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Monday, October 25, 2010

A week in the life of Mateo Aujero

I've had several people ask me about my day job here in Costa Rica, and I break it down and respond the same way every time, and I guess now it's about time to put it up on here.  It's best to break down my horario (schedule) into four parts of the week.

Weekly Schedule:
7:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. -La Oficina de Trabajo Social
(Mondays to Fridays)
I help coordinate service site days for each class in each grade at St. Francis College in the Office of Social Work.

2:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. -La Isla
(Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
Several students and I tutor kids at a poorer sister school called La Isla.

2:30: p.m. -4:00 p.m. -Hogar San Francisco
One student and I visit elderly folk at a home called Hogar San Francisco.

3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. -Paxto
I help prepare, present, and participate in the school youth group Paxto.

7:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. -La Oficina de Trabajo Social
My boss Jenny and me
(Mondays to Fridays)
I work at St. Francis College in Moravia, San Jose, Costa Rica.  Specifically, I'm the assistant to a woman named Jenny, the coordinator of La Oficina de Trabajo Social (Office of Social Work) and it's Social Outreach Program.  Here's how it breaks down: Each class in each grade in the school (elementary to high school) have these social outreach site visits (twice a year) that vary by grade.  My main responsibility is to help her coordinate, meet, and plan with students to make these service projects work out.  For example, for the past couple weeks I've been meeting with student leaders from two different classes 9-B and 10-A who will have their second site visits this week.  Tomorrow I'm going with the Novenos (9-B) on their field day that they/we planned with their sister school at a local retreat center.  On Tuesday, I'm going with the Decimos (10-A) to go fix up and paint a local school in San Jose.

The whole point of these programs (at least from what I'm getting so far) is for these private school students at St. Francis to receive more exposure to the poorer communities and schools that surround us.

As I've been told and will say it here too, my work can be slow sometimes (like during exams week) or extremely busy (like last week) depending on the time.  I will say that I have not have had the same day twice yet since I've been here because the realm of my work definitely spreads father than the job description.  I'm loving it, and because it's picking up recently, I've really felt more alive with it lately.

2:30 p.m. -5:00 p.m. -La Isla
(Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
With the help of some staff and key students, Liz Bonner, my friend and volunteer who came before me, created some after-school opportunities for students to do service work on a weekly basis.  Now, the following FC volunteers are more or less fully responsible for these projects.  On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, several students and I go and tutor at a poorer, sister school called La Isla.  There we break up the students by age and spend about two hours tutoring them with their homework, each St. Francis student getting at least two to sometimes seven students from La Isla.  I fill in where I'm needed and have been tutoring two to four students at a time when I go.

This is probably the most rewarding part of my week.  In the chaos of it all and in the middle of my students asking me for materials to trying to figure out what the homework says from the kids I'm tutoring, somehow through the grace of God I get them to do their work.  And somehow Spanish I didn't think I had shows up.  "Mostrame su trabajo" "Es importante para revisarlo, no?" "Estas seguro?" "Lo sabe, pero necesita trabajar mas despacio, no?" "Bueno, de nuevo, pero esta vez sin errores" "Buen trabajo! Si se puede!" ("Show me your work", "It's important to look over it, no?" "Are you sure?" "You know it, but you need to work more slowly, right?" "OK, again, but this time without errors"  "Great job! You can do it!")  Something in me just shows up---I demand they focus, I demand that they understand what they're doing and not to just memorize patterns, and I demand that they celebrate when they get it right.  They react to me, too.  One time I saw this kid, Carlos, now one of my favorites, just chillin' in the corner of the class doing nothing.  I said with a firm voice, "Venga!  Aqui, ahora.  Saca tu tarea." ("Come!  Here, now.  Take out your homework")  And oh man, he looked so scared, but he now he's one of my more focused students.  These kids...they get so disappointed when their math problem has a mistake, show sighs of relief when I cruise past an easy problem, and smile when I tell them they did everything perfect.

I'm so impressed with the students with St. Francis, too.  Who spends their afternoon free time after school wanting to tutor kids?  I know I didn't do anything like that when I was in high school.  But the 5-10 kids who come every week (it's different every time, too) are so smart and are so good with the kids.  They know how to handle them well and they inspire me to do my job well.  I probably spend a good portion of my day at school organizing their schedules, visiting them in classrooms to make sure they're coming asking what they can bring and if their parents can drive, etc. etc.  I'm pretty lucky to have this part of my week.

2:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Hogar San Francisco
Another project Liz started are these weekly visits to this old folk's home called "Hogar San Francisco"  This program isn't as popular yet as I go with one student every Thursday.  But I'm starting to fall in love with my friends there.  Two weeks ago, Mariela (the student from school) and I told them that I'd play guitar for them while Mariela sang.  Except last week, Mariela couldn't come, so I ended up giving the small concert by myself.  I took a couple easy songs from my binder and translated them into Spanish, plus I had a teacher from school give me a popular one they might know.  To see some of them sing along, others joining in clapping their hands, while one slept (lol), as I played and sang really made my day as I hoped it made theirs. My first day I remember being ewwed out about touching them and everything, but I left that day giving each of them a Costa Rican beso on the cheek, two ladies asking for two.  Iyiy haha.

Some of my peeps in the school youth group Paxto.
(Several guys are missing because they were in the band or carrying
the statue.)
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. -Paxto
I first have to say that the school's youth group is lead by three men.  That's right.  I said three.  And I said men.  I told them that in the states youth groups are lucky to get one person, and it's almost always a woman. I remember I went to a planning meeting for the rest of the year, and there was Miguel, Mauricio, Leo, AND the school chaplain Fray Jorge, and myself.  Make that five guys sitting around a small table talking about what the school youth group needs and what we can do about its needs.  Five. Men.  It's unheard of!

And these kids are so great.  Two weeks ago we did a session on light and darkness, hope and troubles, focusing on the Chilean Miner rescue.  I contributed my video I made (found in a previous blog as well) and the stuff that came out of these kids  Last week we did a session on freedom and what true freedom means.  Again, profound stuff.  I only wish my Spanish was past it's 80%-90% peak, and I could completely understand everything they were saying.  But more or less, wow.

Anyway, that more or less sums up my day job.  Although I talk a lot about what I'm doing, I spend a lot of my day just taking it all in, understanding more and more about the culture, my students, and what the needs could possibly be, and where I can best fit in.  Among everything I do, that's probably the number one priority.  Not to mention, trying to understand the Spanish that gets spoken to me every day.

One day I'll post about our activities after work.  Which include the guys and I playing basketball with some locals every Thursday night, and the nightly dance classes we just began that happen every Tuesday.  Not to mention every day we cook, eat, pray, and love together.  It's a gift of a year that I mad appreciate.  A year that's going way too fast.  May I take it one day at a time.



  1. Ditto to Britt's <3. It seems so long ago that I was asking Jenny permission to start those after school volunteering projects, and it was a waiting game all year to get the go-ahead. While I may not have had the chance to really get this going during my year, I am amazed at what Liz accomplished, and what you're doing now, Matt. You are truly an inspiration to me, and to the students at St. Francis (even if they don't always say that). God Bless

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