One of the things I love about living here in Playa del Carmen is that I never know where the next great experience will come from. On our constant quest to try new things and step outside our comfort zone we rarely say no to invitations. Some of those experiences lead to making new friends and others lead to new business. Our most recent experience led to something entirely different, an opportunity to participate in and give back to this community of Playa del Carmen that we love so much. That’s right, we’re teaching English in Playa del Carmen.
WARNING: Adorable kid overload might occur if you keep reading. Jason and I volunteered to teach English to grade school kids through a program called KKIS (Keep Kids In School). In addition to the volunteers who go in the classrooms to help teach English they also provide school supplies and uniforms to underprivileged kids here in Playa del Carmen. You can read more about their mission here.
We met up with the other volunteers on a Wednesday afternoon and got our lesson plan, some loose directions on how to teach the kids and our classroom and table assignment. Jason and I ended up at the same table which considering how nervous we both were going in was a good thing. I can barely order my dinner in Spanish, how could I possibly communicate with these kids? What if I accidentally taught them to say ‘My name is ham’ or ‘I would like whiskers on my pizza?’
But our fears were unfounded. Why we would be scared of kids that are waist high I have no idea, because these kids, oh you guys, these kids are awesome. Seriously, the smiles never left their faces. Now there’s a very good chance that they may have just been laughing at their gringo teachers, but that’s okay, I was laughing at our bumbling ways myself.
The English lesson we had to teach was on diabetes. It is a pretty large epidemic in Mexico and so starting education at a young age about sugar and healthy eating is critical. It was definitely a hard lesson to teach (in English and in Spanish), and a hard one for us to start out on, but we tried to make it fun and get the overall message about eating healthy across.
I think some of the kids understood us better than others. For example Gerardo was very smart, spoke pretty good English, was first with the answers, and also was the first to get in trouble (leave it to us to have the class clown at our table). He had to leave our table for a bit and go ‘hang out’ with the teacher. I have no doubt he has a future career in the entertainment field because he kept me laughing the whole time.
The rest of our group, Paty, Nelly, Angela and Jesus, were pretty shy at the beginning, but oh so eager to please us. And when we broke out the colored pencils and stickers for our worksheets their creativity and skills really came through. They had short attention spans, like most second graders we know, so we had to work especially hard to keep them engaged and on-topic.
The time went by so quickly and it was actually sad to be leaving them so soon. The kids gave us all a big thank you, lots of waves and hugs.
I walked out of school with the organizer and peppered her with questions. There is some transition going on, the foundation that started the school went out of business and the school was turned over to a church to run. This means less money and many of the scholarships provided for the students to go to this school are going away and the tuition isn’t something many of these families can afford. I’m not sure what the future holds for the school but I do know they have needs now. The school goes until the end of June and we’re planning to go back as many times as we can to volunteer until summer break.
Even when school lets out for the summer the needs don’t stop. School supplies are incredibly expensive to buy on the income these families are making so we have already bought a backpack and stuffed it full of colored pencils, glue sticks and stickers to donate. Although we got rid of a majority of our possessions and are working for far less salaries these days, we still have so much in our lives and know there is room in our budget and our day to give money and time to this organization. It just seems like such a small price for us to pay that could have a large impact on these kids’ futures.
So dear readers, we have a request of you. Our door down here is always open for friends and family to come stay, we ask that in return you consider bringing a backpack or some school supplies to donate to KKIS. They particularly need notebooks, colored pencils (oh do they love to color with those pencils), glue sticks, pencils, pencil sharpeners and pencil cases. For anyone that isn’t planning a visit to Playa soon but still wants to donate, let us know and we’ll work out a way to get the supplies down here. And of course they will always accept donations, you can donate through Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are people all over the world who need help and we continue to actively donate globally through our business model, but we also want to give back to the communities we are living in. So we’ll continue to donate and teach, although I’m thinking that it will turn out that these kids will teach us more than we ever teach them.