Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Teaching Contabilidad

So a few weeks ago I attended a capacitacion de contabilidad (training on accounting) that was put on by one of the groups I’m working with. What could be more fun than 2 full days of lectures on balance sheets and income statements in Spanish, right? Anyway, I had some insights from the capacitacion that I am just now getting around to sharing.

People come 1, 2, 3, or 4 hours by bus, in torrential rain, in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, wearing cowboy hats and boots, dirty from working. The lencan women wear bright pañuelos, they sit scooted all the way back into their chairs and their feet can’t touch the ground because they are so short. A few bring their small children along because they can’t leave them at home. This particular taller (workshop) is two days so the people will stay overnight in La Esperanza, I expect with family or friends, but I’m not entirely sure.

The group I’m working with provides all the materials and three meals a day for the people. They hand out these ridiculous little notebooks that have cartoon cats and superheroes and butterflies on them. The best thing is watching 40 year old male farmers taking copious notes in their Rosita Fresita (Strawberry Shortcake here) notebooks. It’s just how they do it here. Business professionals of all shapes and sizes use these funny notebooks.

Something about the culture of school or education in general here leads people to take notes as if they were always writing down something very important like a last will and testament. They will copy down EVERY word that is posted on a powerpoint slide, EVERY formula written on the white board. Each time we do an activity and create presentation/charla papers, they have to copy down everything they just wrote on the papers. They won’t stop until they have rewritten every word in their Superman notebooks. The important point about all this is that in the future, I know how to create better powerpoints. People won’t listen to you or start activities until they’re done writing, so it’s best to keep the powerpoints simple. Other volunteers take note!

Another good thing is that the people at this training can write. Illiteracy is so common in the aldeas here, so these people already have a leg up. The bad thing is that I’m still not entirely sure they understand what they are writing so much as just copying it down because they have been indoctrinated into thinking this was the only way to learn. Still, you can see the focus in their eyes as they try to absorb this new information which must be so abstract to them. I have to admit that before coming to Honduras, I had only one brief course that touched upon accounting in grad school, community development finance. Even this wasn’t straight up accounting and it was one of my most challenging classes. I still don’t really get accounting and now in the Peace Corps they are expecting me to teach it. But that’s another story. Can you imagine how these people, who maybe only have a 6th grade education, are feeling when being presented with balance sheets? For them, basic math is challenging. Concepts like depreciation, liquidity, capital assets must be mind boggling. I admire them simply for taking the time to try to learn this stuff.

We got no breaks from the 8 hour lecture except for lunch, at which point I was wondering how I had gotten sucked into being there for two straight days. I was also a little skeptical about the group. At least one woman had been asleep for half of the lecture. Half of the group had not said a single word since coming in. Why come to this workshop for two days if you really didn’t want to be there? It was free, but the time and transportation were so rough it hardly seemed worth it. But the more I helped these people and the more I watched them, the more I felt like I was part of something really amazing that was going on.

First, you can really tell who’s getting it and who’s not. There were a few people who were answering questions and making good comments, and looked so enthusiastic you could just tell it was clicking for them. It’s unbelievably encouraging to have people who understand. I wasn’t even the teacher and I felt such pride, relief and joy for these people. It’s amazing to see people in the actual process of learning, it’s so rewarding. I can see now why teachers can enjoy their jobs. Just having a few students in your class who really comprehend the lesson and are so happy to be learning can make all the difference.

Second, even the people who maybe aren’t fully getting it are still picking up something. At the end of the workshop, everyone had nothing but positive comments that the sessions were interesting and that they were happy to have participated. Even the woman who was asleep for half of it was so grateful. I think this too is encouraging. The fact that even if they didn’t really get it, that they thought it was good information and would maybe pass some of it on or recommend the training to others, or just make one small change in their business - that is a victory too.

As Americans I think we are spoiled with information in so many ways (at least in most places, I do recognize that there are still severely underserved parts of the US). We have good schools, ready access to libraries and the internet. We are flooded at our jobs, churches, town halls and community groups with meetings, events, seminars, lectures, flyers, books, you name it. What’s worse, we take it for granted. We don’t realize how unique it is to have everything at our fingertips. Maybe every one of us doesn’t understand accounting, but we could drop down to Borders and pick up Accounting for Dummies in a flash for a few bucks. Here, there is a considerably greater amount of labor necessary to obtain the same information, a four hour bus ride each way, a loss of 2 days of work on your farm, overcoming poor literacy. Yet the 15 people who attended the capacitacion made the commitment to come to get the information, and this I think says more than I ever could about their determination, strength, and desire to learn.


  1. I have trouble with accounting and I have a college degree. I thing I hated about accounting class was that is not the kind of class where there are any discussions. further I had 10 hours of homework a week for the class. I went to my advisor and begged them to find a way that I did not have to take another semester of accounting. They found a way.

  2. Que interesante. Estoy alegre que ya sepa el trabajo de una maestra. I'm so glad you are doing some vital and useful things to fill your days. Watch out for that contaminated agua.