perspective and possibility

Last Monday morning there was a little assembly at school. The assembly was held in a an outdoor ampitheater-like area at the deaf school, which is across the street from the special education school (where I spent my time volunteering). I had known there was going to be a some sort of event because Marcela had been working on a little dance presentation with her class. When the assembly started, I learned that it was to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the school and to welcome a missionary team that had come from the United States.

I didn’t didn’t learn much about the missionary team until later, but the assembly was fun! A few groups of students performed, including Marcela’s class. A class of visually impaired students performed a simple choreographed dance routine with they help of their teachers; two girls (a younger girl from the school for the blind and a high schooler from the special education school) sang songs; Marcela led her class in a little dance routine that incorporated some fun movements and some elements of yoga (they do yoga every Tuesday); and a group of high schoolers ffrom the special education school performed a typical Costa Rican dance (with traditional clothes and everything!) to give the missionaries a little taste of their culture. They also sang “happy birthday” to the school!

The assembly was fun, and afterwards the kids got ice cream and cupcakes for their snacks. Although I had enjoyed the performances that the kids had given, I was mostly intrigued by the group of missionaries. I wanted to know more about what they came to do, so after I ate lunch I went to find them and introduced myself to some of the women. I learned that they were from a couple of sister churches in Texas, and that some of them had been coming for three, four, and five years. Although some of them come and fix things around the school (like the playgrounds), what’s really cool about this group of people is that it is made up mostly of physical, occupational, and speech therapists!

On Tuesday I asked one of the physical therapists if it would be okay for me to hang out with them on Thursday to see what kind exactly what kind of work they were doing in the school. She agreed enthusiastically, so on Thursday when I headed to school I was excited to see what they do!

When I got to school Thursday morning the therapists were all in the elementary school wing, about to observe some of the classrooms there. The point of the classroom visits was for the therapists from the missionary team to observe the students in the classroom environment, talk to the teacher and therapists at the school about what their biggest concerns are, and then give recommendations changes and improvements that could be made to the classroom routine or to how a specific student’s issues are approached.

To help all of this happen, I was supposed to translate! I had hardly been introduced to everyone when they moved into the first classroom. It happened to be the classroom I was in on the first day with the kids who have severe emotional and behavioral issues.

I had never translated before, so it was quite the experience. It was especially difficult because I still have a lot to learn about disabilities, and I knew nothing about physical or occupational therapy, so I lacked a lot of vocabulary. There were some moments when I was at a complete loss for words and had to ask whoever was speaking (whether in Spanish or English) to explain what they were talking about to me (instead just naming concepts), so that I could give that information to the other person in hopes they would understand what I was trying to describe. That worked sometimes, but other times I had no idea what someone was talking about (usually neurology related stuff), so someone would pull out their phone and google whatever word or concept that was tripping me up.

I’ll be honest with you: it was a stressful experience. Multiple people would be talking to me at the same time, in different languages, on top of the already loud classroom noises. Sometimes I would listen to someone speaking Spanish and turn to one of the American women to translate, but I would accidentally start speaking Spanish to her instead of English. But it was really cool to be facilitation communication between the members of the American therapists and the Costa Rican teachers and therapists. And for the most part I felt like I was doing a fairly good job, for my first time translating!

(On Friday I translated for them again. When I finally remembered férula, the Spanish word for splint, and used it instead of gesturing or pointing to a splint, one of the therapists from Centeno Guell smiled at me and said something to the effect of, “Look at Nicole, she’s learning the technical vocabulary!”).

Besides the fact that just translating for them was a cool experience, having the opportunity to observe them observing the classrooms and giving their recommendations to the teachers was really eye-opening for me. I don’t have the knowledge or experience to have the perspective that they have yet, and getting to see the kids and the school through their eyes was really fascinating!

After they finished the classroom observations, they went back to the cafeteria, which was where they had all their stuff set up. By “all their stuff,” I mean all the donated equipment they had brought with them, as well as the materials they had brought or bought in Costa Rica to make more stuff for the kids. The donated equipment included walkers, wheel chairs, bikes (not just regular bikes, but bikes made especially for therapy), splints, and orthopedic shoe inserts.

In the cafeteria, they had appointments set up with individual students, their parents (usually just the mom), and their teacher. What happened at these appointments was similar to what happened in the classrooms, but more tailored to the specific child. The therapists would spend some time working with the child and seeing what their needs were and giving recommendations on what might help them. Sometimes they were fitted with splints, or told that a weighted vest or scarf would be made for them. Other times, donated equipment would be adjusted to work specifically for them.

For example, one of the high school students had severe tremors in his right arm, which made it hard for him to walk, in addition to the trouble he already had walking. So they added an arm rest with a little handle for him to hold onto and straps to hold his arm in place to a walker. I didn’t see him before he had the walker, but when he came in to try it out for the first time, I don’t think he stopped smiling the whole time he was there. He was just beaming and saying “thank you, thank you!” (not gracias, thank you) as he walked around using his newly improved walker. It was really beautiful to watch him take so much pleasure just from being able to walk around.

In addition to translating, I also spent some time helping one of the women from the missionary team with some sewing projects. Instead of ordering things like weighted vests for kids at the school, she made them! It was fun to spend time with her, listen to her many tips about sewing, and just talk with her. Plus, I got to help make things that would help kids at the school!

I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with the missionary team on Thursday and Friday. Actually, “enjoyed” is a completely inadequate word. I am so thankful for the time that I got to spend with the missionary team. I learned so much in those two days. At some point when I was talking to one of the physical therapists, I realized that when I get home and start my classes for fall semester, I’ll have a totally different perspective on them than I would have if I hadn’t come here to work at Centeno Guell. Even those two days (that were really way too short!) that I spent with the missionary team will contribute greatly to that change in perspective.

Not only did I gain valuable experience and perspective, but I had the opportunity to make connections with wonderful people! They were all so encouraging and friendly, telling me to let them know when I was in Houston, or that I can sleep on their daughter’s couch when I visit the University of Texas at Austin. Not to mention that their careers complement my career plan!

What might be the best part of getting to work with the missionary team (can all the parts be the best part?) is that I have the contact information of the woman who organizes the trip, and she has mine! So guess what that means?? …I might have the chance to head back to Costa Rica (and Centeno Guell!) next summer with the mission team! I am so excited at the prospect of being able to be a part of their team. We’ll see what happens, but I really hope I am able to join them. The thought of coming back to Centeno Guell and helping to give to those kids (and their families, the teachers, the school in general) the way the mission team does just makes my heart happy.

I feel like every moment I spend here has the potential to be life changing. Every day holds so many possibilities! I hope that’s a mindset that I can bring with me when I go home next week (that’s right, this time next week I’ll be home…). It’s another one of those things that I’ve heard or told myself for a long time. But I never really lived it until now.

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