Our neighbor’s rooster woke us up this morning around 6:30 a.m. While waking up for my first day of school, I first noticed how active the town of Bahia is in the morning. People near our volunteer home were up and about either selling bread, going to work, going to school, or building the adjacent building behind us. Bahia is a town similar to Myrtle Beach during their off season, but with breathtaking views of the hills and cliffs. You can see San Vicente if you walk a block from our house. San Vicente is a small town like Bahia and only a ten-minute ferry ride across the bay. Our volunteer house is situated next door to the Vladir’s house—the program director of Genesis, which is the private school located on the tip of Bahia. Today we went to Genesis in the morning to meet the staff of the school and to get tours of the school we are volunteering in for the month.
Upon arriving at the school, I still felt new and foreign to the town. The language barrier is a challenge especially since the people of Bahia have a slurred accent and it is harder to translate. Vladir introduced us to the school’s director of Corazon Saladario who only speaks Spanish, and my partner Samantha and I followed her to a van, which took us to the school. Getting in the van was very overwhelming and definitely a new experience. I know very little Spanish so making small talk and using a lot of gesturing was the best way to get to know everyone. The school bus made many stops on the outskirts of Bahia, which is where most of the locals live. The actual downtown of Bahia where Genesis is located is mostly where people vacation. Many of the houses on the outskirts of Bahia look like shacks and are small. The streets are clouded with dust, and dogs roam in the streets not minding the cars or people. People wander the streets selling produce and chatting. We rode in the van for about 20 minutes, picking up several kids until the van was completely packed! When we get to the school, I noticed that it is a church, with separate huts surrounding the church. It’s a beautiful school and has a small farm to the left of it that has star fruit growing on the trees. A couple of the kids stormed the fruit tree and offered us a fruit when we arrived.
My day at Corazon was amazing but also a disappointment. I enjoyed the children of Corazon immensely with their different personalities and wonderful hearts, but the staff had bigger plans for us than we had planned. They were expecting us to be professionals in our skills. When we entered, they wanted us to take over and start teaching/ come up with a way to reorganize and improve the school. The school has about 25 kids, two teachers, and three workers who aid the students. The school is for children of all ages with all disabilities. Since I am studying special education, it was interesting to see the methods and tools that the students were provided and the development of advocacy for people with disabilities. This first day we spent time getting to know the students and met Brian, a man volunteering for the Peace Corps who was assigned Bahia for his site. He explained to us the progress of rights for people with disabilities and how things are improving in Ecuador because a recent political leader recently became disabled and is now advocating for the people more and more. It is nice to see that they are recognizing disabilities and giving the people a chance to have a place for education, but the school is still lacking tools and effort. The day is only from 8:00 a.m. until 11:30, and the students do not receive much individual or specialized attention. The workers know the students well, but it is easy to see that there is a lack of communication between the nonverbal students and a lack of accommodations and adaptations to the lessons when they are being taught in a group. They have higher and lower functioning classrooms in the morning.
After observing the children, I saw the huge range in disabilities, and I become interested in their diagnosis and plan for their future. Brian explained that they don’t have specific diagnoses; they are under four categories. Also he explained that this week they are working on putting together the children’s first IEPs. This excites me and shows that they are working towards similar goals that we practice in the United States. I hope I can help observe the children to come up with strategies they can use in their classroom. I can already notice that one of the children who is deaf and maybe autistic could benefit greatly from a simple communication device such as a key ring with pictures of different activities like bathroom, food, or playtime.
Leaving the school, I was intrigued by the movement towards success for the children but feel helpless with my lack of Spanish to really help and contribute to the school especially when working with the staff.