07 Feb

Third World: Things I’m Not Gonna Miss About This Place

I’ve tried multiple times to improve the registration process at my SECAP (the school where I teach – Servicio Ecuatoriano de la CApacitacion Profesional). At SECAP, they create classes based on demand. And from my experience, whenever you have a situation where classes are created by demand, you need some sort of pre-registration. Both Shabazz and West High School worked this way to a certain extent. The problem is that in Ecuadorian culture, people don’t really follow through on their promises. So if you had students “commit” to an English class in the mornings from, say, seven to nine, they wouldn’t necessarily show up for that class. Thus, a pre-registration doesn’t really work. Instead, on the first day of class, the director of SECAP posts a list on a bulletin board which says which classes they’ll offer and when. It’s a really clumsy system, which this past month led to them creating a Basic 1A class in the morning; but since neither Westra nor I could teach that class, they hired an Ecuadorian English teacher – not quite the same as a North American native English speaker.

On Friday morning, the director interrupted my class at about 8:40 to say that we would be combining the two morning classes and moving me to the Basic 1B class. I have 24 students in my current morning class and Westra has about the same if not more. So there would be 40-50 students in Westra’s class. Ridiculous. The first I heard of this new plan was when the director interrupted my class. The students in my class complained and tried to appeal to the director; after he left, the remaining 30 minutes of class was useless.

From the perspective of SECAP, they want to have as many students as possible cuz that’s how they earn money. But this means that as students proceed to subsequent levels, they will probably change teachers and may even have to change time slots. The bottom line is that the system itself makes it difficult for students to stay with English for more that a few months.

But it’s just now that I’m starting to see some promise in my students. Just this past week, I thought, “wow, by July, these people will be able to get by; they’ll be able to communicate with English speakers walking around the streets of Quito.” I see how SECAP wants numbers, but as “WorldTeach volunteers,” we’re not really helping anyone if we just teach a Basic 1A class for a month and then get a new batch of students and teach them a Basic 1A class all over again. The potential of WorldTeach to actually be effective lies in the students I have right now, the ones who will be able to get by in English if they stick with it for 5 more months.

And really, if we’re gonna “make a difference” here it will be on this simplest of levels – the student level. I feel absolutely powerless to effect change within the administrative element of SECAP even though they really need it. And at the national level, they’ve just fired or hired new people, so the staff is different once again. There is so much instability at the national administrative levels, that even if you convinced one person that there’s a better way to run things, chance are that person would be gone after a year. With this latest change, we will have a major delay in getting paid.

In talking with my students Lourdes and Natalia about government here, I learned second-hand about the fact that every facet of government is corrupt. And if there’s a capable, honest person moving up through the ranks, they eliminate that person cuz he or she will be a threat to the little circle of corruption at the top.

It’s a hopeless feeling. You feel like there’s too much to fight and that the battle itself is doomed to fail. But it’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

On Friday after class, I went to an ATM to get some money. The machine ate my card. On Saturday, we tried cashing Eileen’s check, but the bank wouldn’t honor it. We then went to the ATM, but when we tried with Eileen’s card, it refused to give us the amount we needed. As we walked away, we passed the stupid Tame office. I muttered something along the lines of “developing nation infrastructure is annoyingly inefficient.” Actually, I may have said, “Ecuador sucks.”

I’m glad I live in the US, where operations tend to run more smoothly on every level. Still, there’s plenty to be disgruntled about in the US. And there’s plenty of fights in the US that seem doomed to fail from the get-go.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Always fight for the good, knowing you will lose.”