Things are starting to take off. I had a busy day today, but everything seems to be going fairly well:
I started the day teaching English to kids. I was really worried I was going to have to entertain 50+ misbehaved kids by myself for an hour, but there were more like 15, and they behaved pretty well the whole time. We practiced colors, simple commands (stand up, sit down, look up, look down), and numbers 1-10, and I taught them "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." We still have a few days of practice before they know any of the material completely, but I'd say it was a very successful first day! I'm still, however, worried that the class size will grown and become difficult to manage.
After class, I took a trip next door to our batey to a community center run by a group of Brazilian nuns. They provide health and legal services to whoever needs them. I partly just wanted to talk to someone about my frustrations in the batey (and the woman there was a wonderful and sympathetic listener), and I also needed to get some information on how to get legal documents for children without them. The short version is that the Dominican legal system is a complicated mess that is extra troublesome for Haitians. Gracias a Dios, the nuns have become very familiar with the system, and most of my work will simply be connecting the undocumented with the nuns who can help them.
After lunch, I visited some houses in the community to introduce myself and ask some questions. I need to visit about 100 houses, and with today's four I'm at 23, right about on target.
After playing with the kids in my host family, I went to teach another English class, this time to teenagers. The turnout was even smaller, which surprised me, because there have been lots of teens who expressed interest in the class. I suspect this class size will grow also. Even if it doesn't, there are already some very promising students in the class. Today I reviewed some things I knew they've already studied in school (greetings, family members, numbers), and to be honest the class was more boring than the kids class. But it's pretty hard to beat out "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." I hope and expect that some of these kids will be able to carry on some kind of conversation in English by the time I'm done with them...they already have a foundation and they're self-motivated.
After this class, I visited some neighbors because there was a 6th grader who wanted (!) extra practice with multiplication. While I was there, two of her cousins joined in to practice addition and subtraction. I wrote out math problems as fast as I could and gave them timed worksheets until I was worn out. There is something fundamentally wrong with school...all these kids want to learn and enjoy learning, but hate school and don't learn anything there. That's not just a Dominican problem; throughout the world, kids want to learn until there's a teacher forcing them. Solve that problem, and humanity will take several leaps forward.
There's a Haitian girl living with us because something is wrong with her mother and her dad is somewhere in Haiti. She's 7, but still can't read and has terrible (Spanish) grammar. The nuns are looking for a family to adopt her, but it's difficult because she's already 7 and hasn't ever even been in school. I almost started to teach her to read, but one of my host sisters yelled at her to pay closer attention to me and learn, and she lost interest.
I also fit in a lengthy conversation with my host mom about how unchristian and unhelpful it is that all the adults around here beat and swear at their kids. She said something about how misbehaved all the kids are and how that's Dominican culture. I'll consider it progress that we're actually having a conversation and agreeing that there's a problem.
I have the same two English classes tomorrow, and I have a class for adults that will start this weekend. And I still have to visit 77 more houses! At least I'm not bored.