Alika & Lydia’s Favorite Memories

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Los Nogales

Fourth grader Erica was getting really frustrated because she couldn’t serve over the volleyball net or bump to herself more than twice. She often rolled the ball away so she wouldn’t have to try and fail; failing on purpose was something that she could control. We tried to build her confidence and practice with her outside of class, and she eventually got better! The girls cheered her on when it was her turn to serve and instructed her on how to do it well. Seeing our girls look out for one another is an awesome memory.

One “rainy season” day, we had just about warmed up and stretched and were ready to play when we saw the sky get ominously dark. Thunderstorm and hail started to come down. Thankfully Director Uriel offered us shelter during the storm. We stayed inside and played, and an outgoing student Hana, decided to sing a song for us. Once it died down outside, all 5 girls who stuck it out and the profes returned outside to have a “snowball” fight, make an Olaf out of hail pieces, and sing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” in Spanish.

Our favorite “English Moment” had to be teaching Los Nogales students “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” They loved it so much that they improvised and sang it both in slow motion and fast motion. They always got so excited trying to keep up with the profes!

We attended a pollada, a fundraiser consisting of playing sports all day and eating chicken, for Profe Martha of 5th grade. She had a concussion from a bad spill, so this fundraiser was to help pay for some hospital expenses. This event was in early in the year, when we were still trying to establish ourselves in the community. After the parents finished competitions, we joined the kids on the field. Profe Alika hadn’t played soccer in almost a year, so  was rusty, but excited to hit the field again. We both took no mercy on them because the boys were teasing the girls, but soon enough all the parents started watching and cheering for us when we scored, attempting to recruit Alika for the next competition. It was the first time we had really connected with the parents, and it felt as if we were part of the community.

In October, the 6th grade invited us to a camping sleepover at the school, in which they ate chicken soup with bread, played sports all night, told ghost stories, and ate snacks. We had the extra privilege of helping Director Uriel keep the kids in line, as he was the only administrator in attendance. In their awkward age where boys and girls start to like each other, the girls were gossiping about boys they liked and how to steal their shoes from their tents. It was a silly night with little sleep due to the murmurs from our neighboring tents, but we felt very included in the community.

Our girls were, by far, the most engaged, studious, and prepared students when it came to English class. They were able to have conversations with our moms in English! It also took a bit of miming to completely get the point across, but they were so caring and genuinely interested in asking questions in English that our moms left so content.

The culmination of a long and memory-filled first semester was watching the 6th graders graduate. Each December, profes, parents, and other family members get dressed up and watch their sons and daughters make the official transition from primaria to secundaria. Our girls were done up in makeup, fancy dresses, hairdos, and heels! The boys turned into gentlemen, with tuxes and shiny shoes. Our Chicas Dinámicas (and only them) ended up performing songs and dances for the crowd, and dancing their little hearts out with their best friends. It was an honor to be there for their special night, and we will always hold it in our hearts.

The culmination of a long and memory-filled first semester was watching the 6th graders graduate. Each December, profes, parents, and other family members get dressed up and watch their sons and daughters make the official transition from primaria to secundaria. Our girls were done up in makeup, fancy dresses, hairdos, and heels! The boys turned into gentlemen, with tuxes and shiny shoes. Our Chicas Dinámicas (and only them) ended up performing songs and dances for the crowd, and dancing their little hearts out with their best friends. It was an honor to be there for their special night, and we will always hold it in our hearts.

One of our favorite memories at Los Nogales was tricking the girls into thinking that Alika was dating Ozuna (an international reggaeton superstar). They would ask us if we could bring him to class or if she thought we were going to get married one day. We convinced the girls with photoshopped photos, but had to end the joke once we realized that Ozuna was married with a kid! We told the girls he cheated on her, and turned it into a lesson of not letting men control your affect or how your day goes, especially men who don’t respect you!

Santoni

Estrella had a difficult time with volleyball and could only get three bumps in a row. She grew frustrated that she couldn’t do more like some of the other girls. She eventually told the us that she didn’t like volleyball. But, she kept coming to class, hoping to get better. A couple weeks into volleyball we had a class where only three girls came due to rain, giving us the opportunity for more one-on-one instruction. We worked with Estrella as much as she wanted to get her number higher, and every time she said she couldn’t do it she would try again. We set a goal that she would have to get at least ten before we moved on, which she thought was impossible. Yet, not even ten minutes later she got eleven bumps, and we were all jumping in celebration!

Space for our Chicas Dinámicas on the public court at Santoni often is hard to snag. Boys run in through our drills, parents set up volleyball nets in the middle of our soccer games, and occasionally drunken men stumble around the court. Some parents expressed concern for the safety of our girls, but it felt like the neighborhood doesn’t exactly respect us gringas. We obtained a lock and key to lock the gate for the court during class hours, despite a bit of trouble amongst the community members who want to play during our class time. Yet, the court keeper expressed her utmost support of us and our program and told us not to worry. One day, as we locked the gate with her, some upset community members protested. Rather than agreeing with them or conceding to the people yelling at her, Ayde Sosa defended us to the community, exclaiming that we have worked in the neighborhood for over 8 years and that we deserve respect. It was the first time we felt that the GSW program was appreciated and was part of the community.

Although Santoni had the most students, they weren’t as open about inviting us to their events. But in spring, our youngest and newest pupils invited us to a classroom talent show! They said they would be dancing to various songs together and recently had missed class to practice for it. That Friday we showed up to the school and our girls dropped everything and leapt into our arms. Seeing their faces light up at us coming to watch them perform made it all worth it! They danced proudly, with the biggest smiles on their faces.

We beat the boys in soccer for about a month straight.

Toward the end of the year, we had a newbie join class. She was in 3rd grade, but old enough to participate, so we let her come to a few classes to get a sense of what next year would be like and so she could tell her friends all about what we do. When we were teaching basketball, she was our youngest and smallest kid which meant she had trouble making the baskets. We tried to help her with her form, using her whole body, and even trying the “granny throw.” Nothing was working, and although she was frustrated, she came, ready to play and work hard. One day before class, she watched other girls sink free throws, but wasn’t able to get one. We talked her into giving it one more shot. Finally, she sunk a throw and we were so proud of her.

Practical jokers that we are, we decided to convince the girls that Lydia’s mom, who visited for 3 weeks, was really Alika’s mom. It took a bit of convincing, but eventually they believed us. We didn’t think it really stuck but the girls mentioned something about it again later in the year, and we had to remember our joke and maintain our cool. To this day, we’re pretty sure they think Lydia’s mom is Alika’s mom.

Lydia’s dad to visit when we started our baseball unit, which happens to be his favorite sport. Lydia had memories of learning to catch with her dad and she was excited to get to see him in action again with these girls in class. Sports really are a universal language because Lydia’s dad didn’t speak any Spanish and was still able to get all the girls catching and batting like pros. It was really great to see them pick up on his instruction so quickly and accept him so lovingly into our class time.

At our end of year party, we brought some treats, cake, and small gifts for each girl. Given their history of complaining about warm-up laps and being too tired for drills, we expected them to be happy just sitting around eating and talking. Much to our surprise and excitement, the girls asked to play basketball. So, we finished the year with some solid sports, in true Chicas Dinámicas fashion.

One of our favorite memories at Los Nogales was tricking the girls into thinking that Alika was dating Ozuna (an international reggaeton superstar). They would ask us if we could bring him to class or if she thought we were going to get married one day. We convinced the girls with photoshopped photos, but had to end the joke once we realized that Ozuna was married with a kid! We told the girls he cheated on her, and turned it into a lesson of not letting men control your affect or how your day goes, especially men who don’t respect you!

Miguel Grau

Older girls looked after a shy 4th grader. Yoshira was probably one of the shyest girls, often not responding to questions or jokes because she was too nervous. She also was not the most agile or athletic kid, but she really put in effort and everyone admired it. We were playing lava, and the girls had to cross the court using baseball mitts without stepping on the court. If they did, everyone would have to return to the start. Yoshira had a tough time keeping her balance and often made her team reset. After many frustrated attempts, we posed an option: you can choose to leave one teammate behind and continue the game. If you win, it’s a win for everyone. Looking at her face, Yoshira seemed relieved that she didn’t have to keep making her team reset, but her teammates almost immediately dismissed the idea of leaving her behind! They felt that it would make Yoshira feel bad to target her and make her stay back, but also expressed the sentiment that not making it across with all of them would be even worse than losing with the whole team. It was an awesome moment of companionship and camaraderie, and they ended up winning!

Space for our Chicas Dinámicas on the public court at Santoni often is hard to snag. Boys run in through our drills, parents set up volleyball nets in the middle of our soccer games, and occasionally drunken men stumble around the court. Some parents expressed concern for the safety of our girls, but it felt like the neighborhood doesn’t exactly respect us gringas. We obtained a lock and key to lock the gate for the court during class hours, despite a bit of trouble amongst the community members who want to play during our class time. Yet, the court keeper expressed her utmost support of us and our program and told us not to worry. One day, as we locked the gate with her, some upset community members protested. Rather than agreeing with them or conceding to the people yelling at her, Ayde Sosa defended us to the community, exclaiming that we have worked in the neighborhood for over 8 years and that we deserve respect. It was the first time we felt that the GSW program was appreciated and was part of the community.

Joycí was our most athletic girl since the beginning. We remember talking after our first class, and she already seemed so dedicated and driven. She even had represented her school in local soccer competitions. Seeing her taking baseline testing so seriously and really giving it her all made us so proud. While some girls would complain about each new drill, we could see her face light up and welcome the challenge. She crushed the pushup section and did more than any girl at any other school.

Kickball was such a huge hit, and the girls were really excited to get through the scheduled drills and play. As we were setting up for class, we looked up at one point to see that the girls had excitedly set up the whole kickball field and were waiting eagerly to play. That type of passion and initiative are the things coaches live for. It made us so happy to see them as excited about class as we were!

After we had been playing kickball for a couple weeks, we challenged the girls to a game of chicas versus profes. They excitedly accepted our proposal. While we played normally for a few innings, after they realized that they were losing, the girls resorted to some clever cheating. They knew the rules so well that they knew we had to touch the base with our foot as we ran around. So, technically, if they ran away with the base, we couldn’t score points. We spent the rest of class chasing our stolen bases around and laughing at our new activity.

Emilia, one of our most dedicated girls, always came to class with her younger sister. Although too young to participate now, it’s encouraging to see her already so excited about sports. It’s clear to us that she already has natural talent and takes after her older sister. It gives us hope for the future when she can really join in class. She will be a great addition!

We always end our class with the Chicas Dinámicas cheer. Without fail, if she is in class, Joycí will always ask us to do it a second time. Which of course we always did, louder than the first time.

Virgen

One of our highlights was watching Mel, one of our younger kids, rock climb. She had been nervous about it and even said that she wasn’t going to do it because she was too scared. However, after persuasion, she eventually strapped up and started climbing. A few minutes in, Mel started to get nervous and shouted “No puedo, no puedo!” (“I can’t, I can’t!”). But as those words left her mouth, she kept moving up! The more she said she couldn’t, the more she did, and the more her classmates and family members cheered her on. She surpassed what she thought. It was a very entertaining and inspiring scene for everyone watching, and moments later, her mom strapped up to rappel down the rock.  

Our first field trip with Virgen was to the zoo at the public university. Only Diana and Estefani came, but they were quite excited to see the animals. We went around mimicking monkeys and tried to get the parrots to say silly phrases. By the time we left the zoo, the girls were being so silly and laughing at the weirdest things! Diana would make a weird face while waiting for food, and Estefani would spend five minutes laughing until her stomach hurt. We were all loopy, perhaps on some of the animal fumes from the zoo, but it was the first time we broke through the serious exterior of the Virgen girls.

Many times during our first semester classes when we’d only have 2-3 girls a day, the girls would want to play soccer against these boys to put them in their places. We only got involved enough to ensure that they weren’t cheating or being unfair, and they still usually won! However, one day as class was wrapping up, one of the boys challenged our superstar athlete, Mariela, to a solo game. Christian, the boy, thought that he was going to beat her easily because she was “just a girl,” but Mariela took no mercy on him and made sure she beat him by at least ten points. It was incredible to watch, and Mariela singlehandedly shut the boys up for the next month!

Most of the girls didn’t hesitate when presented with the opportunity to rock climb, but their moms were a different story! Many shuddered at the thought of being that high, too scared to even try, and every mom said she wasn’t going to attempt the climb. However, once their daughters attempted, the moms felt compelled to try. Reluctantly strapping up, the moms attempted to rappel, but were frozen with fear at the thought of falling. As each girl’s mom was saying she couldn’t, their daughters shouted from below “Mom, you can do it! Keep going!” Eventually, the moms realized that they had the support and made it down it one piece. It was cool to see the girls embrace our “team motto” of not leaving anyone behind and always cheering for their teammates — and moms.

A few weeks into classes at Virgen, we realized that Diana lives on our walk down to home. Every week after class, we would walk back with Diana, her dog Oso, and her sister, Liz, talking about everything under the sun.

Emilia, one of our most dedicated girls, always came to class with her younger sister. Although too young to participate now, it’s encouraging to see her already so excited about sports. It’s clear to us that she already has natural talent and takes after her older sister. It gives us hope for the future when she can really join in class. She will be a great addition!

As part of endline M&E testing, the girls had to run a timed kilometer. Milagros, one of our shyest but fittest student at Virgen probably said three words to us all year. We wanted to give her some camera glory after she earned the fastest kilometer time. We grabbed Alika’s phone and gave her 15 seconds of fame, asking her, “How do you feel about your first place?” After thinking for a few seconds, she responded in the quietest voice, “Estoy feliz.”

Casa Mantay

Zorayda, one of our most athletic girls, had a son in December. When we came back to teach in March, of all the girls across all schools who participated in baseline testing, Zorayda had the fastest sprint time. And that was just 3 months after giving birth!

We taught kickball to bring a new sport and some structure to class. Once they understood the rules, they were playing like pros and excitedly asked us to bring the same equipment to the next class. Towards the end of a game, Katy, who also happened to be 9 months pregnant at the time, kicked a home run to win the game. She jogged around the bases with the hugest smile on her face!

After a few particularly difficult weeks of local men harassing us at the court, we decided things needed to change. Carmen, the house director, passed on our concerns to the municipality. Within weeks, we had our own key to the court and a contact number at the local police. Since then, we have felt a lot safer in class. The girls seem proud of the fact that we have a key, and they told us that they really appreciated that we stood up for them and protected them.

Zorayda, by far our most talented athlete out of all of our kids, told us that she and the other girls really love how we have treated them and stood up for them when men say things or try to take the court. She also appreciated the fact that we never tried to speak with them about being pregnant, young or having been abused – with them, they are just kids, and with us, they can just be kids.

We fit in one last scheduled class with our favorite Mantay girls before our flight back to the US later that day. So, we scheduled a party! We invited all the house administrators and girls and prepared a day filled with sports, fun games, and lots of snacks and cake. It was the perfect send-off, truly the type of community class we wish we could have had more often. Afterward, we all gathered in the house to say some unexpectedly tearful goodbyes as each girl shared words of gratitude and hugs. Through our tears, we barely managed to voice our own thanks for the trust, love, and bonds that have grown over the course of this past year. We both couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to end our time here in Cusco.

Emilia, one of our most dedicated girls, always came to class with her younger sister. Although too young to participate now, it’s encouraging to see her already so excited about sports. It’s clear to us that she already has natural talent and takes after her older sister. It gives us hope for the future when she can really join in class. She will be a great addition!

Though we didn’t get an official goodbye with every school, reflecting on our favorite moments in Cusco with our favorite girls made us appreciate the year-long journey we had with GirlSportWorks. The time passed quickly and there were certainly ups and downs, but we would not trade a single moment of our experience for anything. Thank you, GSW, and our Chicas Dinámicas for a fantastic year, and thank you, readers, for following along the way. Ciao for now!
–  Alika and Lydia

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