It’s hard to believe, but we have finished the health education curriculum with our students and are moving on to the final project planning stages of our proyecto piloto in San Francisco. Our student’s final exams scores showed an average increase of 22 percent in health knowledge. As Curtis and I graded their exams, hopeful and anxious to see what lessons had been learned from our health classes, I began to notice certain patterns in the answers – questions that nearly all of the students had answered correctly. All of the students had a perfect memory of how to make suero casero (rehydration drink) to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. Nearly everyone remembered that HIV/AIDS is an eventually fatal disease which compromises the immune system. Everyone learned the meaning of “self-esteem.” These questions were frequently left blank or missed during the initial base-line exam which we gave in July. It’s gratifying to see that we have made an impact on our student’s understanding of health and well-being, though we hope that this foundational knowledge will be just the beginning for youth in San Francisco. It’s important to note that much of this information which seemed to stick so well was linked to fun, participatory activities in the classroom. Mixing and tasting suero casero together. Curtis’s classic banana and condom demonstration. The Adonde Voy y Quien Soy drawings which each student made, exploring their lives, feelings about themselves and hopes for the future. We have learned our own lesson from our class on Education: how do most people learn best? Having fun and doing it yourself.
We are also rapidly moving forward on our community project plans. The youth health promoters held a community meeting to present on what they’ve learned and accomplished in the last few months and to brainstorm collectively for project ideas. It was a great opportunity for them to practice speaking in front of the community and although they were very nervous, they did a great job! We compiled a list of 5 potential projects: a trash collection system; cocinas mejoradas; expansion of community vegetable garden; first aid kits and classes; and public bathrooms. Later, in project planning classes we came up with project plans and budgets for each of the five projects and took a vote on their favorite. A trash collection system was the winner, as it was with the community vote as well. Everyone recognizes the desperate need for a sanitation system in San Francisco. We still need to do some more exploration of budget details before committing to the project, but we are very hopeful that this will be a sustainable and high-impact project for the youth to lead.
Until we depart in December, we will be devoting our time to coming up with a more detailed plan for a trash collection system for future volunteers to implement. We are contacting authorities in hopes of devising a plan for a permanent landfill, but this will be a lengthy and expensive process. Until then, we need a solution for today. We are hoping to put into place public trash cans separating organic and inorganic trash. We’d like to arrange a weekly pick up for the inorganic trash to be carried to the nearest landfill, while organic trash will be collected and composted. There is a lot of room for growth in this project: education programs on sanitation, recycling, composting, etc. We can’t wait to see where the youth take this project. I know that even once we have left the quiet of San Francisco and adjusted to the urban rush of our lives in Buenos Aires and New York City, Curtis and Carly and I will continue to follow the progress of the little mountain town that has become home.