Colombia Volunteering – Epilogue

Invariably it happens. Not planned, not even desired, somewhat improper. From the first time that a volunteer walks into a classroom, instantaneous bonds are are created between particular students and particular teachers. There is no explanation for the phenomena. Call it chemistry, call it karma, call it what you will. It happens. This is our ninth year of do-gooderism. Aside from the occasional plant or animal focussed mission most of Lori’s and my work has focussed on teaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds. While every attempt is made to devote equal time and equal energy on each child, one is drawn to particular kids or verse-visa. Sometimes it’s a twinkle in the eye, sometimes it’s how you pronounce each other’s names, sometimes it’s the way that a student gets on your wavelength and absorbs your lessons almost via osmosis.

Carlosito, Man about the House at Emerging Voices. All around Great Guy

I cried at the end of our first mission in India when we left the school for the last time. Since then I’ve held back my tears but the throat lump makes it tough to provide a proper farewell. The day before yesterday in Cartagena proved no different. But extenuating circumstance increased the effect. That is what this blog is about. 

Other than India, we had never worked for three weeks with children. The additional 50% time increase allowed us to do more and also allowed relationships to grow longer and deeper. The kids are used to it, in theory. Vols come and vols go; that’s just how it is. But humans aren’t simple creatures. When teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), whether to adults, teens, or children, there are three levels – basic, intermediate, and advanced. The first level deals with basic vocabulary – colours, days of the week, the I-me-you stuff, etc. Intermediate teaches sentence structure and touches on uses of basic tenses. Advanced classes deal with more abstract concepts, fine tunes verbal skills, and teaches advanced tenses. We are given a syllabus and try to pick up where the previous volunteer had left off.

Advanced Group, Santa Rita
The classes at Granitos were quite small. I preferred teaching advanced; student groups varied between four and seven. While I’ve been told that I write good, I am at a total loss to as to how one parses sentences, explains conjugations, or provides examples of how to use the past perfect subjunctive. In fact, in certain classes, I had to rely on the explanations provided by my students to allow me to come up with examples. Knowing how boring I found those classes to be when I attended school last century, there was no way that I could excite and hold the room if I stuck to the curriculum. So I made up lecturers to suit what I felt was a better use of both our time.

I delved into the minds and desires of my pupils. I challenged them to think about why they chose to come to class during holidays. I asked them to try to lay out their future paths. I probed into what made them different from their peers. We talked, we discussed hard questions. I conceded that life was horribly unfair. That they would have to work ten times harder with insufficient tools to attain the same level of education that is afforded virtually every middle class European or North American child. Not their faults, I explained, but that is reality.
Advanced Group Granitos
Five of my students were exceptional. They had career paths, had a desire to help those who came from the same background but lacked the drive or ability to advance, and to help their families live a better life. It was only during my last week did I learn that the group had been speaking English for only one year. I was astounded. Sentence structure, humour, abstractions, vocabularies had me believing that they had four to five years under their belts. I learned that a foundation existed that offered a free one year education programme for the kids in the barrio. That was their entire linguistic base. All of them wanted to continue their education. Problem – university costs money. These kids have none and were facing the prospect of, at best, becoming waiters and chambermaids in local hotels and restaurants rather than engineers, politicians, and doctors. 

Cartagena’s Answer to Sammy Davis Jr.

She Will Run the World One Day

The government provides ZERO!! We talk about political corruption at home?!? It’s a joke. A well known bureaucrat in Montreal was known as ‘Mr. 2 1/2%’ reflecting his cut from civic projects he awarded. Here, he’d be considered an honest man. Equivalent bureaucrats and politicians in most countries we have visited leave 2 1/2 % on the table for projects, pocketing the other 97 1/2%. For $4,000 these kids can receive a year’s worth of university education. Two to three years and they are in a position to advance their lives. But the fees might as well be $4,000,000 per year.

When the time came this past Thursday to say goodbye, four out of my five regulars, Maria-Josée, Carmillo, Maria, and Yanice were there. Jésus had not been to class for the previous two days. On December 31st, his teen-age sister was held up by a gangster, shaking her down for the few pesos she had or perhaps her cell phone. Resisting the attack, she grabbed a bottle, broke It, and tried to defend herself and her meager possessions. The attacker pulled out his gun and shot her. Dead. On the street. Broad daylight. Jésus was busy making funeral arrangements to bury his kid sister.

Many of you know that as of this past November, I sold off my management company. One of the overriding factors behind the decision was to allow Lori and I a chance to spend more of the time we have left on this Earth to effect change. Our trip this Christmas has only confirmed that the decision reached was the correct one. Our intent is to establish a foundation. The name is registered. It is Good Seeds Grow. We are working on the details over our holiday. In broad strokes, our goal is to focus on needs we personally identify, from either previous experiences or future projects. In the event that a major fix is required (school, wells, water filtration, medical), our plan is to enlist local talent, then add foreign expertise, money and our time to bring the specific projects to fruition. We have seen this done. 

Our friend Joey in Antalaha, Madagascar, has singlehandedly changed the world around her. 

or, Sasha Sicurella with her I AM: INTERNATIONAL self-identity photo projects, 

has enlivened and empowered children and adults all over the world. We hope to follow in the footsteps of these incredible women.

A second avenue that we intend to put in place is simpler. Our volunteer history has put us in touch and in close quarters with people of incredible dedication. Be it Monica, 

who established Emerging Voices in Cartagena 
or, Brett who created Ste. Luce Animal Reserve in southern Madagascar, 

or, Stephen Raj with his S.E.A.M. (South East Asian Mission) orphanage and school in Chennai, India. 

Then there is Yubraj, who I met accidentally in Nepal touring the country with Ron Levy. 

Handing Out Books to 140 Children

Our relationship has resulted in children who were flood and earthquake victims obtaining school supplies allowing them to continue their education in the face of extreme odds. 

Forget the Nobel Prize, what is needed is the Noble Prize. We can supply a list of candidates. In the case of most charities, an overwhelming percentage of funds donated in good faith go to feed the machine with a mere pittance ending up on the doorsteps (assuming their clients have, either doors or steps) of the needy. Funds that have been privately sent to various folks that Lori and I have been fortunate to meet have been 100% used for the betterment of the end recipient. 

So if anybody reading this would like to help Maria, Yanice, Camillo, or the others have a fighting chance, please let me know. I will guarantee that you will have saved a life. It’s too late for Jésus’s sister, but let’s try to limit future carnage.
No Comments
  • Lorne S
    Posted at 13:15h, 07 January Reply

    Bruce, you're a builder of hope. Hope is what you're nurturing in these kids, and that's what your organization, Good Seeds Grow, will be supporting and protecting. I'm impressed. You're a fantastic example to the rest of us freezing, inert Canadians.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 14:41h, 07 January Reply

    Bruce and Lori,
    I feel it will be important to get the youth in Canada involved in Good Seeds Grow. Really look forward to working that with you and following your beautiful lead!
    Mike y sus hijos;)

  • Ron Siegel
    Posted at 23:21h, 09 January Reply

    Enjoy your time which is now. Love Ron

  • Chaz Designs
    Posted at 02:37h, 10 January Reply

    Fantastic to learn about your good new(s) journey and initiative! Love the name and also I look forward to hearing more, great work, awesome team! xo

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