Carta de Nicaragua 12: From little acorns

Oo-er Missus
It’s been a long, long while. I’ve come back to my blog to find the draft of this particular post devoid of words yet I clearly remember writing something. At times I think the words are formed in my head but don’t make it to paper or keyboard and screen. I just hope those words are not in my lost notebook –  a story all of its own. My camera is broken too so future blogs may be short of pictures. Furthermore, it might appear that I’ve had one too many rums but the spellings of the names are correct. Many names are spelt phonetically in Spanish so sound exactly how the English would say the name if it were spelt the English way others are a mix of English and Spanish. D’ya get me?

A newborn Nica: “teach him well and let him lead the way”

Mighty/Great oaks from Little Acorns Grow
In terms of the demographics Nicaragua is a very young country. I can’t remember the exact statistics but something like at least 50% of the population is below the age of 25 – that figure may be even  higher. It goes a long way to explaining the youthfulness of my disco beaux! But, on a serious note, what it does mean is that this is a country with great potential. What power Nicaragua holds in her hands.

School daze
In the public school system there are two intakes a day. Morning classes begin around 7am and finish around 12pm. At around 12.30 pm the afternoon school begins. Children either attend a morning class or afternoon classes.

José Ángel, José Luis, Roberto, Alejandro and Chepito

The government had a big education drive and the number of children enrolled in school has doubled. I’m helping out in Third Grade during the morning and there can be up to 58 children in a classroom which is designed to hold 25-30 students. During the ‘high season’ there weren’t enough chairs and some children had to sit on the floor in a location where they couldn’t even see the whiteboard. Others were sat two-butts to a chair! Numbers dwindled around Easter and some days there are now only 35 children in the classroom.  To be honest, it’s a relief to have that little bit of extra space. It feels sparse in comparison but it’s still a lot of children for the teacher. It’s a bit like firefighting at the local zoo or wildlife park. In fact, Profesora Kenia lost her voice a few months ago. The doctor told her not to come back to school for a week!

Speedwriting
Textbooks are limited to few and far between so often the teacher will dictate a passage from her notes or from the textbook. The accoustics of the classroom are such that the children miss a lot of the dictation. It’s not just about the accoustics, though, as some of them are barely literate. Others write painfully slowly. It’s just as well I’ve been taking dictation with the children. It means that I’m surrounded by a group who copy from my notes as they can’t keep up with the teacher and can’t spell a lot of the words she mentions. Being able to write at speed in a foreign language while simultaneously dictating different passages to two or three children who are at different points in the text is a skill I must put on my CV. There must be a term more elaborate than plain-old multitasking.  There’s one little boy, though, Jeason, who’s eight years old and an absolute dictation whizz. He struggles to copy things from the board but when it comes to dictation  he has ever word down in his notebook. I look to this little 8-year-old if there’s a word that I can’t make out.

Jenifer & Emanuel Lopez – photo for the pop video/song Rubble & the Dust

Jenifer Lopez
Yes, I really do know Jenifer Lopez. My little Jen is 10 years old and has four siblings. Coincidentally, she has been in the music industry – actually, she was part of my photo shoot contribution to the pop video Rubble and the dust by my friend Anna Krantz.  Jenifer Lopez is the identical image of her older sister Dayran who I taught during the summer school. The girls are both bright without putting in great effort. They’re sometimes away from school selling nacatamales and tortillas which their mum makes.

Kevin, a potential maths whizz, collecting water

Talking of school attendance
Sometimes children don’t turn up to school because, like Jenifer and Dayran, they’re working or at home looking after a younger sibling. Yessica, 12, could barely make it to the summer school and when she did, she’d bring along her little sister who was still in nappies. Their mum was in hospital with a problematic pregnancy for child number 7 or 8.  Yessica was charged with looking after the others. She made it to classes once or twice when term started but I haven’t seen her in school for months. I see her out and about either selling food or sweets or looking after a sibling or two. And then there’s the little boy who attends school once in a while – not because he can’t be bothered but because he can only attend on the days when his mother isn’t working as he has to look after his siblings and the house. I don’t think he’s more than 10 years old. It’s hard to know how to change things when the parents are looking to put food on the table and there’s a little being that can make that process easier. You can see why school is a luxury, even if in the long term their educated child could help to create a stronger business for the parents.

Laura, Naddy, Valeria and Katerín:We can read!

Profesora Lynda
And so it came to pass that Lyndaloo911RescueServicesUK (which also has a division called Aunty911Rescue) was called upon for a very important mission in Nicaragua. I was handed what appears to be the only 7-10 children in the afternoon second grade intake who could read and write. Yikes! It was going really well: lots of word and sentence dictation and then I struck gold with crosswords and word searches. Little Valeria, 7, was a diamond. A bright little girl who’d sneak up to me and whisper if I made mistakes. Bless. When the medics arrived to give the ‘surprise’ school jabs, Valeria gave new meaning to the concept of ‘drama queen’. I’m not sure my ears ever recovered from the wailing.  The children seemed to be enjoying themselves a bit too much as the teacher took them away from me and handed me a group of about 15 children aged between 6 and 11 who couldn’t read. If the truth be known there are many more who can’t read but that’s another matter.

José Miguel, Jeiner, Alejandro and José Ángel show off the book we created

Profesora Lynda’s new mission:
It was back to square one trying to work out what to do with them but worse still since they were all at different levels. Some knew bits of the alphabet but they have different pronunciations or have a very confusing approach to the alphabet for instance they pronounce the b and v exactly the same! I don’t like to meddle in cultural affairs but in order for them to be able to take dictation I tried to get them to differentiate between the b and the v. Some got it but for others it was very much one step forward and several hundred steps backwards. After a lot of thought and many hours of hard work in my spare time I came up with worksheets for the children, drawing my own pictures that they could colour in, dot-to-dot puzzles with the alphabet, word searches etc. I had silence and they were so deep in concentration I could barely get their attention. The best bit: they were learning and didn’t even know it!

Monday Monday
On Mondays, the children generally don’t know much and can’t remember much – not even the alphabet. It’s as if their brains have been replaced with some other substance. When they arrive home they put their school books to one side and if they’re lucky they play, if not they’re set to work. Sometimes you see the children in the Calzada (the main street in Granada which is full of pubs and restaurants) selling cigarettes, sweets etc.

Gifts including the chocolate lollipop and biscuit from the Vivas boys

And then there was one
As I’ve mentioned before numbers dwindle as fewer children turn up for school. The teacher removed some children from my group which was a shame as weeks later I discovered they’d fallen way behind the children I’d been teaching. My core group became eight relatively loyal students. One in particular, Alejandro, 9, took my lecture on attendance very seriously and missed only two of the 35 classes I taught. I bought him a Toy Story a rucksack as a reward. The great thing is he’s proof that if children attends school and does their homework they do make progress. He’s reading and writing. Sadly, he’s not ready for third grade just yet but he’s made a remarkable progress since April. He was really shaken to discover that I wouldn’t be teaching third grade students next year. On el Día de los Maestros (day of teachers) a few weeks ago Alejandro and his brothers gave me a lollipop and biscuit as a thank you. I was extremely touched.

Javiera melts hearts with the world’s biggest smile

Happy, smiley people
Tuesday 17th July was the Day of  Alegria. That’s the day of happiness and joy. Actually, the children don’t need an official day to be happy because they just are. Happy, smiley beings. Where I’m living Little Miss N sings and dances every day. I even caught her giving the puppy dance lessons! I think I’m a bit fierce as a teacher but none-the-less the children love me. I get smiles all round. In fact, one day, it looked like the second grade afternoon teacher wasn’t going to show up so the sub-directora told me that she’d be sending all the children home but my students could stay if I had anything for them to do. The hell I did. We were working on one of our special projects. Anyway, when the children learned they’d be staying they cheered!

The future
“I believe the children are the future,
teach them well and let them lead the way,
show them all the beauty they possess inside,
give them  a sense of pride to make it easier,
let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be…”
(Michael Masser & Linda Creed, 1977)

… I find myself thinking about the children all the time.

To be continued…

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About lyndacuba

"Who am I? Why am I here? You're asking, I'm asking. Tired of all the moaning around me, tired of waiting for something to happen, I decided that I couldn't just let life pass me by. It occurred to me that if I could help a single person, that act could change the outcome of an entire community for the better. I want to matter. I want to make a difference. I've chosen Nicaragua." That was 2011 - this is 2017.
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