Monday, January 28, 2013

Casey Harrington at the Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer in Parramos, Guatemala

            Since moving in July to the small, rural town of Parramos, Guatemala to carry out my Princeton in Latin America fellowship, my world has gotten a lot smaller and a whole lot bigger at the same time.  Parramos has just under 10,000 residents and is located in the central highlands of Guatemala, about a fifteen-minute drive from Antigua.  Living and working in the confines of a small town has required me to adjust to living out the majority of my days within about a three block radius of my host family´s home. While the geographical space which I occupy has shrunk significantly since moving here, my knowledge, skills, connections with the projects and people of Parramos, and my desire to become even more involved in this community in the coming months have expanded beyond what I thought possible. 
While I am involved in a number of projects here in Parramos, my primary work site is at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer, a school in Parramos where I work with elementary, middle, and high school students teaching English. It has been a rewarding and challenging experience finding ways to engage kids, even those who think they will never be capable of learning English, through singing, Total Physical Response, and various games. I have learned that it requires endless amounts of energy and creativity to be a successful teacher, and everyday I gain more knowledge about how to provide that energy and creativity to my students.
In addition to teaching at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer, I have worked the past few months with a team of citizens to coordinate a summer school that will take place in November and December, when the Guatemalan school year ends. In addition to recruiting volunteers to teach Mayan culture, physical education, dance, math, and English, I have been working hard to advertise the school to the children of Parramos. It has been really rewarding to see the kids cheering and clapping when I enter classrooms to talk to students about the vacation school, and I am excited that they will have productive, interactive activities to participate in during their vacation months.  Another benefit to coordinating the summer school is that it has allowed me to develop connections with dozens of citizens in Parramos and given me an opportunity to learn the strategies I need to use to organize projects here in rural Guatemala. I realize now, for example, that going directly to someone´s home and talking to them face-to-face is a hundred times more effective than calling or emailing them.
                  In Parramos, I have had the privilege of engaging in projects not only in education, but also in public health through my work at the town´s local health post.  During my first few months at the post, I have had the opportunity to learn how to vaccinate and supplement patients. Now that I have spent a few months working on those skills, I am currently transitioning into learning how to provide patient consultations with the health post´s doctor.  She is teaching me to diagnose basic illnesses and to decide which medications and dosages to use to treat patients. Given the large Kaqchikel indigenous population in Parramos, it has been interesting to see how cultural perceptions of health and well-being affect medical care and strategies for patient education. This newly acquired knowledge regarding how to provide culturally sensitive patient education has proven to be very useful in talks I have given in a public school here in Parramos on family planning and substance abuse.   
                  I did not expect to find myself this deeply intertwined in the Parramos community this early in my fellowship, but the collaborative nature and warmth of the town´s residents make it so easy to get involved. Life in Parramos is wonderful.  Between waking up to mountains and fog every morning,  drinking fresh blackberry and pineapple juices, and getting to say Buenos días” about fifteen times to acquaintances during my two-minute morning walk to work, I´m really learning that I need to savor every moment I spend here. I can´t wait to see how my perspectives, relationships, and work in this small but vibrant community will grow and change in the next seven months.

    Casey with two elementary level students at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer 

    Casey working at the health post in Parramos

    A beautiful view while hiking a volcano

    A street in Parramos very close to Casey’s house           

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Welcome to the PiLA Blog

Over the next few months, we will be working to create a platform through which current and former participants can share about their experiences working in Latin America through the PiLA work placements.