I’d like to give you a little inside look of how I spend my mornings Monday-Friday at the Guarderia. Guarderia San Antonio was started by the Sisters about six years ago to meet a need for childcare for all the workers in the market. Many children would just be hanging around their parents’ stalls all day, relatively unsupervised. So, for 1.50 bs/day (25 cents) the kids can instead come learn and play at the Guarderia. The government pays the salaries of all the workers and provides some basic food stuffs such as rice, pasta, milk but the Sisters have to cover other food expenses, building upkeep, and supplies. The children also have to bring some art supplies, toilet paper, shampoo, soap and some fruit.
The Guarderia is open 7:30am-5:00pm and we feed the kids breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack and bathe them after lunch. I believe this is all the food and bathing most of them get, at least through the week. Some families eat a light dinner around 8pm but not everybody. I arrive at 8:30am and help with breakfast and then go into one of the classrooms to assist the workers. Unlike at the Kinder, I’m not assigned a specific role so I’m kind of free-agent for whoever needs help that day. Sometimes the workers need to go run errands so I cover for them or if they have an extra-large amount of children I come in and help manage the chaos. Most mornings though I start out with the babies aged 6 months to a year and a half.
We have 5 cribs and a bed in the room, some rarely-washed squeaky toys, balloons, and some wooden shapes. Most of the children are just content being spoken to and getting to practice standing up and sitting down all day. It’s really not too bad since they are happy to be put to sleep or drink a bottle when they get fussy. Things only get more hectic when we have more than 7 babies and one’s crying wakes the others up and then everyone’s cranky. We’ve had up to 13 babies in there at once (5 in cribs, 3 on bed, 2 on floor, 2 in strollers, 1 walking), but that wasn’t a great day. When I’m not in there, there’s just one worker and so generally 6 or under is a lot more manageable. Most of the mothers use cloth diapers (in that they just tie a piece of cloth around their bum) which are a little gross to change because you have to sack up the dirty diaper to send home with them. Also, multiple of the children who come regularly have issues. One is 9 months old and can’t sit up yet. One is 14 months old and is just now able to pull herself up to standing. Some of them are malnourished, or were malnourished and most of them are ill frequently with diarrhea, colds, coughs. A nurse from the government comes regularly to weigh them however and pass out vitamins so they are really trying to combat the malnourishment. The 14 month old’s mother admitted to not having money to buy formula, I don’t know if she was breast feeding or not.
Then there’s the older baby room, kids from walking to 3 years old. This is one of my favorite rooms because the kids are always happy to see me and they actually listen pretty well to what you say to them. Most of them haven’t developed that ‘no’ response to everything yet. In here are usually 12-17 kids with two workers.
The workers leave something to be desired in that they never talk to the kids except to scold them, they don’t read to them, sometimes they don’t even give them any toys, and they don’t watch the kids much. I like to go in and read books to them and play games like ring around the rosie and sing to them. That’s why the kids like me. I’m often in here for the bathing as well which can be quite a marathon. All we have is a shallow sink to bathe the kids in so while one worker strips them down, the other lifts each kid into the sink, makes them sit down and lathers them up. Some kids are more resistant and have to be held down so they don’t fling themselves out of the sink. You can imagine how slippery a soaped-up squirmy two-year can be. Once clean the kid is carried over and laid on a towel (the same towel for every kid) while the 1st worker redresses them and the next kid gets put in the sink. After doing this 15 times you really work up a sweat! When the temperature is below 70F or it’s raining, we don’t bathe the kids because it’s ‘bad’ for them. This room is also where most of the biting takes place and they implement an interesting Hammurabian punishment where the bitten child gets to bite the biter’s fingers as hard as they want until the biter cries. My other favorite is when they smack the kids and tell them that hitting is bad. The workers never hit the kids hard, but corporal punishment is certainly used. A good ear tug goes a long way.
The next level is ‘Nidito’ which is 3-4 years old and here they actually start doing some preschool-type work. They start learning to color, to draw lines and occasionally a book or two will be gotten out for them. This classroom has one worker and 12-15 kids but a few bad ones can really poison it. When the two difficult ones aren’t there, they’re angels. At least in this instance though I can see that the difficult children are also possibly less well cared for at home and maybe don’t receive a lot of parental attention. They tend to come dirty, covered in scratches and skin infections and with raggedy clothing. With these kids I like to talk about counting, colors, shapes and animals. We have a game where we act out all the sounds and actions different animals make. It’s amazing how the bad kids shape up when there’s an activity to do.
Next is PreKinder, ages 4-5. This is the classroom I was in most of February when we had a shortage of workers because the government decided not to pay them and it’s a long story but I kind of avoid it now. They generally have 20-30 kids with two workers and are all fairly good kids but demand a lot of attention because they’re very verbal and crave individual praise, which I go out of my way to give to them but tires me out a lot. They’re fun to sing songs with and do some more advanced coloring, drawing and collaging. The teachers also begin teachers numbers, letters, and colors to them.
Finally there’s Kinder (5-6 years old)! The Kinder counts for Kindergarten as far as getting into first grade although it’s really not the same. Most of the kids go the Kinder next door in the afternoon but a few for financial reasons don’t. The teacher is supposed to teach all the numbers, letters, colors, simple addition and subtraction but it just doesn’t really get done too thoroughly. I like to come in and help them with their work. Also, I’ve taught them how to do the hokey-pokey in English and we can play more advanced games like musical chairs, duck duck goose and we’re working on kickball.
If you’re still reading this and added up all the numbers you’ll see we usually have 50-70 kids at the Guarderia which means lots of work for the cooks so occasionally I’ll hang out in the kitchen and help them. This is how I learned they don’t have any hand soap and so ‘wash’ their hands with water and a dirty towel. This shed some light on my chronic stomach issues here since we eat their food for breakfast and lunch everyday. I’m slowly working on introducing a few of my ideas at the Guarderia, like asking the workers to wash their hands. The Guarderia is certainly the hardest thing I do every week, and probably where I pick up all my illnesses, but it is great to see their smiles every day.