Starring in a coming documentary on alternative education

Sometimes I´m just like: seriously?! Is this really happening?

That´s the feeling I got when I got to know Bruno Iriarte. Bruno is travelling from Mexico to his home country Argentina in a Volkswagen minibus, visiting all the different projects on alternative education he finds on his way. His goal is to investigate all of them and create a documentary on alternative education in Latin America. (You can like his FB-page here.)

Gemán Doin, the director of the documentary The Forbidden Education, is keeping him up-dated on what projects to visit and what persons to contact. And that´s how Bruno found me and Explora.

Since I don´t have that much time, I told him he could assist one of my sessions with my facilitator team and he gladly accepted.  The cool thing was that it was just the day I was going to explain what exactly an ALC is, and on what foundations it´s built.

Is it enough to say we had an incredible time all of us?

Is it enough to say that Bruno himself experienced a quantum leap in his own thinking?

Is it enough to say that he´s super impressed with the ALC concept, the ideas behind Explora and that he sees me as this rad visionary, unique in Latin America?

No, it´s not enough, because then I was interviewed and filmed and will now be part of his documentary!!!

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This is a big time woooohoooo for me. I´ve been working on positioning myself as an expert on alternative education in Latin America, but it takes time and I´m still very isolated geographically. But here someone shows up, eager to talk with me about what I think, listening to every word I say like as if they were precious drops of gold.

Again I feel so seen as a person, and appreciated for all that I do. Now Bruno is all about how to get my book translated from Swedish to Spanish. – We need this book in Latin America, he says.

My life is expanding in the most incredible ways lately, and all I can think is: how could it get any better that this?

 

 

Stepping into my power

Lately I have been very concerned with how to pull in the money I need to get the most basic stuff in order for Explora to be able to function on a basic level.

Opening up the kindergarted enabled me to shape up the facilities, but the top floor has been completely empty – and still is.

Since this time, I´m not running a communitarian project I have no one else to rely on in order to make Explora happen. However, since Explora is still a project for the community, I thought I´d be able to pull in support from some of the more resourceful people down here (see blog post on that). So, I shared my ideas with several of them, and got loads of thumbs-ups and cheers. But nothing more.

Since I know furnishing and equipping Explora is nothing in comparision with what I had to do in order to get the kindergarten ready, I have´t felt particularly worried about it. I´ve more been wondering how I want to interpret the lack of physical support.

And here´s my conclusion: 
I feel that the lessons I´ve had to learn when I left my old project in December 2015, have been all about stop hiding and making myself smaller, that it´s time for me to step up and take up my own space.

I´ve had to learn that I´m so much more powerful than I´ve ever dared to express, and that it´s nothing to be ashamed about. That dimming my light only harms me – and others. Since I´m all about empowering others, I´m being incongruent if I don´t dare to fully express my own power. I´m not steeling anyone else´s thunder by doing so. And, more important: I´m no longer misleading people by leading a project but pretending I´m not all that important. 

This time I´fully need to show myself what I´m capable of. I don´t need anyone else to help me pull this off. I have all the qualities Explora needs in order to get started and to function properly. And by doing it all by myself nobody will ever again be able to tell me I don´t know anything about starting up and leading educational projects. 

So this week I decided it was time to act and went about and ordered mattrasses and cushions for the cozy corner. I´ve bought several board games. And this coming week I´m getting art materials and whiteboards. I have a couple of plastic chairs and a table that I don´t use. That will do to begin with.

And suddenly the owner of the house showed up and told me he´d clean the two lots of land that are included in the rent.

Monday 5th I´m opening up the doors to Explora. I´m ready!

 

Creating alliances

This week I had scheduled meetings with the two school directors that I find most accessible here in Puerto Escondido. One runs a highly traditional preschool and primary school. The other is head of the christian school.

I had already met up with them in February to share my project with them. I wanted to test the idea and see how they´d react. Both were positive and said they´d be interested in supporting Explora through sharing posters and flyers with their families when it was time.

The christian director is a really nice guy. He´s quite advanced in his pedagogical thinking, and totally gets the idea of the importance of free, unsupervised play. The school he runs is very traditional, but he can´t do much about it because the foundation that´s behind the school want it to operate in a certain way.

The first time I told him about Explora, he got completely excited about the idea, and I got the same result this time. He gets the intention and the concept, and not only will he visit the facilites this coming week in order to really be able to speak about the project with the parents. He´s also more than interested in sharing my sponsorship program with his chrisitian community in the States. The idea is that they can give grants to the kids at his school to complement their education through Explora.

I feel extremely seen and supported by him, and I think it´s the best alliance I could ever had made. He has more than 100 students at his primary, and I´m thinking that if a fifth of them would enroll in Explora, that would be incredible.

The other director is very nice and open, but not a visionary when it comes to education. It´s still alright because she also sees that there are very few options for kids in the afternoons here in Puerto. She also took some posters and flyers and I know she´ll promote Explora with her families, but maybe not with the same zest as the christian director. She also has more than 100 students, and I know several of them would be more than interested in what Explora has to offer.

The cool thing is: everyone seems to think Explora is a terrific idea and are more than willing to share it and spread the words to others. And since I´m not competing with anyone because Explora is a unique concept, it feels really great to be able to create alliances with other directors.

I can feel it boiling underneath the surface

So, I decided to postpone the start of my ALC one week and give myself some more time to fix all that needs to be ready. I mean, the most important is there: the structure, my team of facilitators, my ALF-training, the marketing materials, great support – but there´s still plenty of stuff that needs to be done before I can let the kids in.

I started by gathering a small but supportive group of women in order to share the project with them, and tell them what I needed help with. They absolutely loved the idea of Explora, and were so impressed with what I´ve accomplished so far – (also because the meeting was held at the facilities and that, my friends, is a place I´m very proud of!).

I know they will all contribute in some way, even though I don´t yet know how it will play out.

Then I had a Very Important Meeting with the owner of the local radio channel. I obviously wanted an interview (which is now programmed for the 31st of August), but he unexpectedly offered me promotion time: – I know you can´t afford it, he said, but how about you receiving 2-3 of my employees´kids for free as an interchange. How could I say no to that?!

And then I launched my secret desire: – I´ve been thinking, I said. Most families don´t know much about childraising and education, and I consider myself an expert on both themes. Wouldn´t you be interested in letting me have a weekly radio show with the goal to support parents and teach them things they might need?

– You mean, as a service for the community? he asked.

– Yes, something like that, I answered. I can talk around different themes and they could call in and have their questions answered.

– I really like that idea, said the director of the only radio station in Puerto Escondido, and promised we´d explore the possibility further when I got back for the interview.

It´s like: TADAAAAA!!! I´ve been thinking about this possisbility for quite some time now. I feel that I really want to position myself as The Expert on these themes, where I live. I know I already am, but I want people to know about it too. Being Scandinavian I was raised with the idea that it´s really presomptuous to think that I could do something better than someone else, so it completely clashes with my cultural upbringing. But honestly, I don´t care. I no longer live in Sweden and I´ve come to love stepping out of my comfort zone.

So, this is what I´ve achieved this week. On one hand, I still don´t have any physical evidence of the energy moving around Explora. No enrolled kids, no furniture or materials. But I can feel it boiling underneath the surface, like as if it´s mysteriously all coming together. I mean my own radio show! How could it get any better than that?

 

Exploring the possibilities for support

Ever since I decided I´d start up an ALC, I´ve been freaked out by the fact that this time I´m on my own.

Now, I want this to be very clear: I prefer working with a team. But if I can´t have an outstanding team that meet my standards of high-achievements and mutual support and respect, I prefer doing it alone.

But that doesn´t mean I´m totally fine with the situation either. It´s a huge repsonsibility and I´m afraid I might not have all the energy that it takes. It feels lonely and scary not having a team around me.

I´ve been thinking a lot on how to make Explora happen without a) killing myself in the process and b) without any start-up money.

Thanks to my newly opened kindergarten I´ve been able to install electricity and plumbing, so that part is taken care of. But now I need to:

  1. Clean the two lots next to the house (3000-4000 m2 – loads of land!)
  2. Get furniture, mattrasses and cushions for the cozy room,
  3. and hammocks for the terrace,
  4. plus, able and chairs for the art room.
  5. And oh, yes, art materials of course, and
  6. some nice books and fun board games.
  7. Shelves I need too.
  8. And doors for the bathrooms.
  9. Whiteboards would be cool even though I can do without.

The thing is, I have absolutely no money for this – at least not today.

But, even though Explora isn´t a communitarian project,  it definitely is a project for the Puerto Escondido community. So, my intention is to gather a group of resoursceful people this week, and simply ask them to help me pull this through. And there are actually several ways they can support me, like by:

  • Spreading the word and help families find the project in order for me to get the inscriptions rolling.
  • Donating furniture, books, games
  • Lending me their gardeners to can clean up the land
  • Becoming a sponsor of a child that comes from a low-income family
  • Donating money

I hope it´ll work. And if you have any ideas that I haven´t explored yet – please feel free to share them with me!

Affecting society in unexpected ways

When you start up a school in Mexico, there are so many different aspects you can think about. I mean, after all you will start affecting other people´s lives.

The first ones to experience the difference, are obviously the children. After all, that´s the whole point.

Then you realize, that the families also are being affected. When the children are happy and the parents notice that they develop healthily, a certain openness develops that enables parents to take in new information and start thinking in new directions. Suddenly old mental paradigms are being challenged: things don´t have to stay the same. There might be other ways that work better.

But what I´m probably most proud of having contributed to, is what can happen when a woman without education (dear me, how awful!) is being given the opportunity to develop in a whole new direction.

Seven years ago I met and hired Lucy, a 32 year old woman who quit school at age 14. I chose her for the job as a teacher assistan because she told me she wanted a job where she would be allowed to take initiatives and carry out responsibilities (quite unsual down here).

During the first three years that I coached and guided her daily, Lucy went from being an assistant to becoming the main teacher, responsible for all the kids at the first school I started. Five years in a row, I raised funds in order to send her to the Waldorf trainings in Cuernavaca. Today she is the only vertified Waldorf teacher in the state of Oaxaca, and in the process of becoming the school´s director.

During these seven years, Lucy has gone through a  transformation. Not only has she succeeded professionaly. She has also managed to do something very few Oaxacan women have done: leave an abusive relationship, move from her village into  town and change her life completely.

Now, her entire village is starting to develop in a new direction. Lucy is shining and thriving, and young women are seeing her as an example to follow. She does what she can in order to support and empower them, showing them that you don´t need to learn how to cook and take care of a home in order to serve a man, but because that´s part of what you need to be able to live your life.

It never occurred to me that this could happen. I´ve mostly been very happy to have contributed to Lucy´s development. Never had I thought that a small village would be affected by that.

When I decided to open up my third kindergarten, it was obvious to me that the best solution would be asking Lucy to come down to Puerto Escondido and help me train my new teachers. I wanted to give Lucy the chance to challenge herself again, further develop and share her knowledge and competence with new teachers. And also, I´d pay her and not some center in Cuernavaca.

Three young women accepted the same opportunity that I offered Lucy seven years ago. And a new generation of teachers have just ended their first teacher training, given by Lucy and myself.

During two weeks we´ve worked our butts off in order to implement a new rythm, with a new group of kids, with three green teachers.

To observe how Lucy´s gone from green to mature, has been a real treat. Knowing that three new “Lucies” are on their way, is just incredible!

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Lucy

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Lucy and I on our way to La Casita

What have I gotten mysef in to?

Most of the time I just focus. I don´t have time to waste on worrying. You can be a worrier or a warrior, and I generally choose the latter.

But sometimes it comes creeping up on me. The doubts. The anxiety. The worry. What if…?

What if it won´t work?

What if nobody signs up?

What if I´ve misjudged people´s need for something new?

What if I won´t be able to pull in any sponsors?

What if I´m just ending up with a huge deficit?

What if i´m not capable or strong enough?

What if I had been a man instead?

ARRRGH!!!

I hate when the doubts set in. And since I don´t want anyone to know that I too fall into the Fear, I don´t share how I feel. I´m afraid they too will start doubting and that would just make things worse.

But this is a place where I know I can share. Most people won´t even read it (phew!) but those who do might know what to say.

It´s just one of those days…

 

Finding Mexican Facilitators part 2

Starting up an ALC means knowing in advance you won´t be able to pay all of the facilitators, so you need to find creative solutions that makes it a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The third person I thought of, was Flor. Flor is a secondary school teacher who hates the system but who doesn´t have any other viable working option but staying. So her focus is always doing what she can in order to give her students different experiences, trying really hard to make school a more human place (and obviously being sabotaged by many of her co-workers).

I got to know Flor several years ago. She was recommended by a mutual friend to contact me because she was looking for someone who could talk to the parents about alcohol and drug abuse prevention. I don´t know much about addictions, but I do know teenagers, so I accepted and ended up not only training the parents but also big part of the teachers at her school.

Last year, Flor decided to take her kids out of school and put them in my old school project. That was huge! Not only for her kids who´d been in the traditional system since they were three months old, but for her family who had to change so many paradigms. But it was also huge for the entire school. It was the first time we´d managed to pull in a local family, which says a lot about the socio-economic situation in Puerto Escondido.

Flor is a very unusual Oaxacan woman: she works with herself, she challenges herself, she goes against the system always trying to find ways of rebelling without it being noticed. It´s a fine line between managing that and being thrown out. I´d be thrown out instantly, and I frankly have no idea how she does it!

I´d been talking about the idea of opening up a democratic school with Flor long before I knew it would be an ALC called Explora. My original idea was to open up in 2018, and always thought I´d hire Flor for that project. But now I start earlier and there´s no way I can offer Flor a replacement for her job at this point. But I will be able to do it in a couple of years when I open up full-time.

So, what´s in it for Flor? Well, first of all her three kids will attend Explora without having to pay. Second, Flor is going to learn so many things that she´ll be able to take with her and use directly with the teens at her secondary school.

The fourth facilitator has the same kind of deal. His name is Adalid, he´s a primary teacher that all kids love (especially the ones that hate school). I got to know him when I gave a lecture on alternative education at a local university here in Puerto Escondido in February. He approached me after the lecture and we connected immediately. He´s very similar to Flor in the sense that he hates the system and does what he can to give th kids and nicer experience of school, organizing camps, playing with them and stuff like that.

Adalid´s daughter will attend my kindergarten for free, and he´s giving me his time as a volunteer, learning the same things as the other facilitators and being able to bring the ALC dynamics into his classroom.

The three of us all think it´s a great deal, and what is going to be really exciting is to see how Flor and Adalid will implement the agile tools in the traditional system. Just the thought of it is thrilling!

Finding Mexican Facilitators part 1

Finding facilitators for my ALC has been surprisingly easy. I think it´s because I really know what I want and what I´m looking for in a grown-up who´s dealing with children and teens.

My scanner looks for people who are genuine and authentic and who connect on a soul-to-soul level with young human beings. That´s the main thing,

But I also wanted to attract persons who are:

  • Emotionally mature
  • Sensitive
  • Conscious
  • Natural leaders
  • Teamplayers
  • And that have a willlingness to learn, grow and expand

It´s not always easy to find all of that in the same person, but when I decided I´d open up an ALC I already had three persons on my mind, and the forth showed up by himself.

The first one I thought of was Layo, who´s been doing the gardening and maintenance at my old school for several years. Layo is 21 years old and has a daughter of five and a one year old son, and he´s like this incredible children´s magnet. Kids just loooove him! I´ve watched him for years, working in the garden naturally attending the kids as they automatically turn to him to get help with anything from building a hut to repair a broken sword.

I always wanted Layo to be part of the teaching team, but I was stopped by both teachers and parents who told me he didn´t have “the level”.  Which only proved to me they didn´t know what they were talking about. Fine. I couldn´t hire him then, but I can now and so I have.

I talked to Layo in April, telling him about Explora and what kind of a project it was going to be. I said I wanted to offer him a position as a facilitator and that I was personally going to train him.

Where I live, persons like Layo hardly ever get an opportuntiy to raise above themselves and get any further than gardening or maintenance, because the economy is very basic down here. The idea of giving him the chance to become a facilitator was therefore very appealing to me, and Layo didn´t even think about it twice: I´m in, was his very quick answer. He wants to learn and grow, and he knows opportunities like this doesn´t come by every day, so to him it was a really easy decision.

The second person I thought of was Alberto, my son´s father. Alberto is a visual artist who´s been teaching art for more than two decades. He´s the kindest and most loving person, super playful and kids adore him.

It wasn´t an easy choice, because after all he´s my ex and I was wondering if it was a really good idea for us to work together. We talked and talked. And talked some more. Then we decided we´d do it. The main focus we have in common is always Teo, our son. And after having considered everyting there is to consider, we both agreed it´d be best for our Aspie to have both parents involved in Explora. Since feeling safe around other adults and children is always an issue to him, we think this is the best we can do to create a healthy environment for him.

Both Layo and Alberto will receive salaries for their work.

Click here to read more!

A new kindergarten is born

This has been a craaazy week! And also a highly fulfilling and satisfying week.

It´s the third time I do this, so at least I was prepared for what I was in for.

I brought down Lucy from Oaxaca a week ago in order to get my new kindergarten in order and help in training the new teachers. Lucy is my first employee ever. She started as a teacher assistant seven years ago at Papalotes (Mexican Spanish for “kites”), and for five years in a row I raised funds to be able to send her off to her Waldorf training in Cuernavaca. She has turned into a real bad-ass teacher, seriously, she´s so good I can hardly believe it even though I´ve been observing her every day now for a week.DSC_2285

 

I´ve done most of the theory with the girls, and Lucy shows them how to turn it into practice. We have 12 kids for the moment: 3-5 years old. The most important thing this week has been to implement a rythm that works for them:

They get in around 9am. We check their heads for lice (once they stick they´re almost impossible to get rid of). Then it´s circle time: we play fun games that train spatial intelligence, gross and fine motorskills and then it´s time for a walk where the kids explore nature freely.

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When we get back home, they have more free play, those who want help us prepare lunch, we eat, they do their dishes and then continue playing.

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Most of the materials are “unfinished” in order to trigger the kids´imagination: wooden blocks, branches, seeds (tiny and huge!), rocks and fabrics. I love watching a fabric go from being a turban, to a cloak, then a blanket and a tent!

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In the early afternoon, the kids have one main activity: it can be painting, baking, crafts or something else. They usually all want to join in, and the level of concentrationgoes from 3 minutes to 20 depending on the child.

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Then there´s more free play, then a story, rest and suddenly it´s time to go home again!

Except for the teacher team. We stay and analyze what we´ve observed during the day: what worked? Why? What didn´t work? Why? how can we improve it? The children´s behaviours – and loads and loads of analyzing how Lucy does things and why. This part is vital to me, and I´m very focused on helping the teachers develop their pedagogical thinkning: Yes, Lucy managed to solve that fight, but what exactly did she do that worked, and why did it work? This way of thinkning doesn´t come natural. It needs to be modelled and we´ve spent a great deal of time creating conscious awareness around what´s going on in the kindergarten.

We´ve been leaving around 4pm. Time for late lunch “a la Mexicana”, and then we´ve had to run around and get stuff that´s missing at the school. Doing this every day is exhausting!

I sometimes wonder if i´m completely nuts, I mean anyone would have given up by now, but I can´t. The small kids need a place like La Casita, and I just have to give it to them. Seeing them play freely and happily gives my life meaning, and receiving grateful and supportive parents is like frosting on the cake!