Written by: Charlotte Schmidlapp
I spent an incredible 11 months in Potrero working with Abriendo Mentes from September 2010 – August 2011. During that time I made a “monton” of friends and relationships with fellow AM volunteers and members of the community and their children. It was difficult to leave in August, but I continued to stay involved with AM from abroad and thought often about the kids, my former adult students, and my friends from Potrero. I was fortunate enough to return to Potrero in May and spent nearly a week and half connecting with old friends, families and the community that supports AM.
When I arrived back in Potrero, it almost felt as if I had never left. That afternoon people were seeking refuge from the heat in their homes, some kids were playing a game of futbol outside of the school, a group of boys were in the plaza playing cards, and the occasional dog, cow and chicken was roaming the street. Once I heard the howler monkey’s call, started to sweat, and received my first mosquito bite, I knew I was really back. Some of the kids had caught wind that I was coming back to visit, so as I walked down to the Club de Ninos I was bombarded by an onslaught of hugs and smiles. One of my favorite things about living in Potrero was walking down the street and constantly being greeted by students running out of their houses to say hello.
While much of the physical landscape of Potrero remains the same, Abriendo Mentes has undergone a number of transformations. The organization currently boasts an impressive group of 14 dedicated and talented volunteers. Volunteers are integral to the success of the organization, and I think AM is extremely lucky to have such a gifted and diverse group of individuals committed to empowerment via education. Other noticeable changes were the increased class sizes, particularly the addition of a materno (Pre-K) class to the kids program, and a significant increase in the number of adult students. The women’s empowerment group, which was just getting off the ground when I left, now has a dedicated following and program schedule. I even got to participate in a Zumba / kickboxing class with the women, which is hard work, especially in 100 degree heat! I had seen pictures of the computers / new computer lab from the blog and newsletter, but seeing them up close is another thing. We are incredibly lucky to have these computers to use as a resource for both language instruction and also computer/technology education. I participated in class time as much as I could while I was visiting, which included an afternoon as a volunteer swim instructor for swimming class (for more on that read Anna’s blog here!). What I witnessed was that the overall scope of Abriendo Mentes has expanded to further meet and address the needs of the community, which continues to be a driving force for AM’s program initiatives.