Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Guatemala.


Posted in Guatemala on February 14, 2011

Open Windows aims to improve conditions for the children from in and around the town, by providing access to important educational resources through its services, which the community has come to depend on. These services include: introducing motor skills to teach children dexterity with craft projects using scissors, crayons, and other tools; teaching higher critical thinking skills through educational games and creative problem solving activities; encouraging creativity through art projects; and working with volunteer guests.

I had the enchanting privilege of working with two of the teachers, Monica and Claudia, to put together a Dental Health module for the children`s activity hour on Wednesday.

We had expected 34 children and ended up with over 75! The children were so enthusiastic and excited.

Claudia explained the topic of the day was dental health and that I would do a demonstration of the proper brushing technique. She then explained that I came from Canada and could not speak Spanish. After the children greeted me with a noisy and loud,"Buenas Tardes, Segnora Elisabeth!", I asked if they could help me with my Spanish and correct me if I mispronounced a word. Claudia looked a bit apprehensive and feared we would loose control of the 75 children!

Earlier, Monica had given me one of their children`s library books, a story about a dad teaching his son how and why brushing teeth is important. She had rehearsed reading it with me!

Now the real test would be if the children were able to understand me and how they would appraise my non existent skill level!

With over 75 children crammed in to the increasingly hot and humid room, a silence fell over the room. I looked around and took a deep breath as I started to read in Spanish for the first time! You could have heard a Spanish pin drop! I got through the first page, two short sentences. I looked up to see over 150 intense eyes looking at me. I decided to test them to see if they were really paying attention…I stumbled on a word.

Well, the response was electrically immediate! The whole room erupted with a chorus of the corrected version of the mispronounced word!

The corrections to my attempts at Spanish came quickly and intensely. The children were not only helpful, but at the same time, they were gentle, respectful and excited to be able to know more than an adult! When I finished and closed the book, the children erupted into a boisterous and enthusiastic round of joyous applause and a few cries of `bravo`from some of the older boys!

The craft project came next. Egg cartons had been cut up into individual `teeth`. Each child received one tooth, some bits of colored play-doh, and markers. The children were asked to create cavities with the markers and with the play-doh, show bits of food stuck on the tooth.

The tooth brushing technique demonstration came next. With a dentodent, a huge toothbrush and fabulous comentary from Claudia, the children shouted out the correct technique for brushing their teeth. Then, with an egg timer, we showed them how long to brush…the two minutes for the children was an eternity. With coaching from Claudia, ``!Mas!` , `brush longer!, the children used their fingers to show they were still brushing!

We explained to our keen audience that toothpaste was not the key to dental health. Brushing technique was most important. Alternate and practical, locally and economically available, solutions were suggested, baking soda and salt water.

With a quick review by Claudia, she asked the noisy children if they would like to have a toothbrush. All the hands went up! We handed out the toothbrushes donated by a friend in Canada.

It was a heartwarmingly wonderful experience to see how eager the children were to learn something new, how curious they were to interact with someone new and very different, how well behaved they were, how respectful they were with me, how very gentle and sweet they were with my very obvious lack of Spanish skills, and how curious they were to see what they looked like on my camera.

A few days ago , I commented that I already loved Guatemala and its people. I was cautioned: It will not take more than a day to loose your heart to Guatemala!

With Love,

Elisabeth Percy
DWC Participant

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