Volunteering in Nicaraguan Schools

While we’re staying in Granada, we’re spending our mornings volunteering for a great organisation focusing on children’s education: http://www.la-esperanza-granada.org/. Nick works in the charity’s office, managing their online presence, writing blogs, promoting the organisation and helping Spanish speaking staff to respond to emails in English.

I am working with primary aged children in local schools, which is a huge culture shock after the UK. For example, below pictures show the different approach to health and safety, such as the time my old school was fumigated while the children were still in it (!) and the building work that continues merrily at my current school as the children skip around the electrical saws, welding machines, man holes and concrete blocks.

In Nicaragua, the younger kids go to school from 7.30am-11.30am, and the older kids (and completely different staff) attend in the afternoons. However, the daily schedule is totally arbitrary and changes frequently. Here are just a few of the reasons why the entire school has finished at 10am:

  1. One of the teachers wanted to go to the bank.
  2. It was someone’s birthday in the barrio and everyone wanted to go to the party.
  3. It was raining.

The attendance rate is shocking: just over half the children will be in school on any given day. For a variety of reasons, some kids turn up on the first day of the year and are not seen again until the following year. Many have frequent days off school to help their parents earn money, selling things at the beach or collecting rubbish to be recycled. Several wander home immediately after the free morning meal of beans and rice, which is given to the children most days, often served from buckets.

Classrooms are pretty chaotic compared to what I’m used to. While some teachers are great, here they are allowed to walk off and leave classes completely unsupervised, or spend whole lessons on their phones ignoring the children. The set curriculum is copying down what is on the board, and as most kids don’t understand or can’t read it, they spend a lot of their time screaming, fighting, jumping on the tables and zooming in and out of the classroom. For a short clip of one of the ‘calmer’ days in my first school, click here (the teacher is in the middle of teaching during this clip). Less than 60% of children graduate from primary school here.

I am working outside of the classrooms, giving ‘tutorials’ to 6-7 year olds to help them understand the basics of reading, writing and number (in Spanish, obviously) and making resources for the volunteers to use. The kids are so keen to learn when taken outside of the formal setting. Some just need a bit of a boost to catch up with their class, and love using the different materials to help them remember and understand basic letters and numbers. Others have much more severe needs and there is no funding to help them. One boy I’ve been working with has only just started to speak in school, using words like ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’ and beginning to count to 5. He is 7 years old.

It can be extremely frustrating trying to work within a constantly changing system, and of course when the kids don’t show up for school there’s nothing we can do. One day last week only 6 of the 28 children we are targeting came to school ‘because it was raining’. A lot of the kids are doing brilliantly but there is a long way to go and not much time left for this year. The ‘summer’ holidays are due to start in December, but could be triggered at any time from November onwards due to the general election…as I said, the schedule changes A LOT here!

Despite the challenges, it’s great working with the adorable kids, and it has been nothing if not an eye-opening experience working in the schools! We’ll be working up until the official beginning of the summer holidays in December. Hopefully the schools will be open until then…please keep your fingers crossed!

Hasta la proxima!

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