Waves of Change

It is day number 15 of my journey, and, as usual, there’s not a cloud in the sky or a care in the world as locals and visitors stroll the nearly vacant beach. This is a typical lazy day in La Manzanilla, where a snails pace is often too fast for the local lifestyle, but there is one small thing that I notice makes this day different from the rest. As I sit on the beach starring out at the ocean, looking for nothing other than a suntan, I feel a light mist dust my skin, as though Mother Nature has just lent me her personal supply of Evian Spray. It is not until this moment that I look around to see the source of this welcomed refreshment and see the size of the waves crashing in front of me. They are coming in with force today, larger and stronger than I have seen them before. They are rising to such heights before they break that I can see right through them, like a looking glass onto the ocean floor. I notice how slowly they appear to be rolling in, moving at about the same speed and with the same urgency as this sleepy seniors’ town. But within an instant of reaching their peak, (barely enough time for me to scan them for sharks) they come crashing down, releasing all the energy that brought them here. One word comes to mind, “ruidoso”, and I smile to myself for getting the opportunity to use this newly acquired word. It means “loud or noisy” and I learned it last night while trying to describe the Mexican rock band that was performing at the local open mic night.

               After watching the waves crash onto the shore for a few minutes I decide to venture in to wet my feet. I am surprised at the force of the tide in the ankle deep water and realize that I am bracing myself each time the tide pulls these giant waves back into the ocean and nearly takes me with it. It is then that I realize that my constant companion is still at my feet and I am suddenly angry at the ocean for its attempted double kidnapping of myself and my dog! I retreat and continue to marvel from afar when I realize how metaphorically perfect the pattern of the waves are to describe my journey.

            Like the waves, the process of getting here was long and drawn out, eight months of pushing papers back and forth between the foundation and the university to be exact (I am doing my final practicum for a Masters of Teaching degree). During this stage I gathered everything I could – resources, skills, materials and knowledge – everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, and seemingly suddenly, it was time. I could feel the anticipation building as my first day approached. Unfortunately, unlike the waves, there was no moment of clarity or looking glass into my future. Before I knew it, my first day arrived and this time it was exactly like the crashing waves in two distinct ways; it was full of energy and it was ruidoso! And then quickly and quietly everything settled down and I was brought ashore, ahem, aboard and given a gentle push in the direction of my new home.

            Now, just a few short weeks into my volunteer experience, I am reminded that before long I will again feel that powerful force pulling me out to my next journey.

It is amazing the clarity these lazy days can bring, and now that I have it, I think I’ll get back to my cerveza.



Teaching the teacher

I was running late, but there was no way I’d show up to a Halloween party without a costume. It’d be un-American. So en route to the Kinder to judge the town’s first Halloween costume contest, I stopped at a friend’s house to plea what I thought would make the perfect getup. I snapped his bright orange goggles on my forehead, slung a razor-sharp hunting knife across my hips and let out an audible sigh of self-satisfaction. Everyone was going to dig my diver disguise.

Five minutes later, I had tingles of self-doubt. Fifteen, and I was certain of my flop. Sugared-up students with broad smiles had approached me one after the other, “Maestra! Fuiste a la playa hoy?” or “Traver, Traver, va a nadar despues de la fiesta?” Dressing up as a diver doesn’t work in a fishing village. Obviously, right? I might as well have thrown on a navy skirt suit and some business pumps to hit a K Street shindig in Washington, D.C. pretending to be a lobbyist.

That anecdote just illustrates the almost daily crumbling of one malformed idea or another about how my work here would fair. Here are a few more:

Teaching myself how to teach English would be a piece of cake

  • I mean, it’s my mother tongue AND I’m a journalist. The language fits me like my favorite pair of jeans. But teaching it is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. No amount of Googling could prepare me to stand in front of 40 nine-year-olds and get them to properly recite the words to “Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes.” But thanks to patient guidance from Program Director Nancy, a few YouTube hours watching others in action and some solid sink-or-swim moments, I can finally say I think I’m getting the hang of it.


 Death by classroom mutiny was a real possibility

  • Recalling my childhood classroom experiences inspired me to teach. I wanted to excite kids to learn the same way my teachers had me. But I had no delusions, not every child is eager to learn — and certainly not eager to listen to an inexperienced teacher butcher their language whilst trying to explain the rules to BINGO. I was wrong. They pay attention in class. They cling to the phrases they learn and practice them with me when they see me in the jardin. They ask questions. They love English, and I’ve had a hard time not falling in love with them.


I’d be speaking Spanish like a Mexican in no time

  • Spanish classes, even taken since the fifth grade, are no replacement for a true immersion experience. Somehow, all those years of textbooks and worksheets had me fooled that this stuff was easy. It’s not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My fluency has improved drastically, but it’d be an exaggeration to say by leaps and bounds. My saving graces have been making friends here who speak Spanish, intercambios and most recently Spanish classes at the La Catalina Natural Language School (more on those later).

The lessons I’ve learned while attempting to teach far outweigh anything I’ve tried to impart to my students. I can’t wait to see what the next month has in store!


Summer Camp, Episode 1: Time Flies When We're Having Fun

Tomorrow marks the end of two weeks of the Curso de Verano, LCEF's summer camp for local kids in grades 2-6. Things are rolling along quickly and we are all learning tons... especially the teachers! Last week our English class theme was "The Five Senses," which gave us lots to work with including fun vocabulary about the body, textures, smells, and tastes, and interactive games.

Neither Stephanie nor I had worked with so many kids before, especially of such varied ages, and we definitely discovered over the course of the week what types of classroom interaction work better than others. We generally stuck to 15 minutes of vocab teaching, a 20-ish minute experiential game, and 15 minutes with these workbooks we made which have lots of coloring and word games. The station-to-station games, like the one where you stick your hand into dark mysterious containers and guess the texture, worked the best because there was a lot of movement and everyone got to do each activity. Things like hangman and charades, which we do a lot of in the after-school classes, didn't work as well because it left some kids to look out the windows and wish it was time for art.


Speaking of art, Isa's classes are awesome. The projects generally went along with the English themes: fruitloop jewelery (taste), textured solar systems (touch), origami frogs and crocodiles (sight), and the beginnings of painted drums made of big old yogurt containers (hearing). Throughout all of the classes the space gets pretty hectic, but we are learning to go with it. Luckily we have handfuls of Wings scholarship student volunteers to help out. And a perfect end to the week: a swimming trip at Dean and Daniela`s pool!

This week of camp has held an exciting new project. Instead of just having an "environment week" in English class we were able to partner up with Yohaira, a biology student who lives in La Manzanilla, for lessons with much more depth. This is ideal because as we learned early on in the planning, you can only teach kids so much in their non-native language (global warming, ecosystem, and limited resources were out of the question).
Yohaira talking to the kids about environmental issues

 Yohaira came to us with a solid, age-appropriate curriculum about natural habitats, waste, decomposition, and other very important environmental issues. We have positioned her lessons during recreo, so once the kids get to English, not only have they been introduced to the concepts, but they are tired out from walking down the arroyo or beach in the morning sun. After their jaunts with Yohaira, picking up trash or exploring the ocean as a habitat (aka collecting sandcrabs in dirty cups they find), some of them aren't too keen on concentrating in the classroom, but they are quick to respond when we ask questions about the 3 R's, littering, and what is "good" and "bad" for the environment.

The kids were surprisingly eager to run around and pick up trash on the beach. Best Recreo ever!

The lessons are reiterated, too, in art class as they turn their own shoe boxes into seashore dioramas and their old toilet paper rolls into colorful pencil holders. Yohaira also wanted to work with the kids to share their knowledge with their families and the communities. She provided quotations in Spanish for posters which the kids decorated. They are now hanging in the Jardín and all over "mainstreet" La Manzanilla.

In many ways it seems consumption is much lower here because people reuse and repair things like clothing, toys, and appliances much more often. For example, when I first got here we went to Melaque to repair Nancy's old fan. In the states many would consider the fan "old" and buy a new one. However, packaging waste and littering is a huge problem and hopefully Yohaira's lessons and the signs in the Jardín will get people thinking about it in a new way.


School's Out For the Summer!

I know this blog post is a little late, but it's been busy down here and its never too late to share adorable pictures, right? Classes ended for the summer about three weeks ago now, which means things have changed pace dramatically, with no more teaching in the schools and no more after-school English. School's end also means we had the pleasure of attending three wonderful graduation ceremonies. And, as I've discovered, the people of La Manz know how to do a ceremony.

First was the Kinder graduation, which was possibly the one with the most attendance and pomp of all three. It was also most adorable. How could it not be when the niños were dressed to the nines and there was dancing all over the place?

Kinder graduates thanking their teachers

At the start of every graduation, there is a flag march. At the Kinder we couldn't tell it was tradition because their steps weren't really together. The secundaria and primaria students made it much more obvious. Their shuffles and marches and "Ya!"s were perfect. It was especially entertaining to watch the kids that we teach in class show so much strict discipline!

Primaria Flag March















Graduating from Secundaria here is an accomplishment, as it seems that more and more students begin to work as they progress in schooling. There are many costs to continuing schooling like school fees, transportation, lunch, uniforms, and textbooks. The foundation awarded scholarships to students in each grade, including those going on to high school, which is an even bigger accomplishment. 

We recognized the secundaria students who were awarded Wings scholarships as the ones who often worked the hardest in our English classes. There are many requirements to keep up their funding, including attending extra classes and completing volunteer work in the community. One of their volunteer options is helping out with the LCEF Summer Camp. Already, many of our volunteers have excelled, taking initiative in the classroom and some even practicing English with the kids.





Movie Nights and Thoughts about Development

Unsurprisingly my educational experiences in La Manzanilla extend beyond watching lightning crack over the ocean, delighting in children racing across the field get to after school English class a half hour late, and discovering that geckos make sweet little kissing noises (“bescados”... “besos”). I am also learning much daily, through observation and conversation, about development projects. I should probably have Stephanie, a student of urban and rural development, post about this, for my knowledge is rather elementary. However, it turns out that learning about international development and specifically the work of grassroots non-profits within it has become a goal of my time here.

When I was learning about LCEF this spring, their grassroots approach to community development stood out. Being here, I see that LCEF's existence within the La Manz community is indeed entirely dependent on conversation and involvement with the local people. The foundation only provides the support and opportunities voiced by the community. They also employ as many local people as possible, not only to create jobs, but also to add strength and consistency to the programs that cannot come from temporary volunteers or foreign residents, even those who have lived here for years.


The idea of asking a community to generate ideas and needs makes so much sense, but after an afternoon-long conversation with two doctors/medical faculty from San Diego State last weekend, I learned that it seems a difficult concept for many to apply. The women were in La Manzanilla doing Sex-Ed talks in the middle school, and working in the local clinic. They came here with much knowledge, but did not begin their programs until after long discussions with school board members and parents had decided upon the topic for their adolescent health talks.


In one Saturday afternoon over a snack of coconut meat with lime and chili, Maria, the director of SDS's programs, shared handfuls of both ridiculous and successful stories from her involvement in many health projects worldwide. Those that stuck the most in my mind were almost obscene in nature. Stories of development groups building latrines on the tops of hills in countries with torrential rainy seasons; of researchers giving condoms to prostitutes who would be beaten if they tried to use them, who said if they were given alternative ways to feed their families, the problem would be solved; of latrine building in countries where going to the bathroom indoors was unheard of—the latrines were soon surrounded by piles, and eventually the developers realized they should build trenches instead.


Last week, after purchasing a DVD player and postering the jardín, we had our first weekly English movie night at the Centro Educativo. This ended up consisting of Stephanie, Nancy, and I talking for an hour or so while the DVD menu played and replayed, before heading home. Nancy had a laugh as she recalled our conversations with Maria. We did intend to ask our Adult and Secundaria classes if they would be interested in a Friday night movie, and what time would work best for them, but amidst other concerns and class happenings, this got pushed aside.


Movie night, round two, took place this Friday. It had been pouring all day, and I was the only attendee. There is always the uncertainty, when planning for a community of which you are on the perifery, to know whether or not it will take off.  Nancy informed me after what I thought was our second "failure," that it is always necessary to wait a reasonable amount of time because it can take a while for things to catch on in La Manzanilla. She says that often, you might be offering exactly what the community is asking for, and they know it's happening, but it's not something they're accustomed to doing, so they might not show up for three weeks.  It makes the first period of offering something new a bit more challenging when the culture is like this. Thanks for the insight Nance! I'll talk more about the programs around town and be patient.




Big Plans in the Works

Things are transitioning here in the LCEF intern department. School is ending for the niños this week, which means our classes in the public schools and our afternoon programs are drawing to a close. Stephanie, especially, after teaching the same kids for over two months, is sad to see them go, but we are hoping that many of the younger ones will come to our curso del verano, which begins in late July.

Speaking of this summer camp, we have began to plan everything big and small so that it will be a smashing success. Our themes for the three weeks are the Environment, the Five Senses, and Healthy Living. The camp will consist of 1 hour of recreation (we're hoping to get these kids dancing!), 1 hour of English language class, and one hour of arts and crafts. This week we are going to the schools to sign up students, to a maximum of 25, to take part in the fun.

 Intern Kelly and art teacher Isa prepare for camp by testing out one of the planned projects, beaded figurines. Such hard work! :)


Saturday afternoon I sat by my front window with Isa, the art teacher for our camp, who also happens to be my Spanish teacher, making craft plans and supply lists for the camp. Isa taught art at the camp last year, and has some pretty great crafts ideas, many of which involve mostly recycled materials. Our meeting was really productive and ended in our trying out of one of the craft ideas: making little people from beads and string, like the beaded lizard key chains I used to make when I was little. This was super enjoyable, as the crafting only added to my simmering excitement of being able to hold a meeting entirely in Spanish. More on camp preparations as it grows nearer!




Learning to Teach

Stephanie helping students in the Primaria with their English worsheets.I didn't mention in my introductory post that when Nancy hired me for this teaching internship my experience had mostly been teaching individuals or small groups, and all in the US. Though teaching English without a steady grasp on Spanish seems daunting, teaching alongside Stephanie has been really productive. Surprisingly, after just two weeks, this experience has made me comfortable with large groups of all ages.

At first, I observed Stephanie teach and I taught bits and pieces of the lessons. In my first week, I introduced myself in steady, enunciated English to 6 groups of students, repeatedly answering the questions, “Do you have a boyfriend,” and “What is his name?” Clearly, teaching has turned out to be a highly entertaining activity.

I am still adapting to the ways the different age groups and students take in, remember, and combine information. It is a learning process for me, as I am still unsure of how much my students are understanding or how much they already know. I taught my first solo class (after-school English) last Wednesday, with the theme of “emotions.” We played charades and drew emoticon pictures, but I found it tough to be consistently coherent and simple, while keeping the children interested. I am steadily becoming more comfortable thinking on my feet and pacing lessons energetically while not too quickly.

Every Mondays and Wednesday, Stephanie and I teach the free after-school English and evening Adult English classes . The after-school class is mostly young kids, but people anywhere from 12 to 60 come to the adult class, which has built up a core group of dedicated students. Varied age groups work together, play together, and learn together pretty harmoniously here, which works well for these types of classes. Stephanie and I also teach English in the grade 7 and 8 classes in the Telesecondaria and grades 4,5 and 6 in the Primaria on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

 Kelly teaching the seasons in one of her first English classes with LCEF.

Getting to know the kids has also improved my teaching abilities. They enjoy interacting with Stephanie and I during and outside of class, which hopefully means many will turn up for our first English Movie Night (with Spanish subtitles) this Friday.


What has surprised and excited me most is how eager [most of] the kids and adults are to learn English through the foundation's programs. Kids come to the after-school classes on their own accord, and some older kids come to the drop-in Adult English with notebooks prepared and homework completed. Stephanie adds that many of the parents, and children too, realize the many opportunities provided by the foundation, that this is unique to La Manzanilla, and embrace them as they come.


-Kelly (teaching intern)



Hola! Thanks to an internship grant from Reed College, I have found myself in La Manzanilla, Mexico, working for La Catalina Educational Foundation. After finishing school, moving out of my college home, and dashing around Portland, Oregon to purchase supplies for the foundation with my grant funds, I flew into Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In the sticky heat, I took a cab and a 4 hour bus down the coast, to meet Nancy, program director extraordinaire, and Stephanie, another intern who has been in La Manzanilla since the end of april. Immediately, Nancy set me up in a wonderful unused rental home with Stephanie, and acquainted me with the beautiful town and the foundation's work within it.


This was barely two weeks ago. Already, I have begun teaching English in both the Telesecundaria (middleschool) and the Primaria (elementary school), as well as in LCEF's drop-in after school English classes at the Costa Alegre Educational Foundation. I have sat in on various classes and projects that are either offered or facilitated by the foundation, including adult English classes, a donation art class in a woman's home, and a sex-ed class at the Telesecundaria presented by CalState San Diego researchers. LCEF seems to be the place to turn to if anyone local or visiting wishes to initiate programs in the community.

Afterschool students lined up outside of the Costa Alegra Educational Center, home to many of LCEF's community programs. The foundation hopes to build two more classroom structures as soon as they aquire adequate funding.

I have also taken a week of complementary Spanish classes at the La Catalina Natural Language School (which I am continuing now), and Nancy has set me up in an intercambio (language exchange), with David, our water provider, who is turning out to be a fabulous teacher (hopefully he feels the same about me). I have met many local people (mostly hilarious niños), experienced a regional fútbol match and the festivities that followed when La Manzanilla WON!, and hiked around the area with Nancy and Stephanie, who have already become great friends.

Stephanie and Kelly at a La Manzanilla Championship Fútbol Match

Needless to say, I have been busy, but given the breathtaking tropical landscape (it really is) and the foundation's support of my learning and teaching, this is only a positive thing. I came to La Manzanilla to aid in community education projects, gain valuable teaching experience, and learn about educational nonprofits, and that is exactly what I have been doing.

Our hope is that this blog can serve as a place for Stephanie and I to narrate what we learn and experience as LCEF interns this summer. This will include sharing much information about LCEF's exciting projects throughout the community, and should be of interest to anyone looking into the foundation's work or a future LCEF internship. Enjoy!


-Kelly, LCEF summer intern