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Del Tingo Al Tango: From Here to There

A charming town with a rich cultural history, Álamos, Sonora also has a disproportionate distribution of wealth, and scarce educational resources. The children of Álamos wished for a summer camp - something to do during the long hot summer months. Summer learning has proven to be of great benefit to children. For these children, it would be a very special opportunity.

After a work study in Álamos, Sonora in 2009, Elena Valdés Chavarría fell completely in love with the small town. She also saw a need she wished to help fill. She started a summer camp for the children of Álamos three years ago. She called the camp "Del Tingo al Tango" - "From Here to There."

It is in school that we discover the things that determine our paths - the things that interest us, and the encouragement we receive, to pursue these big ideas. Valdés wished to harness these children's imaginations and big dreams. Over two-hundred children participated in the first camp in 2011.

"This experience opened our eyes to important considerations," Valdés' mother said after helping with the first camp. "Several members of the community jumped right into the program and contributed with their special artistic skills."

The camp bases their learning philosophy on the Reggio Emilia theory of community learning and self-guided curriculum. "To these children, it is unique opportunity to explore other areas of their own interests which can be learned while playing," said Valdés. In the end, she explained, what these children need most is someone who cares. She wishes for her volunteers to teach the subjects that they are the most passionate about because she believes that their passion will translate unto the students, and drive learning.

"I want participants to find their passion for learning so they can apply that to some hobby or profession. I also want them to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to," Camp Coordinator Jasmine McBeath said of her hope for the children who participate in the camp. "I hope they leave with a better sense of diversity and understanding for other people and cultures."

For its third year running this summer, Valdés is planning two special projects for the kids - a photo and video journal for them to tell their story and the story of their families with digital cameras, and a music composition project. The trouble, of course, is always: getting the supplies, and help.

A scholarship for one kid to go to the camp, Valdés calculated, is only $20. For each contributor who donates a minimum of $20 this year, one of the kids will send them a special thank you card, and let them know what they enjoyed most about the camp. The camp in previous years has mostly relied on funds from the nonprofit Pronatura Noroeste and support from the community.

Valdés hopes that Del Tingo al Tango will one day be a nonprofit of its own accord. She also talks of expanding the camp to small towns like Álamos all over the world.

Valdés and McBeath allowed me the privilege of their interviews. Their full interviews are given below.

Jasmine McBeath, Camp Coordinator

[I: Interviewer, J: Jasmine]

I: What inspired you to start up Del Tingo al Tango? How long have you wanted to start it?

J: Elena approached me with the idea of creating a program to help the children of Álamos in the summer of 2010. I was excited from day one. Even though we were continents apart at the time, we planned together from afar and developed the camp more and more as the year went on.

I had visited Álamos before and was thrilled to help coordinate a non-profit program for children, but I didn't understand the need in the community before the camp began. Elena, whose family is from Álamos, realized the hardships of learning for these children. The camp was designed to provide summer enrichment activities for students who only spend a few hours per day in school and lack proper educational supplies. Even basic materials such as magazines, crayons, and picture books are novel and captivating for these children.

I: How has the experience been so far? What help have you received so far?

J: The experience has been extremely challenging and equally rewarding. I learned an incredible amount in a short period of time, since I oversaw and executed every part of the teaching process. It was extremely challenging and yet rewarding to design curriculum, guide assistant teachers, put the lesson into effect and finally gain feedback from campers and other instructors. I learned what type of lesson and teaching methods worked best for our group in general and on a given day. I prepared multiple activities for each session, ensuring I could teach at the appropriate level and maintain our campers' interest. I gained flexibility, accepting that sometimes lessons need to be adapted on the spot based on the children's energy levels or even problems that arose from the limited resources at our facility. Occasionally the lights or air conditioning wouldn't work and we'd need to move outside, or adapt the activity in other ways.

The amount of community support was impressive. We received proposals and supplies from Pronatura and a grant from the Sonoran Joint Venture which allowed us to take participants on bird watching field trips. Parents have acted as chaperones on various activities or provided food. Others have generously donated space for the volunteers to stay or for camp activities to take place. Yet others have volunteered their time, providing free dance lessons or science activity ideas. A few have given money or materials. And we can't forget the half dozen college students who have volunteered their summers to come and teach in Álamos.

I: What importance do you see education as having in a child's life?

J: Education makes a huge difference. If a child becomes inspired by something you teach, that could change their whole life. They could decide after one lesson on static electricity on balloons that they enjoy chemistry, and spend the rest of their time developing those skills and one day become a chemical engineer. Informal education also makes a big impact. Children learn so much that affects them later in life, from how to express themselves to how to respect others.

I: What kind of education/learning do you hope to inspire in these children through their camp experiences?

J: I hope students look differently at the world around them after camp. I want them to feel inspired by nature and to fight to protect the beauty in Álamos. I want participants to find their passion for learning so they can apply that to some hobby or profession. I also want them to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. And finally, I hope they leave with a better sense of diversity and understanding for other people and cultures.

I: What techniques for teaching do you and your teacher volunteers implement?

J: We use fun, hands-on techniques to learning. The lessons are always complimented with a field trip or interactive exercise. Students learn better when they are engaged, and it's more fun for everyone involved. For example, one lesson covered the layers of light and life in the ocean. Students learned why more animals live in the light zone and saw photos of sea life in each zone. After discussing how animals survive in the deep ocean we taught about bioluminescence and the signals certain fish use to communicate. Then we distributed glow sticks and participants developed signals with their group. Afterwards we turned off the lights and students had to find their group using only their signals.

When teaching English, I tried not to translate from Spanish. Rather, I relied on gestures, expressions, and photos to make my point. I also used a lot of games. We would play color tag or rainbow musical chairs to learn the color words. Or everyone would receive a different emotion flashcard with a picture of someone as happy, sad, angry etc and have to go around asking everyone, "How are you?" and responding with their emotion (physically and verbally) until they found their pair.

I: What do you believe makes a good teacher?

J: I think a good teacher is someone who is respectful, patient, excited about the material and invested in his or her students. Teachers come in all different shapes and sizes, but I find it hard to imagine a good teacher who doesn't care about what he/she does and his/her students.

I: How do you think your camp will make a difference?

J: It is hard to predict, but I hope it will encourage the participants to stay in school, and ideally pursue higher education. Even at the smallest level, I think we made a difference just by providing a safe and inclusive environment where students enjoyed learning.

I: What things do you wish to improve for your camp and how do you see this happening?

J: This second year was already an improvement from the first year in the sense that it was better organized and easier to run. We had fewer participants, which helped the teachers get to know each student better and do more field trips. For the third year, I hope to keep this smaller group for daily lessons, but include a large group activity once a week to reach more students overall.

Elena Valdés Chavarría, Founder of Del Tingo al Tango

[I: Interviewer, E: Elena]

I: What inspired you to start up Del Tingo al Tango?

E: My inspiration started from and grew with the children of Álamos. I had always belonged to the Álamos community, having traveled there since early childhood. In 2009, while pursuing my undergraduate degree, I conducted an independent study in this beautiful rustic town; I got to meet, know, and build strong relationships with the children that live there.

I: How long have you wanted to start it?

E: I wanted to start the camp ever since the Alamense children asked me for it in 2009. I started planning it while studying in Europe.

I: How has the experience been so far? What help have you received so far?

E: The experience is both very rewarding and challenging at the same time. There is a strong demand for education in México, but more importantly a longing for love.

The Álamos community has been very supportive: providing a space where the camp can take place and dedicating time to the children -attending for a day, offering courses on their own, etc. There have been very kind families from the bordering countries that have also donated materials. Yet the most difficult part is being a mentor for the kids, dedicating your time and efforts to them, withstanding the desert heat and enduring the dearth of a third-world country.

I: What importance do you see education as having in a child's life?

E: Throughout my short, yet well-lived life, I have had varying opinions on education. I feel that most people see it in a very narrow-minded way. Yet the desire to learn and the ability to do so are always present, the fact of the matter is that the conditions have always been the limitation. I believe a strong and thorough education is vital.

I: What kind of education/learning do you hope to inspire in these children through their camp experiences?

E: The children that attend the camp do so because beyond perceiving new ways of thinking, being exposed to new experiences, actively participating and engaging in a learning group... they become hopeful.

I: What techniques for teaching do you and your teacher volunteers implement?

E: We treat the camp as a learning community, where everyone contributes and we work individually as well as a group. We consider ourselves to follow the Reggio Emilia approach.

I: What do you believe makes a good teacher?

E: I believe that in order to be a good teacher you need to have that special spark in you; a desire to assist, never-ending patience, and a giving heart. There are many different types of teachers, and the act of teaching is an art. You are performing, you are entertaining, you are inspiring and changing people's life on a daily-basis. It is not an easy task.

I: How do you think your camp will make a difference?

E: I am learning as we go... initially I wanted to provide the children with a good education. We discovered that there are other things that perhaps they need even more. I thought our purpose changed, but now I feel it is evolving. We make a difference in so many levels and in such various ways. It is a program that is completely free to them, they create strong bonds with the people they meet; they long for more and they discover that not only can they dream, but that they can reach those goals they set for themselves.

I: What things do you wish to improve for your camp and how do you see this happening?

E: I am happy for what we have accomplished, yet there is so much more that we still need to do in order to strengthen this program and reach what I had originally imagined. There is a lot of potential for this camp to be self-sufficient. There are neighboring universities where young adults can learn about these great opportunities and become participants.

Beyond being a nourishing and life-changing experience for those who become mentors, academically and professionally it also opens many doors. The children of Álamos that have participated in the camp continuously these previous years can learn and start engaging in more active roles for the future courses.

For more information about Del Tingo Al Tango, please visit: http://deltingoaltango.weebly.com/.

$35p/h

Janel S.

English Lit Graduate and Former Elementary Teacher

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