By Caitlin Webb
I began working in C.E.D. Campo Alegre, a primary school located in Montecristo, in March of 2015. I started as an assistant English teacher once a week. However, as I began to get to know the community and the school, I realized that there were more pressing needs than learning English. Montecristo was originally a coffee farm, and what is now the one room schoolhouse was once a place for the farmers to sleep after their shifts. The community that resides in Montecristo today is made up of displaced families. There are about twenty families that live there, each with their own plot of land given to them by the government. Due to the fact that no one is actually from Montecristo, there is very little sense of ownership or pride among the residents. The school is not very well cared for: the paint is chipping and the walls are littered with “te quieros” from schoolgirl crushes of the past, the roof is falling apart, and there are no real bathrooms for the students to use.
I was told that working with displaced communities could be difficult, and that from previous experience this community in particular was very unmotivated. I saw the complete opposite. I was able to get my hands on a few buckets of paint and a few paintbrushes, courtesy of my school in Minca, and began going door to door speaking to parents about cleaning up the school. After about fifty tintos, I found that almost all of the families were interested in helping out. People that didn’t even have children in the school lent a hand….or a donkey.
While I did encounter some logistical problems, the project went off relatively well. I was extremely surprised by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the members of the community, especially regarding supplies. We painted the school with a mix of actual paintbrushes and brooms. Instead of painters tape to create straight lines, we used broom handles. When you take into account the various needs the school has, a new coat of paint may not seem like such a big success. However, the sense of community that was displayed by everyone coming out to help, and the look on the children’s faces when they saw the finished product made this a very rewarding experience. I hope that their level of motivation stays high and that future projects will be just as successful.
Group shot photo by: Casey Keating