My First Day Volunteering at Isla Solarte

Look at my post from yesterday about Isla Solarte to see pictures of the island etc.

I got a water-taxi this morning at about 7.45 with the guy who took me yesterday, Silverio. He’s really nice and says he’ll give me cheap prices to other islands to because I’m here to help his community (he lives in the island I’m teaching on).

When I arrived it was 7.55 or 8.00 but the doors were locked and the kids were playing outside (this consisted of the girls standing around and the boys throwing bottle lids around in a game where they have to hit someone else’s bottle lid to get them out or something). They seemed a bit confused about why I was there but I just sat there and said hola to the ones that walked past me.

The teachers arrived at about 8.10 and the one who led the youngest class told me to come into her classroom. I sat down at a desk and one girl came over straight away and started playing with my hair etc. I’m sure they’re not all the same ages because some are way smaller than others but I think it’s like ages 4 – 6. It’s the class below grade 1. The teacher told them I was there to help with English etc and by this time I had about 4 girls at my table sitting as close to me as possible.

I’d brought about 6 children’s books with me to Panama that my auntie had got from charity shops for me to give to the school. I picked the most simple one to take today and it was in a plastic bag with my crisps I’d brought (because I’d been told there’s a food break). They took it out of the bag and were arguing over who could hold it and read it etc. It was a picture book of toys and games just with two words underneath each picture, for example a picture of a train with “blue train” underneath.

They were going through the book pointing at the objects and saying the names of them in Spanish and when they came to the page that had a robot on, they were surprised/confused and asked me what it was. If someone in England had asked, I’d probably just give them a weird look and be like “a robot obviously” but life on Isla Solarte simple and obviously doesn’t include robots so I told them (in Spanish) it’s an electric thing that moves like a human. I think they were still confused.

The teacher went through normal things (I’m guessing they do this every day) to start with like the months of the year etc, and then she told them that today we’re doing wild animals. She had 4 pieces of paper, one with a lion she’d drawn, one with a tiger, one elephant and one giraffe. I had to hold them up and tell them (after they’d said the name in Spanish) how to say the name in English and they repeated it twice after me. I went through them a couple of times but only 1 or 2 people remembered the word each time, but they’re really small so that’s to be expected.

Next the teacher traced the picture of the giraffe onto enough pieces of paper for the whole class and they all had to colour it in. They have a really annoying obsession with sharpening colouring pencils! As soon as one is a tiny bit blunt (but still perfectly fine) they bring it over to me and I have to go to the desk, get the sharpener, take it to the bin and sharpen the pencil, go back to my chair and then another kid will come with a colouring pencil. This literally carried on for over an hour. At this rate they won’t have any pencils left because they’ll all be in the form of sharpenings in the bin.

Anyway after about an hour we went outside to some grass and a concrete area to do outdoor activities. It wasn’t the school’s area, just a public part of the island next to the houses etc. There are only 2 boys in the class, and they played with a football for about 10 minutes while I played “la ronda” (“the circle”) with the girls. Basically you join hands in a circle and go round and round singing something that translates to “ronda, ronda, we’re playing the ronda, put your hands up” (then everyone stops going round and puts their hands in the air), “put your hands down low” (everyone does it), “I want to wash my clothes with water and soap” (everyone pretends to scrub their tshirt), then whoever’s go it is says (I can’t remember the order but something like…) “pineapple, bread, eggs, bread, salt” and while they’re doing this they’re tapping people’s head round in the circle so the first person is pineapple, second person bread etc then whoever gets salt is out. Then you start singing “ronda ronda” again and repeat the process until everyone is out.

After this the teacher played a latino song from her phone and stood in front of everyone making them copy her dance moves. I also had to stand in the front and look like I knew what I was doing. After this the girls did a “fashion show” (lined up and while the teacher played some American music, walked to the other end of the concrete and back with their hands on their hips etc).

When it was time to eat we went back to the classroom and the children were given rice and something brown that looked like beans in sauce from some women in a kind of hut next door. I don’t know if this is a community thing or whether it’s paid for by the education system or what. I ate my crisps but I soon realised they were a bad idea because the kids all seemed fascinated/jealous of them (their parents obviously don’t buy that kind of food for them) so tomorrow I’ll either bring a sandwich or nothing (this break was at like 11 and I’d already had breakfast so I wasn’t really hungry anyway).

After eating there wasn’t much structure really. Some people finished colouring their giraffes and some were looking through the book I’d brought, getting me to say the English names of all the things in the book. A white American man came in (I’m guessing he’s an expat living in Panama) and said he had some presents from his dentist in America. All the kids were excited and crowded around and he told them the advice from his dentist was that although some of them may not be able to afford toothpaste, this isn’t an excuse not to brush their teeth because even without toothpaste it’s important to get the food out of their teeth and they should do it at least twice a day and avoid sugary food. He gave them all toothbrushes and they looked very happy with that. The teacher reminded them that they should thank him so they all shouted “thankyou” in their little Panamanian accents.

The day ended at 12 and Silverio was there so I went back on the boat with no problems. He said it was nice that I was chatting to him because a previous volunteer just sat there in silence. I told him I have to be careful not to act like I’m on holiday (like the other people in my hostel) because I don’t have money to be going on loads of trips to different islands etc because I’m here for so long, and he said he’ll call me if he has any spare space on his boat when people go on tours with him and I can come for free. He also showed me how to get to the photocopying shop because I had to photocopy a picture of a tiger for the children to colour tomorrow (the teacher is going to pay me back in the morning).

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