Oct 2, 2019

From our teen leader Sarah Capute

I travelled to Las Galeras in the Dominican Republic with Las Margaritas foundation. My aunt, who grew up in the DR, started this foundation with my uncle and the help of her family, who live in the Dominican. The foundation has been holding a summer camp for children in the DR for years now. They take teen leaders with them each year to help with the camp. My aunt and I came up with the idea of me leading a softball clinic as a part of the camp this year and tie it into a theme of gender equity. I collected equipment with the help of the Cheshire softball community to use in the clinic and donate to some local teams in the DR. On the day of the equipment drive, I had no idea what to expect or if anyone would even show up. But I was amazed at how much equipment we gathered and how interested and excited people were about the project. We collected enough equipment to hold a clinic at the camp and donate to three different places in the DR. There were about 50 kids at the clinic and I taught some basic skills (throwing, fielding, hitting). I had to improvise at times in order to communicate because my spanish isn’t too great. When the clinic was finished, I got to meet a few of the players on one of the teams we donated to (The Bandits) while they were receiving the rest of the equipment. Although baseball is a huge part of Dominican culture, softball is rare and girls don’t get nearly enough opportunities to participate in sports in general. This was an incredible experience for me to see the impact a small project like this could have. 

Aug 3, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: InThe Books

So, we came down to Las Galeras with few expectations. We had a couple of contacts that we had only conversed with online. And figured that we would be able to work something out once we got here but we’re never really sure if we were going to have any campers until they actually arrived. Given all of that in my view this camp was a huge success. Some thoughts.

* Literacy level of the campers in general is quite low. Lower than in Madre Vieja. Not sure why. We noticed that on Day 1 of the camp and backed off on some of the literacy activities we had planned. We've already talked about doing some intense reading work with some of the students at next year's camp.

* We took all campers who came every day. We even had one new camper on the last day. We figured we needed to allow word to spread to capture as many campers as possible. This inconsistency made it more challenging to connect with the campers on a daily basis. I think next year we need to limit it to those who show up on the first day.

* We played softball once. We need to figure out the logistics to make that part of the daily routine because the campers loved that activity. We just can’t let them traipse clay all over the classrooms after playing. (I’ll keep to myself the drama that resulted. No use burning bridges.)

You know I always wonder if we’re making a difference with these camps. I mean, can a week of literacy, STEM, art, and community development really improve these students’ lives. Then I think about it this way. Seeing all of us come from so far away in our free time (Is there such a thing?) to spend even just a week here I think would make at least some of the campers feel special. And that feeling goes a long way. So, Campamento #7 is now complete. Camp #8 starts Monday in San Cristobal.

Las Galeras Camp: Día 5

We arrived at camp a little before nine and 25 campers were waiting for us!  It took all week but Hora Americana has finally sunk in. Big doings today with a lot of moving parts. Her goes:

* We brought a number of books with us to use at the camp. We wanted to give each camper a book and then the rest we would donate to the school. So, that’s what we did. Tanya had the idea to give each kid three books out of which they could choose one to keep. I was skeptical. I figured this plan
would lead to mayhem, with the campers fighting over books. But that didn’t happen. The campers
were wicked focused (Just threw that Framingham descriptor in for Jen!) on their books and took on the challenge of deciding which book to choose very seriously. Have I mentioned that I probably shouldn’t ever question my wife’s ideas?

* In the midst of the book exchange T, C, C, and S headed into town to deal with the softball equipment donation. We had tried to take care of this on Thursday but ... well, you know how things work here. So Tanya set up a meeting with Ana Reyes and the coach of the local girl’s softball team at the Mayor’s office in town. All worked out great. One of the campers actually plays on this team so she left camp early to be part of the ceremony. She came back beaming with her new softball and sports socks!  So, thanks to Sarah for leading this equipment drive and to all the families in Cheshire who contributed. Your generosity made a difference in these girls’ lives.
* We thought we’d finish off the camp with an ice cream treat for all the campers. While we were waiting for it to arrive I sent the kids off to the basketball court to play. Next thing I knew they had organized a baseball game on the court. We had been very hesitant all week to use the court because there was very little shade. Didn’t seem to bother the campers a bit. The baseball, by the way, was a ball of scotch tape wrapped around a sock. I took some great photos of these events. And when I uploaded them to this blog they all turned out upside down. I don't understand the interweb.

Preparing the Books!

Softball Equipment Donation
Luli handing over the extra books to Dani

Aug 1, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: Día 4

Smooth sailing today. I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

We read “Where the Wild Things Are” and then had the campers write a reflection. They were captivated by the book(who isn’t after all). But also because I just don’t think they get to read that many books. Many of them had a real hard time getting their  thoughts down on paper... or really forming their thoughts in the first place. Literacy skills are quite low I think.

In art today we brought a bunch of leaves and flowers from La Casa and the
 students created still lives with thin Markers and water colors

Today’s STEM challenge was to make the longest continuous  “road” with one piece of paper

Jul 31, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: Día Tres

Lots of fun today! We arrived at the play a few minutes before nine and there were already a dozen campers waiting at the really well-kept baseball field. Ten minutes later we had 50 or so kids with us. Sarah did a great job splitting up the campers into three groups; for throwing, batting, and fielding. Her coach would be proud! Of course getting three groups of campers to rotate between the three stations proved a bit challenging. I’ve been trying for nine years to figure out how to do that without much success either. That’s why every time we want campers to rotate between activities Tanya sagely reminds me that we should rotate the activity and not the campers. Regardless, everyone got a chance to do all three activities... eventually.

At the end of the session Sarah created a competition in which the campers needed to throw a softball about 30 feet and knock another ball off a tee. One at a time all campers tried and failed (basically because they didn’t realize that accuracy was much more important than power and just threw the ball as hard as they could. I guess they don’t watch Survivor.) Finally the last camper came up, a tiny shy boy of eight. He gathered all his might and heaved. The ball bounced once , then again and then landed right on the tee, easily knocking the ball off. The campers erupted! And now this little boy is the proud owner of a Cheshire Flames t-shirt — that he may grow into in about five years.

After that rousing finish to the morning’s activity we headed over to the camp. We followed the campers and instead of going back to the main road the way we came, they took a back road that led right to the school. As we came home from the camp a couple of hours later I remarked that no one could have told us of this route to the school that avoided the traffic on the main road? For the rest of the way home we debated whether the locals would se us as silly Gringos if we walked on the main road or this back way in. My view was that since everyone walks on the main road with the trucks and motorcycles, and horses, that they would find us strange taking the long way around. Tanya took the opposing viewpoint. Share your view on this post as you see fit.

Jul 30, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: Día 2

Well, we must be doing something right. Forty five campers today. OMG. And to boot, when we arrived a few minutes before nine there were already three or four waiting for us. Here are some hilights/challenges:
* While the younger group decorated paddleball games for their art project we did origami with the older kids. I had Sarah show the kids how to do it while Frandy explained. All went well with the first piece - a dog - and then one of the campers saw the instructions for a crane and asked if we could do that one. I said yes! Not the easiest piece to do for a practiced paper folder, it would be quite a challenge for the novice campers - especially given that Sarah wastryaing to follow the directions and Frandy was translating to Spanish. I jumped in at some point, but my memory of the crane construction wasn’t too vivid. Eventually we sought out help from the other room, enlisting Tanya’s help. I mean she did build like 100 cranes for the Washington peace crane project a few years back after all. But that was awhile ago and she was rusty as well. Finally, Camila came to the rescue and after an hour or so we had ten functioning cranes in the group. The campers really needed recreo at that point.
* For the day’s STEM challenge we gave the campers one piece of paper and tasked them with constructing a container that would hold as much water as possible. Luli smartly had her group work individually and the kids had a blast. I, in my continued belief that the campers know how to collaborate, had my kids work in groups of three. They still had fun but the room was a bit charged with heated design thinking discussions.
* Roberto, our host at Casa Dorado, came along with us today. We talked about community leaders for a bit and then he spoke to the older group about Las Galeras and their responsibility to help take care of it. He then stuck around for the rest of the morning and was hugely helpful. Gracias Roberto por todo tu hospadilidad.

Jul 29, 2019

Las Galeras Camp: Día #1

So, we left Casa Dorado at about 8:30 having been told that it was a 20 minute walk to the school. We headed to La Calle Principal, hooked a right and walked down the main road ‘til we reached the school — remarkably similar in color and style to the school in Madre Vieja as Camila so aptly pointed out. Made it in 15 minutes. Olga and Castro,  two school employees were expecting us and showed us to the room. So far so good. Ana Reyes, Tanya’s local contact, showed up a few minutes later. She told us that she had posted a flyer about the camp but she wasn’t sure how many campers would show up. 9:00 came and went... still no campers. That’s OK, we always anticipate late arrivals in the DR right? 9:15 slips on by... still no campers. OK, now I’m starting to worry. Camila asks me, “What do we do if no campers show up?” My thoughts as well. Then a woman pulls up on a motoconcho and drops her daughter off! We have a camper. Caitlyn heads off into the neighborhood and corrals a few more kiddos. A few more show up on their own accord and by 9:45 or so we have 7 or 8 en total. As the teen leaders hand out camp t shirts and get the kids going on their name tags Tanya and I glance at each other and shrug. “It’s a start” she mouths. And I nod back. And then a funny thing happened. More kids kept on arriving. Alone, sometimes siblings, even two sets of twins. Every time we try to get started another camper shows up. By the time 10:15 rolls around, we have 30 campers and needed to split into two groups. So we did. This country never ceases to amaze me.

At this point less than two hours remained so we moved to Plan C, after abandoning both plans A and B (see yesterday’s post). We did some art, read a book about the environment, and had the students design and build paper airplanes (the day’s STEM activity). And that was that. All in all quite a successful first day. One thing we need to figure out is recreo. There’s a basketball court at the school but it’s too damn (I mean, darn) hot to have the kids run a lot. As you may recall we have lots of softball equipment with us and Ana Reyes told us that we could use the town’s baseball field but it’s about a 10 minute walk from the camp. Our latest idea was to start the camp at the field around 9 while it’s not too hot and then walk to the school afterward. Well start that on Wednesday because we thought of this after camp was over today. Ah well, it’s a start.