By Conor Sanchez
A great little known place called La Esperanza has taught me the invaluable skill of reacting more than acting itself. Acting is easy – the ball is in your court and you proceed according to your objectives. Reacting, on the other hand, requires you to consider a range of variables at play that are not always ready and willing to bend to your expectations.
On any given day there are a million things that might go wrong. School could be cancelled. Nobody could show up to your community meeting. The power could go out during your PowerPoint presentation. The water could be out all day. Your bus might break down. You might get sick from the lunch you ate.
Problems can range from mundane setbacks, such as the ones listed above, to disheartening blows to your overall fortitude.
A student you invested time with and nominated to attend a leadership camp drops out of school because he doesn’t get along with his math teacher. A student drops out of school because she gets pregnant. A student, 15 years old, drops out because she gets married.
In my tiny rural community La Esperanza, located about 15 kilometers outside Nueva Guinea, I’ve encountered all of these issues. I’ve also discovered the most rewarding part of my service.
With just over 1,000 inhabitants, La Esperanza is a short 30 minute truck ride from the city, but it feels a world away. Isolated for a long time due to poor road conditions, the community is increasingly enjoying greater access to outside resources due to the road they finished just two years ago. I’m the first Peace Corps volunteer to have worked at their secondary school.
It’s a tight-knit, fairly religious community best known for its waterfall, El Salto Esperanza, which lies just north of the town and is only reachable by passing through several private farms with free roaming cattle and lots of yuca plants. Back in the dry season I used to go almost weekly. After school I’d join a group of students and teachers to go swimming at the waterfall which has a fairly high jumping point. Students who have grown up going here almost daily take turns jumping off head first with there hands behind theirs backs. After much persuasion, I jumped off a few times feet first, sandals on, and my nose plugged.
Over the course of this past school year, I’ve created a strong bond with this community. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I decided to devote a significant chunk of my time and efforts to helping them work on some projects. One of those projects includes building a computer library. I’m applying for a grant through World Connect, an organization based in New York City, that will be used to pay for computers, a printer, computer training for teachers, bookshelves, and miscellaneous costs.
Anytime there are opportunities for students to apply for things through Peace Corps, such as leadership camps or funds to murals, I find myself always focusing my efforts on La Esperanza since it rarely gets these types of opportunities, whereas schools in the city are much more accustomed to outside help.
So despite the curveballs thrown my way from time to time, La Esperanza has taught me how to stay positive and keep trying. It continues to teach me how to work around seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I hope my presence there can be half as impactful on the school as their existence has been on me.