A parent’s perspective – Written by Martin
We spent a few weeks in Quito learning Spanish, the success of which we will soon find out as we are in at the deep end with a month volunteering in the Galapagos. Apart from our one-way flights to Rio the ‘volunteering’ was the only thing we booked well in advance. My preference was to try and find projects while in country but Mo was insistent we book something, perhaps she thought this was the only way to ensure we did give something back and not just spend our time on idyllic beaches drinking cocktails between swims and massages?!
Our pre-project dealings with Kaya the UK based organisation who organised the trip were helpful and Mo spent a lot of time on email discussing with Alex the possibilities for a family with 3 young kids. I am not sure why we ended up in the Galapagos but it sounded interesting and different, a quick look online reveals that most tourists just do cruises and spend little time on the islands.
Kaya’s paperwork is thorough with lots of questions on what our skills, medical history, outcomes etc. are as well as the obligatory CYA ones. We also receive a pretty PDF and safety information that tells us that we should wash fruit, drink bottled water etc. plus disclaimers to say we are fully responsible for looking after the children. I am glad our superhuman powers of parental supervision can pass through walls and sign them. Part of the package was a couple of nights in a hostal, an induction from the local rep and city tour/orientation. The next person in the chain is Willy who runs the project in the Galapagos and who will meet us at the airport in San Cristobal, he has organised for Ben, Zoe and Lara to go to school and Mo and I to teach at the same school assisting with a class and teaching about computers all in Spanglish, scary!
Our 7.45 flight meant another 5.00AM start but amazingly we made it out of the apartment without too much fuss. It is nice to see some teamwork. Willy meets us and is lovely, everyone knows him as ‘Teacher Willy’ and in the afternoons after school his Foundation teaches English to about 100 kids and adults as well as placing people on conservation projects. There are quite a few volunteers already working in the afternoon including Ric, a science teacher who lives just a few miles from us in Brighton! Everyone is very friendly and we quickly pick their brains for where to eat, visit and shop. We wander down to the beach on Sunday mid afternoon and spot some sea lions (the brochures don’t mention they smell) on the beach and on the promenade. Crabs and sea iguanas are also plentiful but I suspect we will see far more when we start touring around.
Monday we have a reprieve, we will start on Tuesday at the school and Willy sits us down and talks to us about the kids and what to expect. San Cristobal has a population of 6000 of which just under half are of school age!?! This not so much a demographic problem (young people are good news as they will soon be workers) but a contraception problem. We are told that 13 year old Mums are common place and many teenagers struggle, unsurprisingly with parenting. Some quick maths tells me that I could already be a great grandfather and not just plain old dad if I started so young and my offspring followed in my footsteps. I start to wonder about Ben being 13 years old quite soon but don’t want to go there. Willy lays it on and tells us if it is ‘different’ here and not to expect the standard of discipline we might expect. Classes will be noisy and kids often get up and run around. With no streaming the mixed abilities mean it is difficult to target lessons to the brightest and slowest and the large class sizes make much of the lesson about crowd control. Some kids get hit at home or don’t come from loving homes so expect some emotional issues. To be a teacher you now need to have a teaching degree but they have a transition period so some don’t which is apparently a problem. We don’t admit to our shameful degreeless status. But they need help and we can make a difference. I remind myself that if it was easy it would be boring. School starts at 7.15AM and finishes at 12.30PM with a 20 minute ‘lunch’ at 9.15 and another 20 minute break at 10.45. It is a 15 minute walk with kids but we can grab a taxi which costs $1 to anywhere in town. I suspect we will be using them as Ben, Zoe and Lara are so good at getting ready in the morning and don’t need hours of parental chasing just to get out of bed?!? We pay a quick visit to the school meet the headmistress who talks fast and I catch very little but hope Willy and Mo will pass on anything critical. Ben, Zoe and Lara meet some of their future classmates who look excited and cheer their arrival. Good news!