A Travellerspoint blog

Casa HOY partners with Salvation Army

New project in Cuernavaca!

Casa HOY has a new project here in Cuernavaca! We have now partnered with the Salvation Army. Out of all of the childcare projects, this one is definitely my favorite. Although I, of all people, should understand and that every organization we work with doesn’t have the resources, in people or materials, it never stops breaking my heart to see a child with a ripped shirt playing with a pencil stub. While the Salvation Army might not have everything it needs, they make up for it by having more order to their day and kids that have been taught to help each other out.

I’ve already written my post about discipline, so I won’t go down that road. But here are some details that make for, in my opinion, a more organized experience with children. Number 1, introductions. Again, I’ve already talked about that, but this time the program director lined up the children before lunch and introduced us, said what we’d be doing, and told us to behave. Number 2, starting with an organized activity. At the Salvation Army, since we’re working with the children on an afternoon schedule, the first thing we do is have lunch with them. Children are assigned tables, given permission to have more food and say grace before and after the meal. Maybe you don’t believe in God, but it doesn’t hurt to thank someone, at least the cook, for your food. Number 3, homework. You can’t play until your homework is done, same rule at my house. Again, children are organized at tables by grade level. The director said students aren’t allowed to leave for school unless they have a pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener and crayon with them. And that’s how they must come home. Number 4, consequences. You fight over a bike? No more bike. You say a bad word, you’re not playing anymore. I made sure I was on my best behavior, too.

We spent the afternoon focusing on homework help, re-learning math functions ourselves and helping kids color. All suggestions to play Duck, Duck, Goose were ignored when the door to the vacant lot next door was open and kids piled out to go play fútbol. I reveled in a simple ball toss with some 5-year-olds, thankful I didn’t have to kick around a soccer ball. (I somehow ALWAYS get hurt). Casa HOY volunteer from England did join in a game however, finishing the day up cherry-cheeked and ready to down a bottle of water. Our other volunteer, from Australia, took a more low-key approach and colored with children. There was always a group huddled around her, asking questions about where she was from, did she have kids. The usual.

I am thrilled by this opportunity to work with Salvation Army. There will be ups and downs at this project site as well, but a great first day is always inspiring. Our volunteers will be working here for two weeks of their participatory experience.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 06:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Tips for Teaching English

It's almost summer, which means an influx of volunteers from around the globe will be coming to Casa HOY to help out with our many different projects. One of the themes we offer is Teaching English. Placement options include schools and foster care centers, with children or with teenagers. You might be in a structured setting with another teacher or with a little more freedom on your own/with other volunteers.

Whatever your situation may be, we've compiled a list of tips that we at Casa HOY think is important for your English Teaching volunteer experience. It's a long list, so take what you need and add your own ideas.

PLAN! Plan more activities than what you have time for. With a two second lull you can lose their attention and interest.

Activities should be planned in 20 minute blocks, their attention span won’t go much beyond that.

Encourage every student to participate. If they’re shy, call on them. Or have students work with partners or in groups.

Try your best to learn all of their names. It will make it easier for you to manage the class and get students to participate. If you’re there for an extended period of time, have them write down their name and a few interesting facts about themselves (what they like to do/eat/play, NOT where they live).

Make a lesson plan for each day, and for each week. Tie everything together with a theme for the week.
What is your objective for the activity? The day? The week?

Try scaffolding – build on each activity, don’t just choose random topics. Example: Theme: Food. Day 1, Vocabulary, Day 2, Restaurant; Question Structure, Day 3, Ordering Food, etc.

General focus should be grammar, vocabulary and oral/written communication.

Think of topics they can relate to: find out their musical interests, favorite soccer players, favorite food, technology, Facebook, movies, places to visit in Morelos (or wherever you're teaching), fashion, culture, family.

Typical format for a one hour class: Review from the previous day (10 minutes), A warm-up (5 minutes), The information (20 minutes), Practice activity in a group (a game or worksheet) (15 minutes), Individual practice (a game, worksheet, partner practice, skits) (10 minutes)

NEVER leave materials with students- only worksheets. Do not let students keep pencils, markers, scissors, NOTHING. If you wish to make a donation to the school, give it to the teacher you are helping, the school director, or the Casa HOY staff member you are with.

Slow down. Take it easy. Don’t use many phrasal verbs or vocabulary that is super unique to your country. No "bad" words or offensive language.

Have more than enough copies and materials for everyone.

Learn about your placement. How many students? Boys/girls? What is their English level? What is their general family background? Ages?

Learn the curriculum. Talk with your teacher or HOY staff for guidance and to know what the teacher expects.

Be prepared for a lack of discipline. Discipline is the school’s job- defer to a teacher or HOY staff member. However, be strict. You don’t want to undermine the teacher. Learn the class rules.

Ask teacher/staff if you can give out rewards for participation and games. Good rewards are pencils, stickers and erasers. Try to steer away from candy.

Games include: competitions, fly-swatters (hitting the correct word on the board), charades, hang-man, I Spy, categories, running up to the board to write the correct word, etc. Talk to other volunteers for more ideas, and spend some time at an Internet cafe looking up activities.

Don't talk to students about drinking, partying, your personal relationships.

No cellphones or pictures during class.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 10:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

English Teaching- Volunteer Testimonial

This is a participant testimonial from one of our volunteer's from Australia. He helped teach English at a middle and high school here in Cuernavaca.

My name is Josh. I volunteered with Casa Hoy in February this year to help teach children English. I came to Mexico having never travelled to the Americas before and what a amazing experience. The people involved with Casa Hoy are amazing individuals. They made me feel incredibly welcome in their home from the start and anything I needed they did their best to make sure I had it. They assisted and facilitated my placement and any difficulty I had with the volunteer experience I only had to ask and they were immediately on the job and helping wherever they could. They also assisted with helping me plan my travels when I had time off!

Casa Hoy is an amazing organisation because of the great people involved and their vision to help people. They made my volunteering experience one I will always cherish and importantly facilitate many projects within Mexico helping numerous people in many ways. I highly recommend Casa Hoy if you;re looking to travel through Mexico and want an fantastic volunteering experience!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 10:03 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Safety for Women Traveling in Mexico

Common sense safety tips for wherever you may go...


Common sense ain’t common. Supposedly you can learn it through life experiences, but sometimes even that isn’t enough to get it through a thick head. Accepting drinks from that dark, handsome stranger, taking lots of pictures with your I-phone, pulling out all of your money while you search for the right coins for the bus – we’ve all done it at one point or another. But traveling as a woman, alone or even in a group, requires paying a lot more attention to the rules, your situation and your gut feelings.

My theory is that there are many stages to learning how to spend an extended period of time in a foreign country. Typically, at least with American students (and in my case), they spend a month or a semester abroad, usually studying little and drinking a lot. The hope is, though, that from that initial experience abroad, you learn how to act and interact in a new culture and you begin to mature.

And I’m saying this as a very thick-headed, sometimes very distracted blonde person. For me it took a few more trips and several more years to reach that maturity level, but I’m proud to say that I’m basically there. I kept my guardian angels (plural) veeery busy while I drank too much, went out with people I didn’t know, and wandered around lost for more than a few hours. The only common sense rule I followed was not showing off too much skin ie: cleavage, that being an easy rule since I don’t have anything to show off anyway. But beyond that, I’m just plain lucky I didn’t get anything but a few stomach viruses on my countless trips to Mexico.

And really, even though I was told many of the following rules time and time again, sometimes they don’t stick until you have a bad experience. Then you gain some common sense. This list of rules is one that put together based on personal experience and other participants’ experiences. Read them, read them again, and apply them someday.

P.S. – if you have your own travel tips for women, let us know!

• Get to know your surroundings. Be alert. Don’t act lost. Ask another woman, a couple, or a shop owner for directions. Study maps before you go out and write down key buildings/places. Avoid bad neighborhoods. Carry a list of emergency contact info, as well as a reliable taxi service phone number. If you go out alone, always let at least one person know where you’re going and if plans or times change. That way someone can follow your bar-hopping trail in case you get sidetracked and end up having to sleep at the bus station.

• Do not accept drinks from strangers. Even if they kind of look like Johnny Depp and you’re really thirsty. No. You can treat them to a drink if you want to get to know them better. Drink in moderation. You know your limits – usually 2-4 drinks will keep you happy and get you dancing. No drugs. Do not even consider buying drugs, do not ask anyone about getting drugs. You will go to jail and everyone will laugh at you for being so stupid.

• Do not go off on your own with strangers. Part of rule number one- you need to know your surroundings and that means being on your own “turf” as much as possible. If you leave the downtown area, or even the street you’re on, you might be completely and utterly lost. Mr. Depp can give you his phone number and you can see him tomorrow.

• Follow your instincts. Most women have a pretty good creepy radar. Is someone standing too close? Asking too many questions? Walk away, or call over a waiter or employee to ask mundane questions about food preparation/city history.

• Limit your possessions: carry only money for the day and a copy of your passport. Keep gadgets, cell phones, cameras in backpack or bag. Only pull them out when you’re going to use them. You don’t need to be Facebook photo-ing all over the whole dang city. Who cares if you’re on a bus with no seat. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

Don’t be so wherever-the-heck you’re from. Limit your Starbucks lattés, don’t wear your university hoodie, and start practicing the local language. Keep your voice down. Speaking louder does not help people understand you and it’s obnoxious. Even other foreigners will avoid you.

• Finally, the simplest but most widely offended rule. Choose clothing carefully. Cleavage, tank tops, bare midriff, shorts, miniskirts, and tight clothing will all draw more attention to yourself than you may be prepared to deal with. Consider adopting some of the clothing styles of local women. People will probably be whistling and staring at you anyway.

Check out this website, the organization I used for my study abroad experience, for more travel safety tips: http://www.gowithcea.com/students/safety/student-tips.html

Posted by UnMejorHOY 15:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Idealist volunteers

On the road to change the world

For international participants it can sometimes be a shock to enter the educational/childcare system in Mexico. We advise Casa HOY participants to not take things too seriously and to be prepared for a lack of, well, everything. Little or no discipline, lack of school supplies, technology, teachers, and staff, as well as limited, dirty and/or cramped facilities. Children and teenagers’ belongings and preparedness will also differ, some having a high level of English, and/or nice, clean clothes, and others with only half a broken pencil to their name (and of course, no eraser).

Even though Casa HOY prepares participants for these cultural differences, it is inevitable for volunteers to come with idealistic expectations for their volunteer experience. You may think, I’m one more person. I can help with discipline. I have some extra money, I can buy supplies that they will use and value. I have time, I can give them the individual care and attention they need. And hopefully, most of the time, that will be the case. Throughout your volunteer experience you will have up days and down days, especially when working with people; and even more so in foster-care situations.

I had an “idealistic” day like that today at an organization I’ve been helping out with off and on for the past five years. Now that I speak Spanish fluently, I feel a responsibility to help out with discipline, especially knowing that the staff there is overworked and, as we say in Spanish, probably “hasta la madre” (they’ve had it “up to here”). The boys were picking on a fellow compañero with some physical and mental disabilities, and I, for the life of me, could not get them to leave him alone. The staff didn’t discipline and of course the boys didn’t pay any attention to me. So much for my idealistic expectations.

When we left our volunteer work for the day I exploded, distraught with the negative treatment the boy was receiving and “hasta la madre” with the lack of discipline, interest/care and resources. But yet again, as other Casa HOY staff consoled me later in the evening, I was reminded that we are “on the road to change the world.” And sometimes we have to accept the road that we are on- we can’t change the road and the world.

Remember, Mexico is NOT your home country (even if I now consider it as such). If you compare it to your home country and apply the same expectations you have there for your time here Mexico, you’re going to come up short. The same standards in the US or Australia, for example, with childcare are totally different. We’re not saying that it’s okay for these problems to exist, but rather that they are part of your everyday volunteer experience and you can either harp on them or focus on the positive moments of the convivir part of your participatory travel.

Don’t give up on changing the world just because the world isn’t always ready to change. You might not be able to change the world of an organization, but you might be able to be the change in one person’s world.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 08:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

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