sábado, diciembre 15, 2007

Center party

Originally uploaded by erostkowski
Every year, the Working Boys Center celebrates its anniversary on Dec. 5 .43 years and still going strong, hundreds of families turned out for the celebration. The day started with the sunrise, as the volunteers rolled out of bed to start making pancakes for the center members at 6am. Three hours later, the games started and the children got to work playing in order to earn tickets and win prizes. The festivities ended with kids climbing two tall wooded polls to reach the objects at the top included pineapples, rice, soda, and a live chicken and two bucking bulls covered in candy with fiery horns weaving through the crowd. Craziness.
We finished at the Cotocollao center with mass and lunch and moved to the downtown location for dinner, dancing, and birthday cake. It was the most fun I've had here so far and was a great opportunity to get to know some of the families a little better and spend some quality time with the kids.

Birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving

Originally uploaded by erostkowski
Spending my third year away from home and my birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving in as many countries (Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador), things not being normal has become the norm.
Halloween was a lot of fun to spend with the kids at the center. In my classes, we made masks, learned Halloween words, went trick or treating around the center, painted faces and finished up with a dance party (of course). The little girls still put me to shame with their moves. You think after spending several years around latinos that I would have pick up a thing or two, but no... I'm still waiting.
We celebrated Thanksgiving the Sunday after with Madre Cindy's delicious food. Green bean casserole, stuffing, glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, pecan pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie and of course, turkey.. we missed out on none of the trimmings of the typical feast.

lunes, septiembre 24, 2007

First weeks at the CMT

As I sit here, writing this in Quito, Ecuador, listening to the kids playing outside during my afternoon off, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be here, to be part of something as special as Centro del Muchacho Trabajador, and to feel for the first time in a while I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be, doing the work I should be doing.
I arrived almost a month ago, on September 1st, spent the first two weeks getting to know the Center, the directors, and my community members and getting acclimated to the altitude and the pace of life. Last week was our first full week, and by the time the weekend came, all I wanted to do was relax, read, and watch movies. I still haven’t ventured out too much into Quito, but I hope to get to know downtown a little more this coming weekend.

My mornings (8-11:30) are spent working with a special education student, who this year has been separated from his group in order to work individually with me. We are trying to help him to become more independent and to challenge him academically. Because of his physical disabilities and special needs, he
has not been expected to follow the curriculum that other kids his age do. It’s my job to motivate him and to see how much we can accomplish together this year. He’s been responding well so far, and I am optimistic. In the afternoon, I teach English classes and will begin to tutor students who are too old for their grades this week. Because the Center focuses on working boys and their families, some boys are not received at the CMT until they are 13,14, or 15 years old and are behind in school because they’ve been in the streets shining shoes and earning money. In the evenings when I am not teaching English, I also will be watching over the children of the parents who are in the adult education program. We trickle back to the house, according to our varying responsibilities, and sit down as a community to eat dinner at 8:40.
I never thought I would enjoy teaching (especially teaching English) as much as do. (Now, granted, I still am only in my second week, so I’ll probably have some other things to say once the ‘honeymoon phase’ is over) I think I appreciate most being able to support the mission of the CMT/WBC and helping families overcome poverty, if only in a small way. During orientation, I came to realize that I
really am now a part of this “Family of Families”. The Padre (Jesuit, Fr. John Halligan) and the Madres (BVM Sisters, Madre Miguel and Madre Cindy), the guiding forces of the Center, have this great vision of what it is we are doing at the CMT. I had to jot down some quotes during their first talk with us, because I felt like I was a part of living history, and I wanted to remember all I could. The Center revolves around the belief that poverty does not have to do so much with a lack of material wealth, but rather that it is a spiritual problem. The poor must be agents of change in their own lives. They are told that God wants them to be prosperous and that it’s within their reach. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to create a better life but God has given them the gifts they need to transform their lives. Besides just teaching English, Gym, Special Ed, Health, Religion, and Adult Ed, we, the volunteers, are supposed to be teaching self-esteem, confidence, self-worth, and discipline. It’s pretty incredible to be part of something that we are not just hoping will make a difference, but has already proved itself effective among the 5,000 families it has served over its 42-year history.

jueves, julio 19, 2007

Working Boys Center

The Working Boys Center (El Centro del Muchacho Trabajdor) was started 40 years ago primarily as a meal program for the shoe shine boys in Quito (Ecuador's Capital) and has transformed into a center spread across three campuses that invests in the institution of the family and financially, educationally, and spiritually forms its participants in order to combat the root causes of poverty. The Center emphasises human diginity and self-worth, encouraging participants to use the resources they have available to educate themselves and to impove their standard of living. The place breeds success. In the short time I was there visiting in May, I came to realize the real impact that the WBC has on the lives and futures of the enrolled families, especially the children. As a volunteer, I will support the WBC's mission by teaching children English and hopefully Special Education and Religion (I will know my schedule by mid-August). The volunteers typically work 12-hour days, finishing in the late afternoon with adult education classes. The Center provides room and board and the volunteers are responsible for all personal expenses (health insurance, airfare, visa, etc.) and collecting funds for the classroom supplies and outings and activities with the children. If you would like to contribute to my mission, I have set up an account with Paypal that can be accessed on the sidebar of this page. Anything that you might be able to offer, whether it be even $5, would be greatly appreciated and used well.

jueves, marzo 22, 2007

Mission 2007

The associates were again invited this year to participate in the mission trip organized by St. George College, the Holy Cross high school located in Santiago. To us, people from the United States, the idea of going door to door talking about God is something extremely foreign, especially outside of the Evangelical/Mormon circuit. But here in Chile, it is commonplace and welcomed. To begin with, the vast majority of Chileans are Catholic (it's something crazy like 85% or more). When you go on mission, it is not your goal to convert anyone. It is more about spending time with people and learning about their lives, their struggles, and their joys. St. George missions in three-year segments. Last year, I accompanied the group to Osorno (a rural area 12 hours south of Santiago) for their third and final year there. This year, after 24 hours in bus and 2 ferry rides, my group landed in Alqui, a small town located on the island of Tranqui, off the coast of another bigger island Chiloe, off the coast of the mainland of Chile. At some points, I literally was stopped in my tracks at the sight of the scenery. The rich greenness of the trees and shrubbery, with the deep blue sea as a backdrop and the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance; at some points it was just too much to take in.

There are 24 families that live in Alqui, and I was able to get to know a good number of them during our 10-day stay. Every morning we would wake up early, have prayer, eat breakfast, and set out to visit houses. Everyone was aware that we had arrived; you can imagine how quickly news travels in an isolated town of 100 people. In the average day, each group of two to three would visit one to two houses. Most often we would spend a few hours talking about their families, their work, their life over 'mate,' the traditional tea of southern Chile. It is served in a wooden or ceramic squatty cup and sipped through a metal straw. The host puts the loose tea leaves in the cup, adds water, drinks it (usually 3 to 4 big sips), fills it up again and starts it on its way around the circle. After each person finishes, he/she hands the cup back to the host, it is refilled and handed on to the next person. Because it is cold in Chiloe year-round (we were there in summer and I still wore thermals and a wool sweater everyday), the mate and conversation are always shared around the wood-burning stove. There is no electricity, very little indoor plumbing on the island, and not a single store.

Despite the differences in development, the people of Alqui live relatively well. Most of the men of the town work in the salmon industry, while the women spend their days tending to the crops and to the animals and collecting seaweed on the shores to sell to local buyers (to be later made into hair and skin products). Everyone lives off the land. During my time there, I think I ate the best I have in South America. Fresh lettuce, potatoes, carrots from the garden. Lamb, chicken, pork, salmon, seaweed, ducks eggs, all raised, caught, or collected within yards of the homes. There is no refrigeration, so whatever was put on my plate was for certain walking or swimming around only hours earlier.

For me, this time around, mission was an intense personal experience. It was like I had finally found what I had been searching for all year. Since moving to South America, my spiritual life has been thrown through the wringer. There has been a lot of doubting, questioning, and feeling lost. Alqui seemed to make it all make sense again. It was moving for me to go into an unknown community without family, friends, or acquaintances (or without the label of being a Holy Cross Associate) and to be fully accepted, without hesitation, and to feel at home. "Donde hay amor y caridad, donde hay la paz, Dios ahi esta." "Where there is love and goodwill, Where there is peace, God is there." Everyday as I sang those words in mass and as I looked around at the people who had welcomed me into their houses, fed me, and shared with me a small part of their world, I came to understand more clearly what God was trying to tell me. Where there is love and goodwill. Love was all around me. Where there is peace. What could be more peaceful than a town surrounded by rocky pacific beaches and quiet pastures and woods? God is there.

While the St. George students spent their afternoons and evenings working with children and teenagers, I visited the women in the community for more mate and chats. I've learned a lot about myself this year in Chile, but missions seemed to synthesize it all together. I don't think I'll ever be able to stop doing the type of work I do here. I love to learn about people. I love to travel and to get to know other customs and ways of living. The women of Alqui really showed me that I'm finally able to open up, to feel comfortable in another language, and to form relationships easily. We'll have to wait and see where this experience is leading me.

Start to the new year

This year, like last, Christmas was spent in Pocuro, my town. The associates from Santiago came in during the weekend, and we spent Sunday baking cookies and preparing our Christmas dinner. In Chile, Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day. We went to mass at 10:00 pm in the chapel situated next to our house and then came back and ate dinner under our grape arbor, exchanged secret santa gifts and sang Christmas carols until the wee hours of the morning. Instead of sitting around, reading magazines, while missing our families, we took a proactive approach this year and organized a camping trip to the natural springs located about an hour away. We packed up our cooler, hopped on a bus, and spent the day swimming and laying out next to the lake (remember, it's summer here). We camped for two nights (I'm slowing turning into the nature girl I've always wanted to be), and came back refreshed and feeling like we knew each other a little better.

Recap of the end of 2006

One my favorite events from the end of the year was the Saint Theresa of Los Andes Pilgrimage. 80,000 young people showed up to take part in the 28 kilometer walk through the Andes to arrive at the shrine of the Chilean Saint. There was so much positive energy and it threw me back to my days going to similar events with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

For our final 'community day,' I planned a little horsebackriding outing for us in the Andes in November. We were able to use some of the money we had earned doing a translation project to spend the day on horse (or mule) back to trek to a lake hidden in the mountains. It was a great way to end of the year.

After months of rehersals and meetings, 'Que familia es mi familia' was a huge success. We had four performances in as many towns, drew big crowds, and provoked lots of laughs. This is a picture of me as 'Ruben' and my 'girlfriend' Blanca.

My housemate Maureen left in early December to return to the States. This is us in our house the night before she left.

miércoles, noviembre 08, 2006

Me staring as '' the naked lady''

Originally uploaded by erostkowski.
So. I'm part of a theater group in my small town of Pocuro. Many of the women that I act with are also in the personal development group that I work with that is run through the diocese. They started by acting in presentations dealing with women's issues and have expanded to the full-length comedy that we are currently rehearsing. Well, we received a call from Santiago last month asking if we would be willing to put on a play entitled '' The parabola de la mujer desnuda.'' (The parable of the naked woman) The women had presented it 4 years ago at a similar conference of Latin American women. Considering we only had a week to practice and that the play was made up of monologues, I was a little nervous about making my international debut in such a rushed manner. I showed up to practice with the sad news that I would not be able to accept my role as ''the nun''. The women took the news okay and we decided that I could do my part by working the music. Well, everything changed when the ''mujer desnuda'' (the naked lady) never showed. In a matter of 15 minutes I went from pressing the play button to having the central role. Well, I'm learning that in life you have to be ready for anything...

viernes, octubre 13, 2006

Welcome to my world

Finished jam
Originally uploaded by Ryan Greenberg.
Ryan and I have been talking about making jam since we arrived here. It seems like something you should learn to do while living in Chile right under learning how to knit, garden and play the guitar. I bought strawberries at the outdoor market last week and last night Ry and I broke out the sugar and got down to business. Our finished product turned out even better than expected. Peaches come into season soon and we already have our sights set on future 'jam sessions.'

Happy Birthday to me!

Well, I have now completed a full year of my life outside of the country. Turning 23 in Chile was a lot easier than turning 22 in Bolivia. This year I was surrounded by people who I really have come to know as friends. Gina, my chilean mamá, greeted me in the morning with a homemade 'brazo de reina' (the queen's arm), a chilean breakfast pastry made with a supersweet carmel-like sauce called manjar. In the afternoon, I was presented with another cake at my theater group practice. In the evening a few friends came over for tacos and brownies with mint chocolate chip ice cream :). All in all I was given 5 birthday cakes this year. It is said here in Chile that ''food=love'' and I feel it (in my heart and on my hips :) ) This past weekend Maureen and I had a joint birthday party where we danced until the sun came up. Two b-days away from home down, only one more to go!