This past summer I (photo to left) visited Santa Rosa and Guayabillas as a Shunku Llacta volunteer for the second time. I was so excited to come back, find out if anyone remembered me, and see how much the kids had grown! This year we were a group of three volunteers: me, Anita Rodriguez (who lives near me in the Bay Area and just bought a farm near Guayabillas) and Elaine Velasquez (from Salt Lake City).
Mimi Foyle, Director of Shunku Llacta, hosted us at her farm as our home base. Our first morning, we hiked about an hour from her house to Santa Rosa. My pack was HEAVY!! I was carrying painting supplies for our mural project. But that was nothing. Mimi's pack felt like a solid rock!! She is one tough cookie.
When we arrived in Santa Rosa, the town was gathered at the school watching the students' pageant. Students danced and acted out popular songs about tough old grandpas (see photo) and an Ecuadorian boy whose girlfriend had migrated to NYC and died in the Twin Towers.
When the show ended, we greeted everyone. I am happy to report that my past host family remembered me! Andrea (mom) was happy to see me and so were her kids - Katy (in pic with me above) and little Kevin.
We (the volunteers) had planned an opening activity to help the families get to know us, and to do some environmental education while we had the kids' attention at school. We did a big name game with the whole group, kids and families, introducing ourselves and our favorite fruit or vegetable that sounds like our name. Well, "Abby Habas" stuck with me as a nickname for the entire trip! Ana Banana and Katy Colada were also popular.
Anita, Elaine and I split up the group for the activity. I took all the jovenes, or older kids and teens. My favorite age! Katy, her cousins Johnny and Jadira, and about 5 other kids came along. We went for a nature walk in the outskirts of town and our task was to find things that were living ("cosas vivas") and nonliving ("cosas sin vida") to bring back to the big group. We set out along a path in the woods.
We started collecting flowers and leaves as living things, and bits of trash and litter as nonliving things, discussing each item's role in or impact on nature. We stopped, as all the groups would do, for a short meditation. I told the kids to stand in a circle together in silence, and to use all their senses, including their hearts. Each one would choose one thing he or she loves in this place. We stood listening, smelling, and feeling for 5 minutes, and then everyone shared the birds, fruits, butterflies, and trees that they loved in Santa Rosa.
We went back to our search. Someone spotted a beautiful blue butterfly, as a living thing. Pretty soon, everyone was hunting insects and gathering them in a plastic cup (nonliving thing) to take back. Each kid would find a grasshopper, beetle, wasp (non-stinging), or caterpillar and ask Johnny (age 16) to identify it. Apparently, Johnny is the resident insect expert!! He explained what each one ate - the moth caterpillar that eats all our crops, the parasitic beetle that lays its eggs on the caterpillar that kill it when they hatch. I was very impressed!! We also found the shell of a large river snail (tasty to eat when roasted!).
All the groups gathered back at the school and we handed out paints, brushes and paper. Each group made a collage of the living and nonliving things we collected. Then, each group presented their posters, explaining the importance of living things in nature and the impact of the trash or other nonliving things on our environment. Everyone from the grandpa's to the kindergardeners had a chance to present!!
It was a great way to break the ice and start getting to know everyone, while learning all about the local nature and enjoying it together. And of course the message of protecting the planet. At the end, we went home with our host families for the next two nights. Miche requested Anita, who she had gotten to know on the hike. Elaine went with Andrea, while Olimpia (Andrea's sister) took me home. Jadira, my host sister, linked arms with me and showed me the way. We became practically inseparable for the next three days! I needed serious help to learn all the ropes--especially nighttime bathroom trips and outdoor showers! The fun was just beginning.
Photo of all the kids: