By: Tara Yanez
It’s really crazy to think that just a week ago I hopped on a plane in Houston, Texas and arrived in a whole new world after a short three hour flight! While I did try to be open to what was in front of me before I left, the town of Potrero has exceeded any expectation I had. There is a small-town charm here in Potrero that I connected with immediately. Just because you can pretty much walk the entire town in about 10 minutes doesn’t mean there isn’t enough stimulation or activity: Potrero is always very much alive. Alongside the dirt roads, howler monkeys are hanging from trees, iguanas are scurrying about and bright purplish-orange crabs are venturing away from the ocean; but, more importantly, it’s the people within the town that make Potrero special.
I have only been here for a short amount of time, but I already hear several outcries of“Hola, Tara!”and receive an overwhelming amount of hugs from the local kids whenever I leave my house. Simply just walking past the plaza (which is always alive with people playing soccer and congregating to chat and catch up), taking a stroll down the beach at sunset and seeing everyone quietly gazing into the horizon or running into a gang of my students riding their bikes down one of the dusty roads really makes me feel like I am a part of a community and a part of a lifestyle that can be found nowhere else. I really don’t know why I am lucky enough to have stumbled across the best-kept secret!
At times, living here can be challenging, of course. Sometimes all I want to do is escape the heat and not drag in a pile of sand with me wherever I go. But due to these relatively small inconveniences, I experience more simple pleasures on a day-to-day basis than I ever have in my life: a cold shower is actually refreshing, a morning swim at Playa Penca will revitalize your soul (trust me it will!) and a glass of ice water is nothing less than a gift from god.
Coming to Abriendo Mentes as the new youth development director, I felt a pretty hefty sense of responsibility on my shoulders once I realized how important this organization is to the community. We have an amazing team here that works hard to create a dynamic curriculum for the volunteers that also matches up with the pace of the public school. I was lucky enough to have everything mapped out for me as lead teacher, but I don’t think I could have ever prepared myself for the amount of energy that exists in the Abriendo Mentes classroom. The kids are so eager to learn and seem to brighten up when there are new volunteers in the classroom. I felt like they truly wanted my attention at all times, and for my first week this was absolutely draining. Each night I came home completely exhausted. However, I am starting to realize that I have to give all of myself to these kids, give them my heart and I am sure they will give me much more in return. I have had some experience teaching back home in the US, but I have never come across a group of students that were ever this loving and respectful. I can’t wait to discover what they have in store to teach me.
Above all else, above the beauty of this country and above friendliness of this town, I have found the most amount of inspiration from the volunteers at Abriendo Mentes. They are all passionate, driven, and humble people who really want to better the town of Potrero. The amount of support and encouragement I received from them when I first arrived was pretty incredible. Our wonderful Project Director, Lindsay, welcomed me when I first got here, took me to stay at her house, and made me feel right at home. Whenever I expressed uncertainty to the effectiveness of my classes to the other volunteers, they always assured me I was doing a good job and would offer to help out in any way they can.
I know I have used the word “community” a couple times in this article, but it comes into true form when I think of the AM team: we work together, we teach together, we have potlucks together, we go to the beach together, we take catamaran rides out into the sea together! For goodness’ sake! I couldn’t imagine a better support system when trying to accommodate to a new country and to a new culture. Really, I couldn’t be more grateful to be here and to be part of this community.