Education Plus Nicaragua Needs Help

I’m way behind on posting because we have not had good internet but this post needs to be done in any case. It isn’t about our recent activities, it is about Education Plus Nicaragua which we visited back in May last year.

I didn’t give this organization enough mention in my May 15, 2017 posting. We visited the school and talked at length with a couple of staff members and met some of the kids. The children love going there each day, if for no other reason that they get a decent meal. But most of them appreciate the supplemental education that they get as well.

I received this email today and feel compelled to post it and ask anyone who reads this to consider giving $5, $10, $25, or more one time or on an ongoing basis. I can just about count the monthly contributions that I do regularly on one hand and this is one of them.

“Dear friends and family,

Where to even begin.

Last week, political protests erupted all across Nicaragua, leaving more than 30 dead so far.  Protesters are sick of what they view as their corrupt and inept government, and government forces have met peaceful protests with guns and mortars.  New laws were announced increasing income taxes, higher taxes on social security payments, and decreased medical coverage.  At the same time social security is almost insolvent, its funds having allegedly been used by the main political party, the Sandinistas, to purchase luxury housing and private businesses for themselves.  Censorship has kicked up – news channels that are not pro-government have been shut down, and things only seem to be getting worse.  “President” Daniel Ortega has announced he will be rescinding the social security reforms, but the number of protesters is still growing, with some police forces disobeying orders and joining the side of the people. Businesses in the capital are on strike today, demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to censorship and violent repression.

While the social security reforms were the main trigger of the protests, this really has been a long time coming.  Several other issues have caused the protest, including the government’s inept handling of a recent natural disaster in the Indio Maiz region, and because the people are sick of a public education system that says it averages 25 children per classroom but actually averages 50 or more.  Now, a common protest against non-profits such as Education Plus is: “why are you educating that children?  That should be the government’s job.  If you provide the education, then the government has no incentive to do their job.  Therefore, you are actually contributing to the problem.”

Well, in Nicaragua, the endemic corruption is so bad that even if there were more funding for the school system, little would find its way to the children.  More fundamentally, the current government does not want its people educated.  University students are a main faction of the protesters.   The government knows that with education comes greater awareness and a decrease in the sense of powerlessness.  Uneducated people are poorer – so the government can buy their votes cheaply in election years by going around giving out sacks of food and cheap building materials to repair homes.  Additionally, it is the poor and illiterate who are the easiest to manipulate.  We have firsthand accounts of the police going into our community of Pantanal and paying men 200 cord (about 6 USD) to attack peaceful protesters.

This is not the e-mail I wanted to be writing.  But big things are going on right now in Nicaragua, and I want to let you all know that with Education Plus, things will be business as usual as much as possible.  While public schools are closed for now, our doors will be open.  Our employees do not want to stay at home, in fact, they say they feel safer at Casa de los Sueños.  We have arranged transportation so they can get to and from work safely.  If the power is cut across the country as is rumored (in order to prevent communications of what is going on to the outside world), we will keep our doors open.  We will cook with wood and teach in dark but still enthusiastic classrooms.  We will remain a safe place for the children to come and be children throughout the crisis. 

If we start to argue about “government responsibility”, it is the children who will lose.  It falls to us who actually have the economic power to make a difference, to educate the children who will be the future leaders of their country.   As Cardinal Obispo Silvio Baez recently told a gathering of university students at the Metropolitan Cathedral, “The students of Nicaragua are its moral reserve.”

To make a donation to help us continue feeding the children during the crisis, please click on the button below:

Click Here to Help us Feed the Children During the Crisis

Thank you for standing with us during these heartbreaking times.

With hope and gratitude,

Monica, Jim, the staff, volunteers and children of Education Plus

Monica Loveley
Executive Director
Education Plus Nicaragua
www.eduplusnicaragua.org
www.facebook.com/eduplusnicaragua

 

Shiripuno Women

The Shiripuno women decided that while their men go off and do whatever they do during the day to work that they (the women) should be paid for what they do anyway. With this in mind, they developed a simple program where they show how they make some food with yucca and sweet potato, do a little native dance, look at an incredible rock, and then hopefully sell some trinkets. Sounds hokey and the young German tourists who were at the lodge and leaving that day made it sound pretty lame.

In reality we enjoyed it. Yes, it is touristy but it was still interesting. We learned some things about this culture listening to the Spanish speaking woman who ran the event and talking with our English speaking guide from the Lodge.

Indigenous woman and daughter and tourist who got into the act

Unmarried girls and women wear blue outfits like you see in the above picture. Married women wear blue and red outfits. The more traditional outfit is seen in this picture but we saw a woman in blue pants and a red top to indicate she was married as well. All unmarried women, of any age seemed to wear the outfit this little girl is wearing.

First they made a couple of things, one a fermented drink and the other something with sweet potatoes. Note how they shredded the sweet potato…you will see this is tool is from the root of a tree in the jungle walk post.

The little girls of the village participated in the making of yucca and sweet potato  dishes and the dancing. They were so cute in their outfits and helping their mom.

I loved watching them imitate their mom.

The rock! This is an incredibly interesting rock. In the lower right (as you look at it) of the rock is a little “door”. While it is solid, the tone is distinctly different when you hit this area with a rock than if you hit just a foot or so away. Empty sounding like it is an entrance.

A number of different animal shapes can be discerned on the rock: serpent, puma, bear, and others. What can you see? (Hint: Serpent, Alligator, Tortoise, Piranha, Toad, Cougar(Puma), Charapo (noidea what this is), Boa, Dolphin, Capybara, Monkey)

 

There is an area to the left of the rock (as you face it) that again has a hollow sound when you hit it with a rock. They call this the window. It isn’t really easy to scale the front of the rock but there are stairs built partway up the back. Dan went up the front and I stayed down and took his picture.

And there was a parrot in the rafters of the exhibit area that chimed in while they were singing and dancing. What fun!

What a handsome guy!

Our guide took a part of a flower that I would call part of the bird of paradise family but it really isn’t. He put it on our noses. Funny looking beak!

He also opened a seed pod from this plant and used a stem to break up the inside into a paint and painted our hands much like the indigenous women/children who spoke with us.

The handmade jewelry items for sale were pretty typical of what we have seen in other places although there were dried leaves for tea and spears/knives as well.

Trinkets, turtle heads bob up and down
Dried leaves for tea
Toy knives
Toy drums
Toy spears
Toy knives

This is a village of about 50 families, about 250 people. The kids do go to school from age 5-12. They are working to get more education but it is hard since that is usually in town and these very rural folks are very poor. Sometimes they have relatives with whom the youngsters can live for more education and the family sends money as they can for this.

While it is humid here, it isn’t as hot as I expected for being in the Amazons. The river we heard the night before is a tributary to the Amazon River but that is many miles away. There are fewer bugs here than I expected as well. I’m not getting eaten alive, here at least…hurray!

All in all, after much trepidation, I am enjoying myself in the jungle. It isn’t as hot, buggy, and filled with bugs as I expected.

OK, I wrote that above sentence and then almost immediately the mosquitoes and bugs found me! I should never have written it and tempted fate. I ended up with over 50 bites, mostly on my arms but even under my clothing and in my hair. UGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Education in Ecuador

Education is free and required from age 6-14 (9 years). Secondary education is  optional and available to age 18 but there is a charge for the last 3 years. The literacy rate is purported to be over 90% for older teens and adults although according to this site 25% of the children drop out by 5th grade.

Vocational education hasn’t been good but it is improving. Colleges and universities don’t have a great reputation internationally either.

As is common in so many places, the rural students tend to have less education than students in the cities.

Schools often offer a foreign language, English is common. We have run into a number of people who started learning English in their school.

The country is working hard to improve teachers’ training, reduce class size, and generally improve education by increased funding.

Education in Colombia

Colombian school children in uniform,  http://www.colombiainfo.org/en-us/colombia/education.aspx

In Colombia, although education is supposedly mandatory according to this website (I can’t tell you anything more about this website), our guide told us it isn’t so it must not be enforced. The drop out rate is fairly high as the students reach the upper grades.

Students start school at age 5 in Kindergarten. They go through grade 11. Like many Latin American countries, the “high school” is called colegio. The public university is tough to get into and private university is very expensive.

In recent years, there are some trade subjects taught in colegios.

Unlike in Nicaragua, the teachers are fairly well educated.

Both public and private schools wear uniforms here.

Students must buy their own textbooks; they are not provided by the schools.

More information is available here.

Villa de Leyva

There are mountains and everything is very green on the way to Villa de Leyva

The bus ride from Bogotá to Villa De Leyva was beautiful! There are at least 2 bus stations in Bogotá and we got the bus at the north station. The 18 passenger van was full except for the two passenger seats next to the driver when we got on so we had a wonderful view of the mountains for the 2 ½ hour trip.

View of the plaza

Founded in 1572, Villa de Leyva is a town of about 9500 people. It has the second largest plaza in the Americas (the largest is in Mexico), 120 meters on each side, which was paved hundreds of years ago with “cobble stones”. You and I would just call them rocks so it is uneven walking in the plaza and some of the streets. They have done a wonderful job of building lots of brick sidewalks in many areas and some of the newer roads are brick as well. The area is known for its colonial buildings.

We went on a wonderful horse back ride one day with 5 other tourists. You may remember we did a few lessons in Costa Rica. We wanted to see how we would do and besides it was less than $60 for the two of us for a 4 hour tour.

We did great! We even trotted a lot of the time. (Did you know that different horses have different gaits so some are more comfortable than others to ride? These were very comfortable!) The horses were whistle trained and the leader would whistle to tell them to go faster or to stop or move to the side. It was amazing to experience.

On the ride we went to an area called the Observatorio Astronómico Muisca or also called Observatorio Sol. The Muisca were the indigenous people of the area and they created a way to keep the calendar using stones, akin to Stonehenge but much smaller stones.

We also went to a fossil museum that while quite small, it has the most complete Kronosaurus, a Cretaceous-period relative of the crocodile ever found (this mountainous area was once under the ocean). There were many other fossils as well.

The last stop was at a small, turquoise colored lake called Pozos Azules (Blue Wells). The color of the water comes from the minerals in the surrounding rocks.

Stone laying on ground at Observatory

Education in Panama

Candelario at his desk. The building is older and there is no door on his office. The arched door leads to a woman’s office (secretary?) which is much larger than his.

I’ve been wanting to talk with someone familiar with the education system in Panama and this week our B&B host, Lisia, and I were out for a walk and ran into the principal of the local elementary school. Lisia introduced me to him. His name is Candelario. I asked if he might have time this week to chat for a little while; he was happy to have me come the following day.

When I arrived, Candelario was waiting for me at the school. After he rang the recess bell, we went into his office to talk. His office is barely 8’x5′. The secretary or whatever her title is has twice the space as the principal. But it was very significant to me that the FIRST area you enter is to HIS office, not hers! During our 20-30 minutes of talking, at least 4 students came to him to ask quick questions. Each time, Candelario immediately stopped talking with me and focused intently and lovingly on the child. It is obvious that he is there for them.

He often gave the child what they wanted but one child wanted something to do with a non-nutritious snack and he kindly but firmly said that they don’t eat that kind of food at school. One of his main focuses is health and healthy eating…more on that later.

I will divide the information I have on education in Panama over several blogs since it is a lot of information and quite diverse.

Education in Panama Part 2

Kindergarten kids always love to get their picture taken.

The local elementary school is one of only 8 schools in Chiriquí Province where we are currently living. In this posting I will discuss general education in Panama and a subsequent posting will talk about this special school.

Panamanian children attend school from kindergarten (or as Candelario called it “his garden”) through the 12th grade. Schools are generally 5 hours per day (a little shorter for kindergarten). The school year runs from March to a few days before Christmas. Students are off for about 2 1/2 months for their vacation.

I was surprised and saddened to see in at least one article (very interesting article from late 2016) that Panama’s education system is considered the “worst in the world” which would be bad to be worse than Nicaragua or other really poorer countries. Candelario characterized Panama as a rich country whose wealth is centralized among the elite and doesn’t trickle down to the masses. Drop out rate is 20-25%.

Beginning in 2008, children with disabilities are integrated into the regular classroom. I’m a huge proponent of integration but in Panama most of the teachers don’t get any support to teach the child with disabilities. No aide, no training, no smaller classroom. Hard to expect any success for those children in those situations.

More females attend college/university than males who have usually already joined the workforce by their mid to late teens.

Education in Panama Part 3

 

Local elementary school: Ministry of Education, Volcancito School.

This post is about the Volcancito School. As I said in the first posting about education in Panama, this one is one of only 8 schools in this province of Chiriquí. The school is almost entirely indigenous students, k-6th grades.  While the kindergartners only  attend until noon, the other students attend from 8-4 each day. The students generally don’t have any homework except occasionally to study for a quiz.

Kindergarten

Education is mandatory however the principal, Candelario feels that the children are really sent by their parents because they are fed. They each receive a breakfast and lunch. The school receives $3000 per month from the Panamanian government to cover the cost of food. With 180 students, approximately 20 days of school a month, that works out to $0.83 a day for food per child. Despite the limitations I saw a large crate of fresh tomatoes when I was in the kitchen.

Students receive 2 hours per day instruction in English by teachers that only teach English. The rest of the day is taught in Spanish. In addition to English and Spanish, students are taught sanitation, health, relationships, reading, writing, math, and history.

Candelario feels that his biggest obstacles are:

  • Poverty-as many as 8 people would live in a space the size of his office. If you look at the picture I took of it, you can see how small that is.
  • Inadequate facilities-Since becoming the principal in 2013, several classrooms have been added however they are barely adequate. The kitchen is approximately 25’x15′ including two large picnic benches where the children eat, refrigerators, freezers, sink, and stove! The Rotary club has helped them add space, including a new classroom that is almost ready to be used.
  • Abuse-Sadly, physical, sexual, and mental abuse is common in the culture. Girls as young as 10 get pregnant.

This school is truly blessed to have Candelario for their principal. Although he plans to retire in a few years after 31 years as a teacher and a number of years as a principal, he hasn’t done that yet because he feels that he has a mission from God to help these kids.

One goal of his is to add a computer lab. There are currently no computers for the children to use. If you are so moved, let me know and we will see how you can help with this.