Day of the Child or How to Store 100 Balloons Using a Mosquito Net

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Yesterday, Colombians celebrated the Day of the Child, and I wanted to do something special to commemorate the children here in Mampuján as there is not often official community recognition of their benefit to the community. I also managed to get a snow cone maker that I was excited to try out! So, we decided to plan an event for Saturday night, with a few relay races and games, snow cones, cookies, balloons, singing, a short video on the rights of the child, and then a longer kid’s movies, followed by an event for adults where they could watch on the many documentaries that have been made about Mampuján but most of them have never seen.

So, the first thing we needed to do was obtain a video projector, or as they are called in Spanish, video beam. The only technology here consists of few sets of giant speakers. The Colombian motto seems to be if there is going to be music/speaking, etc., it better be loud! (The speakers at the church died a few weeks ago, for which I was very thankful. However, people here can fix EVERYTHING, so it is now back in working order, to everyone’s delight but mine). So, obtaining a video beam from outside was essential and the process helped me understand political dynamics here a lot better.

The local community police have a video beam that is available for community events, which seemed like the perfect option. However, Mampuján is also trying to establish itself as a peace community, one un-associated with any type of armed group. What does inviting the police, who have not always been neutral actors in the past, into the community to hold an event do to that process? However, how can the community also encourage the state to uphold its responsibilities to support citizens and community projects if there is no possibility of interaction with the state? These are not easy questions to answer, but in the end it was decided it would be better to look elsewhere.

So the hunt continued, with an NGO in Cartagena eventually lending us their projector for the event at the last minute. Meanwhile, organization continued in a very disorganized manner. Meetings were called, meetings dates where changed, people didn’t come to meetings, a protest powerpoint against Halloween was suggested, people got parasites, meetings were held to discuss small business opportunities in the community, I visited a chicken farm and other random events in rapid Spanish took place. I spent a lot of time being confused, but that feeling has become my new normal, so I don’t really worry about it much.

On Saturday, I went to Maria la Baja, the larger town 3 miles away with Paulmina, to get supplies, including 150 balloons. I returned home via motorcycle taxi and spent the next few hours blowing up balloons, filling balloons with water, chasing kids out of my house, and waiting for Juana, my co-leader, to get home from a class she is taking in Cartagena. She finally got home an hour after we were scheduled to start, which is quite normal for here but I am still getting used to.

We were going to hold the event outdoors, but it looked like rain, so we moved to the church, followed by a horde of very excited small children. What followed was pure chaos, as three adults tried to direct about 50 kids from two to twelve in a series of games, including in a moment of desperation trying to lead the group in learning the kid’s song Father Abraham in English. But the kids seemed to be having fun, mainly just yelling a lot and pushing each other.

Then came the moment of truth: time to watch the videos! I had no idea how to set up the speakers, so I had left that for a couple of people who said they would come by later and hook everything up. However, we ended up by that time with about 65 kids sitting in the church waiting for a video that wasn’t working. There was a picture, but unfortunately we were missing the cord that connected the sound from my computer to the speakers. After about half an hour of desperately trying to get sound, including staging an intervention to keep my computer from a number of excited two year olds, the youth showed up. They had a church service scheduled at 7:00, and were wondering if we were just about done. So the most logical thing seemed to be to postpone everything until Monday night.

In the meantime, I discovered another use for my favourite piece of furniture- the top of my misquote net is the perfect place to store one hundred inflated balloon and adds some extra colour to my room!

Sunday was Election Day here for mayors, governors, and council members. This is an important election, but things did not seem very tense in Mampuján. Most people, including me, spent the day outside talking to neighbours, discussing politics and mixing up cake batter at the local store. I tried to explain Canadian politics, but my Spanish is not quite at that level yet.

Then, Monday rolled around and we were no closer to solving the sound problem. However, I spent the morning working with one of the ASVIDAS members on putting together an invitation for a community wide cleaning day, which ended up involved lunch at the local restaurant at the side of the road, a trip to Maria la Baja which included a conversation at an internet cafe with the owner about the need for better educational opportunities for kids, and a discussion on how to foster group unity.

By evening, it once again looked like rain, so we decided to move to the church and in the process kicked the youth out of their evening meeting. Oops. We worked on setting things up, which involved trying two different computers, setting up the microphone and getting the kids to take turns announcing what we were doing, observing a few kids pretending to cast demons out of each, which appeared to be perfectly normal, and then going to different houses to ask people if they had the right cord. We finally conceded defeat and decided to show the movie outside with Juana’s TV in front of her house, as there were a lot less kids this time around.

Juana set the TV up while I worked on snow cone production. Unfortunately, the machine was not that cooperative, and kept on dying and needing to be taken apart and put back together, during which time the ice kept on melting. Eventually we scraped together enough ice for each child, and I have now retired the snow cone machine permanently.
After the snow cones, the rain began in earnest, forcing the party inside. However, the movie started again from the beginning and the remote was out of batteries to skip to the part we were at. So a frantic house to house search for a remote that worked with the DVD player ensued, finally ending when Alex got the house remote to work.

Finally, the movie ended, the kids got balloons, leaving me with about fifty still on top of my mosquito net, and I got to clean up and go to bed. Valuable lessons on planning and execution of events here have been learnt and I have seen more of both the strengths and weakness of the community. Most importantly, the need for flexibility has been clearly demonstrated- after all, many of the things that were planed never actually took place. Wish me luck this week as we attempt to start a bakery featuring soy products. It’s going to be a whole new learning curve!

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