Wk 9 Biblioworks - Schools in Sopachuy

Trip Start Dec 06, 2010
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26
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Trip End Mar 31, 2011


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Flag of Bolivia  , Chuquisaca,
Thursday, March 3, 2011

We were looking forward to going to Sopachuy. Matt, Maritza and Roxana, all had said that was a beautiful town and one of their favourites to visit. Few cars, lots of friendly people, warm weather and a gorgeous countryside. It is fairly isolated and the farthest library from Sucre. Here's what our Biblioworks' Volunteer Handbook had to say about it:

 "Sopachuy is a picturesque town with high verdant mountains and two amazing rivers. The library there was requested by the mayor and the superintendent of education. The teachers have been involved in the library before its opening.                                                                                                                                                                                                     When the library was once closed for a week for inventory and cleanup, children and teenagers went to the mayor's office to complain.The space for the library is extremely small and we would love to find another space to hold the sixty plus children, young adults and teachers who attend every day. Sopachuy is one of our youngest libraries, but one of our best."

 
Before we left Ontario, our daughter who is a teacher at Greensville Elementary School, prepared a package of art work and a letter, that her grade 4 students, as well as three other classes, prepared for us to take to Bolivia. The idea was that the Greensville students would try to show, through their work, what their area in Greensville, Ontario, in Canada looked like. Then, Chris and I would  find a school in Bolivia that would receive the drawings and reciprocate with drawings of what their area in Bolivia looks like. Sopachuy is the town that we picked to take part in this little exchange. This blog is being written for the staff and students of Greensville School.
 
The bus ride to Sopachuy is long. From Sucre to Sopachuy it is about 193 km on a road that starts out good and ends up pretty bad. After a few hours, we were travelling the the dark and couldn't see anything but sure felt the bus as it 'rocked and rolled' and bumped around. We could hear that we went through at least 3 rivers and hoped that we wouldn't get stuck as we felt ourselves ploughing through mud. We left at 5 p.m., arrived at 10 p.m., promptly found our hostel and fell asleep

In our room, there were three beds - one was too hard, one was too soft and one was just right but very small. We felt like we were living the Goldilocks story. Chris opted for Mama Bear's bed and I took Baby Bear's. In the morning, I checked out the mattresses to see what we were sleeping on. There was a 5 cm straw covered pad (we could smell the straw) and a 5 cm padded mattress on top. This was on top of a wood frame. Look at the photo.

Sopachuy is a Quechua (Inca) word meaning Island of the Devil. I guess that there is an old legend about a devil who lives in the waters of the the two rivers that flow around the town.

Breakfast in Bolivia usually includes a thin bun with some butter and jam on it and hot tea. We found a little outside stand which sold coffee (but we had to buy the canned milk at a nearby store) and the lady kindly bought some eggs for us so that we could have a fried egg with our bun.

After breakfast we headed to the local elementary school to set up a schedule for our puppet workshop and show. Everything in Bolivia is very formal so Matt, our boss, had prepared a letter for the principal explaining what we wanted to present to the kids in the school and how it tied into Biblioworks' philosophies about literacy. We met all the teachers who were pretty excited about this free opportunity for their students.

On the way to the school, we noticed that all the children were carrying one or two branches. We asked why and were told that the kids bring wood to school to be used in the round, brick stoves that they use, to make bread. Women are hired to make bread for the kids to eat as well as a corn drink called Api, during their break.

All the children wear a white uniform (a little like a lab coat) over their clothes to help keep them clean. Most of the children carry backpacks with their school supplies in them. 

We got a feeling that the school is not well maintained and that they only have basic furnishings and classroom materials in the classrooms - tables and chairs for the kids, a teacher's desk and only 1 cupboard of supplies. There is a blackboard, no bulletin boards, a few posters and no books in the classroom. Since we have been in Bolivia, teachers have gone on strike to protest for higher wages and other issues and apparently this is a common occurance, sometimes for days and sometimes for weeks. (Teachers make about $150/month)

The school year runs from February to November with their summer vacation being in December and January. Remember that we are below the equator and the seasons are opposite to ours in Canada.

The students either attend school in the morning or the afternoon. Primary students in Sopachuy go to school from about 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the junior students go to school from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. We think that teachers have the option of teaching for either 4 or 8 hours. Secondary teachers may have to teach for 10 hours a day. 

Kids do not eat lunch at school. There are no school buses and there are very few after school or extra-curricular activities. Everyone has a 1/2 hour break during the 4 hours that they are in school and this is when they have a little something to eat or drink.

In Sopachuy, there are 125 very poor children that live in faraway, rural areas without schools that have to travel to and stay in Sopachuy to go to school.  While they attend school, they stay in a special 'comedor' where they sleep in dorms with bunkbeds, eat meals in a dining hall,
have baths once a week and sadly have to be away from their families. Many of these families cannot afford to pay for the school supplies that they are expected to buy - notebooks, pencils, crayons, erasers. These items can be found in stores in Sopachuy but many people just don't have the money to pay for them.

I read an article that even though the schools are public, public education is not free. Parents have to pay monthly for their kids to go to school, as well as pay for the mandatory uniform, books, supplies and materials. There is a very high dropout rate. Even though 80% of Bolivia's population attends elementary school, under 35% of the population advances on to senior public school or graduates from high school.

We have heard that some schools are falling apart (adobe roofs or walls falling apart). Some schools have no windows, lights, desks, washrooms or running water. The school in Sopachuy was lucky as it had all of these things. No school has heat or air conditioning and it seems that the local street animals can also come and go as they like.

We also heard that the government requires all new teachers to work their first two years in a rural school. The president would like this changed to 5 years. If a teacher does not want to work in a rural school, they will not get a job in an urban area. As I mentioned above, it took us 5 1/2 hours to go to Sopachuy from Sucre and many teachers do this trip every Friday and return on Sundays. At least there is a bus to Sopachuy. Many new teachers spend months away from their families during this long training period and often have to walk very long distances due to bad conditions on the roads.

After our little talk with the principal of the school, we visited the library and did a few repairs as well as added the eye glass rack and coat rack. The library is tiny and lots of kids use it. The mayor knows this but doesn't have another place to put the library at this time. Looking at the space, we knew that we could not put on a workshop for 24 in this space, so we decided to do it outside, weather permitting.

The following day, 24 kids aged 6 to 12 made puppets but another 10 teachers came, as well as the mayor, or maybe it was his right hand man, who we recruited to help with gluing pieces on puppets. We weren't expecting so many people and we had to improvise with materials. Twigs taken from trees in the park instead of chopsticks for the rods, smaller heads, etc. - we were 'feeding the multitude'. They had never used quick drying clay, markers or pipe cleaners and wanted to know where they could get these great materials. Crayola needs to come to Boliva!!!!
I did offer ideas for alternative materials -  papier mache for the heads. I was told that that is a problem too as newspapers are expensive, and anyways, there weren't any in Sopachuy. If there were, it might be used instead of toilet paper... old magazines were used in Morada K'asa!

Chris and I lent the parachute for 2 days to the gym teacher of the school and gave him a few ideas for playing games with it and he had a ball! He had to teach the little children in both Spanish and Quechua so instructions were given 3 times - once by us to him, and then twice by him. 

We also took the art work into the classes and spent about 1/2 hour in each class talking about the artwork and about Ontario's seasons. The kids were fascinated when we told them that snow wasn't always white and that snowballs could hurt when thrown, a little like the water balloons here at Carnaval time. The teachers were very excited to start art projects with their kids, for the Greensville students. Wait until you see the Bolivian scenes in their pictures, Greensville kids!

The next day, we were busy! Three puppet shows for about 450 kids. They had never seen a puppet show before and the junior kids were especially entranced. They loved the puppets. They loved the musical instruments that Gail and Pat use. They loved the theatre. They loved the granny telling the story and waving her cane when they weren't paying attention. That 1/2 hour was the best part of their day. And maybe week!

Somehow, with all that we did that day, we still managed to go for a short hike at lunchtime. Lunch is 2 hours here, so we were able to get a good walk in along the river bank between shows. We had become quasi celebrities in the short time that we were there and easy to identify. Lots of curious people who could speak Castellano, as they call Spanish here, made a point of coming up to us and asking us all sorts of questions. 
 
After show #3, we quickly tore down the theatre, packed everything up and caught our bus back to Sucre at 4 p.m. It was a good trip home

We have to add that Sopachuy is a lovely town and one of our favourites. Just look at the photos -  a hidden paradise, in the middle of nowhere.


 




 
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