German volunteer describing her working experience in a youth center

1st week at work (meeting the adolescents)

After our weekly reunion on Mondays, I met the adolescents for the first time on a Tuesday. All of them come from a rather humble background and while some of them are rather “normal”, most have experienced a quite difficult youth: in extremely violent houses, with parents or other family members taking drugs, being in prison, abusing them; and some of the teenagers lived temporarily in other families, with their grandparents or even in the streets. Some of them are already parents, being still kids themselves. Two of them have a mental disability, one due to natural causes and the other one due to drug abuse during the pregnancy.

We had a short reunion of half an hour among the educators which we used to discuss the evening activities for that day. The first activity is a session which we use to help the adolescents with the homework that is still pending and some educational exercises like maths equations, word riddles, texts that they have to invent etc. We decided that I would only be introduced to the adolescents after this first activity, as they surely would be curious to talk to me, preventing them to focus on their homework. After the homework session, we all came together, set up a table and shared a small merienda, when I was introduced together with another new group member from Argentina who joined as part of a work exchange program. The teenagers asked plenty of questions and I had some difficulty of understanding them at first, while they were all screeming at the same time. Generally speaking, I considered my level of Spanish quite good at that point in time, being able to have normal conversations with local people. Nevertheless, the adolescents had their own way of speaking including a lot of slang, which made it sometimes quite hard for me to follow.

After the merienda, we left for the sports field where we played football and basketball all together. When we returned to the youth center and said goodbye to the teenagers, we had another reunion to discuss recent happenings in the family and surrounding of the teens.

Although the adolescents are coming to the youth center voluntarily, the educators are in close contact with their respective families and even their teachers. The quantity of the teens joining the activities varies but evolves aroung 30 persons which makes it hard to closely monitor and accompany every person. But the educators have managed to build up a net of information to know what is going on with every one of the teenagers and trying to help with individual assistance. As far as I can say, the fact that so many teenagers join voluntarily gives a good indication of the quality provided by them.

 

On Wednesday, I participated in the homework session for the first time. It quickly evolved that the level of knowledge and capacity of learning among the adolescents was varying widely. While some of the teenager just needed little assistance, others had major problems in solving simple maths exercises or writing a fluent text- although all of them finalized the first six years in school (primaria), which is mandatory in Uruguay. Adapting to the individual needs of the adolescents I walked around, give some assistance and chat with them.

After the merienda, we took out the tambores and heated the lonjas (drum patches) by a small fireplace to make them more flexible while playing the drum and therefore prevent them from breaking. Every teenager who wanted to play was invited to grab a tambor and join the group walking around the block while playing music. The remaining teens either took care of the two flags which needed to be carried along with the group or danced along. As I had no clue of how to play the tambor, I took care of the Mate and joined the dancing squad after a short introduction. As we moved along the streets, neighbours and other people took a minute to watch and random people joined to dance. At least for some time everyone forgot about the trouble of life.

As Thursdays are generally structured like Tuesday with a sports session, I will directly jump on to talk about Friday: On Fridays, there is a more liberal proposition regarding the activities. Mainly, the homework session in the beginning is maintained and then followed by some music, with the opportunity of dancing or karaoke, playing ping pong and football. Sometimes we do mosaic pictures out of little stones and bracelets or some boardgames. A chilled way to spend some time together and start into the weekend.

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