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
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.