Working in Colombia: Casa Karah

I am in Medellín, Colombia working with Fundación Poder Joven on a volunteer basis. They have 2 homes for children in two different areas. Each weekday, there are around 60-70 children at each home who come and stay in the morning while the others stay in the afternoon. On Mondays and Fridays I will be at Casa Karah and Tuesdays through Thursdays at Casa Maren.

People ask me often if it is different here compared to Nepal or Costa Rica and while I shortly would have to say yes it is not fair to say that nor is it fair to reply no to that question because every experience is different, always – environments, religions, backgrounds and a lot of other things are different. Remembering this should help me not place any values in to what I experience here, right?

On the day I set out to Casa Karah I had been here for about 48 hours and I was very oblivious to find my way in the city of Medellín. About 1 hour after I got off the train, I found Casa Karah and now when I know how to get there it takes me less than 5 minutes :)

My first day at Casa Karah was overwhelming. The children at Casa Karah are quite angry and so aggrevated. They have no patience, or sympathy and they totally lash out on each other regardless of age, gender or situation. Nobody is helpful and they are not sharing or caring. They rarely smile and cannot play together in an open-hearted way. The few times I have seen them play, it does not last for more than a few minutes before it ends with somebody kicking or hitting or yelling at someone which also often ends with crying and negative energy. The acoustics at Casa Karah can be resembled to warehouse acoustics – so all sounds bounce off the walls. Today for example, a 10 year old girl was angry for some reason – she walks up to a 7 year old boy, smacks him on his head because he is annoying her and then he wants to kick her and she walks back to kick him too – not a “girl kick” but like straightforward, heel-down “karate-kicks” — he is crying, she is yelling and the boy is held down by a co-ordinator while he is furious trying to hit himself out of her arms to kick and hit the other girl and she kicks him while being held by the co-ordinator…

Last week when I was sitting with a group of 5 (!) children one of the boys got very annoyed with his assignment and started fidgeting and stating that he was finished. He was clearly not finished so I asked him to continue. This is after he and and another boy started kicking each other so hard that I had to break them apart – while they still were kicking and I ended up getting kicked in between. Once they start fighting it is very difficult to make them stop – they will continue until they actually hurt each other.  Later on, Mateo who was very angry with the whole situation started yelling (which causes no attention since everybody are yelling most of the time) that he did not want to draw anymore – so I put my hand over his hand very gently and asked him to try for a few more minutes. As a result he took the pens and paper and threw it in my face. Not ok. Later, he did not want to finish his lunch but as a rule, the children MUST finish everything on their plate before they are allowed to leave the table. This is not easily controlled but I was assigned to make sure he ate all of his food. Okay – I went after him with his plate, crawled under tables after him and tried talking, relating, joking and being strict with him. I was annoying for sure and whilst nothing worked he ended up hiding in the medical attention room. I followed him in there, still with his plate. In the end he took a book and started ignoring me instead of yelling NOOOOOOOOO at me (still, nothing unusual apparently), I gently took the book from him and said that “while I am talk..”.— he smacks me. Hard. I am in such a shock and my Spanish is slightly insufficient at this point though I know he understands all that I am saying. In my mind I am not sure what is right to do – I get the co-ordinators at the home since I am not sure how to approach Mateo and they tell me that  “Well, he needs to eat by himself”. Okay, I see. Still not OK behavior. I left that day feeling quite beat and not sure how to handle any future situations as such. I have not seen Mateo now since that day due to Easter break but I am hoping that time will help, that I will get “through to him”.

Today is Monday so I was at Casa Karah again and I had my first class in English this morning which went well.  My second class in the afternoon went – well – not as good. After having one girl toss her book in the box and walking out on class without looking at me or saying a word, having a second girl replying “no, excuse me!” when I asked her “excuse me, where she was going” when she decided by herself that class was finished + a whole lot of other uncontrollable activity going on in the background. Hey, I felt ready to…cry. I know, right? What is that all about? Seriously? But I felt so – insufficient. Should I be nice, less nice, very nice, strict, less strict, more strict or too strict, should I set out consequences or not and so on. It is not easy to do the “right thing” – to act correctly so to speak. On the other hand – I am there to teach them English but also evrything else that comes with my values as a person and teacher. So – I will simply be myself. As always, you need to give it time. I am not giving up, not at all, but workdays at Casa Karah leaves me beat. I feel so tired, like I have worked non-stop for 22 hours. No actually, even when I had worked non-stop for 22 hours without eating I felt less tired :) But you know what? When they smile or even laugh – which almost all of my students did today at some point at a situation or at me or with me – it is worth it all. If I can see them smile with their heart more often than I hear them practice grammar – I will know that all the dizziness and frustration and even pen/paperthrowing in my face makes it worth it. Because seeing that and being a part of that is absolutely priceless.


“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself”
– Galileo Galilei