A wonderful scheme which allows gifted young students from the poorer ‘barrios’ outside Granada to attend University at weekends, while working for La Esperanza throughout the week, was launched at the start of 2008. The 11 local ‘ayudantes’ play a key role in liaising between our team of foreign volunteers and the local children, schools, and communities. CIARAN TIERNEY profiles three of the ‘ayudantes’, including the first two ever to graduate from University.
The local ‘ayudantes’ (or assistants) play a key role in the life of La Esperanza Granada, as they are the first point of contact between our team of volunteers and the staff and management in the rural schools.
These gifted young people work voluntarily for the organization for about five to seven hours per day, from Monday to Friday, in return for a stipend of US$80 per month. They liaise with the teachers and volunteers, they organize school tours and dental visits, entertain the children in summer camps, and give them precious opportunities to work on our computers.
Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, they are then given the opportunity to attend University at the weekends. Like many of the poorer people in Nicaragua, they only attend University on Saturdays. Courses which might take three years for full-time students last for five years for the students who attend at weekends.
The ayudantes come from the communities we work in and are seen as role models for the children, as they offer hope of a brighter future and the prospect of further education for families who cannot afford to send their children to College.
This is a special time for La Esperanza Granada, as the first two of our ayudantes are just about to graduate from University. Here we profile Lourdes and Dimas, the first two graduates, and 23-year old Donald whose difficult life story has been truly inspirational.
But all of our ayudantes are inspirational, from Karen who has come from a huge family to work as a very able office administrator to Esther, Vanessa, and Chilo, who work in the heart of their impoverished communities. And then there’s Belkys, the 20-year old single mum and ‘joker in the pack’ who crams so much into her busy life.
Orphaned at the age of two, Donald really is an inspiration to the children around Granada. Reared by an aunty until the age of ten, and by his grandmother between 11 and 16 years, when she also died, life has not been easy for this young man who is determined to give something back to the community that spawned him.
He lived with his aunty and his cousins after his beloved ‘abuela’ died and living in their house, right beside the La Epifania school, brought him into contact with our team of foreign volunteers.
If you ask Donald what would be his dream job, he would love to be a teacher back at his own primary school, to help other poor kids in his own poor community of El Hormigon. He loves working with children and likes helping others.
Unfortunately, in Nicaragua, to become a teacher requires full-time study and Donald was unable to afford to go to University after completing high school. But he heard about the ‘ayudante’ program thanks to his close association with the La Epifania school and, thanks to La Esperanza Granada, has been given the chance to study Tourism Administration every Saturday from 7.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I love working with children, but I also like working with foreigners, to have the chance to show them how beautiful Nicaragua is,” says Donald, who helped to organize the 2010 end of year school tours. “I love my time with La Esperanza because I get a chance to work with the foreign volunteers.
“My aunty’s house is right beside the La Epifania school and it was there that I met the foreign volunteers and heard about La Esperanza Granada. After I finished school, I wanted to be a teacher, but that was an impossible dream for me. If it wasn’t for Pauline and La Esperanza I would never have got the chance to go to University.”
He began life as an ‘ayudante’ at the start of 2008 and has since worked in three schools, La Epifania, Elba Zamora, and La Prussia, making friends from all over the world. More recently, he has been the overall schools coordinator, dealing with all eight of our schools.
“I love working with children, helping with their homework or if they have any problems in or outside school,” he says. “I love my work with La Esperanza Granada, because I get a chance to help them.
“It is very difficult here, because not all the children who want to will get a chance to go to University. It hurts me that we cannot help them all. I enjoy helping others and love to work with young people. Around my community, I know all the children and some of them don’t have support from parents, so I can relate to them."
Lourdes del Socorro Garcia Diaz
The end of the current academic year marks a significant milestone for Nicaraguan student Lourdes Garcia Diaz as she joins Dimas Daniel Ulloa as one of the first two University graduates of our successful ‘ayudante’ programme.
Thanks to the generosity of her sponsors, and her commitment to voluntary work with La Esperanza throughout the past couple of years, Lourdes’ five years of study will come to a fruitful end when she qualifies as an architect in February.
Her success in completing the course has been a source of huge joy for Lourdes and her family from La Prusia as very few young people from her impoverished rural community ever get the chance to attend University.
Now determined to continue her studies through a post-graduate course, Lourdes says that the sponsorship programme made all the difference in getting her through five years of third level studies.
“It would have been very difficult for my parents to send me to University otherwise,” she says. “There are some University grants based on performance, but very few. Very few from my ‘barrio’ have made it to University, maybe three at a maximum, because we are very poor.
“I would like to keep studying now,” she says. “I have applied for a post-graduate course. After that, who knows? If I had a chance to work in Costa Rica, for example, I would take it because there are so few opportunities here in Nicaragua.”
She cannot believe her five years as a third level student are coming to an end and is hugely grateful to the sponsors who given her the chance to become an architect. And she sees the ‘ayudante’ programme as a great opportunity to give children something to aim for.
“I love working with the children in the schools, because they are such good fun,” she says. “They like to tell me that they want to be architects, too. There has been a lot of study and I don’t have much free time, but it has been worth it! My life will not be the same again. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye.”
Dimas Daniel Ulloa
This extremely quiet-spoken young man will show that dreams really can come true this month when Dimas Daniel Ulloa becomes the first La Esperanza Granada ‘ayudante’ to graduate from University.
As he is about to graduate as a civil engineer, along with fellow student Lourdes Garcia Diaz, Dimas is hugely grateful to the organization and the sponsors who gave him the opportunity to follow his dreams.
Since he became an ‘ayudante’, Dimas has brought over 500 children on dental visits and has become far more confident. It has been his chief role with the organization during a period in which he has also worked with the children in the Elba Zamora and San Ignacio schools.
Dimas hopes to secure work as an engineer now that he has finished University. Surprisingly perhaps, given that he lives in a historic colonial city, he is far more interested in modern buildings in places such as Matagalpa than the living history around him every day.
“I have sent my CV out to different companies and I would not mind working anywhere,” he says. “I am relieved that the five years of study are over and that I will have more time on my hands.”
“I love working with the children, the way they embrace you and make a big fuss when we come to the school,” he says. “I love organizing activities such as playing football.”
Because of him, over 500 poor children have visited the dentist over the past couple of years. And, thanks to his achievement in qualifying as an engineer, this young man from a poor family is seen as true role model in his community.