Going to school with Juana Alicia is always an adventure. Juana Alicia is a community leader in Mampuján and also teaches what we would call home-economics but here is called Preparation and Manipulation of Alimentation in the neighbouring community of San Pablo. I am, by the way, a famous person in San Pablo because I have taught all of Juana’s students to make vegan chocolate cake and frequently return to re-teach the same recipe because sometimes instead of putting in two cups of prepared coffee, the students put in two cups of coffee grounds and things do not end up working out so well. Also, I am the only one with measuring cups and measuring spoons, which come in handy.
Here’s what happens during a typical day of Preparation and Manipulation of Alimentation:
First of all, Juana Alicia kicks off her wedge heels and wanders around the single room barefoot, directing the very diverse activity happening all around the room. At the single, two burner stove in the room, one group of students cleans up milk that has boiled over in an attempt to make arequipe (caramel sauce) while another group starts cooking down guavas to make jam. At the sole preparation table, another group is making a vanilla cake with 24 eggs in it, as another group waits for a different flavoured cake to finish baking as they try to keep the oven door from falling open. My group is working at the same prep table, but we keep running into problems as there is no pan to bake the cake in nor a bowl in which to mix the ingredients. Juana scolds Rosa, my student, for not bringing a bowl from home. We finally settle on a pot. On the other corner of the table students are making cookies filled with coconut and cheese, equally eating the coconut and using it for the cookies. In a separate corner of the room, sitting in a plastic chair with her legs on the wall, another student beats egg whites for what seems like hours to make meringues. The school is borrowing the electric hand mixer from another student, because, while it is the goal of some of the students to sell their products to purchase a mixer for the laboratory, this has not happened yet and hence the school doesn’t have their own. Constantly observing all of this activity are other students from the school, hanging on to the bars that cover the open windows and asking to taste things. Dust blows in, and Juana reminds me to bring my mouse trap next time I come, so that we can kill the creature living somewhere in the fridge that is used as a storage cupboard because it takes too much electricity to turn on.
I love the chaos and the activity. There is always something to do, someone to talk to, and something to taste. The teachers and the students are dedicated to learning and I would have loved to have had Juana Alicia as a teacher. However, when I think about the things that I took for granted in my high school class, I get a little sad. I don’t think for a moment that everything here needs to be exactly the same, but education is something fundamental for the rest of life, and the lack of resources contained at the school only serve to highlight the deficiency of educational materials here on the Caribbean Coast, especially among displaced populations.
For example, in Mampuján, the community school only goes up to grade 5, and gives classes in the morning and the afternoon. However, the school is missing one classroom, so there are kids outside everyday under a falling apart thatched roof. Some parents and community members are talking about fixing the roof and building a new structure, which is great, but does not take the various ministries of education off the hook. Instead of buying more guns or engaging in parapolitics, imagine how great it would be if all of the resources were directed towards the future leaders of the country, the students! It would change Colombia forever. Because, after all, you can learn a lot better when you don’t get sunstroke or rained on.
(Don’t feel so great Canadians- many Aboriginal Canadians study in similar conditions, where instead of getting sunstroke, the students get frostbite. Let’s encourage our government to support education at home and abroad. It’s a fundamental part of building healthy societies.)