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Learning, Unlearning, Relearning

by Ava McLaughlin Gagliardi, Belize ’15
Fordham University ’15
Librarian, St. Peter Claver Primary School

Settling into my life here in Punta Gorda has continued over this past month. My time has been spent creating a remedial reading program at school, shopping at the market and cooking meals, hanging out with neighbors in the evenings, leading our youth group and visiting friends on the weekends, and meeting new friends at parties and birthday celebrations. It has been full of the challenge to learn, as well as unlearning and relearning.

Teaching seven, eight and nine year olds has been a challenge–to learn how to keep them engaged, how to measure what they know, how to help them get past their struggles and have confidence in themselves. Progress is slow. I, at least, am learning loads each day! And figuring out the personalities and lives of the kids I teach has been helpful and enjoyable.

Most days, by the time I walk home from work the neighborhood kids are playing on our potholed dirt street or already hanging out on our veranda, looking for my community mates and I. These kids range from three to 14 years old and are mostly siblings and cousins. They stop by in clusters of two to eight at a time, so our house gets crowded pretty quickly when we invite them inside! They can be terrors if they aren’t doing something constructive, so I started letting them make an art wall of their coloring when they come to visit. Though I sometimes come back from a long day at school wearily anticipating their visits, they often turn out to be the highlights of my day. It’s great having the chats with these little ones, seeing their excitement at showing off their artwork, and letting them help me improve my Kriol. Best of all, they make me laugh!

There are some things I can easily accept will need to be learned or relearned; things I should be failing at, and trying again and again (making mistakes is the best way to learn, right?) such as teaching kids to read, finding my place here, speaking Kriol, and adjusting to the ways of a small town and new cultures.

It’s been harder to accept that I need to keep working on things I feel I shouldn’t be failing at or making mistakes with. Sometimes these are challenges I’ve faced in the past and am relearning here: living intentionally, accepting people where they’re at, surrendering control and expectations, and making time to care for my mental, physical, and spiritual health. Other times, these are attitudes, habits, and attachments I need to unlearn. Like my ideas of worthiness, success, and productivity. Or the identities and cultural norms that were more a part of me when I was living in the States, but have changed or no longer apply here in Belize. I’ve been challenged to accept and live with the discomfort and uncertainty these situations give me, rather than trying to escape or remove them (and their growing pains!) from my life.

Poco y poco, paso y paso. Little by little, step by step.

Or as my fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

It’s humbling to be reminded that I haven’t mastered these lessons I’ve learned before and, in some cases, need to take a second look at. And it reminds me of how cyclical life is, even the things we struggle with.