After much procrastination, I give you the result of our Bike Trip El Salvador 2010.
Before our trip on November 11th, we began making preperations well in advance. Kasia visited several local dentists and in total collected approximately 600 toothbrushes and 600 toothpastes (thank you to Dr. Johnathan Penchas, Dr. Donald Tamborello, Dr. Bruce Smith, Dr. Testa Palmira). We also wanted to provide the whole school with something that everyone could benefit from, as not all students would receive bikes, and came up with the idea to create a small computer lab complete with tons of educational software. Thank you so much to those individuals that donated 4 brand new computers. (Yianna Samartzis and Karen Yates, Vilma Lara, Sonia and Phillippe Giraudet and Eleticia and Janusz Szozda). Along with the computers and dental products, we also took 1 printer, 50 bike locks, several books, and other small gifts. Despite carrying 12 pieces of luggage filled with enough goods to open a small store in El Salvador, we were able to get through customs with no problem (except for our printer ink).
Arriving in El Salvador I was reminded again of how beautiful this country was. Perhaps we came right after the rainy season, but everything was so verdant, the country’s volcanoes always in the backdrop and the raw beauty of the seemingly untouched jungles. El Salvador is very much still considered off the beaten path for travelers, but for what it may lack in infrastructure it makes up in natural beauty.
We planned our trip to coincide with the last day of classes to give the students nearly the entire school year and a defined target date by when to improve on their grades, participation, behavior and overall effort. We relied heavily on the teachers and the principal to choose those students who not only were at the top of their classes, but to also consider those who put the most effort and improved the most, as well as taking into consideration need and family support.
Classes ended on Thursday and we planned to distribute the bikes Friday afternoon during the school’s graduation ceremony. We really wanted to make this a festive event for the students, faculty and their family. Events with free food are a rarity in Barahona. There is no lunch program at the school and unfortunately malnourishment is a problem. Thus, for one night at least, we wanted to make sure at least everyone was well fed. Since there wasn’t a pizza hut in the vicinity, before we arrived we made preperations to buy 2 pigs and 50 chickens to make pupusas, tamales, and carne con arroz to feed about 800 people.
After spending the morning preparing for the afternoon’s festivities, we began getting ready for the graduation. We were surprised to find out that the school had prepared an entire program and sent out invitations to the students’ families officially making this a town event. The festivities began with mass at the church, as is tradition. Afterwards, the procession made its way towards the school and upon arriving, we were shocked to find so many people at the school. Pretty close to the 800 estimate.
The festivities began with the graduation ceremony of the kindergarten class, followed by song and dance performances from each class. After that, I introduced myself and spoke of my bike trip sharing pictures along the way. I shared my adventures with the group explaining that my bike trip was the equivalent of crossing El Salvador eight times. After I spoke, a dentist from San Salvador spoke to the kids about the importance of hygiene and gave a hands on presentation of how to properly take care of your teeth, both with a toothbrush and ways to take care of them without one as well. We then gave away the toothbrushes and toothpastes in a slightly chaotic and unorganized fashion. Luckily, no injuries were reported.
Finally the time came to give away the bikes and the kids began crowding toward the front. We announced the names one by one, starting with the first grade class. The kids did not know until then whether they had been selected and as we announced each name cheers erupted, not only from the students, but from their parents as well. All in all, we gave away 48 bicycles and soon after receiving the bikes the kids were seen riding around the town with them.
By the time we gave away the last bike, it was well into the night and dinner was being served to everyone. Dinner was also slightly chaotic, as everyone lined up and eagerly awaited dinner. After a long day, I finally had some time to myself to enjoy the moment. Many parents came up to me and thanked me, others came to ask if they could also have a bike. It was difficult not being able to give everyone a bike, but if we did, it would have taken away the incentive to work hard for it. However, we did leave all the students with access to a computer which we loaded with the best English learning software, as well as math, typing, encyclopedia, and other educational software.
All in all it was a rewarding trip and I’m glad I took on this project. Thanks again for all those of you who donated and supported me. I am currently brainstorming other ways that I could continue this project and I’m open to suggestions. Thanks again!
Please visit my Picassa album link below to see pictures of the trip.