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 AYA Service Tour 2009 in Monterrey, Mexico (03/07-15/09)

Day 2: First dusty footsteps and a ceremony


            The Yale alumni encountered the downtrodden areas of Alianza Real, full of makeshift houses made of raw material in an isolated area, so close yet so far away from the commercial center of Monterrey. A beautiful and functional setup was made by the Consejo de Desarrollo Social (Council of Social Development) consisting of several tents each of which would host a different educational or other activity. There was a medical area, a tent of yoga with special mattress, a dance stage, tables for math, English and arts courses and of course, a martial arts tent.

The people of Alianza Real welcomed us with great anticipation that was especially evident during the opening welcome ceremony in honor of our university and our volunteer efforts. Several speeches were offered that aimed to celebrate the partnership and lots of locals were present there to participate in the act of receiving, expressing their gratitude for our act of giving.

All the groups had to adapt to the challenge of contributing in this community but they succeeded in finding the right way to do so, first by identifying the needs of Alianza Real. I assure you all of them did splendidly so I decided to record in media their work and its outcome but I will offer you some sound-bites and highlights of each day in this blog.

The Sexual Education team had a hard time finding teenagers to talk to among our tabletents so the had to outreach in the houses around the community. In Trips words, those teens are too cool for school and the Banana Brigade, as the Sex Ed team was promptly nicknamed, went out to the teens, boys and girls to teach them how to use condoms, provided them with some and prompted them to do so in the future. Brooke, Trip and Abraar were dubbed as such because they were using a banana as a means for condom demonstration. As you can imagine, jokes about the size of the tropical fruit were not absent.

The Construction team: Rob, Abraham, Jonathan, David, Ann, Brooke, Randy, myself and of course our brains, Connie, had a rough start in the first day since the lumber had not arrived as it was supposed to. Thus, Consejos Jesús was continuously called upon is several pleas of help and exclamation to sort out the mess. Fortunately, there was some work to be done, even without the lumber and the constructors got to digging several holes for the support of the playground toys they were to construct. Penetrating the rockbed was not childs play and while I know we volunteered to do this, I could not help but point out the allusion of being part of Jail (as Mexicans pronounce Yale) University and smashing rocks in the dessert. Rob offered to bring along his mini-guitar to play some work songs to make us feel more up to the task. Connie was disappointed at the end of the day: we are working very hard, doing very little

In the more artistic shade of the tents, Wei Yin had set up a wonderful Origami lesson that she later offered to us on the bus on the way back. The results of the wonderful art of hers can be seen in the attached photographs. The children really loved it and I am sure they will view a small piece of paper with more imagination. Tannis was not doing bad either, although she called upon her refined artistic taste to teach some Van Gogh bits and pieces to the eager children with her pocket sized computer, fearing no dust and sun. Needless to say, she succeeded and I was happy to help her in translation with my fledgling Spanish until

the fantastic and energetic Prepa TEC student arrived to help us with communication and translation in all areas of the site. My helper, Leo was instrumental for my Tae Kwon Do instruction as I can hardly say do the same in Spanish. By the end of the week, he was about to contribute on my alluding fluency on the lingua Espanola. The dust in Alianza Real was not as kind to my snow-white TKD uniform though

and neither was it to the doctors, who had to chase the dust out of their makeshift examination offices like the Spaniards did to the Indians. They applied mass quantities of sanitizer and medical equipment but at the end of the end they served a great number of people who required medical attention. Al and Fred were consistently in the Medical Area helping out and talking to these people, which was a great deal different than their hospital experience. Victor had a tough time rounding up people to teach public health since nobody signed up at the first day, which was disappointing since the team had worked till the small hours the previous night on the workshop; however, a change of tactics was implemented and more people were reached. Joyeeta assessed that access to medical care in Alianza Real was not so bad compared to D.R.  and Al added to that in saying that a lot of people consulted them for reassurance. Fred tallied the patients for a single day to be more than 70 and deemed the cases of the patients to important but no considerably serious. At the end of the first day, the Doctors team was sending people over to public health to get general tips of hygiene that serves as prevention; what the people in Alianza Real would use for the long term. This made for a nice cross-tent collaboration and skills sharing among the group

which continued at an informal basis on the way back from Alianza Real when Wei Yin was teaching us origami and I succeeded in constructing a nice paper seal. Connie was into the game too and shared with us her couch surfing experience (dont know what that is? Google it!) and was telling us that the kids in Alianza were familiar with Scooby Doo. Apparently, those were the stickers that were selling like hot cakes from the ones she distributed among the children. I am just so glad that Spongebob was not nearly as popular!

And my final thoughts of the day:

Getting to teach my first Tae Kwon Do class and looking at people that were not necessarily trained as teachers (neither was I of course) to finding their niche at the first day of our volunteer work, I was privy to a wonderful procedure of adaptation that I believe it was purely transformational. For what I can say for my experience, it is so very true that the best way to learn something is to teach it and being a mere 2-month trained white-belt in TKD surely puts me in need of further instruction. The scientists that were reduced to mere builders in the construction team had to get back to basics in carpentry, mixing cement ingredients and wielding the pickaxe.