By Michael Owen
Having the cops looking for you is normally never a good thing, let alone when they come to your school on your third day in town. This was the reality that I found myself in back in February 2015. Having just moved to Repelón, and while still getting my bearings, I was paid a visit by the police chief. Initial fear and uncertainty quickly gave way to a friendly exchange of numbers and a request to learn English. Little did I know at the time how much this brief meeting would come to shape my service up to this point.
When the paro set in back in April, my fellow volunteer, Jessi Atha, who lives about ten minutes away from me, and I were discussing things to do to help us pass the time away from school. I brought up the fact that the local police wanted English classes, and together, we decided to pursue this opportunity. After a visit to the police station and dinner with the police chief, we had our class established.
The first few classes were well attended and the excitement level was very high. Over time, however, schedules became crazy and attendance started to drop. Jessi and I tried to figure out ways to keep up enthusiasm for these classes, but ultimately have had to give into the daily uncertainty that comes with dealing with the police. Despite these setbacks, all was not lost.
Through these classes, we were able to make connections with other members of the community. For example, one day instead of having class, we participated in a workshop on managing stress and avoiding burnout. The presenter of this workshop has become a close friend and contact within the alcaldía. She also helped Jessi get plugged in with some local groups in the area that deal with issues, like underage employment, that she has experience with back in the states. Personally, I have also gained a running partner, as the police chief and I attempt to run two or three times a week (granted, it is at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m., but it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make).
One of the best things that came out of these classes has been a sense of companionship with the local police. After a few weeks, it became rather apparent that a mastery of the English language was going to be pretty difficult due to ever changing schedules and other obstacles. So instead of becoming frustrated with low attendance, Jessi and I have used these classes as an opportunity to get to know our local police on a greater level. The focus has turned from one of English learning to one of cultural exchange. Also, it never hurts to have the law on your side.