Sunday, December 23, 2012

From little to less in Lujan, Argentina.

One of my favorite things about doing Circus of Smiles work is that it allows me to experience the local approach to schooling, education, child welfare and shelter. My background before running off to join the circus was in education, so I love seeing the similarities and differences between countries as we travel to new places. In Luján, as I have mentioned before, there is a pretty wide economic divide between the different neighborhoods. We got to get up close and personal with this reality on our third visit to town when we did 7 shows in one [very long and exhausting] day.

I would say the most obvious difference we saw that day was between Escuela #920 in Barrio Parque Lasa and Guardería Infantil in Barrio Ameghino. These two also happened to make up one of our favorite spots to visit, and our least favorite, respectively. What it really comes down to is a child centered environment- or lack thereof.

Escuela #920 in Parque Lasa. Notice the conga line being led by a boy in a wheelchair.

*Staff and instructors. There was an obvious gap in the amount of training and education received by the two teams of instructors. The classrooms in Parque Lasa were well planned out with imaginative play areas, developmentally appropriate toys and student created artwork on display. In Ameghino, most of the teachers were tucked away in the small kitchen drinking maté (a very popular local tea) and at least half of them had cell phones in hand when we arrived.

* Safety. To be set up for success, a child (or any person) must feel safe- both physically and emotionally. Escuela #920 is one of the most inclusive schools I have come across. All children are welcome in this school; they have some of the most loving aides there to support students with different abilities. Acceptance of all needs and abilities has been instilled in all the students and staff. When a little boy with hearing aides and physical deformities was invited to help us onstage, the cheering support from the entire student body was inspiring. The Ameghino daycare, on the other hand, was full of small dirty faces that obviously hadn't been wiped after snacktime some hours before. There were crying children left in cribs, and a few toddlers trying to climb a fence to the outside of the school were met with yells and insults instead of a teacher walking over to redirect. Oh, how I wanted to give a lesson on positive redirection and pro-active instruction!

Guardería Infantil in Barrio Ameghino.

 * And finally, environment. This is the area that seems to be most affected by the neighborhood's funding abilities, and honestly contributes a lot to the above mentioned bullets. Whereas the school in Parque Lasa had a beautiful campus and multiple classrooms, the daycare in Ameghino was in a small room borrowed from a local church. It had a dirt floor and some roughly constructed sharp edges. Really, it was a place children go when their parents need to work and can't afford to send them anywhere else, not a place that would inspire a child to want to come to school.

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