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…

 

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?