Dear Las Manos Family and Friends,
I am writing to you on May 21st, 2016, exactly three weeks from my last day working with Las Manos de Christine in the role of Head English teacher and Volunteer Coordinator. It is incredible to believe that in a few short weeks I will again be living Stateside and other very fortunate educators will be filling my post in El Hato and have the privilege of spending each day working with the children and young adults of El Hato, the school’s staff and administrators, and the Las Manos team.
My first experience with Las Manos was three years ago. I was volunteering with another local NGO at the time, and on a day off from school I asked Bryant if I might come up to El Hato and spend a day observing the Las Manos program. That was the first time I met Salina and Alejandra, who I have had the privilege of working with this past year. Though I unfortunately did not keep in touch during the two succeeding years I was living in the States, when I returned to Antigua in October 2015 I decided again to seek Las Manos out and see if I could volunteer in a more regular capacity. Little did I know the extent to which I would fall in love with the program and the community in El Hato.
After volunteering for a month in November, I returned in January in my new role teaching English to students as young as three and as old as myself, and supervising volunteers. I feel incredibly blessed to work with a supportive, dynamic, and child-centered team. What’s more, I have had the chance to develop strong relationships with my students and grow as an educator.
I have not yet brought myself to tell any of my students that I will be leaving before the June break, though it’s a task I must do soon. I will miss all of my students, but especially my Básico students. It is recently becoming more common in El Hato for girls to continue school after the sixth grade. The current Telesecundaria classes are perfect examples of this. In the Básico 1 class there are 21 students, 11 of whom are girls; in the Básico 2 and 3 classes combined there are 19 students, 2 of whom are girls.
There are many obstacles that prevent teens in El Hato from attending school, especially girls. Las Manos de Christine and partner NGO SERniña are working hard to combat these issues, empower young girls, and make educational opportunities both enriching and accessible. What I hope for most when I am able to visit is that the current Básico girls will still be attending school regularly, and have hopefully moved on to the next level of instruction, respectively Básicos 2 and 3, and Bachillerato.
When I return home to the States I hope to work with my local community to raise awareness about Las Manos de Christine and educational needs in El Hato. While I plan to return to visit as soon as possible, I am going to be focusing my energies on my graduate school studies for the near future. I want to say a sincere thank you to everyone at the school for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this community, and most especially to Salina for always being a strong support and for welcoming me into the Las Manos family!