Elin and I usually get up around 7.30 and arrive at La Restinga around 8.30 each morning to help out at Aula Movil. This is a homework help program (most of the kids go to school in the afternoon), but there are always other workshops and projects going on. Each month they choose a new theme to work with, and for the last month we have been working up towards the World AIDS Day on December 1st with the theme Sexuality and HIV-AIDS. I'll write more about this, and our celebration of December 1st in a later post. The homework help and workshops usually lasts up until 11.30 or noon, when we all have lunch. There's a strict rule that everyone has to finish their food, which could seem odd because the portions are huge and there are kids and youth in all different sizes and ages, but this is usually not a problem since this is the only meal some of the kids get consistently every day.
After lunch, we slowly disperse (the kids go to school and I go back to the apartment). Two days a week, I return in the middle of the day to go with the team to Belen (a poverty stricken part of the city) where we have a separate project with at-risk kids and youth. Here we work as health promoters, and our workshops are centered around the prevention of sexual abuse and explotation, HIV-AIDS, and STIs, and promotion of healthy behavior, self-esteem, and personal hygiene. Taking part of the planning and execution of this project is definitely some of the most demanding, but also the most rewarding work here. It is so fun to plan and be part of the planning process and figure out how we can best reach the kids, but really hard to put it into practice, because of countless challenges, including lack of attention (keeping a group of hyperactive kids interested for a full 2 hours is like a mission impossible), lack of attendance, lack of place to work (when we arrived on site last week, we were surprised to find that the roof of the building had been removed, which, in 100 degree heat made it impossible to work, so we had to cancel the next two sessions until we had a roof over our heads). Needless to say, I'm learning to be flexible.
After returning from Belen, we make dinner in the apartment, which is always an adventure. Elin and I love trying new things, and with a market full of unfamiliar vegetables, fishes, and fruits, we've had lots of exotic (though not always that tasty) dinners. Then, at around 7pm we return to La Restinga to help out or particitpate in different workshops (including juggleing classes, making t-shirts, capoeira, moviemaking, danceclasses, theatre, and much much more). The workshops usually last till around 9pm, but sometimes people keep hanging around late into the night telling stories and talking. These late night talks have made for some of my best memories so far. I especially remember one of the first nights when a group of about 10 of us, including Puchin (who is one of the founders and basically the second father to all the kids) were gathered around the table eating a late night meal. Everyone was laughing and making fun of each other in such an intimate way. In that moment I realized that La Restinga is not charity, not a project, not a center, but simply family. And I am so thankful to feel part of it.
La Restinga as seen from the outside. The banner across the heart says "Creo en ti", which means "I believe in you."