Nov 9, 2010

A magical connection

Patience is a virtue which our volunteers have to learn during their time with La Esperanza Granada, as things do not always run as smoothly or as swiftly in Nicaragua as they might expect back home. Which is why there was so much joy among volunteers, ayudantes, and students this week when we managed to set up our first Skype link between pupils in rural Granada and a school in the United States. Current volunteer CIARAN TIERNEY was on hand to join in the fun.

The value of acceptance was something I learned quickly from former volunteer Barbara Delahayes during my first couple of weeks with La Esperanza Granada when she refused to let frustrations and technological problems get her down.
On three occasions during my first couple of weeks with the organization, I accompanied Barbara and one or two of our ayudantes to the Elba Zamora school, where we had hoped to set up a Skype link with a school in St. Louis, Missouri.
The excitement among the children was palpable as we plugged in a computer from our office in their classroom, along with a modem from Claro, the Nicaraguan mobile phone company. Claro promised us that it would work, even in a rural school under the shadow of Volcan Mombachu. On a wet Tuesday morning, we managed to get the connection going, greeted the kids in America . . . and then the connection failed.
Try as we might, we could not get the internet to work. We moved to another class, we came back 24 hours later when the weather was much better, we even set up the computer outside in a yard next to the Granada-Rivas road. And all to no avail.
It was heartbreaking to see the disappointment on the faces as we sent the children back to their regular classes. But Barbara, a teacher from the US who volunteered with La Esperanza Granada for seven months last year, was determined to succeed.
She was back in Granada for a three week holiday and gave up a good chunk of her free time so that the link would succeed. I lost count of the amount of trips she made out to the school to try and get the link to succeed.
Unfortunately, we did not manage to get the link going from the Elba Zamora school. But with quiet determination, Barbara and our local staff vowed that it would work and we decided to try at another location. A trial attempt, without the children present, worked at the La Epifania school in late October.
We had to postpone the link by a week due to the 'Dia de Los Muertes' public holiday and, thankfully, the teacher in the Pierremont Elementary school in St. Louis, Shea Recker, had as much patience as Barbara!
Shea and her students never complained when we asked for more time, to put the link back when the connection failed, and so a group of us found ourselves heading out to La Epifania, armed with a computer, webcam, and mobile modem, on a gloriously sunny Tuesday morning.
The ayudantes had already established that there was no connection in the classrooms, so we put a bench in place and assembled some plastic chairs outside.
We had agreed on a start-up time of 10 a.m. and by the time we had linked up the computer to a power source, set up the camera, and got the children in place, it was drifting towards 10.25. I began to worry that the connection might fail again.
After exchanging a few emails with Shea the day before, we had agreed on a series of simple questions. Ayudante Vanessa, who is based at the school, wrote them out on a board. 'Cual es tu deporte favoirto?', 'Cual es tu comida favorita?', 'Cual es tu animal favorito?' or 'Donde vives?' among others.
Vanessa rehearsed the questions with the children, hoping to avoid 'stage fright', while Karla and I switched on the computer and got the Skype link going. We got a connection, but there was no sign of  Shea on the other side . . . as the children began to lose interest, and some even ran out into the playing field nearby, we wondered whether the whole thing would fail again.
And then, magically, the call came through from the USA and a little ripple of excitement went through the assembled children.
Suddenly, Shea and her students were greeting us, all the way from America. Some of the Nicaraguan children became nervous by the prospect of talking 'live' on a computer for the first time, while others were thrilled by the opportunity to exchange information with these young Americans.
Shea's youngsters, ten in total, have been studying Spanish for a while and they came to the computer, one-by-one, armed with three prepared questions. We laughed at the ones who liked pizza, or monkeys, and wondered whether their definition of 'football' was of the soccer or 'grid iron' variety.
Rabbits and monkeys were among the favourite animals on both sides of the Skype connection and the children were curious to find out how many brothers and sisters the young Americans had, or how far away they lived from school in St. Louis.
Thankfully, the connection only broke down twice, and we managed a good hour and 20 minutes on-line, as the children exchanged basic information about their families, hobbies, and favourite things with their new friends.
It took us from late September  to mid-November to get the link up and running, but it was worth it as soon as we saw the keen interest of the children.
Access to the Internet, something which so many children take for granted all over the world, is a rare treat in Nicaragua and it proved to be a hugely enjoyable morning for everyone involved.
Already, we are planning another link with the same school for next week.
It just goes to show that you should never give up hope, as Barbara showed me during my first week with La Esperanza Granada. Six weeks later, even if she wasn't with us in person any more, her quiet determination paid off.
And, for an hour and a half, children in the USA and Nicaragua were able to share a little of their lives. It made a very ordinary school day seem quite extraordinary after all.


Thanks to Shea, Barbara, and ayudantes Karla, Belkys, Vanessa, and Chilo for their wonderful patience in finally getting this project off the ground.




1 comment:

  1. This is a great story. I loved watching the video. It is exciting to see children from all over the world connect with each other.

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