Dec 10, 2011

A volunteers blog:

Below is an entry from Lauren Slater's blog - a wonderfully readable account of volunteering in Nicaragua - ( for more of Lauren's great blog)

Working in the schools here is both an exhilarating and frustrating process. I absolutely adore the kiddos with whom we work; they are excited to learn, they take great pride in their studies, and they are eager to demonstrate that they have learned something new.
The culture of the schools here certainly has its opportunities for growth. School is often cancelled without much notice: because of rain, because it’s the day before the day before the day before the holiday, because the teachers want to have a meeting, or just because.
When school is in session, the students are eager to get everything correct on their worksheets and to always have the right answer. As soon as they are done, they throw their papers in the air and yell “teacher, teacher!” asking if they’ve gotten the correct answers. If we write anything but a check mark on their papers, their faces show immediate disappointment that they have gotten something wrong. Their enthusiasm for learning and participating in English class is fantastic.
Their interest in success often leads them to copy from a friend, memorize an answer instead of truly learning it, or ask us to simply tell them the correct answer. The habit of copying is one that is the hardest to deal with. Although we constantly ask children to work only on their own sheet and to not help out a friend, there is something understandable—and almost sweet—about their genuine interest in being helpful to a friend in need. Unfortunately, this does little good for the child we are trying to teach.
The teachers of each class add another element to the mix. Some of the teachers in the classes where we work are fantastic. They ask for a copy of the work we are doing so that they can test their own knowledge of English and see if they remember how to translate querer into English (usually, they do). When the kids are noisy, they demand “silencio!” and if we ask the students to repeat a phrase we have taught them—and they don’t do so with enough gusto—the teachers will wave their arms as if conducting an orchestra and ask them to speak the phrase again, with enthusiasm this time!
Other teachers are different. They interrupt the class in the middle of a lesson to make an announcement. They call to each other through the classroom windows, distracting the children. They talk to the students seated around them during the lesson, preventing the children from paying attention to the lesson being taught. These teachers make me worry about the quality of education that their pupils will receive.
The real differences in both the teachers’ attitudes and the students’ behavior in the classroom are dramatically reflected by the location of each school. One of the four schools in which we teach (I’ll call it “La Escuelita” for the sake of this post) wears me down each time we travel there, due to the attitude of the teachers and the disorder of the children in the classrooms.
Escuelita is the hardest school to get to, located far off of the main road from Granada, hidden deep in an impoverished corner of the community. The roads to this school are made only of dirt and are often difficult to cross due to large pockets of mucky water, garbage, potholes, and mud. The homes are scrapped together of miscellaneous material, and of little protection from the unforgiving rains. The school in their community is just 2 years old, and was funded by La Esperanza Granada. This means that these students either did not attend school before the building was created, or that they had to travel far to get to a school building. Were they able to make the journey every day? Did they have a quality education before these two years? These answers could explain a lot about their behavior.
In my first week, I lent a pen to a girl in La Escuelita who didn’t have her own. Although a pen might cost just 20 cordobas ($1) here, 20 cords is a lot of money. I forgot the rule that—although we help with necessary school supplies—we are to never lend or give anything to the students (as they might get used to the gifts or feel comfortable taking items without returning them). Of course, when I left the school that day, I left without my pen; I had forgotten which student I had given it to, and I felt foolish. The pen was from Mike’s company, and it had sentimental value to me, so I felt doubly disappointed.
Yesterday, after a hard day of school at La Escuelita with unruly students shouting in my classroom, I was ready to leave at the end of the day. As I walked out, I heard “teacher, teacher!” and I hesitatingly turned back. There, with an outstretched arm, was the little girl who had borrowed my pen two weeks earlier, ready to return it back to me. And with that small act I was ready to keep working hard for the students of Granada for another day.

Aug 5, 2011

Painting the new high school:

George Spencer school from Nottingham, U.K. have a group visiting us at present.  They are staying in the school Nueva Esperanza, and working with some of the children there, but also painting the outside of the new building for the high school which will open next school year, in February, 2012.

Great group of young people, maybe some of them might come back to be long term volunteers later in life - but for the present they are doing a great job there.

 Another task completed in this past week is to put lids/seats on the latrines in the schools of Jose de la Cruz Mena and in both of the San Ignacio schools.  We will check on the others soon to see if any more are needed in the other schools where we work.

Aug 2, 2011

Volunteers in Granada, Nicaragua:

Time to catch up as nobody has written our blog for a while - but we are still busy working as volunteer here in Granada, Nicaragua.  Lots of Spanish volunteers at the moment (total 42 overseas, 12 local), and other nationalities including German, Dutch, French, Canadian, Australian, U.S., U.K. to mention a few.  Yesterday we received our first application from Russian volunteers.  We should make a montage on the wall of the office with flags of all the countries where our volunteers have come from - if you're reading this, especially if you are from a country other than the main ones listed above, and have volunteered with us please send us a small flag for the wall.  Lets find out how many countries we can claim!

Apr 19, 2011

Hope and acceptance

I came across this blog from late last year on my own blogspot and thought I would share it here. A few weeks after this was written we managed to set up a successful Skype link between one of our schools and Barbara's school in the USA. Perseverance and patience paid off!


I guess it shows that quiet determination and acceptance are important for our volunteers. Today's frustrations lead to even greater rewards tomorrow...

by Ciaran Tierney

Hope and acceptance

Sometimes in life, things just don't go to plan . . . and this week I think I learned a lot about hope but, especially, the need for acceptance.
And I've had a few of my own prejudices challenged by someone way younger than me.
This week, my first as a volunteer with La Esperanza Granada, saw me visit rural primary schools outside the city on three different days.
During the first two, the rain bucketed down and many of the children were absent, unable or unwilling to make the journey through potholed roads. In Nicaragua, there is no compulsion on parents to send their kids to school.
On my second day, I met Barbara, a primary school teacher from the United States. She spent eight months volunteering with La Esperanza (Hope) last year and is back in Granada on holidays for a couple of weeks.
Not for her a trip to laze around or a chance to just lie by the lake during her break from her school in St. Louis.
Instead, she busied herself trying to set up a Skype link between her school in the USA and a small, impoverished school here in Nicaragua.
She purchased one of those mobile internet connections from Claro, one of the mobile phone operators here, and together with me and one of the 'ayudantes' headed to the school to instigate a link between the two classes.
My God, talk about excitement! The children were absolutely thrilled at the prospect of talking, in Spanish, to kids in the USA. Nervous and overjoyed, they sat down in front of the computer and roared out 'Ole' to the kids in America.
And then the connection died.
For the best part of an hour, Barbara tried to get Skype going again. But to no avail. Quietly, without any fuss, she accepted her lot, told the kids to write down their hobbies, a bit about their families, etc. for their conversations the following day. She got in touch with her counterpart in the US and organised a link up again for Wednesday.
It was raining on Tuesday, but gloriously sunny on Wednesday. And Barbara hoped that the weather was a factor. But this time she got no signal at all. The kids lined up again in front of the computer, and managed to mask their disappointment when nothing happened.
Barbara has another week of holidays and, after intense discussions with the mobile phone company, hopes to set up the link again. I sincerely hope it works out, for a bunch of kids who have never had access to the Internet in their lives.
My point? Well, Barbara taught me the value of quiet, stoic determination, and acceptance when things went wrong, even if she is probably 15 or 20 years my junior. Quietly, she accepted the disappointment, packed up the computer, and went back to Granada in the truck. But determined to do the link again.
In third world countries, things often go wrong. People put up with things that would result in endless moaning in first world countries like Ireland. The teacher and the kids shrugged their shoulders and got back to business in their class.
And Barbara taught me that it's too easy to make judgments about races or nationalities. Here was an American who gave up a year of her life to help out far less fortunate people in the second poorest country in the Americas. And she's back, a year later, on a break from her steady job to help out those children again.
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, from the little bit of news I am getting through the Internet and BBC World, all the talk is of doom and gloom, and the bankers, politicians, and developers who have wrecked our economy.
But every day I see poverty and levels of unemployment which would be unthinkable in Ireland, and yet - aside from the odd 'Gringo' comment - Nicaragua seems to be one of the safest countries in Central America.
I would love to see these people, who stood up to brutal colonial powers and corrupt right wing dictators, get even a fraction of the opportunities which were available to most of my generation (and certainly the younger generation) in Ireland.
They put up with crap and stagnation every day, but still manage a smile or a friendly gesture.
These people deserve more hope but, like Barbara, they can teach the first world quite a bit about acceptance.
Recession? Back home, nobody I know is sleeping under a tin roof or forced to work for just US$5 per day.
In recent years, as a single man with a good job in Ireland, I've probably managed five trips away each year to places like Spain, Thailand, Egypt, and France. In Nicaragua, they dream of getting out of the country just once ... in order to take up a crap, low paid job in Costa Rica or the USA.
Despite all the negativity I'm hearing from home, when I look at the lack of opportunity facing the lovely people of Nicaragua around me, I realise how fortunate I was to be born in Ireland.
And how unfair the world is. Just imagine if the American Government had the same outlook on life as Barbara, helping the less fortunate in their own back yard rather than spending a fortune on pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Enough of a rant, because this week I learned more than a little about about acceptance in the face of frustration.

Jan 26, 2011

Volunteering puts 'crisis' in perspective

Former volunteer CIARAN TIERNEY returned home to Ireland recently after five months in Central America, of which he spent ten weeks with La Esperanza Granada. Here he writes for his newspaper, the CONNACHT TRIBUNE, about his experiences in Nicaragua.

Not many people return home for Christmas with a heavy heart, but so rewarding was the experience of volunteering in Nicaragua over the previous three months that my feelings were mixed as I made the long journey back to Galway last month.
Volunteering in the Central American country, the final third of a wonderful gap year, proved to be one of the highlights of my life. It was amazing how the part of my career break which I had feared the most turned out to be the most rewarding.
Having become a professional scuba diver in Thailand and improved my grasp of Spanish in the Basque Country, I felt it was time to give something back in the final third of the year. But I had read so much about crime and poverty in Central America that I almost considered cancelling the final part of my global adventure. What a mistake that would have been!
For over three months, I based myself in the beautiful old colonial city of Granada, helping out with a small organisation, La Esperanza Granada, which helps with the provision of education in eight rural communities.
Shocked at first by the living conditions of these desperately poor people, many of whom live in primitive tin huts despite daily temperatures of over 30 degrees, I joined a team of between 30 and 35 volunteers from all over the world who were humbled by the welcome of the locals.
There was one other Irish volunteer, a teacher in her 30s from Wexford, and the city even had an Irish pub called O’Shea’s, owned by Tommie Griffin from Dublin. Tommie (74) had moved home after a lifetime in the US, but couldn’t settle, which is why he opted to open up a pub in Nicaragua, of all places, three years ago.
‘La Esperanza’ means ‘Hope’ in English and Nicaragua is a country which is crying out for hope. In all of the Americas only Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake and a cholera outbreak in 2010, is poorer.
Ravaged by years of war and economic stagnation, it was strange to be in such a deprived (but spiritually rich) place while there was so much talk of a ‘crisis’ back home. In Nicaragua, virtually nobody can afford to buy a car and it’s not unusual to see an entire family of five or six on a bicycle. People still use donkeys and carts, there are few employment opportunities and much emigration, and yet people seem happy.
While our volunteer teams went out to the schools to provide one-on-one tuition, computing and English classes, and sporting opportunities to underprivileged children, the children and their families also taught us a lot about the value of community spirit and making the most of life.
Even though they relish the chance to use a simple computer for 40 minutes once a week, Nicaraguan children love to get out and play. They make footballs from wrapped-up plastic bags and baseball bats out of trees.
There are no such things as ‘strangers’ in Nicaraguan culture, so parents never worry about allowing the children to play outside. On crowded buses or in taxis, children are passed around from person to person so that they can find a seat. People chat to each other all the time.
Reggaeton and salsa music blasts out of huge sound systems on the buses, as Nicaraguans associate silence with sadness. So weekends away to the volcanic island of Ometepe, the Pacific resort of San Juan Del Sur, or the revolutionary city of Leon became music-filled adventures on the roads.
Only 30% of Nicaraguan children complete primary school and teenage pregnancies are a huge issue in the country, which is why La Esperanza Granada concentrates on assisting with education at a very basic level.
The organisation sponsors 90 children through secondary school and a further 11 ‘ayudantes’ (or helpers), who work full-time for La Esperanza for US$80 (about €60) per month in return for being sponsored through University at weekends.
My job involved making videos of the volunteers at work, organising the weekly volunteer meetings, and bringing computers out to the schools where the joy of the youngsters was overwhelming.
Early on, I learned the value of acceptance and patience when an attempted Skype link-up with an American school failed. The children, so full of expectation earlier, just shrugged their shoulders and got on with things. In the Third World, things we take for granted here in Ireland don’t always work out.
For six weeks, at the same time every week, we tried to get the connection going until, almost magically, it all worked out and, finally, the little seven and eight year olds got a chance to share their experiences and life stories with youngsters in St. Louis. They took such joy out of sharing their names, favourite colours, food, or animals with the children in America.
I would have given up, but one of the more experienced volunteers taught me the importance of quiet determination. Week after week, she tried to get the connection up and running. The joy on the faces of the children was infectious when we finally got it going. It made the long wait worthwhile.
Some of the classes contained up to 60 children and most of our volunteers were assigned to work with four or five children who were identified as needing a little extra help each day. It was remarkable to watch how the bonds grew between the youngsters and the volunteers, who were mainly from Europe and North America.
In Nicaraguan schools, there is very little competition between the students. The brightest two or three answer for everyone and it does not take long for the weaker pupils to be left behind. Volunteers are required to have intermediate Spanish and to give a two month commitment to working with La Esperanza.
The volunteers gave the children, many from large or single parent families, the personal attention they craved and the parents provided unbelievable welcome when we visited their houses for afternoon homework clubs. They might have had very little, but they were generous to a fault at times.
For the children, the ‘ayudantes’ were wonderful role models. They work in their local primary schools every day, liaising with the teachers, assisting the foreign volunteers and, most importantly of all, showing the children that there is no limit to what they may achieve.
They brought home the true value of education, something I had always taken for granted, to me. To see how these 20-year olds only wanted to become teachers, to help the children in their own deprived neighbourhoods, and also to see the light of recognition in the children’s eyes when they learned something new.
I could not get over how much fun there was in the La Esperanza office and how much hope these impoverished youngsters had for the future. Hardly any children from their communities had ever attended University before. Their optimism seemed to be in marked contrast to the despair back in Ireland whenever I checked the news from home during the IMF ‘bailout’ in November. That even made headlines in Central America!
It was humbling to note how much pleasure the staff took from a simple meal out in Tip-Top, the Nicaraguan equivalent of Supermac’s, in my last week. For these young people, eating out is a rare luxury they might get to enjoy just once a year.
Living in the city for three months was a great way of improving my Spanish, as I was even able to take private lessons for US $3 per hour.
It was also a great way of making friends with people from all over the world, including Germany, Spain, France, the USA, and the UK. There always seemed to be a party on in one of the four volunteer houses and there was an incredible range of ages among my colleagues, from fresh-faced 18-year olds starting out in life to retired teachers in their 60s who brought huge expertise to the schools.
We socialised together on La Calzada, the city’s beautiful pedestrianised street, and organised trips away at weekends. In late November, there were a lot of emotional farewells at the end of the Nicaraguan school year.
Living in Nicaragua taught me that there is great joy in helping others and that the poorest people on the planet deserve to have some hope. The locals reminded me of the importance of community and friendship, the extended family, taking my time, and how to have fun with very little. Lessons to be treasured in these troubled times.

Jan 13, 2011

Summer school at Elba Zamora

Summer school is great because it is the time of the year where the volunteers get to be the classroom teachers. Instead of tutoring one on one, we have the chance to run lessons with a group of students, testing both our creativity and patience. For me personally, it is wonderful in the heightened consistency of both class content and student attendance as we are now "in charge", writes current volunteer NAVI MADRUGADA.

     A group of 7 volunteers take the chicken bus out on their daily route to Elba Zamora, arriving at 9 am to begin teaching summer school classes to the neighborhood children. They meet ayudantes Chilo and Belkys and begin the day.
     The volunteers have split into groups to work with different grade levels, currently with Sally and Sandra leading the 4th through 6th graders in one classroom, Lium, Matt and Lisa working with 2nd and 3rd graders in another classroom, and Francie, Lara, and myself (Navi) working with the 1st grade students outside.
     Monday through Thursday consists of teaching math, Spanish and either art or English. Fridays are always filled with excitement, as the art projects tend to be more elaborate, followed by cleaning the school and heading out to a nearby field for soccer and frisbee fun. Another perk is that everyday the kids have recess and snack at 10 a.m. (fruit and cookies, yum!).
     Today is a Wednesday, and most groups begin with Spanish. The 1st graders are lucky to have two or three volunteers allowing for one on one attention and partner work. They begin by reviewing alphabet letters a through i on handmade cards with sandpaper letters, repeating the letter names and sounds, drawing the letters in the air with their fingers, and matching letters to corresponding pictures. The lesson is followed by a game of alphabet bingo, where the kids win stickers (which to them is as good as gold). For math the students review numbers 1 through 10 using similar strategies as mentioned above, and then play an addition game using number lines drawn on the ground with chalk so that the student can physically move the amount of spaces necessary. For example, 3 + 5, the student starts on the number 3 and take 5 steps up the line to the number 8 for the answer.
    The 2nd and 3rd grade group are learning subjects and verbs, and start by reviewing the definition of each from classroom posters. Next, the volunteers pass out strips of papers to each student with either a subject or a verb on them, and they take turns coming up to the board and sharing them with the class in order to make a silly sentence like, "El payaso vive en la nevera." ("The clown lives in the fridge.") At the end of the lesson each student writes 5 sentences of their own, identifying the subject and verb. Math for this group includes reviewing multiplication problems using a chart and then playing a math game where the students throw a ball covered in math problems from person to person. Whoever catches the ball has to answer the question that their thumb landed on when they caught it.
     Recess today, and most days, breaks up the Spanish and Math lessons with an intense game of soccer with students, ayudantes, and volunteers alike played on the porch/sidewalk area right outside the class.
     4th, 5th, and 6th graders studied math first, where Sandra had a multiplication table written on the board so the students could review the facts. After the review, the students sat in a circle and took turns throwing dice for multiplication problems and answered them without the use of the chart on the board. This lesson blended smoothly into the English one that followed, as Sally filled in the multiplication chart anew, this time with the numbers written in English for the students to learn. After practicing numbers, the kids showed their continued enthusiasm for learning professions in English as well.
     The day culminated with making sea themed mobiles with foamy fish cut-outs and shells for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders, while the older kids improved their much loved bracelet making skills!

Due to something silly like forgetting the camera on this particular day, here are some of the following days activities:
 1st graders bingo: numbers 1 - 25

2nd and 3rd graders multiplication bingo

4th - 6th graders, English class