“Excitement, nerves… two contradictory emotions, but it’s inevitable to feel both when heading off into the unknown for four and a half months.”
This is the opening blog from Laura Kennedy who left Ireland on January 31, 2013 to take up a voluntary teaching post in Jiquilillo, a small fishing village in Nicaragua, Central America.
Laura Kennedy is from Tipperary town and a member of the Tipperary Musical Society. She has been teaching in Waterford Educate Together for the past 4 years. After working on Nantucket, a resort island in the States, for four years, she was keen to get back to basics and volunteer abroad. Through a school connection she ended up volunteering in South Africa for six weeks in 2006. This experience changed Laura’s plans from applying for a Masters in Development to the post-graduate in Primary Teaching. After 18 months in Mary Immaculate College she got a permanent job in Waterford.
“Four years later I applied for a career break from school with the intention of travelling until Christmas and volunteering after. I studied Spanish in college, so south or Central America was always top of my list. I trawled the web and came across the work of Rancho Esperanza. An American who had worked for an NGO (Non governmental organisation) in the village had returned and set up a hostel and many initiatives to support the local community including sponsoring school children, free English classes and an afterschool club.
Rancho Esperanza is palm-lined hideaway on a quiet Pacific beach that leads half a dozen community initiatives aimed at helping the town of Jiquilillo take the reins of its own development before it drowns in the wave of tourism headed its way. The property is owned and operated by Nate Yue, an expat and aid worker from the United Sates, who first came to Nicaragua in 1998, fresh out of high school. He spent the better part of the next decade either working on aid projects in Nicaragua or saving up for his next trip down. When the NGO (Non governmental organisation) Nate had been working for pulled out of town, he decided to stay and continue to help. It took him three years to save up the money for Rancho Esperanza, which opened to the public in 2005. He calls it the, “Ranch of Hope” because it represents his hope for the community and its prosperity. Most of the projects focus on providing positive role models for the local children and preparing the community for the impending onslaught of tourism.
Laura headed out to Nicaragua on January 31 this year and after recovering from a chest infection she got to work with local children in the afterschool programme.
“Education is not a priority here, many children don’t go on to second level, and others drop out earlier. Often the kids are sent home early as teachers don’t always show up due to an hour and a half commute by bus. Also there is a lot of alcoholism in the village and many home situations are neither stable nor affectionate. The club aims to give the children a chance to just be kids for a few hours every day and to link in some education as surreptitiously as possible. We play, we read, we do projects, arts and crafts and have team challenges. We have a library from which the children can borrow books to bring home. I also spend time working with kids who are falling behind in school in whatever areas they need help, most frequently the request is for maths. Working with the kids is both challenging and rewarding. They range in age from 2 to 16 so finding appropriate activities for everyone can be trying but we muddle along just fine,” explained Laura.
“Most kids drop out by 4th grade, equivalent of our fourth class. No facts on illiteracy - no one cares enough to figure it out. $40 sends a kid to school with uniform and supplies for a year. $100 allows a teacher to get the supplies they need for their class per annum. They are trying to raise $1000 to bring a strong enough electrical supply to the secondary school to run the 5 donated computers that are currently sitting idle. The primary school’s roof and doors need replacing; the school can’t be locked due to broken doors. All construction costs are about one tenth of that in the first world. $300 per annum keeps the kids’ club in supplies for arts and crafts etc. New games and educational material are always welcome. The average family lives on $3000 a year. Many live on a lot less.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, Laura was determined to paint the town green. “Many locals had not heard of St. Patrick’s Day at all so fully clad in varying shades of green, equipped with a pot of green paint, a few paint brushes and my fellow Irish expat Aoife, we set off through the village and painted the face of every child, and some courageous adults green. The kids didn’t really care about saints or shamrocks or any of the cultural side of things, they all just wanted one thing, a painted leaf on their cheek and once they got into the swing of it, to be the ones doing the painting. They might not have retained too much information about our beloved patron saint but they will all remember how to paint a shamrock and hopefully we can persuade them to make it an annual event,” said Laura.
“Nearly two hours later we closed the celebrations with an ice cream, not green unfortunately, but I feel we definitely did our bit for St. Paddy and the Diaspora. We may have failed to dye the Pacific green but it was as fine a display of patriotism, fun and frolics, as you would have found anywhere else on Paddy’s day.
Lá Féile Pádraig Shona daoibh, feliz día San Patricio ó Jiquilillo.” To read Laura’s blog go to: www.blog.travelpod.com/members/laurackennedy.