Who Cares if it’s a Square?

Today is Friday -the final day of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday English class schedule.   On each of those days we teach 3 classes to the children of Manos de Amor Casa Hogar.   These children are living at Casa Hogar because their parents or caregivers need a helping hand.  A few have no parents.  Many have 1.  Lots of grandmas have stepped in.   They have all experienced great trauma in their young lives – abuse, prostitution, alcoholism. And poverty.  A lot of poverty.

So 3 days a week we arrive at the home with our bag full of worksheets and crafts and videos and songs and tablets.  We have divided the groups by age.  The 6-9 year olds have learned about colors and families and counting to 20 and greetings and this week we learned about Day and Night.  We are working on vocabulary but also trying to learn some sentences.    “I have 4 shoes”. “Touch something red with your nose”.  They love songs and sing them REALLY LOUD.  I expect the whole neighborhood now knows the days of the week.  They especially love the English learning apps we have on the tablets that we use once a week or so.

20170906_163354The oldest children – those 10 and over – use the Duolingo language learning app.  We don’t really have to teach them – we are there to help when they are stuck and to do group review from time to time.  We are also there to stop their little fingers from ‘accidentally’ going to the App store and ‘surprisingly’ downloading games.  “I don’t know how that happened Karen”.  Sure you don’t.  We do reward them with a few minutes of game time to keep them coming back.  I love using this app because each child moves at his or her pace and new students can join at any time.

20170922_145605The funnest class is the littles, the 4-6 year olds.  They are hilarious and are actually learning quite a few words.  They are the ones who speak to me in English every chance they get.  “Hello, my name is Azbeth, how are you I am fine and you?”  They just run it all together and are so proud.   This week they learned shapes and today we finished the week by making Shape Guy heads.  They practiced shapes and face parts and colors on one little craft and they were pretty excited with the final product once they had added some butterflies and dogs and family members.


We are having fun but I have to admit that some days I look around at the needs and problems in this country and I wonder what possible difference it will make if Jose knows the difference between a square and a rectangle.   Will knowing their colors keep 12-year-old girls from getting pregnant and will greeting gringos in English stop boys from becoming trapped by alcohol?  Today after our final class we drove children from 3 families to their homes for the weekend and as I am every Friday, I was saddened by what I saw.  How can we think our little classes can make a difference?

But as I held babies and hugged toddlers, and stepped in poopy diapers littered on the ground, I smiled.  Yes, if children here learn English they will have an opportunity to secure a better paying job in the tourism industry.  But these 4-year-olds aren’t out looking for jobs.  What they are looking for is acceptance, confidence, affection, hope, safety and security.  For LOVE.  I watched Jose show his sisters and his niece Lupita his Shape Guy and I realized that for a few minutes today he felt proud of himself.  For at least an hour he experienced confidence and creativity and joy.   I remembered the look on Jorge’s face when he told me he had finished 8 Duolingo lessons.  The cheer Mareli let out when she finished a whole section of today’s learning app.

Our English class is not going to change Pricila’s life.  But maybe it will bring a tiny bit of healing to her broken heart.  Her mom isn’t there for her – but on Monday and Wednesday and Friday I can be.

As we left each of these children at their homes today – I really hate doing that – I did what I do each week.  I opened their little hands, tapped my fingers to their palms and then touched their palms to their hearts, “Okay, here is Jesus.  Don’t forget he’s going to be here with you all weekend.  You’re going to be ok”.

I realized what our class has to offer these little ones. – it offers US.   Our hearts.  Our acceptance.  Our love.  And really, that’s all any of us have to offer.

Learning a Language

The more time we spend here in Mexico, the more we realize the importance of shared language to build relationships and experience success.  Every day we struggle to explain something we need or want – to express an idea or an emotion.  We are fortunate because there is a lot of English spoken here in the Bay – it is a big tourist area and we really could live comfortably if we never tried to speak Spanish.  But we don’t want to live life on the outer edges – to be tourists in our own town.  We want to experience life in the center of the community, to be able to speak to our neighbors and especially to communicate well with the children at Manos de Amor. duolingo2 So we are doing our Duolingo every day and slowly getting better.  Grant is way ahead of me in the program – he has a bigger vocabulary and has done many more lessons.   I am more willing to just start talking, even if I sound ridiculous and make no sense.  We are each learning within our own personalities – the introvert and the extrovert –  and we are slowly making progress.

Using the Duolingo app every day gave us an idea – why not use this same type of fun technology to teach the children how to speak English?  The children at Casa Hogar are already one step ahead of many of their family members and peers because they are regularly attending school.  They receive help every afternoon with homework from our tutor Jezebel.  They are all bringing home good report cards.  If they stick with it, this will definitely help them get a job when they graduate.  But we live in a tourist zone – if they learn English another door will swing wide open for them to work in the hotels and restaurants.   We have volunteers throughout the year who come to the home to help with English, but many are in the area temporarily and we have not been able to set up a long-term English program.

Last summer my friends from Bloom Church came to Bucerias for a week of service – working with the local churches in several surrounding communities and of course working at Manos de Amor.  At the end of the week there was around $1200 left from the money they had raised and we didn’t really know where to use it – so they told me to hang onto it until I saw a good place to use it.  One day a few weeks ago Grant and I decided this might be it – let’s buy some tablets and combine fun technology with language learning.  It’s working for us – surely it can work for children.  We went shopping and bought 5 tablets.We downloaded Duolingo for the big kids and a few English learning apps for the little kids.  And we jumped in.  Obviously, they were super excited to use the brand new tablets – and I am impressed with their progress.

We are just getting started.  We have had 4 or 5 classes using the old and very slow computers in the homework room and now we have switched everything over to the tablets.   We will have 2 classes a week for the big kids and 2 classes a week for the little kids.  They will work through the apps at their own speed and at the end of the class there will be some time for game fun.  At first Grant and I will supervise and we hope to figure it out enough that volunteers can step in and work with the children.

Thanks to those of you who donated money to Bloom last summer.  We would love to buy more tablets – if that is something you would like to donate to, you can do so by giving online.  You will receive an income tax receipt if you donate using the Canadian or American link.  Go to www.manosdeamor.com and click on Give Online tab.

Stay tuned for a progress report!  I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy adventure.