Friday, July 26, 2013

A day in the life of ‘Tia Emma’ at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre

The day starts at 7am by piling on the layers and comfy shoes for a busy day at the children’s centre. Then I try to find a space on a minibus heading for Mallasa, sometimes this means standing on the step just inside the door and trying not to fall on any cholitas, children or people on their way to work!

When arriving at the Centro Infantil I am always overwhelmed by the amount of love and devotion in the nursery! The children’s centre was created because the local Mother’s Club of Mallasa dreamt of a community nursery which would respect both their cultural background, and the children’s right to a safe and creative place to learn and play. There are 9 local women, affectionately called 'Tias' [aunties], who look after the children.

The Tias plan activities which educate the children while also teaching them values.  For example, in last week’s class we learnt about friendship in the morning, and in the afternoon made La Paz day flags while learning about the upcoming La Paz day festival.

The centre isn't just important for the children in the community, but also provides vital support for the local mothers.  The centre charges 60 Bolivianos a month for childcare, 5 days a week including food, while other nurseries in the area charge as much as 1200 Bolivians, excluding the cost of meals. The charitable donations which the Centro Infantil receives means that local families can access affordable child care so they are able to work.

The children arrive and immediately it is time for breakfast, I am responsible for collecting the food for the three older classes at the nursery (about 38 children, soon to be more). The meals for the week are nutritionally balanced so the menu varies day to day, today we had hot chocolate and bread. The soundtrack of meal times is the Tia and I encouraging the children to finish their meals, “muy bien”, “terminadaste?”.  After lunch there are so many plates, cups, bowls and spoons that I have to use a wheelbarrow to take them back to the kitchen!

The Tia takes the children to wash their hands after each meal. During those short few minutes I return the plates, bowls and cutlery back to the kitchen, clean the tables and chairs, and sweep and mop the floor. I just about complete this when the children bound back in full of energy and character.

It is a big challenge volunteering in such a busy environment with limited Spanish. However I picked up the key phrases such as “que bonito!” (how pretty!) to describe the children’s artwork, and “por favour no muerdas” (please don’t bite!) pretty quickly.
The difference in the attitude towards Learning Disabilities in the centres, compared to my experience of the attitudes in England, came as the biggest shock for me. In England I am used to Learning Disability diagnosis, Special Educational Needs, Special Schools and extra support. In my experience, this approach can highlight differences, which can contribute towards discrimination, but with the objective of  providing support which gives everyone equal opportunities to succeed. In the children’s centre Learning Disabilities are not diagnosed, children are instead said to be “different”. They are treated like the other children and encouraged to fit in. The children’s centre is run according to the Montessori method, so the children progress according to their rate of development not their age.  From the short time I have volunteered in the children’s centre it seems that the children are accepting of their peers with disabilities and the children are given love and support to develop in their own time. However it is still challenging for me to adjust to the Bolivian way of thinking about Learning Disabilities, and I hope to learn more about the experiences of people with disabilities while I amin Bolivia.

My experience volunteering at the Centro Infantil so far has been tiring and a big culture shock, but the overwhelming feeling is one of complete respect for the Tias for their commitment and devotion to the development of children in Jupapina.

Written by Emma Haslam
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your blog post Emma, its really insightful to read about the different approaches to educating children, particularly children with disabilities. Its always good to have different perspectives which you can learn from and use in your own way of working.

    And thanks for the post below on communities; its interesting to see how the word 'community' can mean many different things to different people in the world. Its particularly relevant as the ICS scheme hopes to achieve a more global community through promoting active citizenship.

    We look forward to the next post,

    Best wishes,

    York Team