Lindsey Chapman's Travel Blog

Life Is Good
January 3, 2011, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , , ,

I returned to Chile after a marvelous month at home with my dear family and friends. I had nothing but a one-way ticket in hand, some luggage, no place to live and no job.

But I’m blessed with a wonderfully kind friend, Maria Jesu, whom I stayed with when I first arrived while I searched for a place to live permanently. A few days after I arrived a man contacted me on CouchSurfing wanting private English lessons. Another good friend of mine hooked me up with a part time job at an English institute. When I returned to my volunteer work at Anakena school,  Tía Leo and my class greeted me with a dance to Shakira’s “Waka Waka.” It was absolutely adorable.

I ended up finding a place to live throughCompartoDepto. It’s a small house in a quiet neighborhood in Nuñoa, a little further outside the center. I now live with a Chilean raw vegan chef, a musician and a French nutritionist. We have a garden, a piano and an enormous kitchen, by Chilean standards anyway. It’s wonderful.

Now that I live outside the city, I went on the hunt for a bike. A friend of mine contacted me and said his roommate had one that he never used and I could probably have it. So for the cost of a beer, I had a new bike.

I am currently finding a new role in the office at VE Global. I would like to work on training development and progress evaluation using statistical analysis, from a broad perspective. My first projects are going to  be revising our training manual, developing a VE Global cookbook for fundraising purposes, and finding statistical significance from our past volunteer satisfaction surveys. The nerd in me is completely thrilled about this.

Life is good back in Santiago. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so much love even when I am so far away from home.



Olympiadas A Anakena
October 19, 2010, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , , , ,

Last week we had Olympiadas at an outdoor public field a few blocks from Colegio Anakena. In the first heat of runners, there were five kids all around the age of five-years-old. Uno, dos, tres and they were off toward the finish line. Until the boy in Lane Three looked down to realize that the ground he was running on was made up of sand. As with most kids, a sand box is at least a few hours worth of fun. So he plopped down and started playing in the sand. And then a few others stopped to stare at him with jealous eyes.  We all cheered, encouraging them to keep running. One tia had to come and help him up, and remind him that he was racing. Eventually he found the finish line.

There were two running events, one long and one short, and three other events consisting of biking, long jump, and throwing a tennis ball. After all the events were over,  there was an award ceremony with certificates, medals, and trophies. The age categories were “mini,” “super mini,” “hyper mini,” and “infantile mini.” It was absolutely adorable.

I had the glamorous job of crowd control, and attempted to keep all of the kids that weren’t competing from running out onto the field. It was difficult to say the least, and the key word here is “attempted.” At the end of the day, all of this competing is in preparation for a bigger Olypiadas when Anakena will compete against about ten other schools in October. I wish I was going to be here for it!

The sun was shining and everyone was smiling — we got lucky. Olympiadas at Anakena were a success! Hopefully, come October, they compete on a grass field.

Recognizing Difference
October 19, 2010, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , ,

My experience with the disabled began with Colin.

He was a happy, 19-year-old boy with Down syndrome when I started working with him as a personal care attendant. During my sophomore year of college, I spent one or two evenings a week with him until a few months after I graduated. I also had the opportunity to help out at his Sunday School class that his mom lead, a class  full of students with any type of disability that existed within the church.

My interest in the disabled increased as my friendship with Colin and his family grew closer. I decided to join him, as a volunteer, at a week long summer camp he attended each year called Joni and Friends. I hopped in the car and made my way to Indiana about a month after I graduated. I was assigned to work with another boy with Down syndrome named Dan, who was also a happy-go-lucky kid around the same age as Colin. Because of the wide range of severity and accompanying complications within the same diagnosis, in this case Down syndrome,  it was a very good learning experience to work closely with another kid like Colin. They were very different. Colin was more reserved and used to love just sitting alone, trying to make me laugh by making funny noises. (Trust me, this could occupy his entire day if you let it.) While Colin wouldn’t touch water with a ten foot pole, Dan had the time of his life tubing behind a boat at summer camp.

As I work with the younger kids at Anakena here in Chile, I am continually reminded of the infinite levels of independence and unique personal characteristics possessed by children with the “same” disability. I had to ask my tia why Leonardo was in our class because for all that I could tell after working with him for a week, he appeared “normal.”  He helps with the other children and always knows the answers in class.  She responded by saying that he has a low level learning deficit and is probably the highest functioning child in the class. I hope for his sake, that being in that position doesn’t hinder his learning process. Then there is Alejandro, who’s autism is evident upon first glance. He experiences its effects both mentally and physically. He is a challenge, to say the least, because he’s in the stage of life where he must question authority at any given opportunity. And if you have spent any time with kids, you know that disobedience is contagious among a group of curious children. Disciplining children with disabilities opens up Pandora’s box of life lessons. The biggest one? Patience, patience, patience.

There are two children in the class with Down syndrome, Javiera and Felippe. They are both incredibly adorable and extremely stubborn in their own way. It is really interesting to work with them and think about what Colin and Dan might have been like at their age.

I have been disappointed with the education provided by Anakena when I am wearing my red, white and blue lenses. However, the school is quite impressive when you consider that “discapacidades en Santiago, Chile” brings up less than ten relevant results in Google, which is nothing for a city of five million. I’m not exactly sure what kind of resources exist for the disabled in schools and programs here in Chile, but I know it is little to none.  I have only seen one computer at Anakena, in the director’s office. The tias hand write all the assignments for each of the kids because there are no printers, copiers, projectors, or smart boards. They re-use all plastic “disposable” cutlery and paper plates each day for snack time. There is no heat and no hot water.

Yet, without all these things they manage to make education happen day in and day out. They make it happen out of necessity, but surely they would appreciate some of the luxuries we call “necessities” in the states. If you are interested in changing the lives of some teachers at Anakena or other schools in Chile, please contact VE Global to see how you can help.

Life in the Classroom

Up to this point, all of the kids in my class at Colegio Anakena have been between the ages of three and four, which is of course the most adorable age and size kids come in. Most of the children have some minor learning or behavior problem, but they all also have some sort of speech impediment or difficulty with pronunciation. There are many times they have to repeat what they are saying three or four times before they are understood. I’m sure it’s as frustrating for them as it is for the listener.  It can feel very debilitating to be misunderstood even when you can pronounce every word perfectly, but even worse when the recipient is unable or refuses to understand what you are trying to say.

Attendance is generally low, and almost zero when it rains. There are major problems with flooding in the streets here so it becomes nearly impossible for people to get in and out of their homes.

A new student joined our class last week. Her name is Laura and she is mute. She hears and understands everything you say but she cannot say anything. How difficult it must be to have all the words and thoughts in your head but no ability to communicate them vocally. A critical case when actions must speak louder than words.

My heart has a special place for Nely because she doesn’t have a mom or a dad. She can be very disobedient at times, but knowing her situation gives more than enough patience to provide her with the affection and attention she is looking for.

My birthday at Anakena with previous students

I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but Miguel is my favorite. He was the first one to understand my language barrier.  He gets in trouble a lot because he has a free spirit and he’s a four-year-old boy, but he listens and respects authority.

Amanda has the most adorable face you could think of putting on a child. She has puffy pink cheeks, big brown eyes and a sweet personality.

Monserrat is four years old and a little more mature than the other students. She knows how to color inside the lines and loves to sit on your lap.

Benjamin is the trouble maker. He is always disobeying and testing the authority of the tias. He can be so adorable at times but so frustrating too. He has taught me the incredible difference in patience it requires to discipline children with disabilities.

Fernanda was the first child I really connected with because on my first day working at Anakena, I had to console her for about 10 minutes while she cried in my arms about missing her mom. It was comforting for her to be held and it was comforting for me to feel needed.

Javier is the biggest kid in the class but he acts the youngest. He is always copying what the other children do or say and requires a lot of patience. But he always greets me with a hug, a kiss, and an “Hola tia!” which I love.

Victor is a kid who tends to blend in with the crowd. I try to give him extra attention and encouragement because I don’t think he is used to receiving it.

Anthony is the smart kid in class. He always knows the answer and seeks the praise that follows. He respects the tias and is a good leader in general.

After spending about two months getting to know these kids and pouring my heart into them, I was asked to begin working in another classroom. A classroom where the kids have more severe disabilities and the tia needed more help.  Of course I want to be used wherever I am needed most. I miss all my kids but I still see them every day and they are excited to see me when our classes cross paths.  My new classroom is great too. The kids are between the ages of five and seven years old, and are also very adorable. I deal with a variety of disabilities, such as Down syndrome, varying levels of autism, and some physical disabilities as well. It is challenging to say the least but I am excited to continue getting to know them and to create a lasting connection with each of them.

There are times when the days fly by and there are times when the days seem long, but my time in Chile is limited with these kids. I know I only play a small role in the grand scheme of life, but I want to leave the biggest mark on them that I can. I want to do something nice for the kids and the tias before I leave to let them know how special they are to me.

Any ideas? Please share!

“Chi Chi Chi – Le Le Le! Viva Chile!!”
July 30, 2010, 4:25 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , , , ,

If I had one word to describe Chilean fans, it would be dedicated. The students and staff at Colegio Anakena are no exception.

Photo of celebration of World Cup game from Flickr user Kmilo

“Chi Chi Chi – Le Le Le Viva Chile!” is what I heard walking into Anakena on Friday. As the children arrived, the tias were painting the students faces in Chile’s colors of red, white and blue. They were blowing horns and shouting this famous cry of all Chileans during the World Cup.  All the students and staff at Anakena had gathered to cheer on their team and eat completos for the game against Spain on this Friday. (Completos, in case you don’t know, are a very popular Chilean delicacy. It is simply a hot dog smothered in guacamole, mayo, diced tomato, and ketchup. It is enormously messy and all the kids were wearing their completos by the end of the game after sufficiently playing with them rather than consuming them.)

I’m not sure who was more excited after the game on Friday, the students or the tias. Even after a LOSS, they were brimming with anticipation for the upcoming game versus the famous Brazilians! It was so great to spend some time with them outside of classroom lessons, just having fun. I feel like I am getting to see more of who they are as people. I can tell the kids are feeling more comfortable with me and that is encouraging. I am also beginning to decipher the students specific speech impediments, despite my Spanish language incompetence, which is helpful for both them and me.  As I continue to work on my Spanish, and learn the types of words and sounds the children struggle with, I will be able to help them so much more effectively. I will also be able to develop closer and more real relationships with them. The mere  thought of that brings me so much joy.

A Week of Three “Firsts”
July 9, 2010, 5:07 pm
Filed under: Chile | Tags: , , , , , ,

1.  This week I started working at Colegio Anakena. My first day on the job I was greeted by a sad little girl wearing a puffy down jacket lying on the floor of the classroom, bawling her eyes out. All four of her limbs were spread out, and she had her baggie of crackers still in hand.  She was one of the most adorable four year old girls with the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen.  As the tia started the lesson for the day, the crying didn’t subside for one moment as she was so sad to part from her mom. The tia asked me to take the sobbing niña outside to try to calm her down. I held her tightly in my arms, rocking her back and forth while whispering  “Está bien, está bien, ssshhh.” We returned to the classroom after about ten minutes where she gradually quieted down and became comfortable. I will never forget the look she gave me during the tia’s next lesson. Her eyes said, “Thank you for loving me.” From then on she has referred to me as “Tia mia.” Precious.

2.  I experienced my first Chilean World Cup win last Wednesday. They beat Honduras one to nil. I thought people in the States were obnoxious when it came to rooting for their home teams, however, I humbly concede that Chilean celebrations far exceed any celebration of a sporting event I have ever witnessed or heard of in the States. It is not even in the same ball park. The festivities commence the night before the game and increasingly anarchy and chaos ensue, resulting in tear gas, water cannons, flares and mass destruction. I was awoken several times to honking horns, beating drums, yelling and clapping. In my sleepy haze, I thought a high school band decided to hold their practice on my head board. Work and school is either canceled or dismissed temporarily. Immediately following the game, the streets below my apartment filled with crazed fans, pooling in from every bar, house and establishment that housed a television. The crowds swelled so much that the roads had to be closed. Riot police lined the sidewalks to prevent looting and violent mob mentality.  However, the crazed celebrations simply cannot be effectively controlled and violence was sure to ensue. Eventually the riot police resorted to specially equipped vehicles that released tear gas and sprayed 50 meter streams of water.  Loco, right?

3.  What Chileans refer to as hills, I refer to as mountains. This week I ran up my first mountain, Cerro San Cristobal, which stands at 880 meters above sea level. The elevation kicked my butt, coming from an elevation of 240 meters in the planes of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but I’ve never been on  a run with a better view. It is so amazing to look out onto a big beautiful city with the enormous snow covered Andes in the background. Photographs do nothing for something so spectacular.