were clearly unhealthy. Their stomachs were bloated, arms and legs were very thin and their skin was flaky.  They had torn clothing and they smelled as if they hadn’t showered in days. But one thing that stood out to me was their big smiles.

The children wanted to teach us new games so we could play with them. The game that they most enjoyed was hide and seek. They would want to play this for hours and never seemed to get tired. I was amazed how much energy these kids possessed. While teaching them English, I noticed how, despite their situation, the kids were very happy. The kids really wanted to learn, and behaved well in class. We taught them numbers and shapes. We also shared with them happy songs. The song that they learned the quickest was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I can still remember the first time we taught them this song, they were really interested in learning it. Learning the song for them was like getting the coolest toy ever. They were really excited and hyper.

When we left the kids to go back to our hotel, we felt guilty because our hotel was so nice and they had so little. My hotel room had two air conditioners and a huge bathtub. I knew the kids wouldn’t have any of this at their homes. Their homes did not even have a bed; they would all sleep in the floor. The next day, we all got dressed quickly, excited to see the kids again. This continued for a week, each day increasing the children’s happiness.

Not only did we teach the kids but we also helped build them a school. We would mix concrete by hand and carry it in buckets to lay a foundation for the school. By the end of the day all our clothes would be covered in concrete and our hands covered in blisters. It was very hard work, but it felt good knowing the kids would have a nice place to learn. Meeting workers who, without the job of building schools, would have fallen victims to the rough streets of Honduras made the job even more valuable. The workers would share stories with us of their childhood in Honduras and how poor their school was. The workers dressed in bedazzling outfits. Their clothing was covered in glitter; it looked as if they were wearing costumes. I found it funny that the workers always smelled good. They smelled like an AX commercial. On the last day of my trip we finished building this school. It was so rewarding seeing the children sitting in their new desks. It made all the backbreaking work worth it.

The classrooms were bright green and orange. To keep the kids cool we put bars over the windows because there was no air-conditioning. The school was only four classrooms. Most of the schools around there were like that. The younger kids would go to school in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. I found it interesting that the school had no set times for when the kids should be dismissed.

After each day of work we would play soccer with the kids. Soccer is a very important part of the kids’ lives because it is very popular in Honduras. This made me feel closer to the community. The kids I taught were 15-20 years old. I taught the older kids because I am fluent in Spanish. I am from Puerto Rico so my first language is Spanish. I felt connected with the kids because their first language was also Spanish. The kids picked up on the vocabulary very quickly but had trouble with the pronunciation. The classes lasted two hours and I taught 12 kids. Though I taught the older kids, outside the classroom I played with the younger kids more.

One day I made lunch with the women in the local village. The local village is where the school is. For lunch we made Baleadas, which are tortillas with egg, avocado, and beans. They were really good and I made them when I got home. The soda impressed me because it had no corn syrup, and the soda in Puerto Rico does. I really loved the soda. The Hondurans would play Reggeaton all the time, which made me think of home.

At the end of the week we went to the beach with the kids. The beach reminded me of home because it had white sand just like Puerto Rico. We rode a boat in the water and taught the kids how to kneeboard. I knew they would never forget this day. They had the time of their lives in the beach located in the Caribbean Sea.

As I walked back into the San Pedro Sula airport after my full week, I thought about all I had learned. I appreciated everything more, and was grateful for the life I had back home. I felt thankful for the opportunity I had been given and couldn’t wait to go back. It was very fulfilling to know I made a difference in the life of children.

I can’t wait to go back to San Pedro Sula. I know the children I taught miss me a lot as well as I miss them. The hardest part I went through in San Pedro Sula was saying goodbye to the young kids. They cried a lot and a young boy wouldn’t let me go. This made it very hard for me and I will never forget it. This experience changed my life in many ways. I loved being a part of these children’s lives and knowing that I gave them the happiness they deserve fulfills me. Every night when I go to sleep I pray to God for a better life for these kids.

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Our thanks to Ashley Rivera for sharing the many lessons of her time in Honduras.

Our next post will feature the Halloween Haunted House Tour, conducted in the French Quarter of New Orleans by the LIEP students in our Advanced Culture Class.

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