Humbled by the welcome of the Nicas
La Esperanza Granada has secured funding from an organization in Europe in order to launch an environmental awareness project in the schools for 2011, culminating in what promises to be an exciting trip to Managua Zoo next November. CIARAN TIERNEY talks to retired teacher and environmental expert Yves Parizeau about his preparatory work on the ground-breaking project which will launch in the New Year.
Nature trails, scenic walks in the countryside, and coloring games based on the plants and animals around them are going to be part of the curriculum of the children in our schools in 2011 when La Esperanza Granada launch a brand new project focusing on the environment in February.
Thanks to the dedication of Dutch volunteer Karin Van Eijk, who secured funding from a foundation in Europe, La Esperanza Granada will be in a position to improve environmental awareness in a fun way thanks to a new programme for the schools.
The programme was drafted by Canadian volunteer Yves Parizeau, who spent a month visiting the local communities, talking to the teachers and ‘ayudantes’ in the schools, and liaising with the foreign volunteers to ascertain environmental awareness on the ground.
Yves was genuinely moved by the welcome he received in these poor, rural communities during his time with La Esperanza Granada and left with a keen awareness of just how in tune Nicaraguans are with the flora and fauna around them.
He found that the children had a greater awareness for the simple things in life than their counterparts in Europe or North America and was impressed by their sheer joy in playing simple games outside, rather than being locked indoors with video games.
“One thing that struck me is that people maybe don’t realize how little their footprint is compared to the footprint in my country. It’s very small here. People still use horses and whole families go around on bicycles. They use banana leaves for plates,” he said.
“In a way, the children here are like we were growing up in Canada in the 1950s. They use sticks for baseball bats and plastic bags for footballs. They invent things. Their games are simple and they have a good time. I think a lot of our kids have lost their imagination because they have so much and they always want more. The kids here are very poor, but they spend a lot of time outside like we used to do 50 years ago.”
During his time in Nicaragua, he was moved by how sociable people with each other were during his trips around the country on public buses. People would not think twice about carrying another person’s child on their knee if a bus was full.
He loved the way people had time for each other, to sit outside and chat. Simple things that almost seem alien to a North American.
“There is more of a sense of community here,” he said. “When I was a kid a lot of people had rocking chairs and they would spend time talking to each other. People would sit outside at night in the fresh air. They are not all glued to the TV here in Nicaragua. It is something we have lost.”
He said that people in North America or Europe may have more cars or bathrooms, but that did not make them happier, and he felt that those living in the ‘first’ world had a more negative impact on the environment.
In Nicaragua, parents are not afraid to let their children go outside to play with their friends. They feel far more a part of the community. Yves felt that we could learn from them, even as foreigners come to help out and educate in what are poor, rural communities.
He was overwhelmed by the reception he received from the community when he went out to visit people in their homes, to assess their environmental awareness.
“A lot of organizations are coming to help and unfortunately there can be a dependency problem. There is a need to become masters of themselves and to believe in themselves. What I like about La Esperanza Granada is that they are there to support and not judge people about how they live,” he said.
“People who live in very, very poor houses did not mind letting me in. They always welcomed me and let me take as many pictures as I wanted. People here are closer to nature, plants, and animals. There is more of a connection.”
Yves has formulated a ten month plan, which will see students and teachers from the schools get involved in nature walks, drawing what they see, and getting to know the local plants and animals in the beautiful areas around their schools.
The teachers and children will also focus on recycling and renewable energy, linking up with other groups here in Nicaragua, and the project will end with what promises to be an exciting trip to the zoo in November.
The project will involve all the Grade Three and Grade Four students in the schools in which La Esperanza Granada is involved.
“November is the last month of the school year and we will be organizing a trip to Managua Zoo. The teachers will be involved right from the start. This has to be run by the local teachers and ayudantes if we want it to be successful,” he says.
“It would be nice if this would be more than just a ‘flash in the pan’. Even with very little money, we can have nature walks in which the children can have paper and pencils, coloring and felt pens, etc, at the ready. They can draw the plants and animals around them.”
He contrasted the fear which many North American parents have of letting their children play outside with how the young Nicas play games using materials from the natural world around them.
“Parents at home have too much fear. It is so nice and refreshing seeing the children playing little games out of whatever they have found around them. The kids know that they are part of a community and I think it is good to focus on what I think is positive,” he said.