Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Makings of a Chocolatada

A typical Chocolatada/ Christmas party lasts from 2 to 2½ hours. Preparation time is considerably longer. The following is a laundry list of things that need to be accomplished, and is applicable to all Chocolatadas we’ve sponsored.

The process begins with a visit to schools that have requested our help. We normally receive 3 or 4 requests every year beginning in September. The first consideration during our visit is to try to gauge the financial condition of the school/community. Would there be no Chocolatada without assistance, or are they just looking for a free ride (it happens)?

When need is established the next issue is transportation. What we’re looking at is how far and how difficult is it to reach this community. In October we were invited to a beautiful little village located in an isolated mountain valley where we would have loved to sponsor a Chocolatada but the location made it a practical impossibility.  We were able to locate only one man with a suitable vehicle who would take us there but he wanted $315 round trip, which was not unreasonable given the distance and terrain but that was nearly our entire budget.

How much we have to transport and how many people are going determines the mode of transportation. Often we’ve needed to charter a combi (van), which gets expensive and depending on distance and total time can cost from $50 to $75. For the just concluded Puerto Arturo Chocolatada this truck was our transportation. Maribel and I rode up front with the driver. Milkito the Clown rode in the open back with the food, toys and other gear. He didn’t mind, and it saved us the cost of a second or larger vehicle. The driver…a friend of a friend charged us $27 for the 30 mile round-trip plus the 2 ½ hours wait time. That’s a pretty good price; better than other offers we received. I still hold out the hope that someday someone will offer to transport us for the cost of the gas alone.

If transportation looks doable we look next at the number of students enrolled including ages and sex. This information tells us how much food we’ll need and what kind and numbers of toys to purchase. Toys are usually the biggest budget item. We know that a school with over 60 or so students will be beyond our financial means. Purchasing toys is also the biggest time consuming activity. Big department stores such as Tottus and Plaza Vea are avoided as they tend to carry the larger, bulkier and more expensive toys. Our toys are purchased at very small family owned stores clustered just outside of central Chiclayo. They don’t have large inventories so it’s a case of buying 2 or 3 toys at this store, perhaps 5 at the next, and so on. It’s also the custom to negotiate at these stores. Maribel is a fierce negotiator and will get the best price possible.

The food items…paneton, chocolate, milk, sugar and candy are bought from whoever is offering the best price at the moment. Empanadas are ordered two days in advance from a small neighborhood bakery and picked up the morning of the Chocolatada.

A clown is standard, and finding one is not always easy. There are lots of activities going on in December and good clowns are booked far in advance. We’ve been fortunate so far in finding reliable clowns. The going rate for an experienced clown is about $70.

And finally, there are the on-site logistics to deal with. Does the school have an outside area sheltered from the sun to stage the Chocolatada? If not is there a large enough classroom? Will there be enough chairs for the students, and tables for food and gifts? Who is preparing the chocolate milk and will it be ready when food is distributed? Is there a CD player, speakers and microphone for the clown, and someone who knows how to operate it? I’ve noticed that clowns tend to get very temperamental when their act is disrupted by missed music cues. Do all the teachers and students know a Chocolatada is taking place on this date at this time (it’s surprising how often someone doesn’t get the word)? These are just a few of the picky details that need to be addressed to insure a successful Chocolatada.

Like all organized activities, whether it’s a college reunion in New York USA or a Chocolatada in Puerto Arturo Peru, a lot of up-front time and effort is required. For us 99% of that time and effort falls on Maribel. She does all the purchasing; makes all the arrangements and coordinates and oversees everyone’s efforts including those at the school, and when we’re on site she’s in the thick of things, handing out toys, serving food and doing whatever else needs to be done. I know it’s cliché but without Maribel there would be no Chocolatadas or medical campaigns or donated school supplies. 

When Maribel got into the truck to return home after the Puerto Arturo Chocolatada she said “mission accomplished.” She looked tired but there was a big, proud smile on her face. Later that evening she fell asleep at the theater during El Hobbit.

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