These are personal notes of one of the volunteers:
There are seventeen of us: some friends, some co-workers, acquaintances, and others strangers to each other. We came together at the Halifax airport not really fully understanding the week ahead but eager.
Ed and Barb picked us up at the Managua airport Sunday night at about 11 pm. All seventeen of us, along with our luggage piled into the bus. Lots of bags join us – not all of our own, but bags filled with items for the children – clothes, shoes, school supplies, toiletries, sheets, you name it.
Our accommodations are super. The locals call it Casagrande – the big house. We share rooms but have lots of space and comfort. Quite a contrast to the home at the worksite for sure.
Day 1, November 4, 2013
Our project is to build two retaining walls at the very modest home of Miquel and Hazel, two students in the program.
Their home is set high on a steep hill and the rain has eroded the land so much that without a barrier the house will soon sink into the ground. The house itself is not in bad shape relative to the neighbors’ tin shacks – it is a cinder block home, built a few years back by another group of travelers from North America. Still, by our standards, not a place we would be proud to have our friends by.
We are on the worksite by 9:15. A little confusion as all of us “Type A” personalities try to be useful and find a job to do. There are three main job functions: the cement makers who take up shop right in front of the house mixing water and cement mix bags; the rebar team charged with tying the wires to the metal rebar posts (very tedious but necessary work, and the job I try most to avoid); and the cinder block layers who take the cement buckets and lay and line the blocks. There are other jobs too, but these are the main ones.
What strikes me is how everything is reused. We take the nails out of the wood and someone’s job is to bend them straight. We use brushes to scrape the hardened concrete off the old lumber in order to reuse it. We walk the yard to find a stick to mix the cement. What is garbage in our world, is a valuable and useful resource in poor areas of Nicaragua.
Jorge, Miquel’s 70+ some year old granddad, and his mom, Anna, along with the rest of the family, work right alongside us. Mixing cement, hammering nails, doing whatever needs to be done – very pleased and proud to be contributing.
We enjoy lunch at the Children’s Centre with some of the kids in the program. Barb asks each of them to practice their English by introducing themselves and telling us their age and grade. They do great. We are all very glad we did not have to introduce ourselves in Spanish! The kids are fascinated with our iPhones and iPads.
Our afternoon is made up of a road trip to visit the homes of two children in the program, Cersay and Pedro. With great pride, their moms ( through a translator) tell us how very grateful they are to have the opportunity for their boys to be part of the Pathway program and to get an education. Smiles and pride and many thanks. What great hosts they are to open their homes to us. In our eyes, they have very little. But not so in their view.
Day 2, November 5, 2013
A little earlier to the site today at about 8:15. We pick up where we left off. The two walls are really starting to take form now. The visible progress inspires energy in the group. Jorge inspires energy.
Back to the Children’s Centre for lunch. Granddad Jorge and his family, along with the local construction team, join us. It’s very tough to communicate with them – most of us have very little by way of Spanish words, but it’s enough just to sit and be present with each other.
Our main afternoon activity is a trip to a public school.
The children in the Pathway program go to private school so this gives us a chance to see what the alternative looks like. The director of the school is very welcoming and fills us in on life in the public school system. It’s tough to keep the kids in school. There are no truant officers and with no support at home, many kids don’t make it. The dropout rate is high. Most teachers are not qualified. The school days are half days with the younger kids attending in the morning and the teens in the afternoon. That way the older kids can either go to work in the morning or stay at home with their younger siblings while their moms work.
There is nothing in the way of tools in the classrooms we enter – not a textbook in sight, no whiteboards, no computers – just the scribbler in front of them. Left to take their own notes for reference. Easy to see why the dropout rate is what it is.
One of the teens asked ‘what is the objective of our visit’ and his teacher explains (in Spanish) that we are here to help a Nicaraguan family. She tells her students that in the same way the Canadians came to Managua to volunteer and help, they were each charged with the same responsibility. She did not mean for them to travel to Canada and assist us, but to share what little they had with those who had less. I know they do not realize how much they assisted us today.
Day 3, November 6, 2013
It will be a short one tonight. On the worksite for the morning and had both my high and my low for the day, all at once. Meyling is the fourteen-year-old, niece of Anna (mom whose home we are working on). Meyling attends public school and lives with her aunt because her own home is too far north for access to school.
This morning, Meyling approached Ed and said to him she wanted to be part of the Pathway to Change program. She brought him her last report card to show how well she has done in public school and how deserving she is. The high that Meyling is so wanting of a good education. The low that we couldn’t just hug her and sign her up. Here is a photo of Meyling (left) alongside Belkie, one of the students of Pathway.
Day 4 & 5, November 7 & 8, 2013
Outside of the project work, we had many afternoons spent with the children in the program. A game of baseball, soccer, and swimming with the kids at a local pool will stand out as memorable highlights of the trip. Below are a number of my favorite pics from the trip; some of the children in the Pathway program, the travelers at work, and some of the many beautiful Nicaraguan people we were blessed to meet during our experience.