Almost every Monday morning throughout the year, a number of new volunteers from all over the world (but mostly Europe and North America) are introduced to life as a volunteer with La Esperanza Granada. CIARAN TIERNEY joined this week's group of new volunteers for their Orientation Day before they were sent out to work with the children in the rural schools.
It might be rainy season in Central America, but it was a gorgeous sunny morning as I made my way down Calle La Calzada, Granada's main tourist hub, for the 9.30 a.m. orientation meeting at the La Esperanza Granada office on La Libertad.
Awaiting me were the organisation's four newest volunteers, who reflected the mix of ages and nationalities who make up the small army of between 30 and 40 enthusiasts who usually work for La Esperanza throughout the year.
Most volunteers are probably in their 20s, but there can be quite a few in their 50s and 60s at certain times of year, and in recent weeks I have been struck by how many retired teachers come down to Nicaragua to use their skills for a hugely worthy cause.
Of this week's newbies, I had already hooked up with Matt and Feliz (better known as Navi), a couple from New Mexico, USA, in their mid 20s, as they had moved into my shared volunteer house over the weekend. Also sitting expectantly in the office were a sprightly German lady in her 60s, Brigitte from Berlin; and Jessilyn from California, who had volunteering experience before in Argentina.
From talking to them, it soon became clear that all four had a great enthusiasm for working with young children and for improving their grasp of the Spanish language during their time in Granada.
Navi has experience as a special education teacher in Albequerqe, Matt has worked as a youth mentor, and with ''at risk'' youth, in the same city, while Jessilyn is a high school teacher. Brigitte, who is fluent in three languages, has volunteered with sporting organisations in the past but this is her first adventure in Central America.
All four intend to volunteer with La Esperanza for at least two months, while Matt and Navi have considered staying for up to six months once they get used to life in Granada. They will help with the summer camps after the end of the school year in November.
First off, we met "ayudante'' Karen, one of the local staff of La Esperanza Granada. Karen gave them a brief outline of the organisation's structures and aims (to provide education at a basic level in eight local schools) and then assigned each of the four of them to their schools.
There, they will work one-on-one with primary school children with particular needs, providing them with the attention teachers simply cannot provide in classes of up to 70 students in the villages outside Granada.
After the briefing, we met up with Mark Turner, an American retiree who has been with La Esperanza since 2002. We piled into his jeep for a visit to four of the eight schools in which La Esperanza provide much needed help every day throughout the school year.
A 20 minute drive through some scenic countryside, under the shadow of the picturesque Volcan Mombachu, brought us to Juan Diego, one of the biggest schools in the region, where La Esperanza have provided the funding for newly completed classrooms.
There, we could see some volunteers working away with the children, helping them with basic literature and counting skills on the grass outside. I told the new volunteers they were lucky, as the heavens had opened here during the day of my own 'orientation' and, given the state of the potholed secondary roads, many of the children never make it to the schools on the really wet days.
It was good to talk, en espanol, to some of the ''ayudantes", former pupils of the schools who, thanks to La Esperanza Granada and sponsors overseas, have been able to attend University at weekends. They work with the NGO from Monday to Friday and, thanks to their generous sponsors, are able to attend University in the city every Saturday.
Working with La Esperanza has given them wonderful experience and confidence, in terms of organisational skills, tour guiding, administration, and providing education as a much-needed back-up to the teachers.
Our tour took us to the Elba Zamora school, where the children rushed out of the classes to greet the new volunteers. A little bit of disorganised chaos for just a few minutes. Their enthusiasm was pretty impressive for a Monday morning!
Mark took us through a pretty 'dodgy' road to the San Ignacio school, deep in the countryside. All around the school, the poverty was palpable, as we wondered how the families living in tin huts manage during periods of heavy rainfall.
We timed our trip perfectly as we arrived just when La Esperanza's little two woman computer team were arriving with their collection of electronic video games.My God, what excitement! Apparently, it is the only time in the week in which there is total silence in any class in the school as volunteer Audrey (from France) and ayudante Karla, who is studying software engineering, distributed the 22 mini-computers which La Esperanza received thanks to generous donations in July 2010.
These children never get access to computers, and their joy at being able to use one for 40 minutes once a week was a revelation.
At each of the schools, the four volunteers were introduced to the ''ayudantes" and fellow volunteers who would be working with them over the coming weeks and months, with arrangements made for meeting up to travel out to the schools the following mornings.
Then we headed back to the office where another "ayudante", Donald, briefed the new arrivals further about their roles in the schools. He discussed travel arrangements each day, the homework clubs, security and safety, and how they would be expected to behave.
Afterwards, we met Belkys, who is probably the 'joker in the pack' among the 11 "ayudantes" with La Esperanza Granada. A young mother who is studying tourism, her role on Mondays is to provide the new volunteers with a briefing about Granada, during a short walking tour.
Even though all of the volunteers will be based in rural schools, she showed them where the weekly volunteer meetings are held (La Casa Blanca, on La Calzada), where they can change American dollars into cordobas, and where to catch the buses in the mornings for their journeys out to the schools.
Despite my promptings, me being an Irishman after all, she refused to show them how to find O'Shea's Irish Bar on the Calzada, where La Esperanza hold their hugely successful table quiz (a big social occasion for ex-pats and locals alike) every Wednesday night. But I pointed it out to them anyways...!
This week we have also uploaded a new two minute video in which American widow Bonnie Ditlevsen came to Granada with her two young sons in order to sponsor a child through secondary school. Bonnie and her sons visited the Elba Zamora school, where they met with Israel, who will be able to attend High School in Granada next year thanks to her generosity.
This is the link: