Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spelling Bees and House Building

This past Tuesday we finally hosted the Spelling Bee at our school. The set up was a little unique but it was successful nonetheless. The competition was divided into 3 levels and within each level a student went head to head against another student, and whoever spelled the most out of 5 words correctly went on to the next round. I was so happy that the two levels that I had worked with had a frequent number of ties in which both students spelled all the words correctly and had to go into multiple tie breaker rounds. Although I was correct in my predictions of who would win from the two levels, the rest of the students also did very well and I was thrilled to see so much improvement with the students.

With the 8th year students before the competition. Robert is the boy on  the left, the winner  is the girl right of center

One boy in particular, Robert, went on to win second place for his age group (Just 8 in each level), and had improved the most significantly out of all the students. While he had struggled with a number of the more difficult words when we practiced, he was confident at the spelling bee and although I was a judge I couldn't help but beam while I told him he had spelled a word correctly. His English professor told me that after the spelling bee he told her that she needed to give him a prize because he had improved so much that he considered himself a winner--the cutest thing I have ever heard.

Now that I'm done with the spelling bee, I'm glad to be moving on to other things. I've been interacting more with entire classes and I've lead a few classes completely on my own. My director Maria Elena seems to be comfortable giving me full responsibility over the class and slowly the students are learning to cooperate better. Last week Maria Elena asked me to start a lesson for her because she had to go downstairs for a minute to talk to the principal. I was already scheduled to help another professor with her lesson and we had already developed a whole lesson plan for the class so Maria Elena assured me that she would only be five minutes. That five minutes quickly turned into the full hour--me without a teacher's book, a marker for the chalkboard and without knowing the name of a single student in the class (except one who participated in the Spelling Bee)--of teaching the differences between can and cannot to a class of 35 9 year olds. My days are always interesting though--while the other two interns are assigned specific professors to work with, I'm kind of thrown around and never know what class I'll be with or what I'll be doing until the class has started.

After another week at my internship, on Saturday I headed to Duran, a municipality near Guayaquil, to build houses with the other international students. We were working with Hogar de Cristo, a local organization that provides micro loans, economic assistance and minimal housing for families in order to deal with the housing shortage that plagues Ecuador. According to a presentation done by the head of Hogar de Cristo, Guayaquil suffers from the 3rd highest housing shortage in the world, after Calcutta and Port-Au-Prince. I was surprised to hear this because I would think that it would be less of a problem than in larger mega cities (Guayaquil's population is only between 2-3 million). What was probably most shocking was that just over 8 million of Ecuador's 13 million citizens lack housing completely or live in housing so minimal that it cannot be considered dignified (eg, houses made of cardboard and scrap metal in slums). The most basic housing they build in order to pull people out of these situations consist of concrete walls on the first floor and a bamboo second floor. The organization's website can be found here. Two American students are currently interning at the organization, developing the English language site for the organization.

I had been anticipating helping with the actual construction of houses, more students than expected showed up and the organization we were working with did not have enough tools on hand so they asked me and a few others to cook the lunch for the 40 students, plus the families for whom we were building houses. We made seco de pollo, a typical Ecuadorian dish that consists of chicken, tomato, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and naranjilla (beer is also used instead to give the meat flavor and moisture) and served over rice (In Ecuador white rice is served with almost every lunch and dinner, and is never missed completely from a day). The food was cooked on an outdoor carbon stove borrowed from a family that uses it to sell typical street food.

Although I was disappointed to not participate in the actual building, going to the main market area to buy the ingredients at various little shops was an interesting experience, as well as seeing the women who helped us deal with the cooking. I had to overlook the fact that the butcher dropped a piece of chicken on the dirty floor before tossing it in the bag, the plastic bags used to get the coals burning faster and the lack of kitchen tools that I'm more accustomed to using. In the end one of the students made the claim that it was the best seco de pollo she's had here, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it as well. I guess this proves the assertion true that the street food made under some of the less sanitary conditions always tastes the best (eg. ceviche sold from peddle carts on the beaches).

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