Monday, 27 May 2013

coming to an end

So my year of adventures is coming very close to its end. When I first got the email confirming my flights back to Australia I cried. I have now gotten used to the idea of coming home but I´m not so sure that it will be for very long.
In the last few months I´ve passed a lot of time as a backpacker (well kind of cheating, as I left a big suitcase at a friend´s house). In the absolutely spectacular coffee region, I had a very interesting tour of a coffee farm, I learnt the whole process involved and why Colombia is so famous for its coffee – the picking process is all done by hand. I already knew the other reason – it is really delicious. Towards the end, the lady separated the ready grains, grains with defects and grains without. They were two very noticeably different piles. She indicated the good pile and said ´this is what we export´ and the bad one and said ´this is what we drink in Colombia´. The injustice and senseless of it left a big impression on me.
When I first came to South America, I knew there would be no way I would be leaving before going to The Amazon. My desire to go came from a book I read as a teenager, an account of a British woman who lived with a native tribe, who were living without influence from civilisation. Even though I had been told where I was going, Leticia, is a touristy, expensive town and visiting a native tribe would be almost impossible, I still couldn´t leave without going.
So I flew to Leticia and discovered, surprise, surprise, it is a touristy, expensive town. But luckily I had a contact there who told me of a beautiful, peaceful hostel, half an hour out of the town, where I passed a lot of time with other tourists, surprisingly mostly from Australia and New Zealand; playing cards, swimming in an amazingly beautiful river and walking in nature. I hadn´t spoken so much English since I left Australia, it was funny to hear so many expressions I had almost forgotten.
And then finally I managed to go on a real camping adventure. A guide – a friend of a friend of a friend, took me and another traveller from New Zealand camping for a week in the jungle. The first day we walked for seven hours, a narrow path covered in branches, with many rivers that could only be crossed by walking across slippery fallen down tree trunks. There were many beautiful and wonderful adventure things; spotting a snake right in front of my path, walking at night time with glowing mushrooms as the only light (when we turned off the torches), sleeping in hammocks, swimming in the river at night time without light and canoeing on a river with the most spectacular scenery. The most adventure was when I went swimming in a whirlpool, thinking I could swim back and then having to get rescued in the canoe. The funniest thing was when we had to walk for 3 hours in the pouring rain and I fell up to my neck in water. The worst part was the mozzies. I never got to experience the life of untouched tribes, but it was definitely worth going.
Then with only weeks left in Colombia, for the first time since leaving Australia, I returned to a kindergarten, to El Nido, the lovely little kindergarten in my most favourite part of Colombia, El Carmen de Viboral, a rural part of Antioquia. I was so happy to return to see the lovely teachers, who have all become good friends and of course the beautiful children. I had a really happy time there, working in the kindergarten and staying with one of the teachers and her family. All the time I just felt completely apart of everything, in the kindergarten and in her house, like an Australian in Colombia, but not at all an outsider or even a guest. I was of course very sad to leave from this beautiful part of the world with so many beautiful people, but I left with the feeling that I won´t be gone forever.
I then came to Quito, Ecuador for a week. Again I have been very fortunate to be received by a friend of a friend, a Steiner kindergarten teacher, in her home with her family. I have been so fortunate to be welcomed and to be made part of this kind and fun family and a very lovely kindergarten.
The kindergarten is another wonderful example of a dedicated teacher working with few resources and an abundance of love. The kindergarten consists of a grass space with bad traffic noise and about four metres square of inside space which functions as play space, kitchen and bathroom. But rather than complaining, the teacher works very creatively with what she has, making use of everything and all the space and regularly takes the children to a local park.
For me there are two big things to be experienced while travelling, one is adapting to new situations; new people, culture, language, food, living standards, climate; everything. Getting used to new ways, and most importantly building connections and relationships. The other is leaving them all behind. For me the first part is easy and I love it. The second part however is not easy. Sometimes I feel like I am getting used to it, that each farewell is easier, and sometimes I feel like travelling just sucks. But actually, it doesn´t, but it can be hard.
In the last year I´ve been incredibly fortunate to meet so many amazing, different people, who have welcomed me into and shared with me their lives, from whom I have learnt so much and who have been incredibly generous and helpful. It has been so wonderful to make many meaningful connections with many amazing people.
It has also been very important to me to have made connections between my people in Australia and my people here. In my last few days with El Nido in El Carmen, the Glenaeon community held a fundraising night for El Nido and raised a thousand dollars!! Thank you so much for everyone involved! Also wonderful news from The Q´ewar Project in Peru; thank you very much to Jackie Rowlings who made a donation for the purchase of fitted shoes and three pairs of socks for each child in the kindergarten. With the cold winter and rainy summer, this will make a wonderful difference to these children who pass most of their time outside and a lot of time walking.
So now.... back to Australia.

Canoeing on the Amazon river

Trying fish after nine years as a vegetarian - DISGUSTING!!

Camping cooking

El Carmen de Viboral - my favourite place in Colombia - walking back from a picnic with Diana, a teacher from El Nido and her two daughters.

El Nido - making bread

El Nido - Morning greeting
New shoes at Wawa Munakuy

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Six weeks ago I sadly left Andahuaylillas behind and came to Colombia. It wasn´t so easy to leave, I really loved it, I was at home there, but now I am having a great new adventure, and for sure I will be back.

I came here with the purpose of volunteering in the kindergarten of a Waldorf social project in Bogota. I had email correspondence with the project´s director from Peru, but was waiting until I arrived to confirm the details. Very fortunately for me I have a Colombian friend here with whom I stayed when I arrived and helped me so much with everything.

After two weeks here anticipating the work with the project (and ofcourse enjoying myself as a tourist in a new country), I finally met with the director. I was suprised to learn that the director of a social project had his office in the most expensive, fanciest part of Bogota and even more suprised when I entered the fanciest, most luxurious office I´ve ever been in. The director didn´t seem overly pleased to have a volunteer and asked what I would be able to contribute to the project, as if a visiting teacher working for free wasn´t enough and told me I´d have to pay for my own transport and accomodation, which would work out to be quite expensive for a volunteer, as the project is very low on funds. I was, to say the least, a little disappointed.

I decided to work for atleast a week with the project and in the meantime, look for other options. I thought that I might try something different altogether, find a real job teaching English or some other kind of volunteer work. But when I went to search on the internet, the first thing I typed was Waldorf Colombia. I guess I hadn´t quite given up altogether. I found a website with a few lines written in Spanish and a phone number. Very nervous, as I´m still not comfortable speaking Spanish on the phone, but with a really good feeling, I rang the number and spoke with a very kind man. A few days later we met in the university and walked around im the rain. He has been working with Waldorf education in Colombia for 20 years and told me all about how the movement has developed and about what seemed like every single Waldorf school and initiative in Colombia. I was most interested in one kindergarten and one school. Both he assured me have pure intensions behind them and as all good schools should be, generally inspired to improve humanity though education. And importantly, both in rural, beautiful parts of Colombia.

So I passed the next week volunteering at the first project and at the same time organising a visit to both schools. I actually didn´t have a bad week at the project, I was with a teacher and assistant who had a class of 33 children between 2 and 5 years. I admired them for their positive attitudes and constant smiles, working with what I consider to be impossible circumstances. And they were obviously very grateful to have an extra person.

The whole process of organising the visits to the schools wasn´t so easy for me. I was doing it with very short notice, hoping to go as soon as possible. I was always nervous to write emails and make phone calls to new people in Spanish and anxious waiting for the replies. It didn´t help either when my credit card stopped working two days before I left. The whole process would have been impossible if I wasn´t with such kind, helpful Colombians and if I couldn´t speak Spanish reasonably well enough.

But it was all completely worth it as I found exactly what I was looking for. After flying to Medellin, Colombia´s second biggest city, I took three buses and then walked half an hour up a moutain (Luckily I am now an expert packer and have only a small backpack for over a month), and arrived where I have been staying at the house of the gardening teacher, where he lives with his 17 year old daughter, who also works as an assistant in the kindergarten. Below the house is an incredible view of The Andes with scattered houses and many trees and above is a natural reserve, perfect for bushwalking.

I have done many lovely things here in the beautiful nature, climbed a mountain, swam in a natural lake filled with lotus flowers and another beautiful river, gone horse riding, rode on a speedboat and climbed a famous rock, which compared to Uluru is tiny, but has the most incredible view I may have ever seen. And all the Colombians I´ve met are such good people and really pleased to have foreign visitors. So far I have stayed in five different people´s houses, and always felt very welcome and comfortable, only one of whom I knew before arriving in Colombia. 

And the kindergarten is just amazing. I feel so happy and blessed to know that such a wonderful place exists, with so much love, here in rural Colombia.

The kindergarten, El Nido, is new and tiny. It began three years ago, with two teachers, both very enthusiastic and dedicated to Waldorf education. For the first year they each had a small group of children in their own homes. Now three years later the kindergarten has two classes of 15 children each, in the mornings. In the afternoons they run art, craft, music  and English (which I enjoy assisting) workshops for local primary school children.

What has struck me as so inspiring about the project is the relationships, positive attitutes and dedication of the staff. At the end of each day we all sit together and discuss the day and once or twice a week stay for a longer meeting and all prepare and share lunch together. Everyone is absolutely equally respected and respectful and willing and enthusiastic to both give opinions and listen to others. In South America the hierachal society is very strong and I believe this is a very rare thing that I am apart of. In the two weeks I have been here, I have not heard a single person complain, even once. I think in any kind of working environment that is something quite amazing. And ofcourse, as always, the relationship between the adults and attitute towards work transfers to the children who are always recieved with absolute love and respect.

I am always curious about how Waldorf schools actually run in developing countries, as since they are not public schools, they recieve no government funding. Money has always been a struggle for El Nido. The purpose is to educate local, rural children whose family cannot afford to pay enough fees to support the kindergarten. They pay about $10 a month and the rest of the money comes from sparatic donations from small institutions and individuals in Colombia. 

My first thoughts were that it would be wonderful if I could help raise some money to buy new materials. To replace the old, ugly, very heavy table that´s impossible to clean, that we constantly need to move around the room and cover with a table cloth and then a horrible plastic sheet, to buy proper sized paper so there´s no need to cut each sheet of paper in half with child sized scissors, to replace falling apart paintboards and margarine containers that are used as paint jars and maybe add a few more lovely toys. Or even better, so they are able to supply a nutritious lunch for the children or atleast fruit. But actually they just need donations to continue with the kindergarten as it is.

I have translated some information about El Nido and will be uploading their newsletters periodically in this blog

If anyone is interested to support a wonderful little kindergarten, I recommend this one, as they really lack financial support and as I have learnt, the smaller the projet, the further a small amount of money goes.

I will upload photos in a few weeks, when I get back to my computer.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Andayualillas Part 3

With time I am seeing more of the reality of the poverty here and how it really affects people´s lives.

I have now had my own small experience of the realities of living in a place of poverty. After two weeks of a bad cold it got worse and turned into bronchitis. As I was hardly able to get out of bed, a local doctor from the village arrived and I was told I would need to take injections of antibiotics or else it could easily turn into pneumonia. A nurse working at the project came to give the injections but on Christmas day didn´t arrive. Worried that I would miss one, Julio and Lucy took me to the local medical centre in Andayualillas. I was taken into a tiny room and soon after a young child was bought in with a terrible cut on his head. The doctor said that he needed an injection. The nurse showed the child the small needle they would use for him and also the much bigger needle that they would use for me and told him if he cried they would use the big needle. As the boy screamed and cried and the nurse repeatedly threatened to use the big needle another nurse gave me the injection. As the bed was occupied with the boy, they gave me the injection while I was standing. I felt a horrible, strange pain and very soon fainted. When I came to I was unable to breathe properly or move for quite a long time. Julio, who was with me, was not told what had happened and in my dazed state I was left to explain.

The next day the nurse attending me from the project went to the medical centre to see what had happened. It turned out the nurse from the medical centre had mixed the injection incorrectly, used double the quantity, put in two instead of one and put it in the wrong spot. I am now perfectly healthy and if I hadn´t recovered I could have easily gone to Cusco or even Lima and paid to see a better doctor, indeed the fortunate women working at the project always pay to see better doctors in Cusco. But for many people living here, like the little boy with his cut head, and all over the third world, this is the only reality of medical care that they will ever know.

One of the women mentioned one day that she would like to send an email. I assumed that she wouldn´t know how to use a computer so I took her to the internet cafe and discovered that yes, she really didn´t know how to use a computer. Hard to believe a woman who can knit the most exquisite doll´s clothes, without looking, while chatting, was unable to move the mouse to the right spot. After half an hour of typing and three lines completed I helped her send the email only to discover the account was blocked and wouldn´t send. I then discovered the account had been opened four years ago by the German women she wanted to email, and not been used since then. So she had been waiting four years to write an email.

We had a paint therapist here from the US some weeks ago, giving art lessons for the women. For most of them it was the first time they had ever painted. For the ones that had it was  with the project with another visiting paint therapist.

I am also seeing the poverty with the children in the kindergarten. There are some five year old children who often ask for my help with putting their shoes on. At first I was a bit surprised, as five year old children are usually capable of putting on their own shoes, except that these children can be wearing shoes that they have clearly outgrown. With one girl in particular, since mid November, twice a day we struggled together to get her feet into her tiny shoes and every time she would say, ´´My mum says she will buy me new shoes for Christmas.´´ It is inconceivable to think of an Australian child waiting until Christmas for shoes that fit, but then I can´t help think, what is better, being grateful for well fitted shoes or demanding a new Iphone.

As usual, leading up to Christmas, the lunchtime conversation turns to the gifts the children will be receiving. There is one girl expecting a bicycle but the rest a very excited to be receiving new (probably second hand) clothes. As part of the Christmas gift from the project, each child received soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I can just imagine a child from Sydney receiving toothpaste as a Christmas gift!

There is a very cheerful, confident little girl, very skinny and missing half her teeth. I naturally presumed she had some kind of accident, until I actually saw inside her mouth and heard from a teacher that her teeth have decayed from malnutrition. She is not the only child with brown, decaying teeth.

In the kindergarten there are warm showers. One day after climbing partway up a mountain, the director offered the children to have a shower. Oh they were so excited! A hot shower! For the majority of these children this is the only opportunity they have for hot showers. Afterwards they were all talking about the experience, how the water was really warm, how they were allowed to use so much soap, to cover all of their arms and legs! One girl said that there is hot water in her house and my immediate thought was that her family must be wealthy.

For a few mornings the water was off at the project. This doesn´t happen so often because they are actually connected to a different, much better, water supply then the water supply in the village, which is frequently off. I remember the water supply being off when I worked in Sydney and of course someone immediately drove to the shops to buy enough water for all the things we usually use it for. Here I walked with the cook and a few children about one hundred metres to a neighbour and filled up buckets from her water supply. During this time I learnt that there are children in the class without water, whose family collects water every day from a nearby river.

One Sunday I was pleased to be invited to pass the day with one of the kindergarten teachers and her eleven year old daughter. She is living in the village in a little rented house. Her house consists of a bedroom, a tiny kitchen with a dirt floor, a bathroom with a tarp for a door and a small outside area. When I arrived we prepared the lunch, spaghetti bake, and as she doesn´t have an oven we walked ten minutes to a public oven which we payed thirty cents to use. We then went to a nearby developing community where she and many other people are constructing their own houses. And by constructing their own houses I mean they are really constructing them themselves. Every weekend they all go to continue building.  As there is no electricity everything is being constructed with hand tools.

I asked about the water and electricity and was told they expect to wait at least three years for it to come. The eleven year old daughter quickly added, with a happy smile, ´´But it´s very pretty, there are many animals and little birds´´.