Dramatic Play, Wild Mushrooms and Glass-winged Butterflies

Volunteering at UBHA in Chicaque Natural Park – week 2

During our second week of volunteering at UBHA, we really found our groove, and bonded with the kids quite nicely despite the language barrier. As anticipated, fellow volunteer Joel took his leave earlier than planned, leaving just us to cover the full day’s schedule. One of us would be on duty beginning at 8:00, the other would come aboard about 10:30 when all the kids arrived, then the one with the early shift might take off at 1:00 or so (after lunch), leaving the second to cover until the students left at 4:00 or so.

On some mornings, one of us would have to hike up the hill through Chicaque Natural Park starting at about 7:30 to meet the kids at the park entrance at about 8:45 and escort them down the hill to the school. And on some days, one of us would have to escort them back up the hill to catch their bus at the entrance. And we can’t overemphasize how amazing and inspiring these youngsters were; they cheerfully endured these very strenuous hikes and long bus rides on a daily basis. One of the students was only 4 years old, and she more or less kept pace with the rest of the pack, chattering away the whole time, and making a game out of the steep climb. (And if she became too dependent on her adult escort to negotiate the steep steps, her comrades would order us not to help her, insisting that she be self-sufficient.) Not once did any of the kids ever whine or complain, ask to be carried or fight with one another. Of course, it helped that there was such gorgeous scenery en route, and plenty of enticing places to stop and catch your breath. Not to mention frequent encounters with llamas and other wildlife.

Glass-winged butterflies

The first couple of hours of the day involved just interacting with the handful of students who lived near the park and walked to school, arriving long before those who commuted by bus. Our sessions with them were rather free-form; but then so was the entire school day. Sometimes we’d draw with them, or play games. Joel left a couple of interesting educational games that he’d brought from his native Finland, which they were obsessed with. In particular, they loved to play a card game of charades, acting out the picture and teaching us the Spanish word while we taught them its English equivalent. One of the eldest, was especially enthusiastic about having one-on-one sessions to learn useful English phrases. One of her favorite expressions was “I had fun today”.

Once everyone had arrived, the teacher would go over the day’s schedule, which was just a list of opportunities rather than a rigid timetable. It might include the option to participate in art projects, cooking, or sports. One day a week, there was a music teacher who came in for while and committed music with those who were interested. One morning during this particular week, David (husband of school director Ruth) led the students in a mushroom-gathering hike.

We were asked to teach them a song in English on the spot. So we came up with “Row, Row, Row your Boat” and taught them how to do it in rounds. They each made a copy of the lyrics and hung one of them on the wall.

Much of the time, the kids just climbed the walls. Literally. In addition to featuring aerial silks that students practiced on (as did Kimberly), there were plenty of footholds to ascend the walls up into the attic area. The students loved to scamper up there, following various paths; one day they invited Dennis to join them, and he happily did so. We were told that the students have essentially one rule: “Don’t die.”

During this second week, we performed another story, one of our perennial favorites: a Russian tale called “Simple Ivan”, though we renamed it “The Silly Boy”. It’s about a boy who tries to follow his mother’s advice on how to respond to people in certain situations, but keeps doing the right thing at the wrong time, with hilarious results. The students responded to it well, and as we hoped, were eager to have a go at it themselves. So we began prepping them to do a performance of it the next week as a sort of final showcase piece in celebration of World Theatre Day, which is celebrated on March 27th every year.

And we coached some of them in a few physical stunts we’ve used, such as an over-the-back flip. Several of them did quite well with it, and were… well, rearing to learn more.

Why wasn’t school ever like this when WE were kids?

Some of the glamping sites available for campers visiting the park.

Birds belong Here

March 15-18, 2022

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