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August 21, 2011: Montessori students visit Building Dignity in Peru

posted Aug 21, 2011, 1:27 PM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:41 AM ]
Dear friends of Building Dignity,

Recently, the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED) hosted our youngest volunteers yet. Educator Elizabeth Henke and six students from Montessori High School
(Cleveland, OH; picture on the right) volunteered their time (and fundraised dollars) to teach, paint three rooms of the center, and immerse themselves in Villa El Salvador community life. At the end of this message, I note other highlights, but most of this update comes through the voices of these young adults: Daria Bobyleva, Serena Chapman, Christian Heller, Otto Lyon, Savannah Roach, and Betty Roethlisberger.

"My initial impression of Villa El Salvador was one of surprise. I was surprised at how such a poor city could be located so close to one so prosperous (Lima). I was initially worried about how safe it would be for us in Villa El Salvador on a daily basis, but those worries quickly went away when we started to walk around and meet some of the people living there. It seemed not safe when we first arrived, but the people living there were so kind and that made us feel very comfortable to be in that area. The time spent in Villa almost felt more safe than the time spent in Lima." --Christian

Painting the Garden Room.
"I have to say, my initial impressions of Villa El Salvador were not the best. The first things I saw after I stepped off the bus were huge piles of trash everywhere, as well as a bunch of homeless dogs all around looking for scraps. The sandy desert of Villa El Salvador was filled with the smell of trash. As soon as I met the people who lived there my thoughts of the place completely changed. These people were so open to strangers, every time we passed people they would greet us as if we had known each other for awhile. The kids were so comfortable with us after just three days." --Betty

Picture on the right: Painting the Garden Room. Laru became our expert painter, spending much of his time over the three days painting the garden room with the help of Betty and Daria, and of course, Encantada resident "Michelangelo".

"I kept an open mind going into Villa El Salvador. I honestly had no idea what to expect. Driving into Villa El Salvador, my first impressions were trash everywhere, lot and lots of stray dogs, and run-down even though there were people all about! Normally all this would lead me to think it is a dangerous, unhappy place. But once we stepped out of the bus and visited the Mayor, we were greeted by happy, proud people! In fact, they were celebrating their 40th year anniversary so the city was quite new contrary to my first impressions. As Jesús led us through rows and rows of 'houses' made out of mostly scrap materials, the people said ‘hola’ with smiles on their faces; yet they were living in insufficient housing with dirt floors, and no running water! As time went on in getting to know Villa El Salvador I was surprised by the unity and optimism of the people, all working toward the same goal with happiness and courage instead of discontent and violence. This place became safer and safer as I watched three- and four-year old children walk home from the center in the dark, all alone! Children that age wouldn’t do that in the U.S. The other thing that blew me away was the generosity of the people. I went to a soup kitchen and they offered us food even though they only had so much food to feed the women and children in need. It really left me with an appreciation and thankfulness of my life, but more so, the lesson that one can choose to find the good in any situation. With this experience, I hope to do that myself and always remember the optimism of the people of Villa El Salvador." --Serena

Playing guitar.
"One of the observations that shaped my understanding of La Encantada was watching how observant and thoughtful the kids were. When we put out the origami paper and watercolors, they took only what they needed. I was hoping, at most, for the kids to be interested in playing with the folded frogs, but without any language communication, the kids were immediately following along after the first few folds." --Otto

Picture on the right: Playing guitar. Otto, our traveling musician, enhanced our time at Building Dignity by performing songs for the children in the kindergarten class and Wawa Wasi (daycare).

"One of the most astounding things I witnessed was seeing how gingerly and thoughtfully the students used materials--one at a time. The Montessori philosophy of limited material was played out here, born of circumstance, but with the same result: the material had value. It was there to be shared and respected." --Elizabeth

Radio Interview.
"There was one little girl at the center who showed up for every art class, named Mercedes. She had a green ribbon tied in her hair. She carried her notebooks and pencil around as if it was her job. On the first day of art workshops, we taught all of the kids watercolors. Most of them traced pictures out of books and colored them in. Mercedes plopped down on the sand-coated cement floor and proceeded to draw a house, a tree, and two people. The first thing that surprised me was that she drew a typical house instead of the makeshift ones made out of cinderblocks that she knows. After she had finished painting with concentration for about fifteen minutes, the paper had become a muddled mess of goopy paint and water. I asked her what she had painted (in Spanish) and she answered with: her house, me, and Christian. She handed me the paper and began on a new, but very similar piece of art. I can’t answer why, but at that point something clicked and I instantly felt like I was in the right place. From that point, I felt safer there than I do just a few blocks from where I live at school. This little girl who lives without water and little financial support was able to instantly connect to a stranger and show an instant generosity that many adults will never be able to know. To me, this experience is a lens into the lives and lifestyles of the 400,000 people who live in Villa El Salvador." --Savannah

Picture on the right: Radio Interview. Savannah and Elizabeth represented the group as the radio host asked questions ranging from why we chose to visit Villa el Salvador to what is most American’s response to global warming and climate change. Upon completion as we were walking down the street, we were greeted by people who had listened to the broadcast! They warmly thanked us for coming to their city and working with CEDED.

English workshop.
"The most memorable moments for me were the third day when I was working with a small school in La Encantada. When we walked over from the center to their classroom, this little girl came up to me and took my hand. I don’t know how to explain it, but that one little action she took meant so much to me. When it was time for them to play outside they were so excited to do something with us. I took them around giving them piggyback rides and swinging them around in the air. They loved this and it put a smile on their faces every time. It made me so happy to see that smile shining on their faces and it’s a memory I will never forget. They never got tired of this and did not want to stop, but they calmly stood aside after their turn to let someone else go. The camaraderie these kids have is something every one should have and it gives us hope for the future." --Betty
Picture on the left: English workshop. Savannah and Betty take time to teach the parts of the body along with naming the members of the family. The students listened, drew, labeled, and sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Recent Building Dignity Highlights
Leadership Grants: We awarded our first leadership grant to community leader Betty Lozano Revollar. The grant enables Betty to lead the construction of a concrete roof on a school. This $1,600 project is co-financed by Building Dignity (40%) and neighborhood residents (60%). Betty will also play a mentoring role in our upcoming grant competition for emerging leaders. Emily and Paul spent time in Lima in April and June developing this program.

Students in Brooke Haubrick’s classroom at Adams Spanish Immersion School (St. Paul, MN) donated 136 new books to the CEDED library. And Carleton students Jason Anderson and Nicole Johnson are currently leading the design and completion of CEDED’s community kitchen. More from them in our next update.

Programming: We continue to offer 2-week and 4-week classes in English, math, sports, leadership, music, and poetry. Recent workshops have been led by Rocío Hernani and Indy Díaz Nuñez (Peru), John Boyce and Daniel Franklin (Australia), and Jason Anderson, Mary Ellen Dingley, Nicole Johnson, and Annabelle Potvin (U.S.).

Personnel: We are adding two new Program Coordinator positions (one Peruvian and one non-Peruvian). Macalester alum Andrew Mueller will fill the latter position beginning in September. We are recruiting in Lima to fill the other position.

Needed: Your old PC laptop that’s collecting dust on the shelf! CEDED needs two additional used PC laptops. The market value of your donated computer is tax-deductible. Talk to me if you can help with this important need.

Thanks to all our diverse supporters and volunteers!