Written by: April Simon
Having stalked Abriendo Mentes online for nearly nine months, I thought I knew what to expect upon my arrival in Playa Potrero. Reality, as I am often reminded, trumps the Internet every time.
I first discovered AM while searching for a host organization for the Fulbright grant project I am proposing. The program is based on the Literacy Through Photography model and will explore concepts of self, community, and future aspirations with children aged 5-14. Having exchanged many an email with Meradith, I felt it time to make the trip from North Carolina to see for myself how the project might play out with the AM kids.
My partner, Brian, and I arrived on the rainiest day of the season. After a five hour shuttle bus trip into the Potrero, we were eager to get out and explore the village that we hope will be our home soon. Following the only road we saw, we soon found ourselves at the soccer field that serves as the center of town. From there, we could hear the sound of children singing through the downpour.
The AM classroom buzzed with the energy of barely contained chaos. The teachers and volunteers moved around the room, helping the kindergarteners paste scraps of paper in the shape of an apple. Brian and I were invited to jump right in with the lesson.
Between the older and younger groups, I chatted with the children and let them play with my camera. One boy, Gerald, quickly established himself as the class clown – mugging for every single shot. A few others asked me to take group photos – and, like all eight-year-old boys are want to do, gave each other bunny ears for posterity.
Over the next few days, I got the opportunity to get to know more of the children, several of their parents, and many of the other community members. In true Tico fashion, the citizens of Playa Potrero are incredibly warm, open, and kind.
We were able to take part in the Corn Festival, and I was given the recipe for the traditional corn and rice soup that was boiling in a huge cauldron over open flames. When all of the electricity in the area went out during our dinner at a restaurant, the owner casually brought us a candle, a drink refill, and a flashlight for our walk home.
Though we were sad to leave Potrero behind, Brian and I look forward to returning along with our own two children next year. I am excited to begin working in earnest on both my project, and with AM in their regular afterschool programs. While village life has its challenges, I am also very eager to have my family in a place that is removed from the bustle and anxiety of the city… and if I ever need to find my children- I’ll never have to look farther than the soccer field.