We Are All Chile

Today I asked one of my English students what the biggest issue in Chile today is.

This discussion had started after my mention of the book Viva South America in which journalist Oliver Balch presents an in-depth look at pressing topics from across South America’s countries. We decided on areas for New Zealand (employment), Australia (refugees), Britain (immigration) and the United States (healthcare) but the question was what would take the top spot for Chile? The book chose women’s rights, which I wouldn’t debate given that femicide, spousal abuse and abortion rights are currrent areas of concern.  This is a land where the machista attitude still rules the nest in many homes, particularly in poorer neighborhoods or away from the cities. But to be fair, today’s Santiaguinos appear modern in every sense of the word and I don’t think this is Chile’s most pressing issue. I offered up drugs as a possibility, and we agreed that this certainly seemed to be eating the country from the inside out, influences the crime rate. But my student firmly put forth that everything – from attitudes towards women to drug use – can be attributed in some way to education, and she is right.

What do I see when I look at Chile? I see a nation on the verge of something amazing. But the people are divided. Everywhere else I have been race, caste and color have been the dividing cause between people but never have I been to a place where people are torn apart by class. If you have been reading my blog then you will know I talk about class alot – it was the subject of years of anthropological study based on Santiago and I freely admit that I look at most things from that angle – however few can deny that classism is not a problem in Chile today. How is this linked to education, you ask? It’s linked because the education system in Santiago purports this viscious cycle of discrimination. The state school system is falling apart at the seams, and as mums frequently point out to me, even some of the better private schools here are lacking in facilities and aid for the teachers (some even have 40 children per class too!). The top school – Nido de Aguiles – requires a entrance submission fee of $12000 and monthly extortionist payments to pay for the kind of services that were completely free in New Zealand.  The school day is long from 8am -4pm and teachers walk around in a state of serious stress.  And what are the students learning? Do they learn about the real people around them – perhaps on their lunch break while they play together? Nope because as they grow and leave school they attend a university that is filled with people from similar backgrounds. That is if they make it to university, given that the PSU exams are so ridiculously hard that without a support system around them many teenagers end up giving up, dropping out, failing or never living up to their potential.

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Apt painting from La Moneda

I think the biggest mistake is to think that the school system is the only place where learning ocurrs, and that there is only one type of learning. We can learn to memorize historical treatizes from a hundred years ago, poetry from 500 years ago or solve math equations formed with dozens of squiggles, but at the end of the day do these things really matter? If we don’t know our neighbours or live in fear of being robbed by the nana or continue to justify a system where the poorest people live off a few hundred thousand pesos a month and cannot afford basic living conditions, then I can’t say that we are all that intelligent. This isn’t a “Chile bash” by any means – this conversation could be directed towards most countries in the world – but just because here it’s about Chile does not mean it should be shrugged off as the moans of another expat.  I came to Chile because I fell in love with a Chilean. His family is now my family, and his home is now my home. I would do anything to make sure that the people around me are happy and healthy, so when those two basic human requirements are not met because of education system flaws, then I feel the same need to change it. I’ll never be Chilean, I’ll never know the correct moment to use weon but that doesn’t matter. I am human and there are people around me who need help. A woman once told me that reading my blog opened her “eyes to what the real problem is in Santiago, and what everyone really needs to do.” The first is to overhaul the education system so that everyone gets a fair shot and the second is to stop the discrimination. Shakira sings “waka waka … we are all Africa.” Well, we are all Chile. Remove the pretend boundaries.

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Reach Out. Barrio Concha y Toro
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Organizacion Ojos Abiertos

Georgina

Our spokesperson who works tirelessly at organizing the team, Georgina is Peruvian but has spent most of her life in Chile and has a background in real estate.

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Carolina

A phenomenal dancer and trained dance instructor, Carolina runs dance workshops with dedication towards improving literacy.

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Hoda

Artist, dentist and exceptional human being, Hoda runs art classes that incorporate values and an outlet for emotion. She is also the primary benefactor of the Organization.

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Natalie

With a background in art curation and business, Natalie is passionate about art and many of her projects utilize creativity, recycling and fun.  Her business accumen has proven invaluable from the first meeting.

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Mariana

A masters student of Linguistics, Mariana is an experienced and qualified English-language teacher from Argentina who also helps the team with document translation.

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Helen

That’s me! Founder, publicist and blogger – working to dispel prejudices.

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Liceo Almirante Riveros

Yesterday Ojos Abiertos visited Liceo Almirante Riveros in Conchali for a meeting with the teachers.

The school is a public one, located in one of the oldest suburbs in Santiago, that originally comprised Huechuraba and Recoleta. Visually it looks the same as Recoleta, although its streets can be much narrower and smaller..The houses are still a mix of color and iron fences, the roads still have holes and the people are still a mix of friendly and wary. The school is a shining light in the area, despite being the last option for children refused entry into other schools. Before its director, Gerhard, joined a few years ago, violence levels were sky high and today many of the students are considered to be at social risk due to lack of support and positive influences in their lives. Maria Violetta, one of the English teachers, explained to us that it can be difficult to motivate the students, some of whom disappear for weeks at a time. Despite this, the school is doing great things thanks in no small part to Gerhard, who has brought music and art to the school in a life-changing way.

Yesterday we entered the green doors of the school with nervous anticipation.  It was 3.25pm but the school was still packed due to the numerous talleres that run after-school hours.  We walked past teenage boys dressed in sport label galore and smiling children who ran past with a “Hello Kitty!’ Immediately as you enter you arrive into a large concrete space with walls decorated with murals and a small tuck shop selling snacks. Cueca music was blaring “La Consentida” as teenagers “practiced’ their dance moves in preparation for Fiestas Patrias, Chile’s national Independence celebration that runs for a week and culminates with a grand Dieciocho day of barbeques, dancing and drinking  (18th September).  We could hear flutes and other instruments playing somewhere around, and everywhere we saw teenagers with piercings and baggy pants carrying music cases.

Gerhard came to meet us and told us how excited he was about our upcoming activity classes. It’s worth taking a moment here to know the principal. Gerhard Morhinweg has musician and artist as well as school principal behind his name and if you type his name into Google you will find numerous interviews detailing his passion and exceptional progress in the field of education. He is friendly, smiles easily and since arriving at the school a few years ago violence levels have come down signifiantly. This is a man that truly, truly cares for his students, and it is because of him that we chose Almirante Riveros as our school to work with.

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Maria Violetta with Gerhard

I mention to him that I don’t have much work and since I live nearby and the suegros seem to want to see Emilio every day, I am available to help out with more streamlined English classes for those who are very interested. This is when he introduces us to Andrea, a shy and happy 17 year old who dreams of going to university in the United States.

“She is an exceptional saxophonist,” Gerhard tell us “and can get a scholarship to study music at Texas State University because she is that good. She just needs English.” Point duly noted, and I ask if there are other students like her held back by the lack of English.

“Yes.There are many talented kids at this school that want to study overseas but they only have basic English, which is holding them back.” I tell him I will teach them in intensive English classes designed for their needs. Andrea is given the task of speaking to them and finding out possible class times. “If I know Andrea,” Gerhard laughs, “she will have that list done by tomorrow with a lot of names on it!” (he is not wrong, at the end of the meeting there are 8 interested in the classes!!).

We all sit in the staffroom which consists of one large table and some broken sofas, but is generally quite nice. The meeting today is with the kindergarten and primary school teachers, though there are several absent due to illness. The ones we do meet are lovely – a little tired – but all friendly and open to our ideas. The more we talk, the more enthusiastic they become. Over the next hour we bounce ideas off one another, all of us enthused by each other’s interest.

One of the music teachers whispers something to Gerhard but he doesn’t say anything to us. Mariana, sitting next to me as my occasional translator, asks what it was.

“She wants to join the classes and learn English” Gerhard says sheepishly.

I want to keep children and adults seperate so I ask her to speak to me after the meeting.

The meeting wraps up not long after and I speak to her – a very smiley woman wearing bright colors who seems a bit nervous. She tells me she really wants to learn English because she loves it but she has always felt alot of shame trying to speak it.

“I know exactly what you mean,” I admit to her, “I always feel like that speaking Spanish. My first year here I said almost nothing to anyone!”

When I tell her I will give her private lessons if she can come to my home, she nearly cries with happiness and gives me a big hug. I have the time, so why not? She is Conchali born and bred, so I am sure she will have many interesting stories. Plus, she’s offered to improve my Cueca at the end of each class!

We leave the school high fiving each other because our classes have participants signed up and are ready to begin.  Here is what we have planned over the rest of the school year:

Art Expression with English – Run by acclaimed artist Hoda Madi and accompanied by Georgina, these will be 45 minute classes for the younger school pupils. Four classes will be run each week for different age levels from kindergarten up to segundo basico and they will involve the introduction of different values, the expression of emotions through different mediums and then the translation of this into art.  These classes start next week on a Monday and Thursday morning.

Dance Classes with English – Run by Carolina, a professional with years of experience running similar dance and literacy programmes in New York City. These classes incorporate different dance styles and English language instruction and begin today (September 1, 2015).

Art and Recycling with English – Run by artist and curator Natalie and linguist Mariana, these classes are for older students and combine art projects with recycling and English languge learning. Each project is roughly two weeks in length, and will begin in October.

Intensive English – Run by Helen.  These classes for students in their final years of school who are thinking about options for when they leave. These classes are particularly for those thinking about working with the language, moving overseas or applying for university scholarships. These classes will also involve the learning of necessary skills such as interview preparation and CV writing. Begins next week.

All of our classes are designed to “open the eyes” of our students to different possibilities, experiences, options and ways of thinking. They are much, much more than a class just about art or English, they are life lessons to do with the forging of values, respect and tolerance.  If you would like to be involved, perhaps as a volunteer, a one-off seminar speaker or by setting up short-term projects of your own, please send me an email.  Further if you would like to help but are unable to devote time, please think about donating art supplies or English languge materials (we can collect). We also accept donations (an email detailing how this money is spent will be sent to you and you will also be kept up to date about our projects and your donation).

We are urgently seeking someone who has worked in drug rehabilitation or who has a personal story they are willing to share to speak to the students.  Email me at: hlcordery@gmail.com

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Second meeting at the school with Amaro, art teacher who also runs community art classes, and Maria Violetta, English teacher.

Meet Volunteer Extraordinnair, Sally Rose

After the negative response to my last post, I was feeling pretty sad about my blog. How can such good intentions go so awry? For the record I just want to say with conviction: we are not bad parents for living In Luis’ home!

So I thought today that I would draw the attention away from being a bad mother and instead focus upon someone who is so overwhelming decent that she is a gleaming beacon of expat goodness. You might recognize her name because she is all over the internet. It’s Sally Rose!

I met Sally after posting on The Chile Experience my desire to start a new volunteer group to work in public schools. The result, of course, was Organizacion Ojos Abiertos, comprising of Hoda, Georgina, Carolina, Mariana and Natalie.  Sally came to our second meeting and it is thanks to her that we met Gerhard and became involved with Liceo Almirante Riveros in Conchali.

Why is Sally “expat goodness?” Because over the last four years she has dedicated herself to bettering the lives of Chilean children by volunteering as an English teacher. She has worked across Santiago’s low-income barrios in public schools and over the years has forged real bonds with many of her students, even inspiring some to train to become English teachers themselves.  Although she only briefly volunteered at Almirante Riveros, she still dropped by the other day with two HUGE boxes of English books for the students (we are already planning on using them in our classes!).

Her path hasn’t always been easy but its hard to imagine Sally without a smile on her face. Her perservence has paid off in a new book about her adventures and trials in Chile called “A Million Sticky Kisses”.  In it, she reveals real life stories of the people she has met and offers an in-depth glimpse into the reality of Santiago public education, and is worth reading just for this reason.

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Photo courtesy of Amazon

Sally is an inspiration to anyone thinking about coming to Chile, not only because of the way she has tried to give back but through her efforts to share the stories of the people that she meets.  I hope that we can carry on her great work through Ojos Abiertos – on behalf of Santiago’s Children I thank you Sally Rose!

You can read Sally’s entertaining blog here.

A Volunteer Initiative

hoda9We are very happy because we have found our first benefactor! Prominent artist Hoda Madi has offered Organizacion Ojos Abiertos 20% from each piece of artwork sold. This is money – like all donations we may receive – that is purely directed towards buying materials or providing the transportation costs of guest speakers at the schools.  Thank you Hoda!

You can buy her artwork here:

http://hodamadi.com/

If you would like to help us with any contributions, please contact me at: hlcordery@gmail.com.  We are in the process of legalizing and then setting up a foundation bank account with Banco Estado. We will provide to all contributors an email showing where the money has gone. We are not motivated by profit and we are all volunteers.