By Sammy Quezada
Before I arrived to this country, I had always wanted work in a youth center of some sort. I have extensive background having worked throughout different departments of a youth center, and I wanted to implement my craft here.
Initially living in Barranquilla, I was always on the lookout for a community center, a safe zone for school-age children to attend. I knew that there a few different youth development-based projects with current PCVs, but I wanted something that was not affiliated with the primary project. Talking to my host family in the city, they told me that places like that don’t really exist, that it’s difficult to trust a child to attend somewhere without the parents’ presence. This lack of stepping stones put my plans to find and collaborate with a youth center in the back burner.
Upon arriving to my current rural site, Usiacurí, I was quick to notice that a lot of kids are outside, but didn’t have organized activities. I slowly got to know my neighbor, an eleven-year-old boy, who I noticed would just stay at home on weekends. I invited him to join me in working out at my house. He was indifferent about it at first, but it became a daily activity for the two of us. The neighboring kids caught onto this and wanted in. I huddled them together to set a time, and public location. Of course that first week was difficult in coordinating logistics, punctuality, and making sure they stayed hydrated. The attendance varied in quantity and in age range, but one of the constants was that my attendance was all boys. This wasn’t my first time noticing this; in exploring the town I saw lots of boys outside playing and lounging, but very seldom saw girls socializing with their peers. I know that girls exist. In fact, I work at two different school campuses where I see plenty of girls. I wanted to continue with my project, but now with a new agenda to implement.
After about six weeks of having this workout group, the hype fizzled out along with a change that came with my work schedule. However, this trial showed that there was a demand for recreational activities. For a few weeks, my neighboring kids came to my porch and we played one of the board games that I own. As fun as this was, my porch was only so big, and my neighborhood is only a sector of the whole pueblo, I needed a central public space that was available to all.
After a visit to the Alcaldía, a public space was allotted to me. I had to share it with a group of artesenia vendors, but we managed the space well enough. After having made an announcement in a few classrooms, I had over thirty kids arrive. I was impressed with them and myself. A thirty to one ratio isn’t a new thing to me, I can definitely handle it, but what I did get was a subtle reminder of the cultural differences that I needed to approach and solve with sensitivity.
This month has been a bit of a mess in getting back in the flow of things, in creating a new schedule for myself, and trying to create a slightly more organized objective and schedule with this project. The direction I need to move in now is finding potential community counterparts and volunteers to help me out and make this more effective. I need to create membership applications, to track students’ attendance appropriately and have current information on them. I am very impressed with the attendance and participation I had received from girls. I had a few parents come and inquire, to get the specifics as to what the objective is of my being there and confirm that their children weren’t lying regarding their whereabouts.
This center has been my initial goal to bring to my service, and it is something I can definitely thrive in, and I am just glad to see it blossom. I’m looking forward to the new challenges that will come along with it.