With cuts, scrapes, a sunburn, and general exhaustion, I finished my first CEVA last Saturday after a week of long days with kids. It was great to be working with all the kids. Even through some bumps, they were a good bunch.
CEVA (centro de vacaciones or “vacation place”) is a nationwide program in Chile run by the Catholic Church. Across the country individual CEVA groups train and prepare one or two weeks’ worth of activities for children in less-advantaged areas. Some centralized planning means that the different CEVA groups share some common elements each year (like a theme), but each group is in charge of its week and the experience that it wants to offer.
My housemate Maureen was the person in charge of the CEVA we organized this year for the kids in Valle Alegre, another area of Calle Larga about an hour from our house. We were 15 counselors and almost 50 kids ranging in age from 4 to 13. From last Monday to last Saturday, we started with the kids at 9:00am and went until 6:00pm. As a bonus, we gave the kids breakfast, lunch, and an evening snack. In a typical day we would do activities and play games connected with a daily theme. On creation day we made murals of the creation story; on Chile day we made volcanoes of the baking soda and vinegar variety because there are volcanoes in southern Chile.
We also played plenty of non-themed games too since you can’t make 50 young and energetic kids color and glue all day and expect them to be happy. We played dinamicas, which are songs and other circle games. We played “Pato Pato Ganso” (“Duck Duck Goose”), which Tom translated laboriously to Spanish. We played Capture the Flag, tag, and went on scavenger hunts.
During the week we also went on three field trips: to an ecological museum, the pool, and the Buin Zoo in Santiago. At the museum we made paper, at the pool we swam, and at the zoo we saw monkeys and sharks. Plus, one day the local firemen came to visit. They didn’t leave until not a dry one remained among us.
It was fulfilling knowing that we were offering the kids opportunities they otherwise might not have had. A full third of them said they had never been to a zoo before (and I don’t think they all heard the question). Many had never been to Santiago, Chile’s capital city that’s just 90 minutes from their houses. In fact, some of the children’s older siblings and parents haven’t been either. A number of parents mentioned how grateful they were that their kids had something to do during the summer. Most of the kids don’t go on vacations with their families, and there are limited things to do with the other children scattered throughout the neighborhood. A few people told us the week was unforgettable, which makes the work entirely worthwhile. Unfortunately, there are more places with kids than there are funding and groups to run CEVA. A CEVA may not return to Valle Alegre for three to four years. In the meantime, we left knowing that the kids had a fun week and hoping that they made some friends to help them entertain themselves for the rest of the summer.