Now in the last portion of our trip, we have been visiting a school a few days a week to give them lessons in health promotion and to do a photo voice project. The children in this school have been selected for a variety of reasons to attend this somewhat smaller primary school, with about 300 students who attend in the mornings and afternoons. Parents often prefer for their children to attend this school, which we were told gives preference to students from a disadvantaged background. This preference is often for the individual attention that students are given; many primary schools in the area have over 1000 students, who attend in morning and afternoon sessions. Here, the director knows all students by name.
This sort of attention can be critical for children, especially since school is only compulsory until the 6th grade in Costa Rica, and primary school may be the only formal education that many citizens complete. Additionally, since this school serves a border town between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, they receive many complicated trans-border issues like undocumented families, and health problems that are not covered by the Costa Rican healthcare system which is considered by most people to be the best in Central America.
A few laps around the school probably makes for better concentration. The teachers occasionally stopped them from playing too rough, but probably just because we were there trying to work in the school yard with a few of the students.
When we arrive right before the afternoon students begin classes, the school is absolute chaos; I have noticed that in schools in the US, they get much less time to run around and play sports. These students, on the other hand, have about an hour of play before classes even start, and have breaks between classes to blow steam. Students are lightly supervised, and often dirty their uniforms before school even begins, but I believe very strongly that exercising outside is important to a child’s development.
We are working with a few students that the teachers selected to do a photo voice project. Each student was given a disposable camera to take photos of the important things in their life, and in the life around them. Later, we printed the photos, and brought them back to the students to talk about the significance behind each photo. These images came out great and the students seemed to have enjoyed the process. The maturity and ability to execute this project surprised me, although I think that the process should change in the future to take advantage of the familiarity that this new generation of youth have with digital photography. Some of them were so accustomed to taking photos with their own cellphones that they were simultaneously telling us about photos they had taken with our disposable cameras and pulling out their own devices to show us other special experiences in their lives.
Students gathering around while we discussed captions and experiences taking photos.
While we were working with the students, others crowded around to make comments on their work and were interested in the hard copies of photos that we have around. Luckily, we were able to follow through as planned and present the students with their hard copies of the photos at the end as a keepsake. In the digital age, few children knew what negatives were! It was fun to explain to eager children how they worked and how they were the old way that people made copies of photos. Few places in the area we are now are able to use them, which was an unforeseen complication!
A lesson in using negatives, which I hadn’t seen in a very long time!
Many took photos of people working around the region and demonstrated their respect for a good work ethic. Another student took mostly photos of the environment around him: trees, flowers, sloths, and agricultural workers all made their way into the set of photos. He talked later about the importance of conservation, which is a common sentiment in Costa Rica that is often hard to encounter in the United States. Many of them took photos of their pets, which are plentiful in the area. Although it is only in middle class homes that pets are allowed into the home, many families have dogs and cats that wander around and are taken care of by various neighbors. I surprisingly do not find myself afraid of dogs wandering around here, because most are so friendly. Over the course of our visit many families were recipients of new puppies and kittens!
On the last day that we went to the school, Costa Rica had a match in the world cup. Since it’s impossible to get children to concentrate while they are so excited, and the sport is so important to the country that the president actually announced that all workers are to be given off two hours to watch every match with Costa Rica in the world cup, they had set up a projector so that the whole school could watch the game together. An important sentiment that struck me is the ability to pause the normal schedule for something so important to the unity of the community and country. I’m sure that these create amazing memories for children as they socialize in school—plus, Costa Rica won!
To hear more about the Costa Rica public health study abroad program through Temple University, visit our blog!