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!

_20160813_093212

Lucy

13872955_1229097117111477_8324101394747827048_n

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.

DSC_2310

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.

IMG_20160801_205248

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!

DSC_2289

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.

DSC_2296

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!

Feminine flow versus masculine push-pull

Growing up as a woman in a world that was modelled by men, hasn´t been an easy experience. When I was younger I never even considered that I had to force myself to adapt to a system that wasn´t created for me and that isn´t working for me.

I learnt that I had to do what I had to do in the only way known to me: the male way. Which, in order to succeed, means that I need to be three times as competent as a man in order to be taken seriously, constantly working my butt off in order to prove that I am good enough, and changing my entire core to fit in – when the reality is it´s going against my entire energy system.

I never thought much of it. It was just the way things were.

I learnt to push and to pull, and force my way through even though it always left me completely burnt out on several occasions, and at one point actually so severely damaged that I´ve never fully recovered.

Men have testosterone, and it makes them push and pull in a very natural way. But the testosterone levels drop accordingly, leaving men drained. The only way for them to recover (yes, this is proven scientifically!) is to turn into couch potatoes and DO NOTHING. And that´s when new testosterone is being created.

Women don´t work like that. We have estrogen, and we never run out of it. That makes us able to go on and on and on and on, totally ignoring how exhausted we are. If it´s 11pm and the dishes still aren´t done, we´re still capable of forcing ourselves to do it even if we really need to sleep. (Why that is so, is another story.)

So, as the high-achiever I am, I´ve been an expert in the male push-pull way of doing things. But it literally almost kills me. And for several years I was wondering how  I could do what I do but in a way that doesn´t harm me.

Little by little I have come to understand that my energy system works differently. It´s cyclic. Not linear. (Duh!) And I´ve been observing how my body feels when I wake up, noticing small shifts every day. Some days I have plenty of outgoing energy. Other days I have none. And I´ve tried to adapt accordingly, feeling my way through and flowing with my energy. It´s not easy because this is really subtle stuff.

There are days where I´m so productive I almost scare myself. There are other days I just need to lay down and rest. And I´ve learnt to give myself permission and do just that: follow what my body asks of me.

It´s a very different way of doing things, and I don´t have any other high-acheiving women around me who are running big projects, being mothers AND who work with this cyclic flow. I have found absolutely no role models to follow.

But it doesn´t really matter. I´m sure I´m onto something here, because I feel so much better now thatn I used to. And I´m going to continue to work like this (with myself and not against myself) because I want to be able to acheive my goals without almost killing myself in the process.

I´m not saying it´s easy. I have to stay alert every day and really listen to my body. And some days (like now when I´m opening up two big projects) it´s almost impossible to pull it off. But I´m aware of it, and if that means leaving the dishes (or simply not cook at all because I have no energy whatsoever for that), I´m fine with it.

 

Starting up!

Once I realized there was something called ALC and that what they were doing really appealed to me, I downloaded the starter-kit. I nodded my head through the first thirty pages: everything that was mentioned about what to think of when opening up a school, I already knew was true from my own experiences. It made me feel these guys knew what they were talking about.

It was also really nice to see that they had defined what kind of qualities the people on your team needs to have. Not that I had a team (this time I wanted to do it on my own and avoid any potential problems that can arise while working with others). But it so happens that I have all those qualities, plus seven years of experience of doing this kind of stuff so I figured I´d be fine.

I contacted Tomis, paid the membership fee, and started working on my business plan. Oh dear how tedious, but oh my God what a great document to have! It really helped me clear my thoughts and word them in a way that would make sense not only to me but to parents and future sponsors. It also helped me creating attractive and clear texts for my website that I was working on at the same time.

I know the importance of branding, and asked a graphic designing friend to help me create a logo. Thanks to the clarity of the business plan, it was easy for me to explain to her what I wanted: something that looked cool, unique and clean, that would appeal to adults (they´re also the target group since they´re the ones that pay), with the idea of exploration and learning for life expressed in some way (which is why my logo has both a magnifying glass and an infinity sign in it).

EXPLORA-MAGENTA

I also started contacting a couple of directors at other schools, because I knew that since I no longer represented competition, I might be able to convince them to spread the word to other parents. That prooved to be a really good idea, and I now have what I call allies in the schoolworld: people who have loads of contacts with other families and who will help me in some way or another of letting people know about Explora.

One of them specifically said: “I really support your idea, it´s brilliant and it´s exactly what my students need. I will strongly recommend your project to all of my families – I don´t want to brag, but they usually pay attention to my recommendations.” YAY!!!

By February it struck me that renting a house for only three hours per day is kind of bad business. That´s when I decided that I would create two projects at the same time: In the mornings I´d have a small kindergarten running, and in the afternoons Explora. That would mean: two separate projects with separate budgets sharing the same facilities AND sharing many of the expenses (rent, maintenance, administration etc.).

In no time I had three new teachers to train, local girls that really wanted an opportunity like the one I was offering them, and I started training them on a weekly basis. (For Explora I already had four people in my mind, but I will write more about that in another post.)

I knew I was on the right track when three of my “old” families showed up and said “Your old school is going down the drain without you. Can´t you open up another kindergarten?”. And I realized it was actually a really good idea because I knew that I´d get inscription fees at an earlier stage than with Explora (simply because people don´t pay for extra-curricular activities until the semester starts) which would help me set up the facilities – wherever those would be…

The search for a place took forever, and I was focusing really hard on trust. Everything was flowing in such an amazing way, the house just had to exist. I just needed to find it. I knew I wanted a good house for the kindergarten, but for Explora I wanted land. Loads of land.

I was driving around searching every area. Small houses with no land. Huge houses with not even a garden. Huge chunks of land but no house. Found one perfect place but with owners unwilling to rent. Nothing. I started to get desperate. I was asking all my contacts. They came up with ideas, but nothing that would work for my projects. Not both simultaneously. Trust is really hard, especially when May is ending and I had been so sure I would have the house by then.

Mid-June, there it was! The perfect place: a huge house with two floors, one for the kinder and one for Explora. A small garden for the small kids, and two huge chunks of land for the older ones. And I mean: HUGE!!! Just the way I wanted them. One a little bit arid, but the other is really a small forest. Trees, tiny paths, a big rock to climb, rabbits… I mean: how could it get any better than that?

And all of this for a rent that is so low I can hardly believe it! Just because the house has been a burden to the owners and they´re so grateful that someone is going to take care of it.

The only catch: burglars had taken everything. And I mean everything: toilets, showers, and all the electricity cables including lamps, buttons – it was all gone.

So the rest of June and all July has had me busy dealing with electricians, plumbers, running around all over Puerto Escondido buying stuff I don´t even know what it´s called. Also ordering tables, chairs, curtains, matrasses, cushions and stuff that would make the kindergarten look inviting and cozy so that I´d be able to receive the little ones as from the 1st of August when the kindergarten summer camp would start.

That, I thought, would give me the entire month of August to focus on Explora.

This is where I stand today. In three days it´s time for kindergarten summer camp! And I have exactly ONE MONTH to turn Explora into what I want it to be: a welcoming creative environment that makes kids feel it´s the coolest place they´ve ever seen.

Ahead of me lies:

  • Promotion (radio interviews, informational meetings, putting up posters and distributing flyers – material that has already been prepared – but not yet paid for…)
  • Continue training my team of facilitators, now adding on the agile tools.
  • Finding sponsors for kids from families that lacks the resources to enroll them.
  • Cleaning the land, preparing games (kubb – yes!), making the facilities welcoming and functional.
  • And, ideally finding a sponsor or someone that can lend me a 1000 USD which is what I need in order to be able to furnish the place.

I have no idea how I´ll be able to pull it off, money-wise that is. But I so trust that everything will sort itself out perfectly. The flow has been amazing ever since I decided to do this. On the other hand, I´ve never known from the beginning how I´ll succeed. I just do it. And that is part of the beauty of creating something new. I see things so clearly in my mind, I know so strongly what I want that I don´t let anything stop me: least my own fears. And step after step I figure out the way, and suddenly I´ve made it. My vision has manifested into reality through focus, clarity, perseverance, resilience and trust. Loads and loads of trust.

A brilliant idea

Early January I woke up in the middle of the night, and I knew I had it! 

I wouldn´t create another school. I would create an after-school program.

For several years I had been wondering what to offer teens. In a small town like Puerto Escondido that doesn´t have much else to offer than surf, the challenges for teens to develop in a healthy and creative ways are huge.

Realizing that not many families were seriously interested in offering an alternative education to their kids (very few daring to take the step and enroll them in the waldorfy primary I had created) I knew that the target group was too reduced to make any alternative school sustainable.

I had already decided that whatever it was that I was going to create, it would be something like a democratic school – but I just couldn´t figure out how to make it attractive enough to all the parents whose teens really need it.

And so, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I knew I had found the solution.

An after-school program doesn´t compete with parents´ fears of their children not getting what they believe school is offering that is fundamental for survival in this world. It complements traditional education, offering all the stuff parents wish school would really give to their kids – without them having to miss out on school.

An after-school program doesn´t need to adapt to any curriculum. It´s free to be whatever the founder (me!) chooses it to be.

An after-school program doesn´t have any problems with the Ministry of Public Education. Since it´s not a school, they don´t care.

An after-school program offers the possibility for parents to drop their kids off in a safe environment and have some extra time for work or other things in the afternoons, without having to feel guilty about not being able to hang out with their children.

An after-school program can transcend socio-economical levels because anyone can enroll, and those who don´t have the money can always receive sponsored grants.

An after-school program can offer everything I wish a “real” school would offer to a whole bunch of kids, thus bringing alternative education to the masses.

Plus: the competition here is basically zero. The only options are for smaller children (once they get older it´s only sports that is being offered), they´re all adult-directed and based upon what the adults can and want to offer. And there are literally NO spaces for kids and teens to hang out and just be.

I have to say I felt like a genius! I would still be able to offer everything I wanted and I would reach more kids, hence having a greater impact on society than any of my previous school projects have had.

It felt so good! The more I thought about it the more I knew I was on the right track. I just chose to adapt a little to the fact that my son is still not a teen and no longer in a school, so I decided I´d start by opening up to primary kids. In two years from now I will receive the teens as well.

I didn´t have a name yet, but when I was expressing to a friend what it was I wanted to offer – a place where kids could play and explore freely – it just came to me: EXPLORA (or Explore, in English).

A couple of days later, a friend of mine introduced me to the ALC network. That´s when I knew I had hit home. I had found the perfect format for Explora!

A healing experience

I knew it was going to be really good. Actually I suspected it was going to be great. But I didn´t expect any inner transformations to occur when I signed up for the ALF summer 2016.

Maybe because personal development and inner work is something I do on a daily basis, and when that is part of your everyday life you should be used to going deep and finding both crap and gold without it necessarily being a huge thing every time. Or maybe it was just because I knew I was going to be so focused on learning, playing and making loads of connections, that I really didn´t expect anything else. That mix is already juicy enough, if you know what I mean.

But I was wrong.  Totally wrong.

I came to Charlotte full of happy expectations but also carrying a deep wound inside me. Healing is a process that takes time, and I was okay with that. Some days are rough, others are great. You slowly move out of it. That´s just the way it is.

Being surrounded with more than 40 ALFs, so many like-minded passionate visionaries with the same passion for alternative education as myself, was thrilling, intense, crazy, and simply wonderful. But it also made me realize how lonely I´ve been down in Mexico.

No one to talk to about alternative education and self-directed learning. No one who could really appreciate what I was doing. No one who´s seen me for who I am, or who could understand and support me on a really deep level.

But the loneliness went so much deeper than that. I realized that I´d never before felt part of anything. I´ve always been the outsider, perceiving the world as a quite hostile and unfriendly place.

And there I was at Mosaic, feeling seen, heard, understood, supported, protected, loved, contained, cheered, hugged and PART OF an amazing group of people, all incredible role models. I felt I found my tribe, finally.

My tribe. What a special feeling.

And suddenly I felt crap about going back to Mexico. Mexico can be a really tough place to live in. I´ve never felt afraid or threatened or that it´s actually dangerous for me to be there. But it´s a macho country and I´m a foreign woman on my own. Things aren´t always moving easy and smoothly, to say the least.

I wasn´t at all okay with having to go back and confront that loneliness. I just wanted to stay with my tribe. Or maybe I could convince all of them to move to Mexico with me?

But everything has an end. And as I sat at the airport in Mexico City waiting for my flight to Puerto Escondido, I realized something had shifted within me. The way I perceive the world had changed. I could no longer see that hostility or unfriendliness. All I saw was a loving and supporting world. A world that loves me and that is safe for me to be in.

I don´t feel like an outsider any longer. I feel like I belong. Not only in my newly found tribe. I belong in this world and I am part of it. How incredible isn´t that?