Tag Archives: Teaching You

Sunday Morning Shoot

My first day here, I made some photos in the plaza and market. When Marina, my Salvadoran life-coach and landlady, and Joaquin saw them, they cautioned me to not have my camera out in the downtown lest it get stolen. This caution was repeated for the first few weeks that I was here.

But the market area has the shots that I really want. Risks can be managed. Sunday morning, I went to the market as the vendors were setting up at 6:00. My theory is that thieves are essentially lazy and that they are still sleeping at this hour. I also believe that they would rather steal in a crowded market where they can blend in than stand out early in the day.

Even Joaquin and Marina could not argue with this logic. Both laughed in acknowledgment of my Yankee wisdom. These images and the ones from yesterday were the ones I made that morning. At last!

Casa de Guirola

This is the Casa de Guirola built in the 1860s by a once wealth family. The corner that has been torn away and replaced with sheet metal once held the statues of two eagles. People once referred to the house as the House of Eagles. It has a mysterious past.

One family member had, it was said, a room lined with silver coins. On the roof of the room was a symbol that resembled a goat. In that room beautiful maidens were offered as sacrifices. Many beautiful women, gossips claimed, were subjected to all kinds of sexual practices and then never again seen. Another family member used to walk around Santa Tecla, dressed all in black and accompanied by a dozen enormous black dogs that walked freely beside him. The dogs’ natural fangs had been removed and replaced with fangs of pure gold. In the House of the Eagles, during some exclusive parties, they served concoctions in which blood bats was mixed with fine European spirits. It was also said that some family members never grew old.

The legend is interesting but the fact is the family members were benefactors to the city donating the land for the Cafetalon, a lovely city park, as well as building an orphanage and a hospital for the poor.

Excerpted and edited from: http://www.elsalvador.com/articulo/editoriales/extrana-leyenda-una-familia-90409

El Cafetalon

This park is an oasis in the city. It is secure and quiet from the noise of the streets. There are no street vendors yelling here and no speeding cars. If I go after classes, I am apt to hear cries of “Teacher, Teacher” as students spot me along the track or on the exercise equipment.

Flower Girl

Flower Girl

I don’t do a lot of portraits but if I can get a photo of a person or something that I thing they would enjoy, I’ll get it printed and share it with them. It is a nice thing to be able to do given the skill set I have to make and edit images. And for me it is easy… at home in the US where I can easily go to a local lab or use a mail order service.

It is a different story here. I can spend an hour on the bus going to a true photography shop. Instead, I’ve been going to a copy shop near school that requires me to print an entire 8.5 X 11 inch sheet. They do a good job but I have to wait until I have four photos for 3.5 x 5 inch prints and format them to print on a single page. Then I bring the flash drive there and they print it. Their paper cutter is broken, so I bought a ruler and utility knife to separate the images.

People really like receiving these little gifts. Think about it. If it is this challenging for me, then how often do local people get photos printed. It likely does not happen often. My guess is that something that is a nice gesture back home is more significant here.

I printed this for Wendy. She was just sitting there and smiled at me. I clicked the shot. No posing, nada.


Last Friday, the school held the coronation of the Reina de las Flores (Queen of the Flowers). It is an annual event and the Queen and her court ride in the parade in September. The girls started and ended the day in very pretty dresses, but a creative and no less pretty touch came mid-day. All of the girls made dresses from recycled materials, including plastic bags, newspapers, empty snack bags and balloons. Here are a few images.

Recycling here is different from the US. There are some, not a lot, of recycling bins, sure. But really, people use and repurpose things endlessly. Just because something is slightly broken and not quite functional does not mean you throw it out. I had trouble finding scrap card board for a project because people use it for other purposes. When my big quart container of yogurt was empty, my landlady happily accepted the empty container to reuse to store things in. The pan we use to heat water for tea or coffee has no handles. We just use a towel as a pot holder to pick it up when it’s hot. Reusing and repurposing is alive and well down here. It is an economic necessity. The people are as innovative and creative as the girls who made these dresses.


These are some of the girls of the Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla. If I walk around the courtyard with my camera, there are always students asking to have their photos taken.

Some readers have commented that the school and the girls don’t look different from the US. Others have asked about the dynamics of the school (class size, subjects, etc.) Below are some of my observations and answers to questions that I’ve asked.

-Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla is an all-girls public school. The students attend classes for grades 1-9, from ages 6 to 15. Most girls stop there education after Grade 9. There are options both public and private to attend high school, but it is complicated and often viewed as not necessary.

-The girls either attend the morning session (7:00 to 12:00) or the afternoon session (1:00-5:00). The staff in the morning and afternoon are also different. From my observations, the girls in the morning have the advantage in terms of getting a higher quality education. In the morning, everyone is fresh and the weather is reasonably cool. By afternoon, it is hot and some of the girls are tired from working in the morning. Isn’t it odd the way in which your schedule can affect your educational outcome and thereby your life?

-Subjects include: Mathematics, Language, Computer Skills, Social Studies, Science, Art, Physical Education, Values, and English.

-I’ve had class sizes ranging from 18 students to over 30 students.

After observing the students for a week and a half, I was left with some questions. Joaquin Batres, the Teaching You coordinator and the person managing my trip, was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I am paraphrasing and these are not direct quotes.

Q. This is a public school, so it is free?

A. Yes and no. School is free and the government provides the school uniform (including socks and shoes) and some basic school supplies to start the year.
Things not paid for by the government include:
– School books (Some individual books can cost as much as $40)
– A uniform for physical education class, costing $22-26
– Computer class is a special class and there is a fee of $35 per year.
– Students can receive a light meal, such as arroz con leche (milk and rice). The food is provided by the government, but the other ingredients to make it palatable and someone to prepare it is not covered. –
There is a fee of $10 per year for this.

Q. How difficult is it for the families to pay for these things?

A. It depends on how much they earn, which is largely a function of the type of job they have. Joaquin provided the following list of types of jobs and the corresponding monthly earnings:
– Trades and services: $251.70 –
– Industrial work, such as factiories: $246.60
-Textile and clothing industry: $210.90 (Note: These are largely factories making clothing for companies in the USA and other developed countries. Joaquin listed Nike, Adidas, and The Gap as companies currently making or having made clothing here.*)
-Coffee Farm worker: $129.00
-Other agriculture: $118.20
-Sugar plantations: $109.20
-Cotton plantations: $98.70

Q. How do the families afford the costs?

A. Some pay a little bit at a time. Sometimes, they can’t pay or can’t pay for everything. That is why you see girls playing sports in their school uniform instead of the physical education uniform. Some girls can’t afford the books. (Note: I’ve seen some students who lack notebooks and whole classes using copied materials instead of books.) Some girls are not able to attend computer classes. But all of them can attend the basic classes; they just may not be able to afford some or all of the items above.

(Note: Teaching You is spending their program fees (e.g. the money I paid to come here) not for Joaquin’s salary but for students who have educational needs. They also sponsor a summer school program for a group of students likely to be able to get scholarships and do well in further education, and a few scholarships so that children can attend better schools and high school.

Joaquin often excitedly announces that someone is interested in coming to one of the Central American programs and if they do, what he can get for the students with the program fee.)

Q. So why the emphasis on learning English with Teaching You?

A. English is a critical job skill. If a girl can learn to speak English well, she can get a job at a call center and earn $400-500 a month. That is a very good wage in this economy and can lift a family to a better life. (Note: The caveat is that they must speak very well to get this type of job. My first weekend I met two men who worked at call centers. Their English is so good, I mistook them for being from the US or Canada.)

So why show such happy faces here? As my friend Ariela told me, you can describe the educational system here but don’t make them sound miserable. They are not. I see a lot of smiling faces, despite the problems and challenges. But they could have better lives.

*The following link supports the list of companies either having made or currently making clothing in El Salvador: https://glhrcentralamerica.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/el-salvador-garment-workers-face-growing-poverty-under-cafta/

Note: All dollar figures are in US dollars, which is the currency here.

Thank you to Joaquin Batres for his help with this post.

Lessons Learned – Week Two

Regimental Band at the Alcadia

It is the end of my second week. I’m a quarter of the way through my stay here. I’d say I am a familiar face along the streets I travel. Between where I stay and the school, I exchange a “Buenas” with many people. I’ve made some friends and have some social invitations.

Here is what I’ve learned this week:

You can use your iPhone to look up lyrics to songs and get kids to sing along with you in English.
I knew it was the rainy season here but did not realize this was considered winter. As part of me feels ripped off that I get two winters this year and the other part of me says that if it this hot in winter, I don’t want to be here in summer.

A group of ten excited, shrieking girls can generate more decibels than a jet engine at take off.

When you say “Su lapiz esta a la pisa”, instead of “Su lapiz esta a el piso”, the girls will think you are telling them their pencil is on the pizza instead of the floor. They will laugh at you… Laugh with them

We learn a language in a very sterile environment; a classroom or Skype that has no distracting noises. But, we practice it in places with the sounds of traffic, music, and people talking around us. It makes it challenging.

During class, if you pull out your bottle of hand sanitizer to get marker off of your hands, the students will all want a drop of hand sanitizer too.

Walking the street in the morning, you hear everywhere the sound of tortillas being patted out by hand.

The people of El Salvador are both appreciative and generous.

The image above is the local regimental band playing their monthly concert at the alcaldia (city hall).

The Name of the Game

The object down here is to get the students to use English; listening reading writing and speaking. Ariela, one of my teacher told me that children don’t like grammar, they like games and fun. I spent months working on ideas. Part of it is scalability. Some ideas work great for a small class but not a group of thirty plus who have a lot of energy.

One idea that I came across involves beach balls. We are teaching the students about members of the family. On the ball is written types of family members (mother, father, etc). When they catch the ball, they are to say the word that their left hand is touching or closest to. This was not initially successful, mostly because we did not exercise enough control in teaching the activity and the first groups basically batted it around like Olympic beach volleyball. I’ve since developed a way to teach the game that is still fun and educational while not letting it get too crazy.

Those little paper fortune tellers have been an interesting experiment. Most days, I make one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Then I sit in the courtyard playing with it. Eventually, a group of girls comes over and wants to play. But to play they have to say the numbers and letters in English. Then, they have to count and spell in English. And of course, the fortunes are in English. I make these daily and after playing a while, I give it to one of the girls and hope she continues to use it in English. This is a bit of a sneaky way to get them to use English but it works.

The final photo shows a quiz game using The Simpsons. Much of the world knows The Simpsons. This too is used to teach the students about the family. I use photos of The Simpsons and create a family tree. We review the family tree and then I have a set of multiple choice questions. The class is divided into three groups and we play the game show style. I carry on like Regis Philbin of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The girls all seem to want to give their answer in Spanish but I’ll only accept the answer in English. Prizes are awarded to the winning team. Somehow, I always end up giving out more prizes that there are girls on the winning team, but it is all good fun. Also, it gets them invested in learning the English names for family members like nothing else we tried.
Note: Photo credit for the last image to Gerson, one of the people who helps make the program here work.