Fight the New Drug

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Seniors and Pavones

I just got back from a five day camping/service trip to Pavones, Costa Rica with 30+ senior students and teachers.  Here are my couple thoughts:

Digging holes...because that's what we guys do.
Day one consisted of meeting at the school in the morning to trek our seven-hour bus ride down to close to the border of Costa Rica and Panama.  I haven't seen this senior class in ages, they finished more than a month early than the rest of the school, and the few times I have had with them before hand was so scarce I knew only a handful of them by name.  It was definitely the class I knew the least, and I knew that if I wanted to start the trip right, I'd have to break the ice early and right with them.  There's something about me that feels like the first couple interactions with any stranger are the most critical and important on how the rest of your interactions are going to work out.

With a three months under my belt at St. Francis, it took me some time to find that I am cool enough to hang with the students, but I wasn't cool with these kids yet.  Before they left, I always found them kind of intimidating actually, with their cool yellow "Sen'10rs" jackets that separate them from the rest of the colegio.  Plus after hanging out with a lot of novenos (the class I probably know best) these kids look so much older, some almost like adults.

About less than an hour into the bus ride, I turned to Brittany and Jelly.  I said one word: "Huevos."  Huevos, in Spanish, literally means eggs, but it's also slang for balls, as in the male parts.  I consider "Huevos" to be half the secret to my success here.  There are a lot of moments I'm scared to put myself in, but I just tell myself "huevos" and I literally throw myself into the situation.  I don't know exactly how the situation is gonna work out, I figured that out once I get there.  "Huevos" to me is like diving into water---once I'm in, there's nothing else I can do but swim.

Jammin' on the last night
Me on bottle drums (left, not shown) + Andres on guitar +Mauricio on harmonica,
Jorge on blow-piano thing =madness
So scared (poop)less, I sacked up my "huevos" and dove in to meet each person on the bus.  "Hola, estoy apriendo sus nombres de nuevo. ¿Cómo se llama?  ¿Qué?  ¿Como escribe? Oh, Hubert.  OK, Hubert, dígame una cosa sobre su vida. (Hey, I'm learning your names again.  What's your name?  What?  How do you spell it?  Oh, OK, Hubert.  OK, Hubert, tell me something about your life..."  It's huevos, I tell you, that gives me the confidence to appear like I know what I'm doing.  When they tell me they play the organ, I find it fascinating, and I keep asking questions.  As I talk, a secret I've picked up along the years when learning names is constantly repeating the person's name in my head as they're talking.

The funny thing about the bus ride was that I was planning to quickly meet everyone and get names and come back in no time.  I only made it through half the bus because conversation kept flowing and they were interested in me as much as I was in them.  OK, maybe the seniors aren't so scary after all. That huevo moment turned sunny side up.

The means versus the ends
There were three main projects at the elementary school at Pavones: building a new fence, cleaning and painting an existing fence, and installing ceramic tile in a couple classrooms.  It seems St. Francis comes here every year and just chooses something new to paint or to build.  And because all the buildings are already beautifully painted, they had us paint the exterior wire fence that surrounds the school.  After the second day, that got boring and tiring really fast.  I was thinking about it early on how if I think about it on the grand scheme of things, from the U.S. I flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, from San Jose we drove an hour to Moravia, from Moravia we took a seven-hour bus ride to Pavones at the bottom of the country, and all of that to paint a fence that doesn't necessarily need to be painted at a school in the middle of nowhere.

The thing I've noticed throughout the years about service work is that the act of doing it is more important to me than the actual finish product.  I mean, yes, we have to have pride in our work ethic and the finish product does help, but if that's all you think about, you'll be highly disappointed.  For me it's about humbling ourselves to sweat and work with our hands (which I love, btw) and more importantly, it's about how we share that experience.  I tried to take advantage of mindless painting silver on silver by talking to my students finding out what they wanted to do with their lives, talk about relationships, etc.  Yeah, the conversations were in Spanish, where my confidence wasn't always on, half of them were in English because these kids are more or less bilingual (and they can fly).  Who's going to tell the difference of this fence when we leave?  Not that many people, but the experience I've shared with my students one-on-one, well, that will stay with me for a good amount of time.

Me and some of my girls
 Big Dreams and Forming leaders
Some of my most fruitful conversations with my seniors were talking about what they wanted to do next year.  Man, these kids want to be civil engineers, nurses, special education teachers, bio technicians, international businessmen (I got a vocab lesson on what all these words in Spanish are at the same time).  These kids have dreams, and they're big.  One girl, Jimena, told me she wants to one day create a center for poor people when she gets older.  She asked me if I had any big dreams, and it reminded me that I do have them, and I should remember to keep them in mind, just like them.

These kids went to one of the best high schools Costa Rica has to offer (a recent president of the country graduated from here).  They're receiving one of the best educations here, and because of that, they're going places.  A couple weeks ago, during the final teacher's meeting, I stood up in front of the entire teaching staff I gave them a reflection in Spanish on my experience so far.  I told them how when I first arrived here three months ago, I had no idea what my role was.  These kids weren't poor, they're going to a high school better than mine, and to me it seems like they have everything.  Then as weeks went by I realized what my and the teachers roles are here.

We're forming leaders.  And we're here to be their examples of that right type of leadership.  I told the staff that day that I realized now that kids need the office of Social Work, so they can go on these trips like Pavones and work with their hands, and be exposed to a world that has less than them.  They need opportunities like La Isla where we tutor kids so we can share what they know.  We need the opportunity to go to Hogar San Francisco to be exposed to the elderly there and form respectful relationships.  We need youth groups like Paxto, so they can have a free atmosphere to explore their faith at such a critical age.  That's my role here, I realize.  We're forming leaders, servant leaders, and I get to be a younger example for them to see.  Being with my seniors this past week, seeing the leaders that they have become, has given me the foresight of what I want the rest of the school to become, too.

Last night, my Consecration prayer quoted St. Paul.  He once said, "We labor . . .only to make all men perfect in Jesus Christ."  Now, I don't know about perfect, but labor, yes.  We labor.  And we love doing it.



  1. Mateo, I seriously love the way you write, I find your thoughts to be fascinating. Thanks for sharing! :)


  2. Hey! I loved this post. I was thinking about you guys a lot this past week and was wishing I was there. I had such a wonderful time there and loved this group of seniors. I'm glad you're doing so well there and thanks for sharing it with us.