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Letter from Zapallal: December 2013

 

1st November (All Saints) is a national holiday here and it is the day when people remember and honour their dead. The cemeteries are full and it is necessary to have police to control the traffic but still there are jams, we had a meeting that day in Lima and it is necessary to pass three large cemeteries which can add quite a bit to travel-time.

This has been a fairly busy month with a lot of preparation for the pupils who at the end of the week will be making their First Communion or receiving Confirmation, they are always big family occasions.

stall

Several pupils in the 5th year have been involved in various exams for scholarships for universities or higher education. We have candidates for BCP scholarships, which would entitle the winners to receive their tuition free in the university of their choice. Seven pupils have so far passed the first stage, some are sitting for the scholarships for the universities either Católica or Ruiz de Montoya, and a largish group recently sat for TECSUP, the leading technical institute. As yet, I haven’t heard of the results but we normally do pretty well. These scholarships offer opportunities for the pupils to improve their chances in life and help their families.

Our 1st and 2nd years take part in the project ‘Emprendiendo Aflatoun’, named after a Dutch child to encourage younger children to take an interest in business and commerce, so recently there were loads of tables and stalls where various groups of pupils were selling or promoting their wares from the different workshops. It certainly was like running the gauntlet to pass through as all were very keen that you ‘collaborated’. There was some good work on display.

play

Closer to home for me was the English Drama presented by the 5th year. As always, there was a tremendous amount of creativity and imagination, especially in the making of costumes, from recycled materials, or props. Some of the scenery showed real artistic talent. The English is sometimes challenging but I normally manage as I usually translate their scripts. It always comes as a surprise to me that in their evaluations they all regard it very highly, even if being critical of their own efforts. ‘Unforgettable’ is a word frequently used. For a week the library becomes a workshop and theatre and their final offering will be a newspaper in English, covering their last year in school.

voting

This was also the month for elections. The first was the internal elections for the school council, which is obligatory. Four parties put their names forward and we had what they call a debate here but it was in fact a time to put forward their manifestos and answer questions on them. There were no discussion between the candidates, and then a couple of days later there were the actual elections, when all pupils from 6th primary to 5th secondary had to vote. The 5th years were in charge of the actual voting process, exactly like general or municipal elections – identity document, voting slip (with booth), ballot box, signature and fingerprint. The winners were a clever blend of bright and popular pupils, gaining more than 51% of the votes. As always, we now wait to see if the ‘politicians’ will keep their promises. I can almost recite every manifesto as it is virtually the same things every year.

There were also the municipal elections. These always take place on a Sunday and to make sure everyone is in a fit state of mind and body, no alcohol can be sold or served from Friday evening to Monday morning. I have no information about this but it would be interesting to know if the posh hotels in Lima close their bars and don’t serve drinks at dinner.

house-on-fire

The school was saddened to learn that a family of the school had lost their house and all their belongings in a fire. The materials of many of the houses are highly flammable and cooking is often over an open flame, though I don’t know what was the cause of this fire. Some years back a gas cylinder exploded and in the space of half an hour two hundred houses were destroyed. Parents rallied round and besides collections, groups came in to prepare and sell various food dishes, as I write, parents are doing the same thing for a very sick child in the primary section.

On 25th at 3.06 in the afternoon, there was a very powerful and long earth tremor. In fact it seemed as if there was a slight pause and then an after-shock, pupils evacuated the classes in very good order and in quick time without the alarm being sounded. The movement and the rattling of windows were more effective. It was interesting to see that the exercise was much more efficient than when we have earthquake drills.

speech

We have just over two weeks left of teaching time, then exams and the pupils will go home to return on 28th for the official closing of the school year. The teachers will carry on working though they will Christmas Eve free! With such a short time for the pupils in school I always try to get the library crib up just after the first Sunday of Advent, so that is a job to look forward to.

Soon it will be Christmas. I’ll be going to England at the end of exams so I’m not sure when my next letter will be but friends could keep me in touch with things here and provide news for January. Christmas celebrations will be muted here as there is not much money for extras. Cards and presents will be scarce. They certainly are in tune with the poor Family of Bethlehem. Thank you to all who by their support help us to bring about some changes in the lives of some of our families.

I would like to wish you and yours all the blessings of this lovely season, especially love and peace, carrying on over through 2014.

God bless,
Brother Mark

PS. This really is the latest news. I have just witnessed, sitting in the library, five houses on the hill above the school being destroyed by fire. Within ten minutes there was no hope, despite efforts by neighbours to save them and within less than 25 minutes it was all over. The emergency services arrived when the fire was all but out but at least they could dampen the area and stop any spread. It must be heart-breaking to see your house and all your possessions destroyed without any hope.

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