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Volunteering with the Salvation Army

A Typical Day for Casa HOY volunteers

I mentioned in an earlier post that Casa HOY had just started working with the Salvation Army here in Cuernavaca. This month’s volunteers, from England and Australia, have continued their volunteer placement there. Although this placement falls under the category of “childcare,” it could also be considered a great place to teach English and other subjects. Here’s a typical day at the Salvation Army with Casa HOY:

Volunteers arrive at 1:30 to join the elementary school kid crowd for lunch. They say grace, and we join them for the meal. The food varies, although you can be sure that a lot of it is donated from Costco because they always have the Costco rolls. I could eat those with every meal. Starting the volunteer work day with lunch is actually the perfect approach to getting to know children. I thought it might be a little awkward showing up to eat without knowing anyone, but as soon as you walk in the door kids are clamoring for you to sit with them. Lunch is a chance for chit-chat, to get to know the kids- what they like, what music they listen to, how their school day was, etc. For me, it feels like the kind of table talk I used to have with my parents after every school day. And even though the answer might be “nothing” to the question “what did you do today?,” you know you’re starting to make a connection.

After lunch, the kids at Salvation Army sit at different tables according to grade level. First and second together, third and fourth at another table, and fifth and six. Casa HOY volunteers divide up so that each table can get help and attention. The Salvation Army is strict about the children finishing their homework before they can play. It’s a good system, helping the children to focus on their work and get it done without too many distractions.

Helping kids with homework: The most important thing to remember is that you CANNOT do the work for them. Sometimes the students will have really mundane tasks, such as copying lines or coloring a picture of a dog for their history class. Fight your urge to help them do it quickly, and save any rude comments about Mexican public schools for drinks with Casa HOY staff afterward. (I love to talk about that stuff). It’s their work, let them do it. Many students, especially third grade and above, have math homework. Math is actually a crucial skill, one that you can teach with a limited Spanish vocabulary. Learn your numbers and the basics: add, subtract, multiply, fractions and so on. Kids need help practicing their multiplication tables- I remember how much help my Mom gave me learning those dang numbers. Weeks, people, weeks. And these kids don’t get private tutors, they don’t get flashcards, they don’t get Sesame Street.

Once children have finished their homework and had it checked by the supervisor (around 4 pm), they’re allowed to play. And while playtime at the Salvation Army is a little less dramatic, it doesn’t mean it’s less chaotic. Kids can play soccer and tag on a property adjacent to the building, and there isn’t really any adult supervision. That means balls get kicked at heads and off the property and there’s usually someone crying or at least teary eyed.

Fortunately these kids are super sweet and adorable, and they’re young enough that you can brush the dirt off their scratched knee, give them a little hug and they’ll move on. They’re not hardened against life, and that kind of attitude is inspiring, especially for a cranky judgmental girl like me. Creativity and personalities abound, and as long as yours isn’t lacking, you won’t be left with a dull moment.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca

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