One aspect of this job that I appreciate is the one year commitment. While living in a foreign country for a year poses its own challenges, of course, it’s just scraping the beginning of an appropriate amount of time to make a difference in these girls’ lives. As a teacher, it’s not only important, but also necessary to create time and space for your students to learn to trust and respect you. I know from experience that if I don’t have respect for the teacher or trust how they’re utilizing my time, I’m not going to learn anything. Not only do the girls benefit from having two teachers–who we hope are role models–for a year, but also it benefits us as educators. GSW provides the opportunity and space for some girls in Cusco to express themselves physically, while also learning valuable life lessons. But this is only half of it. GSW also provides two young women the opportunity to live in Cusco, learn and teach in a foreign language, share personal experiences with Cusqueñans, and learn about themselves as people and educators. While my job is to “teach valuable life lessons to young girls through sports,”, my job also is to utilize this experience to learn about myself, enhance my global perspective, and take these observations and changes with me to guide my decisions and actions for the rest of my life.
Seeing the changes in one student from Casa Mantay has inspired me to keep putting my best foot forward and strive to be the best, most accessible educator that I can be. Casa Mantay is a Spanish-run non-profit that serves as a home for teen moms in Cusco. Halfway through our fall semester, 12 year-old Miriam joined our class. She had just given birth to her son, so her physical abilities were limited. She spent a lot of time on the sidelines, not saying a word, just watching the rest of the girls run around playing. Miriam was so quiet, I didn’t even know her name for a month. She would come to class, but showed no interest in participating. This was a tough situation for me because of course I wanted to be encouraging and explain that class is more fun if everybody participates. At the same time, who was I to tell a 12 year-old new mother what to do? I could not comprehend what kind of emotions and feelings were going through her mind, so how could I be a supportive educator when this girl had gone through more in her 12 years than my 22 years of life.
The best I could do was attempt to put myself in her shoes and communicate that I wanted the best for her. Maybe if she stepped out of her comfort zone and participated, she would enjoy parts of class and find something that she had no idea she was good at. Towards the end of the semester, Miriam started to open up and give class a chance. Seeing her interest in sports start to bloom gave me hope. As summer break arrived, and Caroline and I took off for two months to travel, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from our students when we came back. Our first class back was at Mantay. When we arrived, I was delighted and a little surprised that the first person to greet me with a smile and a kiss on the cheek was Miriam. Something had changed about her. Her light was shining so bright. She wanted to know what we were going to play, showing genuine interest in class. Since that first day back, Miriam has been one of our most engaged students at Mantay. She got the best time during the physical testing part of our initial monitoring and evaluation study. It’s incredible for me to see this new drive and interest in her. Maybe it was just time, watching her child grow, or another passion she had discovered in the two months we were gone. But maybe it had something to do with GSW. Maybe our sports classes revealed something inside of her that she didn’t know she had. Who knows exactly what ignited this change in attitude, but if we weren’t here for a year, I probably wouldn’t have witnessed her progress. Miriam acts as an inspiration for me everyday. She is an example of what I’m working towards and the change we can instil in these young women. While living abroad can be draining, it is these instances that give me strength and make it all worth it.