24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, Thanksgiving's not celebrated here, so no turkey, parades or football for me today! But lots to give thanks for. I spent this morning in La Boquilla, a disadvantaged community by the beach about 10 km/6 miles north of Cartagena's center. It's amazing the difference--you ride the bus along the coastal road, and just past the international convention center, expensive apartment buildings and fancy hotels, the bus takes a left turn into another world. Here most of the houses are mere shacks with many people and multiple generations sharing one small home. I only get the very briefest of glances into the houses as I walk by, but it's incredible the discrepancy in the standards of living. The people in the highrises, if they are on the "right" side, have views from their balconies that give them a bird's eye view of how the other half lives.

The playing field attached to one of the schools.
I've volunteered at a school in this area a few times painting, serving & helping little kids eat their lunch, playing with the kids and teaching English. The hot noontime meal that they get at school is key for them. At this one school they're given uniforms also, which may be their best set of clothes. Despite it all, these kids seem very happy (see the photos below!), although I know I am not even scratching the surface of what their daily lives are like. You can get a better view of what life is like for the kids and families in this area via these 6 short (2-3 minutes each) videos on "The Beach Children." There are also few more photos of the kids and the area here. It truly makes you thankful.

A few kids finishing up lunch; this kids in this school range in age from 1 to 14. The roof in this open-air area is made of dried palm branches; it's amazingly good at keeping out the heavy rains!
This week, through a friend who's donated a lot of his IT expertise to this place, I connected with a community organization which is, among other things, working to help the local population develop marketable skills. For example, this morning I observed a class where about 25 adults were learning to set a table properly in order to work in a restaurant. The group has also set up time in their computer lab for locals to come for several hours in the afternoons to take free government sponsored online, self-paced English language courses. Each day next week I'll be to be the "go to" person in the lab to help answer any English-related questions while they are there taking the course. While a poor area, it is located on a beach that is frequented by locals and international tourists alike, and of course the convention center and hotels are nearby. So learning to speak English is an important skill to have, and having the computer lab--with highspeed internet!--available right in their community provides them with the access to these free classes.
Kids fooling around with the camera.

My Thanksgiving dinner will be fish, not turkey--I am on the Caribbean Sea, after all! But appreciating you all and how lucky I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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