29 Risky but Successful

Another successful day thanks to a dedicated and welcoming principal of this public school, Santa Rosa. Having met at an earlier occasion further explanation of our intentions with the visit was not necessary as he invited us to sit down in his office. In Michael's words (just having blogged about the event at blogs.ncl.ac.uk/m.j.burgess1 30/04/09 Poblado 2):

"As luck would have it, our host and director of studies was Victor who we met at the Community Violence debate a few weeks previously. It was Victor who so candidly contextualised dry politics in terms of the daily tragedies on the Aguablanca streets. Fortunately, he is by no means all talk and received us efficiently and courteously despite the stress of the meeting. We quickly briefed him on the scope of our research ... before he disappeared to greet his audience. Joni, Geraldo and myself had been chatting for about 20 mins when we suddenly became aware that Victor was introducing us to the crowd and what a crowd it had become.

As we stepped beyond the office threshold it became apparent that over 200 parents had come to the meeting, obliged as they are to attend. Victor invited me to speak and whilst I feel my Spanish has improved I'm no Miguel Cervantes, so I put in a sidestep and threw a languid hospital pass to my partner. Fortunately, Joni is a true trooper, not to mention an outrageous linguistic (5 languages at the last count) carrying it off with great aplomb and receiving a big round of applause for this troubles. We asked the parents to spare a little time after their teachers meeting to complete the questionnaires and it just remained for us to organise an appropriate situ. At this moment, we all paused to consider the full breadth of opportunity. With Luz Haydee (another public school) just around the corner, we could drop off the teacher and director of study questionnaires and complete that set having already carried out the parents' session. Whilst I remained at Santa Rosa (this public school) to greet the parents post-teacher meeting, it was agreed that Joni and Gerardo would head off to Luz Haydee with the requisite documents and return asap. It so happened that minutes after their departure, numerous parents and their children were already departing requiring it seems little teacher reassurance. In the absence of any official recognition I grabbed a table and a few available chaires, offering them to a number of willing interviewees and quite a few unwilling ones."

At the other public school, Luz Haydee, I (Joni) was invited by the coordinater Hector to introduce our work again for the 12 teachers present. These were also the once we chose to hand out the questionnaires to. Hector being specially interested in our work, after having helped us with the parents' questionnaires the week before, asked me present myself further and the reasons for our choice of Colombia etc.

I gave them the summary, from my time as a teacher in the wealthier side of Cali in 2003-2004, having heard a lot about Aguablanca without having taken the opportunity to visit it, to my interest in coming back for my own thesis field work a couple of years later (in 2007), being interested in education and seeing great opportunities for a great learning experience in Aguablanca to finally my presentation in England where I gained Michael's and reconfirmed his teacher Pauline's confidence in assisting with his field research. To my great surprise I received another round of applause this day. Gerardo distributed the questionnaires and before leaving one of the teachers approached to ask me more. He told me he was impressed to find someone from a country so good, developed and safe as mine here in this most complicated part of the country. He said they would need a thousand of my kind. Reflecting on this, I'm sure I could start a chain of people coming here to find at least two reasons to stay: 1) the possibility to enjoy the richness of one of the earth's paradise-like countries 2) satisfactory work that makes sense and fulfills a human need to do something genuinely appreciated.

Getting back to Santa Rosa where we left Michael it was already getting dark. Gerardo had commented on the complicated issue of getting out from the school as he had noted some gang people watching the neighbourhood. I knew it was time to wrap up.

Michael writes: "Forty minutes into the process and things were turning a little chaotic, whilst I had 5 or 6 parents safety seated I had found myself tied to a semi-literate woman who obviously needed plenty of assistance. However, whilst I was so occupied I wasn't able to give the essential prompt to other parents who were drifting closer to exit. Just as I was preparing to cut the ambilical, Joni and Gerardo came to the rescue once again. In total we snared 29 parents and could have had many more had I not run out of questionnaires. One notable individual was a tiny, displaced indigenous woman with the worries of the world on her shoulders. She was so intent on understanding the scope of our work in Aguablanca and how it might help her community. It's clear that displacement as well as violence are significant inter-related factors that affect society and consequently education in this area."