I want to introduce you to the man who you’ve all heard mentioned but not met, Joaquin Batres. He is my mentor here in El Salvador. He sent me the information I needed to come here, answered all of my questions, and arranged my housing. We co-teach several classes a week and spent off-time together. When I arrived, he told me how to stay safe and has helped me with difficult situations like problems getting access to cash here. So who is this Salvadoran Obi-Wan Kenobi?
Joaquin manages the Central American sector of Travel to Teach, the program through which I volunteered. He also founded TeachingYou.org, an organization to empower well-rounded young students in the public schools in El Salvador. They inspire and educate them to address life adversities through the learning of languages, skills and values. They also present opportunities to overcome economic disadvantages and be self-sufficient*. I’ve been the sole volunteer these two months and have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Joaquin. He is very serious about the mission of his program but has a very funny and light side also.
Like other 40 year olds in El Salvador, Joaquin grew-up during a bloody civil war and lived through the devastating earthquake of 2001. After the assassination of Cardinal Romero, his family and he were on their way to join the estimated quarter of a million people to be in and around the cathedral for the funeral. They were just a few blocks away from the cathedral when gunfire broke out there killing many. Fortunately, they had not reached the site of the funeral when the shooting began.
Joaquin went on to become a lawyer. He practiced for a few years but was spending his professional life looking at all of the bad things happening in his community. Joaquin is someone who wants to focus on the good in life. He left that profession and began working organizing tours. He is proud of the way he did this and the level of professionalism he bought to it. From the stories he’s told me, it was both fun and challenging. He went back to school for another five years for a degree in this field.
Eventually, he began to manage the volunteer experience for a succession of service organizations, including Travel-To-Teach. At first he managed just the program in Santa Tecla, and now he coordinates all of Latin America. He is very proud of the program here in Santa Tecla. In many other programs, you are simply a helper in the classroom reading stories or playing games with the children. Some other programs are designed so you teach in the morning and surf in the afternoon. Teaching You provides the experience of being a real teaching. I received curriculum topics three months in advance and a profile of my classes. It was expected that I would come prepared with lesson plans.
In 2012, Joaquin started a summer school program, through Teaching You. (The summer here is in December and January.) Summer school was designed to help girls with good academics and the right attitude to get ahead academically and be able to further their education and lives. Teaching You provides an incentive to the parents of the summer school students by covering some of the annual educational costs. This helps the parents to want to further their daughters’ education. It also supports a program to help such students get into better schools through scholarships. These students also get Joaquin’s personal touch. Repeatedly, I’ve seen him dash off to get supplies for one of these girls for a special project for a class using either Teaching You funds or his own.
I am expected to be on-call to the school Monday to Friday during class hours. I teach a total of eighteen classes over a four day week. Joaquin teaches about twenty-four classes a week, including co-teaching twelve with me. He started being a presence in the classroom three years ago when there was a shortage of volunteers in the program. In addition, he spends time working to find volunteers, managing the Central American program and working on a website to promote Teaching You. He has also given generously of his time to me taking me on excursions ranging from a few hours to a fourteen hour trip to La Palma.
After working with him for five weeks, I can say that Joaquin is a guy who knows how to get things done in a place where it can be difficult to get things done. He cares deeply about his country and the children in the program. They go hand-in-hand because Joaquin takes a long view. He knows these children are the future of his country.
The top photo is Joaquin with one of our students at a recent function.
*Adapted from http://www.teachingyou.org/about.html