Kayla Mernoff stops by to let us in on her summer music volunteering in the Galapagos!
Within minutes of arriving on the island of San Cristobal for my music volunteering program in the Galápagos, I had already seen a beach, a few sea lions, and probably got a little bit sunburnt. It was an incredible feeling, to say the least. At that point in time I didn’t know how quickly four weeks could go by, and how much of an impact this trip would have on my life.
I arrived at my host family’s house and was immediately greeted by my host parents who were waiting to help me carry my suitcases to my room and introduce me to the rest of the family. I learned pretty quickly that they spoke almost no English, and while this seemed slightly intimidating at first, I was excited to improve my Spanish. After a trip to the office and a tour around the town, I discovered that I would spend my time teaching beginning English, and then working with a teacher at the local music school. While I was not expecting to teach English, I was up for the challenge and excited for what lay ahead of me.
The first few days of work took a little adjustment, but I soon got into a routine. At the time there was one other volunteer working with me at both the office and the music school, and she showed me how everything was laid out and how she went about teaching. The group of five year olds I was working with in the English class liked to run around, climb on top of me, and pretty much do anything except do their work. Though they seemed very against productivity at first, I soon learned how to have fun and teach them the alphabet at the same time. As I do speak Spanish, the language barrier was not a huge issue, but I did learn that it is sometime difficult to understand little kids, no matter what language they are speaking.
At the music school we helped with the violin and beginner music classes, along with teaching private piano lessons. The kids were very interested in learning, and even though they were only between the ages of 3 and 6, I could tell that some of them will grow into talented musicians if they continue with their teacher, Alva. Teaching 3 year olds about the musical staff and treble clef was no easy task, but by the end of my four weeks, they even knew a few notes on the piano. My piano student also improved each week, even though he was always tired and I am not the best pianist, and this was definitely an encouraging feat for me. I was also given a chance to play trumpet (my primary instrument) at a local church, thanks to Alva! By the end of my trip I had two other volunteers working with me at the school, and we are now fluent in what I like to call “Spanish for musicians.” I connected so well with Alva that I am now working on a project to send her students more instruments, as they do not have very many. I look forward to keeping in contact with her and the students, and hope that I can provide them with the instruments that they need to teach more kids the joy of music.
As amazing as the opportunities to volunteer on the island were, I cannot leave out the incredible people that I met and places that I visited. Going into this I was unaware of how many different countries were represented by the volunteer staff. While I met volunteers from the United States, the majority of my friends were from Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and even Australia! We met up most afternoons after work, and sometimes again after dinner. We took daily trips to nearby beaches, went snorkeling with sea turtles and sea lions, saw the Giant Tortoises, and even got to travel to two of the other islands to explore, swim, shop, and just spend time together. I’ve mentioned sea lions a few times now, so I should probably mention that they are EVERYWHERE. They lie on the benches, play in the sand, ad make a lot of noise. We were advised not to go near them, and I saw plenty of people try to pet them, unsuccessfully I might add. Beware of the Alpha Male! One of my favorite memories of this whole trip was taking pictures at sunset on one of the nearby beaches, Playa Mann. I was able to bring my trumpet, and take an incredible picture right next to the sea lions. That picture is surely the best representation of my trip.
Overall, this was one incredible experience. The kids I taught all hugged me on my last day, and one of them even drew mea picture called “La Fiesta de Cumpleaños de Las Profes” (birthday party for the teachers). Between the kids, my host family, and all of the friends I made, I have people all over the world that I share these special memories with.
As much as learned on this trip about music, Spanish, and myself, I learned two major lessons that I will never forget: Glue and glitter do not mix with five year olds, and more importantly, never wake a sleeping sea lion.