Dec 21, 2016

Our New Learning Center Means Greater Success for Students



Children lining up outside the learning center
As the clock nears 1pm a line starts to form outside the green metal learning center doors. The eager children chatter while they wait. Volunteers and ayudantes work swiftly to prepare the center for the afternoon sessions. Some volunteers are creating name tags for the children, cutting tan card stock into squares and writing down each child's name. Ayudantes Luis and Francisco set up the tablets and computers for the computer classes. Maria and Scarleth prepare to check in the children and let them choose their first learning station. The children can hardly contain their excitement and smile gleefully. 


How it all began

Practicing Spanish with coloring
The idea for the learning center has been a long time in the making. Shortly after her first volunteer experience with La Esperanza Granada, Pauline realized there was a huge gap in the educational experience of Granada's children. During a brief return trip to Australia, she saw that many of the children there spent time learning in the home before and after school. Doing crafts, working on computers, practicing their lessons.

The Nicaraguan children in these impoverished barrios have no access to even basic resources in the home: pens, crayons, paper, books, craft materials or computers. Often they don't even have a table and chair where they can sit and do homework or crafts. Building the learning centers became a way to supplement this need that the schools and parents who often have little or no formal education could not meet.

How it works

The learning center is open every day. It's a safe and clean environment where children can come during their free hours outside their normal school classes to continue learning. The children that attend are truly engaged in learning and are well behaved, compared to large size classes in school where children can often become bored and misbehave as a result.

As it's just getting started, we are only working with the younger children who would normally attend school in the mornings so the learning center is only open now in the afternoons. The center operates three one hour sessions from 1pm to 4pm. There are four stations available to the children in the center: math, Spanish, art and computers. Each child can only attend the same station twice during one visit, and must stay in their chosen station for the entire one hour session.

The children create paper gatos
Volunteers and ayudantes assist the children with engaging and interactive math and Spanish games. They lead creative art projects where the kids get to take home something they created every day. They help the kids learn how to use and navigate engaging learning games and activities on the computers and tablets.

Going forward

The learning centers present a unique opportunity for us to truly help the children in Granada learn, and we mean really learn, as opposed to simply copying words and sentences from the chalk board as is often the reality of normal school classes where resources are stretched very thin. The plan is to build two more centers during the first half of 2017, with the help of Builders Beyond Borders.

Two of our university sponsorship graduates
More importantly, we need a dedicated director for the learning center program, to oversee the operation and management of all the centers as they continue to open. It's very rare that a job like this exists in Nicaragua, and too often it goes to someone who is not a native of this country. Our hope is to hire one of the students that graduated from our university scholarship program. It benefits one of the students we've helped succeed in school, and a local person will understand the needs and desires of the local communities far better than anyone else, and will be willing to commit for a greater length of time.

In order to hire one of these lucky graduates we need $3000 per year. While that doesn't seem like much by U.S. or European standards, that's a pretty outstanding salary in Nicaragua for a very demanding and time consuming commitment.

You can help

We're trying something new. We're asking for support from our fans and past volunteers to help raise the funds for this critically important position through a fundraiser on Generosity.com. We're hoping to raise $12,000 to fund this position for four years. We chose to fund raise using this method as a way to better engage our online community and gain traction outside our normal donor list. 

We're immensely grateful for all our current and past volunteers and from our regular donors that sponsor many local high school and university students, but we need support outside those avenues to continue growing and providing greater opportunity through education for the children of Granada. Please share our fundraiser with your friends, family and social networks and make a donation if you can. Any amount helps.

Watch to learn more about our fundraiser




Dec 2, 2016

Ayudante profile #3: Teodora

This is the third in a series of profiles of our ayudantes. Ayudante means ‘assistant’, and is the name we give to the young people receiving university scholarships through La Esperanza Granada. Alongside their studies, the ayudantes are long term interns who give 5 hours of their time every weekday to support La Esperanza Granada. Our ayudantes are so much more than assistants – they are critical to our success. More information about our ayudante programme is available here. 

When speaking with Teodora, it quickly becomes apparent that you are talking to a smart, determined young woman, confident of her direction in life. This is someone who is going somewhere.

Teodora is currently in her second year as an ayudante at La Esperanza Granada, supporting the teachers and volunteers in Pablo Antonio Cuadra school. Her first year was spent working with kids on computers in two schools, Nueva Esperanza and Escudo, and her desire to succeed and to see the kids progress has given her a firm preference for working with small groups.

“Although we can do a lot of good in the classrooms, we are most effective when working with small groups, or on computers. Kids focus better with fewer distractions and more dedicated support, and we have a chance to tailor our methods to each child.”

Having worked with numerous volunteers, Teodora is also willing to offer an insight into what makes a good or bad volunteer.

“Most volunteers are great – they are enthusiastic, hardworking and make a real difference to the kids. The very best are those who bring skills and experience with them, or who come up with new ideas.

The worst are those who think this it should be one big party and who don’t take the job seriously, turning up late, sometimes hungover, and not paying attention to or remembering what we say. When that happens, it’s a real missed opportunity, for both them and the kids.”

Teodora is in a good position to appreciate the value of the opportunities we can sometimes take for granted in more developed nations. Like Juan Carlos, Teodora´s High School was only able to offer three years tuition instead of the normal five, so she had to switch to technical college.

Encouraged by her father, she studied construction, and dreamed of going on to study engineering at university. However, this would have meant studying at a particular university in Managua, and their fees proved prohibitively expensive.

Instead, Teodora went to work in the office of a construction company. Her work there included all aspects of office administration, and she found a natural instinct for managing the company´s books. A career as an accountant began to look like an increasingly attractive option, and she signed up to study accountancy at university.

“The first year was really tough, because I had to work constantly to be able to pay the fees. I don’t even remember how many different jobs I did that year! But I do remember how exhausting it was, and how little time I had left for studying.”

After hearing about La Esperanza Granada through a friend, Teodora became involved with the project and was soon lucky enough to receive a sponsorship from Project Pulsera to fund the rest of her degree. Although balancing her studies with her duties as an ayudante remains a challenge, Teodora is clear on the benefits it brings.

“It’s made an enormous difference to me, and I’m hugely grateful. Without sponsorship, I don’t know how I would have been able to carry on studying.”

Unlike most students with another two years of studying to go, Teodora already has a clear plan for life after university.

“I hope to be able to start a business with a couple of friends. We are all either accountants or lawyers, and we’d like to create a professional services company, providing legal and accountancy services and advice to other businesses.”

Although common in more developed countries, this sort of integrated services company is a rare thing here. Having spotted this gap in the market, Teodora could be just the person to bring it to Nicaragua.