Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learning Without Fear

Some of the local kids and I after the meeting

The next day Horacio, Alcides, Fatima and I had an opportunity to meet with two more schools. This time the villages were a bit further out from the town. Again we found ourselves in Plans white 4x4 truckin through the mountains of Madriz with the Honduran border in the distance. On the ride we went over some serious rugged terrain, through rivers, over bridges that seems to be made of driftwood. We saw kids playing and working, farmers with their big hats and giant machetes. We also noticed the farms that had all different types of things being grown from tomatoes to corn and everything in between. I had one of those moments where you say, ^I'm SOOOOO far from home.^ I shared that with the group as they let out a big laugh. Hoartio turned to me and gave me a big one arm hug to make sure I was doing ok.

When we got to the first school I noticed some girls, probably around the age of 7 or so off to the left pumping water from the well. The well was labeled with a Plan logo. They would pump the water and carry the buckets on their heads to the nearby containers that were set up outside the latrines. This station was set up so that the kids would have a place to wash their hands after using the restrooms. I quickly snapped a few photos and the cute girls posed for a shot or two before they hurried off.

Before we went into the meeting Horatio told me us that Plan built 2 new classrooms, latrines and a hand washing facility for the community. We were today going to meet some of the community leaders and children to hear about some of the projects and problems that the village was facing.

A few of the kids look on before they presented a drawing to the group

When we got in I noticed that there were about 20 people in the classroom. Half kids, the other half women who were probably their moms. One of the few men, a short guy with a big personality, probably the father and teacher, started off the meeting. He said that there were only 2 classrooms with mixed grades. The students went from 1st grade to 6th. There wasn't a high school. The high school is too far to go to so instead the kids usually end up working with their parents in the farms. 12 kids in the community don't attend school at all.

This particular community leader went on to say that they had way to many kids and not enough space. They went looking for help and eventually found Plan. He was very grateful for all the help and support they have received from Plan. But he also mentioned that there still isn't enough room in the classrooms and still some children walk 5 kilometers to get to another school. I instantly thought about the rugged road we just crawled on. Those kids must take forever to get to school. During the rainy season those kids that have to walk all those kilometers cant make it to school because of the dangerous conditions. He went on to say that at this specific community there is no electricity, and he would like one day to get that fixed. He hopes to be able to one day hold class for the adults at night. His dream is to one day get a computer for the children. He finished off by saying that it was a good school with limited resources and THE BEST children. The kids sat up a bit higher in their chairs after hearing that. I thought of my three computers back home and shrank a bit more in mine.

Another community leader in the room, a shy woman off to my right, wanted to point out that a big problem was a lack of running water. Plan eventually came in and installed a pump nearby...Plan fixed the problem. A not so shy girl full of confidence in the front row went on to say that in the past, usually the children, would have to walk an hour and a half to the river and carry the water back on their heads. Now the well is a 2 minute walk. She Thanked God and Plan for their help.

Horacio quickly responded, ^now the children have more time to play.^ The kids got excited! One of the parents in the back row quickly snapped back, ^now they have more time for homework.^ I noticed her daughter frown...and that joke brought a little brighter vibe to the room. Horacio finally reminded them that it was them, the people of their community that built the school and the well while Plan only helped to organize it. The gentleman in the front room nodded his head, I saw a bit of pride in his eyes.

Horacio got out of his seat and started to stroll around the room. The parents, the children and the community leaders were all seated in the school desks that were spread out in a circle in the small classroom. I noticed that my desk had a place at the top to hold a pencil or pen. It was tiny little desk. It reminded me of my exact desk I had at Harding elementary school in El Cerrito. With my Mead black and white Composition notebook open and my pen in hand I felt like a kid again. I quickly snapped out of that when I saw a few chickens wander by the door. Not to many chickens in El Cerrito. Horacio continued with another question and asked, ^Why...do you need the school?^ A few of the mothers in the back of the room responded with ^for the kids, to help the children and the school, the school is the center of the community. Before the school was in a church, before they were separated, now they are together.^ The concluded.

Community members listen to the teacher speak about the problems that the village is facing

Horacio nodded and slowly turned to the kids and asked, ^why do you need to study?^ One shy girl wearing a wrinkled and slightly dirty t-shirt said, ^because I want to study.^ Horacio put his arms behind his back and perked up with a quick response, ^why?^ Another young guy in the back shot up out of his seat, ready to answer, with a big smile on his face because it was his chance to speak...he was full of confidence and said, ^because I want a career^.

That one almost brought me to tears. I had to turn away from Fatima, my translator, I didn't want her to see the wrinkle of my brow on the reddening of my eyes. They have so little compared to the advantages that I'm used to back home. They don't have electricity and they just got running water and here this kid is sharing his hope and dream of having a career. Of making something for himself. He was a proud kid ready to tell whoever will listen and whoever can help that he dreams of something bigger and of something better.

Horacio turned to the parents, mostly made up of women, in the room and said simply, ^why?^ One mother said that before the kids were outside now they are inside. They are protected from the rain, dirt and sun. They're grateful for the help and training that Plan has provided. Before that moment I guess I never even thought about not having a school or classroom to study in.

A big problem that these villages face is that parents take the children out of school to help in the farms. Fatima said that this was common and one of the biggest problems that the villages face. I thought again about yesterday. I remembered when Fatima said there were 82 villages like this. Wow! Horacio concluded the meeting with a few points. He said that they were doing a good job but he wanted to see them use the schools in the afternoon as well. But, overall, he wanted them to be proud of their school and to keep the kids out of the farms and in the classroom.

At the end of the meeting a few of the people came up to me and thanked me for coming. Because this area is so remote they don't get many visitors. They also said that what I was doing was a great thing and they would pray for my safety. I don't think I really had a response. I was overwhelmed with the things I heard and saw. I wish I could do more. I thanked them all. Shook all their hands. Gave a few high fives to the kids and wished them luck before we ran out to our next meeting.

It was getting to be later in the afternoon.

Here we are again, bobbling around, in the back of the Plan truck. We got one last community to visit. The next morning I take off for Honduras. The next morning Horacio is back in Managua setting up meetings in another province of Nicaragua. The next morning I'm sure Fatima and Alcides will be trying their hardest to solve some of the problems that one of their 82 villages face. Theres a lot of work to be done.

I took a second to reflect. It occurred to me that without organizations like this these people would be completely neglected. They live in the margins of their societies and I don't think anyone else cares. The governments face their own problems and the cities, with all their money seem so far away. They are completely isolated.

Fatima and Alcides make their way to the last meeting of the day

This particular last community was even further away. The road, once off the paved route, was even worse. Im sure during the rainy season they would be totally secluded from the rest of the city.

When we rolled up I noticed that the school was surrounded by trees without leaves or greenery. The mountains in the distance were impressive but dry. The seen, for whatever reason was a bit more depressing. The sun was starting to set, the sky was turning, it was a lazy afternoon.

Once inside the classroom we quickly took our seats. The people had been waiting for a few hours, they were prepared to meet with Plan and were excited for the opportunity to meet with the director. I noticed that this time the room was filled with more people, mostly men and kids. It was a different atmosphere than the last. The last visit to the school seemed a bit more casual. People were a bit looser. Here, maybe it was because of the men, it seemed to be a bit more formal. People here seemed to be a bit more nervous...maybe even desperate.

In the classroom hung the children's pictures of rabbits, reindeer's and penguins. There was of course a large drawing of the Nicaraguan symbol in the back. A pyramid with some other figures in it.. The sun filtered in through the dusty windows behind me to my right. You could hear the dirt and dust crack under the peoples feet as they took their seats.

I sat directly in the front of the classroom looking out into the large group from the community. The rest of the Plan group was with me, or course, in the front of the room. A teacher, who looked so young, off to my right started the meeting. She was very professional and had a few things to say. She started off by saying that there were 160 children in the community. She continued and said that Plan has helped with training, has brought in materials and has helped with the school gardens. She then went on to say that the community is facing a good number of difficulties. She said that theres not enough room for the students in the school, theres only 2 classrooms. We were sitting in one classroom that was made of brick with a metal roof. It could probably hold around 25 kids, tops! She pointed to another building across the yard. It looked like a shack. It was made op of some type of metal pieces. It looked like it was about to fall over. ^Its full of snakes, its not safe^. She paused. Everyone was silent.

Snakes in the classroom...Jesus!!!!!

After a minute or so some of the kids came up with a presentation that they had been working on for the past few hours. They presented a drawing of their current school and another drawing of what they wished for. The second drawing wasn't much different than the first. All that really changed was a cleaner looking second classroom, a garden, some trees and a playground. It was so modest. They didn't want much.

Horacio got up to speak. An ugly looking dog slowly walked in and took a seat in the middle of the room. Obviously the dog didn't care if Horacio was the cleaner or the director...he was going to lick himself right there. Horacio chuckled and continued. He thanked the kids and told them job well done. ^Why do you want a new school?^ One of the fathers in the back blurted out ^for the children^. ^Why?^ Horacio asked again. Right then a chubby little baby stumbled and trotted through the room mumbling to himself and blowing spit bubbles, the cute little guy broke the silence in the room. An older farmer spoke up. He was wearing some bad ass black leather boots, all green cloths, a wild looking hand made belt, some gold aviators and of course a perfectly white cowboy hat, this guy looked cool and commanded a great amount of respect from the room, he had confidence and a certain easiness to him. The people were waiting for his answer, and he said that he wanted a new school to protect the children from diseases. Horacio slowly took off his glasses and gave everyone in the room a long look before turning back to the man and said, ^exactly! To protect the children.^

Horacio finally turned to the kids and asked the same question, ^why?^ One of the kids was quick with a reply and he said something that will always be with me for the rest of my life...^because I want to be somebody in this life!^

Wait your turn!

Some of the local girls waiting to get some water

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