Speakeasy exhibit an inspiration in volunteering | SummitDaily.com

Speakeasy exhibit an inspiration in volunteering

LESLIE BREFELDsummit daily news
Special to the Daily/Kate Lapides

In a classroom in a rural mountain community in Ecuador, Summit residents Guy Natanel and Kate Lapides were able to make a difference in a group of students’ lives.Natanel, owner of the Speakeasy Movie Theatre in Breckenridge, and professional photographer Lapides traveled in October to Otavala, the famous market town in Ecuador, to volunteer their time teaching kids with the Global Vision International (GVI) organization. Now, they want to keep that momentum going.

Photographs the two took during the trip will be featured at the Speakeasy to raise awareness about the volunteer opportunity with an opening reception Thursday at 5 p.m. Funds raised through photograph sales will further the students’ educations.The GVI volunteers were based in the town of Otavala with a host family and traveled about an hour and a half on rough roads by pickup truck to one of three mountain communities with schools.Commuting into town to study is not a viable option for the children because access to a car is limited, and even with access, it is too expensive. Also, the culture is based around family and staying with the community. Currently, teachers who are there can bring the students only so far in their studies.”We hope to create an opportunity for the older kids to continue on past sixth grade by bringing a colegio (middle/high school) teacher up to the community once a week,” Lapides said. The students then would use a satellite internet connection and laptops to continue their lessons during the week. “It will help with the community in many ways to have kids educated to at least the high-school level, and is something they have decided they want for their children,” Lapides said.

In the community where Natanel and Lapides worked, Urcusiqui, the school was set up in three structures – one as a nursery for kids up to first grade and two bigger structures for the older students. One classroom had first-, fifth- and sixth-graders and the other was a classroom for the second-, third- and fourth-graders.Natanel, who worked in the classroom with the first-, fifth- and sixth-graders, said, “The first-graders were a group of about 13 facing one side with a blackboard, tables and chairs. The other side had six fifth-graders together with six sixth-graders. At the center was the teacher’s desk.”The teacher addressed the younger kids first and got them started on an activity, and then began a lesson with the older students, he said.”To a Westerner, it initially looks like chaos. It’s not ideal, but it does work,” Natanel said.

And here is where the volunteers can make the situation better. With the teacher moving around so much, the weaker students are more likely to fall behind. But with an extra teacher in the room, kids can receive one-on-one attention.Natanel tells a story about a little girl and an assignment the first-graders were given to draw diagonal lines on a gridded piece of paper. (The first-graders were on a level similar to kindergartners in the U.S.)”It was obvious she didn’t understand what the task was or didn’t know how to do it because there were lines everywhere,” he said. “I sat with her one-on-one, moving the pencil across the square a few times together, and looking her in the eyes to see if she understood. She comes back 10 to 15 minutes later and it’s perfect. She really needed the moment of someone paying attention and motivating her – showing that what she does matters.”Natanel also wants to inspire people to see this kind of volunteer work as a different way to travel.

“You’re not just taking away from the place you visit, you give to the place,” Natanel said. “It gives you the opportunity to make a rich and authentic connection with another human being, whether this is a 6-year-old child who will always be touched by the compassion and interest you showed in her thoughts and life or the host family who shared their generosity and warmth with you every night while you struggled to express yourself in a new language,” Lapides said.The organization provides two weeks of one-on-one Spanish training for volunteers as well as various weekend excursions. There is no formal teacher training needed; volunteers need only be enthusiastic to work with children and ready to work in basic conditions.For more information about the Global Vision International organization and its projects, visit http://www.gvi.co.uk. For more on the photo show, call the Speakeasy at (970) 453-7243.

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