Written by: Michelle Fonseca
I volunteered with Abriendo Mentes for an incredibly amazing, and way too short, two weeks. After reading how the organization was started, I knew I would easily connect with, and learn a lot, from Meradith and Drew. The duo’s dedication and motivation to
improving the quality of education and life for the people of Portrero is contagious.
My main responsibility while at AM was assisting the classroom director, Anna, teach the day’s English language lessons and activities with other volunteers. Every day, each class begins the same way ‐ the students are given small white boards along with expo markers and write down what “Today is, Yesterday was, and Tomorrow will be.” After practicing writing the appropriate days, the class sings the “Days of the week” and the “Months of the
Each child receives star stickers to add to their sticker card when they complete their work. All of the students carried their folders and sticker cards with remarkable pride and were always excited to be in class. I was amazed at just how quickly the children learn, and I surprised myself at how much I loved being around and teaching the kids.
Within the organization there are subcommittees for volunteers
to participate on, such as development, assessment, communications, a community garden, the women’s empowerment group Mujeres Activas de Potrero (MAP), which
means Active Women of Potrero, Pen Pal program, adult ESL classes, and a soon to be computer lab. Because my time was so short, I wanted to do as much as possible and helped in any area I could, including shadowing Meradith in meetings and on calls
with potential volunteers.
Even with a never‐ending to do list, which included managing the
expansion of AM to a nearby town with classes scheduled to begin in March, Meradith was able to complete everything in front of her with unwavering passion. I was, and am, in awe of her ability to get so much done with so much energy.
The relationships I developed in Potrero are the most rewarding part of my experience. I immediately and easily connected with the 14 other volunteers, a mix of long‐timers and newbies, like myself, all in their twenties and wanting to make the world a better place. We became close friends over potlucks, trips to the beach, yoga classes and Wednesday nights at Las Brisas.
My host family, the Morenos, lived next door to Meradith and Drew and were a perfect match for me. I spent a lot of time with my host brother Dilan (4), my host sister Verenice (11), who celebrated her birthday while I was there, and Emanuel (7), a neighbor who lived just up the street and was over at the house everyday.
These kids were awesome. I had a blast helping them climb up the small tree in the front yard, kick around the soccer ball, jump over waves and sing along to Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Verenice has Bieber fever and I’m pretty sure that it might be the only song Dilan has memorized other than the usual songs sung in class. When it came time to head home, saying goodbye to these three children was by far the hardest part.
With AM, Meradith helped arrange all the logistical parts of my trip. As a result, even when I was traveling alone I never felt like I was on my own or had to fend for myself. Potrero is a tiny town where everyone knows each other and I immediately felt safe and accepted as part of the community. It’s a simple town with beautiful beaches and a giant soccer field as the focal point of the town.
During my stay, I woke up every morning to an orchestra of dogs, birds, monkeys, passing cars ‐ always excited to get my day started. There was a good balance between working hard and enjoying yourself at AM, and it makes for an inspiring environment.
At one morning meeting, we were sitting outside at a table talking about funding, and Hillary, one of AM’s kinder students, walked by and said “Hello Mary how are you? I’m doing fine thanks” (the kid’s call Meradith ‘Mary’). It was an incredible feeling to be discussing funding to better teach the students English, while one walks by speaking English, showing how affective the organization is and proving the work you are doing is truly impacting lives.
I highly encourage anyone looking to volunteer in education to check out Abriendo Mentes. AM is an organization that teaches 150 children to believe in themselves, encourages local women to get together and be expressive, and brings the entire community together to help celebrate and improve their lives. My time supporting the amazing group of people and passionate cofounders who make this all happen is honestly one of the best thing I have ever done in my life.