Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Katitawa Is Important To The Community

Nestled in the hills, above Salasaca, in the area called Katitawa. there is located a small grade school by the same name. It is here that we transport 16 children and a couple of teachers and, sometimes a volunteer or two, from the different communities in Salasaca. The rest of the children and staff walk, the more or less 3km. It is a beautiful walk and a fantastic way to start a day. The elevation at the school is close to 3,000 meters, (9,000 feet) and for the new volunteers, the first few days will take your breath away and if the altitude doesn’t do it the view will.

Since there are many small schools in Salasaca, some visitors ask,.…Why would someone send their children up here when there is a school a block or two away from where they live? A good question….So at a recent parents meeting, I asked the same question….The answer was, “Because it is different.”

When a group of civic minded citizens started the Escuela Katitawa in 1997, it was described as an Experimental School, an Alternative School. The reason that it was founded was to be different. We have a new education law here in Ecuador that wants all the schools to be the same….and that worries me.

We humans and all other living creatures are not the same....And I am thankful for the difference. Each child is different and they do not learn at the same rate. Just because it is week number 15, they are all not going to be on the same page. Some of the great thinkers of the world were considered stupid in their early years.

We have classes that have eight children. If we need to, we split it into two or three or eight. We can do this because we have volunteers to help us. Several of our students are brought to us because they were number 28 in a class of 40 and were hopelessly left behind. We have a 16 year old who had not been to school since the second grade because his teacher gave up on him. Said he was stupid and could not learn…He won’t be another Einstein, but he is learning and he loves the school.

Classes in Katitawa start at eight and end at 3:15. We added the extra hours this past January. We added classes in Drama, Music, Art, Poetry, Chess and Sports. We are trying to introduce a variety of new ideas and subjects so that the children can find their own way. Even when they are young, they do not all want to go the same direction. They are different and that is good.

Although we are technically a government school, the government has never invested a dime in the construction or maintenance of Katitawa. It was started as a private school, but some years ago the directors joined the Bilingual Department, (Kichwa and Spanish) which has a network of schools and was autonomous from the national education department called Espana. However when they joined this group they automatically became part of the government. (Someday, when I have the complete story I will put it here). Now with the new education law the two departments will soon disappear and a new system will begin. I was assured that nothing was going to change here at Katitawa and we would still be autonomous….We will see.

In years past we rarely saw someone from the Bilingual Department. We were small and we were left alone to do things differently. Now it seems that every week or so someone is here to see what we are doing and tell us that we now have to put everyone in the same little box. It looks like they are trying to bribe us a little, with a few coloured beads, mirrors and trinkets, to get us to conform.

The government does provide some snacks so that we can provide a hot drink with cookies or granola, which we searve at 9:15 in the morning. In years past they sent some other staples, like rice, beans, tuna, sardines and a few other items so that we could provide lunch. However this year for whatever reasons they have stopped doing this. We still provide lunch and we are trying to make it a little more varied….According to some volunteers we still have a long way to go. Next year we will have a whole new system.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Story Of Alegre and Pepe.

Natacha, a volunteer from France, came with her brother Yannick, who had volunteered here for a couple of months, two years ago. Like her brother, before her, she came to work and there was nothing that she would not do. One of her passions was working with the preschool kids....Three to six year old.

When Yannick was here in 2009 he started our recycling program. She too was a believer in the project and wanted to get the littlest kids involved. She made up a story of a make-believe person named Alegre and a tree named Pepe. The kids loved it and we continue to tell this story today. Here is her story.

On my home from Katitawa one afternoon I met a magician, who told me about a secret meeting that took place, between all the trees, flowers and all the inhabitants of the forest and Pachamama, (Kichwa for Mother Earth). Everyone at the meeting was complain about feeling ill because of the contamination in the air and soil. The group decided to start with the children of the Katitawa School and see if they could help solve this problem. So Pachama chose me to deliver the message.

Once upon a time there was a peaceful little forest that was very close to a little road. Close to this road was the most beautiful and its name was Pepe. All the creatures of the forest would visit here to play and rest in the shade the branches provided. They all loved Pepe. The humans also love to come and picnic and rest. They too loved Pepe.

As more and more people came they started leaving all of their garbage behind. All kins of plastic, cans and bottles and even the diapers. It was terrible. The animals started to get sick. The plants started to die and Pepe started to loose his leaves and felt really bad. His trunk hurt. As the garbage piled up people started leaving other things. All the garbage from their houses that they did not want....Old refrigerators, TVs....You name it and you could find it there.

Very close to where Pepe lived, there was a little school named Katitawa. He heard from the animals and the Owls who live there that the children were starting a program to clean up some of the nearby areas. So,....One day he visited and found that the children were indeed helping to clean up the forest.

Pepe, returned to his place beside the road and called a meeting with all the inhabitants of the forest and Pachamama. They decided to send Alegre to help tell their story.

So one magic night, Alegre appeared. The children loved him. He told them many things about loving and taking care of everything in nature. And now when you see one of the children with their ear very close to Alegre you can be sure that he is passing on some very important information.

Thank you Natacha.....If I missed any important parts of the story please let me know. We will do our best to keep the legend alive. Natacha is now working in Spain.

The recycling program continues.

Every Friday the children bring in recyclable items from their homes and what they find on the roads. All of the items are counted and each child puts new leaves on Pepe's branches.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why We Need ...Sustaining Members

I became involved in the school in 2006. I had started a small, very small, English school and library in downtown Salasaca, and somehow, Rosa Maria, the director and one of the founders of Escuela Katitawa, located in the hills above Salasaca, heard about our small school and invited me to come and visit. I accepted the invitation and was led there by one of my first Salasacan friends, Jose Masaquiza, a young man who had graduated from there many years before. Rosa Maria showed me the room that she would like to use as an English classroom and all she needed was a teacher. I asked her to send me an invitation and I would be glad find a way to help.

It is amazing how things just come together. At the little English school on main street Salasaca, I had been teaching the two afternoon classes while running a small business in Ambato. I would leave the business around noon and go to Salasaca, returning around five or six.

One day a young lady from Holland calls me and says she would like to visit the school in Salasaca. I invited her to come with me. We met for lunch in Ambato and then went by bus to Salasaca. She liked what she saw and said she may be able to help. She told me she would think about it and may be back.

I think it was about two weeks later she arrived in Ambato and was ready to volunteer. She may remember this better than I and she is welcome to correct any errors or omissions. Anyway...Janneke from Holland was the first volunteer at the English school and since I had the invitation to start English classes at a real school, she became our first sponsored volunteer at Katitawa. (I had on one occasion visited the area with a group of friends one weekend. Actually we only parked the truck there and I was told that the buildings were a school. It was not until I became involved at Katitawa and while looking at some pictures of my past adventure I realized that I had been here before.)

In the months and years that followed I became more and more involved in daily life at the school. I found that there was no budget for anything that needed to be done. One day Rosa asked if I could help with something that Luis wanted to do. He had a list of things he needed and when I looked at it I saw that it amounted to about $20 of material, and of course I said "no problem". The next day he gave me this very official letter with a request for these materials. Signed by Rosa Maria and sealed with the school seal.

As I became more involved I would start a project and I was told all I had to do was present a list of materials and they would prepare an official request for the things I needed. The first things I needed was a couple bags of cement and some plastic pipe. The letter was prepared and taken to Pelileo where it was accepted but we were told it would take severl weeks for it to be approved. Maybe it was then that I decided that we needed no help for things that we could do for ourselves.

I bought the materials and the project was started and finished in a few days.

I finally closed the business in Ambato and have since devoted all of my time, energy and money to building a better place for the children of Salasaca. I am not rich and my funds are limited. Personally, I have everything I need in this world....I need nothing more. I am doing what I am doing because I am selfish....I am doing this for me, because a life without meaningful work has no interest. I live in a paradise, the school is situated in such a beautiful place that everyday I feel that I am the luckiest guy in the world to be able to work and live in this place.

We instituted a volunteer program where we invite people from all over the world to come and volunteer their time to work at a variety of tasks. Some stay for a few days and others for as long as the law allows. They teach in a large variety of subjects from arithmetic to zoology....Depending on there interest and ability. They build walls, they work in the garden. They do anything and everything that needs to be done. They love the children and the children love the personal contact they have which is normal and healthy. When it is time for the volunteer to leave, 99% leave with a feeling of sadness which is bittersweet. Most say they will be back and some return much sooner then they had planned. They have connected and it is hard to disconnect.

My commitment here has grown and I now find that in order to continue I need some help, and since I still believe that we can help ourselves, and many volunteers leave with the idea that when they return home they would like to help in some monitory way, we came up with SKY...Sustaining Membership. This is a way that they could help and feel connected at the same time. (SKY is the acronym for the Kichwa words Sumak Kawsay Yachay. In English...Beautiful Life Education.)

New Options SKY Sustaining Members.

Believe it or not I have been asked to have a system where a person who wanted to subscribe to more than a commitment of $10 could have a choice. So, not being one to argue we now have three plans. BRONZE, SILVER and GOLD, giving you a choice in the amount that you wish to donate on a monthly basis.




We now have 22 members indluding the new members that have joined after we started the membership drive on Facebook. I will try to update this list this weekend.

Naomi Dhillon.........January 16, 2010........Uk
Miloslav Eis..........February 01, 2010.......Czech Republic

Josh Harrison........February 6, 2010..........United States
Silvia Pezzali.......February 17, 2010.........UK London
Sandra Kinne.........March 22, 2010............United States

Wlliam Palmer........April 23, 2010............UK

Tera Brooks..........August 9, 2010............North cote, Victoria, Australia.

Greta Gillies........February 15, 2011.........Scotland

Robert Bell..........February 10, 2011.........Shoalhaven, NSW
Richard McClland.....February 22, 2011.........UK
Holly Walker.........February 24, 2011.........Canada
Toby Rouse...........March 13, 2011............UK
Andrea Chiappello....March 19, 2011............Italy

Enda Sheehy.......April 1, 2011.....Ireland

Chris Mee.........May 14, 2011......UK
Alex Darquea......May 14, 2011......Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Jodie Burton......May 17, 2011......London, Silver
Matthew Russell...May 17, 2011......East Sussex.
Dotahn Caspi......May 18, 2011......Victoria
Anna Burroughs....May 28, 2011......Melborne, Victoria
Megan Quantrill...May.28, 2011......Auxland, NZ
Adam Amer.........June 7, 2011......Buckinghamshire.

It is taking me a while to get all the information.

In The Beginning

Note: I am going, with the help with all of the people who have been here before me, to tell the story of "Escuela Katitawa. If any of the readers of this blog, past volunteers or founders, have pictures, stories and any other information to contribute please do so. I would like it to be accurate as possible. This story will evolve in bits and pieces....Robert


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Saturday, April 2, 2011

By Popular Demand

New Options SKY Sustaining Members.

Believe it or not I have been asked to have a system where a person who wanted to subscribe to more than a commitment of $10 could have a choice. So, not being one to argue we now have three plans. BRONZE, SILVER and GOLD, giving you a choice in the amount that you wish to donate on a monthly basis.