Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Food for Thought

"We (North Americans) are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kids' soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world's inhabitants struggle just to eat every day. And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos, and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America. We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on."*

THIS is why I'm in Nicaragua.

*taken from the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...And Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, pg 28

Monday, February 20, 2012

Schools in San Fernando and Las Limas

I know a lot of people are interested in knowing more about the schools in Nicaragua, and while Tim McMahon and his wife were here, Tim and I had a chance to visit two rural schools with Martha as our guide. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for all of us...but I will let the pictures do the talking.

Part 1: San Fernando
The first school we visited was in San Fernando, a rural community to the south of El Sauce. This community received a well last year that was donated by a collaboration between Ciudad Hermana and El Porvenir, an NGO that does a lot of work especially building wells in poor rural communities. The school in San Fernando was built by World Vision and educates 72 students according to the sign out front:
Outside of the school in San Fernando

There are three classrooms with minimal supplies. When we visited, school still wasn't in session, so the classrooms weren't cleaned or arranged yet, but these images still give a pretty good idea of how little the teachers and children at this school have:
Classroom 1: old chalkboard, a couple posters, dirt floor, and wood desks, some of which are partly broken
Classroom 2: ceramic floor, old chalkboard, table and chairs, and wooden desks

Classroom 2 other side: classroom decorations/projects

Classroom 3: ceramic floor, some desks, and a chalkboard with a poster about Nicaragua's independence

Classroom 3: whiteboard balanced on two chairs

The bathrooms are outhouses put in by Word Vision. Keep in mind there are 72 children attending this school...
Three outhouses for the 72 students, plus a few swings
I think the part of this visit that most struck us was when we saw the preschool area. It is a makeshift area that we (meaning people from the US) wouldn't keep livestock in. And supposedly, their preschoolers are supposed to learn in here. Take a look at these pictures and think of your youngster, or a cousin, neighbor, or any child you know, and think how you would feel if that child had to attend school in these conditions:

Now, we're not 100% sure it is actually functioning as a preschool, it's just what Martha had heard. Martha and I are going to investigate this now that the school year has started. If there are children trying to learn in this area, we were thinking of ideas to start a project to clean it up and make it presentable for learning to take place. We want to talk to the community and see how the parents feel and if they would be interested in helping fix the area up so the children can have a dignified classroom. So, keep this school in your prayers in the meantime, and I will keep you updated on what we figure out and if we can do a project to help this school, because if so, we will need all the help we can get!

Part 2: Las Limas
Our second visit for the day was to a rural school called Las Limas, which is to the north of El Sauce (past the hospital, for those of you who know where the hospital is). This is another rural school that has a number of estudiantes becados (children on scholarship) from one of the projects of Ciudad Hermana.

There is one teacher in this school, and he lives in El Sauce and rides his bike about 30 minutes over the extremely uneven and dusty road to get to the school. During rainy season, I'm sure his ride to school is another adventure that I can't even imagine right now! This school is a primary school, meaning it offers 1st through 6th grade. Remember, though, that there is only one teacher for all of the children. There are about 25 children in 1st-6th grade here, plus a few in preschool.

Since this is a rural school, and the children have to travel long distances to get to and from school, attendance becomes a major problem during the rainy season. Some children literally can't go to school because they would have to cross a river if it's a very rainy year. As a result, generally only 1-3 children complete 6th grade in this school. Really puts things into perspective, no?

Following are some pictures of the school, surroundings, and classroom.

Tim McMahon, Martha, and I outside the school building. Blue and white are the national colors, and a lot of schools are painted like this.

One outhouse for the 25-30 children. Apparently the boys find another place to do their business if this one is occupied...

View of the classroom from the back. Just enough room for all the desks, the teacher's desk, and the chalkboard!

Martha sitting in one of the desks. You can also see some of the posters from class projects.

Bookcase holding the workbooks that the children use.

Teacher's desk! In the background, you can see a poster of the children on scholarship, though I think it needs updating.

Botiquin, or medicine cabinet. Teacher = school nurse as well...

Teacher's chair. All of you teachers out there, go give your chair a big hug and thank your principal for taking good care of you!

Class schedule
Poster that shows attendance, food rations (the gov't provides some rice, beans, and cereal to the children), and classroom jobs.

Martha, Tim, and I in the school/classroom

Now, keep in mind this is an example of some of the rural schools here in Nicaragua. The schools in El Sauce proper have more resources, but what you see in these pictures is a reality for thousands of schoolchildren in Nicaragua.

To all of the teachers reading this blog, share this with your students and talk with them about the struggles other children have to overcome to get to school and to get an education. To all the students reading this, think about this next time you are about to complain about doing homework or having to get up early for school. Be thankful that you have a bus to pick you up or parents to drop you off, and that you don't have to walk or bike to school over rough terrain or through rivers to get to school. Be thankful that you have computers and SMARTBoards and don't have to copy lessons from the chalkboard. Think about the obstacles children in other areas have to overcome to get an education, and how much they appreciate the opportunity to get an education, because they know it's their only way out of poverty. Pray that they do indeed realize that getting an education is their only way to overcome the cycle of poverty, and that their teachers wouldn't give up hope for their students and the incredibly important job they have to equip the next generation.

If you're really motivated or moved by this, think about how you can help children in another area, whether in Nicaragua or elsewhere. There are plenty of schools that are seriously lacking in funding, teachers, materials, you name it. I know that the Hilton School District in Hilton, New York is already developing a number of projects to help the schools and community in El Sauce, and I'm eternally grateful for that. Keep up the good work, and please please please let me know what I can do to help your projects be successful while I'm here in El Sauce.

It is really encouraging to see all of the people who are willing to give of their time and money to help others, and I have hope that eventually, if we all work together, every child will have all of their basic needs met, including getting a good education. Just remember, nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something, and every penny, every pencil, every prayer helps. Don't wait for other people to do something, because what if that other person is waiting for you to do something? Think what YOU can do right now, and do it! A child, parent, teacher, student somewhere will thank you from the bottom of their heart. And you will never be the same.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ciudad Hermana/Hilton Donation Stage 1: Collecting and Packing Donations

One of the projects that Ciudad Hermana (the Sister City program between Rochester NY and El Sauce, Nicaragua) is working on is sending a large donation of school supplies, used clothing, and supplies for the hospital to benefit the community of El Sauce. They will be sending the donations on a cargo ship bound for Managua, which will be then sent on truck to El Sauce after going through customs. Then, Martha and I will have the pleasure of opening all the boxes, sorting the donations, and distributing them to the schools, children, and people most in need in this area. It should be quite the interesting experience!

As the title of this post suggests, the first stage in this process of course was to get the donations. Ciudad Hermana members and friends collected many supplies to donate for this shipment, but they weren't the only ones to get in on the fun! Back in October, Martha, the employee for Ciudad Hermana that runs all the programs here in El Sauce, visited Rochester to spread the word about the program and see if more people would like to be involved in some way. One of the schools she presented at was Hilton High School, and the students and principal were so impressed by Martha and the program that they wanted to get involved.

One of the ideas they came up with was to run a school supplies drive to donate send on the shipment. From what I understand, the International Baccalaureate (IB) students were in charge of organizing this drive, gathering all of the donations, organizing them, creating a master list of everything, and packing the boxes. It sounds like they put a lot of work and time into this, and we are incredibly grateful for all of the efforts of the students, Mr. Bartalo (this principal), and everyone who donated!

Mr. Bartalo and Tim McMahon shared some pictures of the IB students organizing and packing all of the supplies, and I want to share them with all of you so you feel part of this process! My plan is to take pictures of the whole process...receiving the donation, unpacking everything, and distributing it so you can all see who has benefited from the donations!

 Tons of school supplies!!!

 Hilton HS IB student helping organize the donations

 Mr. Bartalo with the packed boxes

IB Students: Emma Steinmetz, Jessica Marengo, Katie Wroblewski, Mark Romig, and Nadia Wallace

Mr. Bartalo, HS IB students, and Tim McMahon, member of Ciudad Hermana

Tim's car packed with school supplies donations!
Thank you so much to everyone who participated in this! I will keep you posted as the process develops!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sad Days in El Sauce

I have some sad news to share with all of you; I have debated whether or not to share this with everyone since I want this blog to be positive and uplifting, but I think it’s important for all of you to know about some recent events that have deeply affected El Sauce. 

A couple of weeks ago, the mayor’s 17 year old son, Alejandro, was in a very serious motorcycle accident along with one of his friends. The friend escaped with minor injuries, and from what I understand is doing well. Alejandro unfortunately had very serious injuries and was immediately taken to the military hospital in Managua to be treated. He had major cranial injuries, and the doctors said pretty much from the beginning that there was nothing they could do because of the severity of his injuries. 

On Sunday, January 29, Alejandro passed away in the evening. As you can imagine, last week was a very sad week for El Sauce. It’s always hard to lose young lives, and I think this town was hit very hard by this tragedy because Alejandro was so well known and loved, and because his mom is such a prominent figure in town. I can’t imagine what Rosita (Alejandro’s mom , and the mayor) and her family are feeling right now. My heart goes out to them as they try to make sense of this tragedy and go on with their lives without such an important person to experience everything with them. The town has rallied around them and supported Alejandro’s family as best as it can, though I’m sure the pain the family and friends are feeling are beyond description and comprehension. 

Last week, they had services in the cathedral in El Sauce every evening for three days after his death, which was a beautiful way to commemorate his young life. On Monday afternoon, they had a memorial service in the cathedral which was packed with family, friends, and SauceƱos supporting the family. After the service, nearly the entire town followed the procession on foot from the cathedral to the cemetery. It was a very powerful experience to see so many people there to support the family of Alejandro; literally all you could see was crowds of people either walking in the procession or lining the streets watching all of us who were walking to the cemetery to pay our respects. 

In addition to all of this pain and suffering, one of my friends from El Sauce (Teresa, the librarian from San Luis Gonzaga – the school where I’ve been teaching English) has been doubly hit by this tragedy. First, her nephew was the friend on the motorcycle with Alejandro. Plus, her teenage daughter was Alejandro’s girlfriend, and was understandably devastated by the accident. The day before Alejandro’s death, her daughter tried to take her own life and ended up in the hospital in Leon. I was able to see Teresa at Alejandro’s funeral service, and she looked absolutely devastated. From what I understand, her daughter is still not in good shape. Not only did the pills she consumed take a toll on her body, but she also is under supervision by a psychiatrist, and they are very worried about her safety both physically and mentally.

Part of my reason for writing this post is to ask all of you to keep Alejandro’s and Teresa’s families in your prayers. My heart is breaking for all of the people affected by this tragedy, and I know that they are in desperate need of being surrounded by prayer. I can’t imagine the pain Rosita and her family are feeling having their son taken from them so abruptly. I worry about my friend Teresa and pray that she can find strength to be there for her daughter as they go through the healing process that I’m sure will seem endless to them. 

I would sincerely appreciate if all of you would join me in praying for this situation and these people so that they would feel God’s love and support and know that they are not alone, and that when the time is right, they might begin to make some sense of everything that has happened. Pray for them to lean on God and their friends and family and for all of us to become a support system for those who are suffering so that together we may overcome this obstacle. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!