One of the attributes of living in Nicaragua is that one can have impact on a daily basis. Poverty being omnipresent, one does not have to seek out established organizations, one can simply opt to “help as one can”, on a one on one basis.
One of my (Peta) traits is perseverence. Good thing too, as there is a wide gap in Nicaragua between WANTING to help and being ABLE to help. The gap lies in the process. So here is a feel for the process that led me to, happily, declare “success” on two new fronts.
Vanessa is deaf. When I first met her, I wasn’t sure what her issue was, but it was clear that she had trouble speaking. No one in her family seemed to know specifically what was wrong with her. I made a few attempts to get her some help in the form of an assessment. Right now she does communciate well with her cousin through an assortment of sounds and a private sign language. The attempts to help fell through each time for a different reason and then we left for Ecuador. Once we got back I was ready to try again. I email Donna Tabor (she has lived here for about fifteen years and has opened various small schools for kids in need).
We make plans to take Vanessa to a nearby place where there is a sign language teacher. A time is set, but now I have to get the message to Vanessa and her cousin Paola about the appointment, and I have to make sure that they show up, as various people are lined up in order to make this happen. On the day of the appointment, I go and personally get Vanessa but when we got to her house, deep in the barrio, Vanessa is nowhere to be found. The search is on, and she turns up at the beach, unaware that she has an appointment to try to help her get some form of schooling, for the first time ever. Finally we drive to a “school” — more like one large room in a building on a main street — that serves mostly adults or older kids with various disabilities. Vanessa meets the teacher, who seems particularly friendly and enthusiastic. Ten days go by, today Paola stops by to ask for some dog food, and tells me that Vanessa has been back every day — so far so good. Success story number one!
Number two is Manuel, a wild eyed nine year old, who is a cousin of my neighbor Hugo and has only one pair of broken plastic shoes. He would love to go to school, but he has no backpack or supplies. I take him to the Mercado and we go into a shoe shop (his first time in a shoe store). Lets just say that so far in shoe shops there is an unusual way of doing things. There is no measuring device. It is more of a guess as to what the right size of the foot might be, and by inference what shoe size might come out of the store room. This is a pretty long process and requires (for me anyway) a lot of patience. They don’t have socks to try the shoes on with, so they use a plastic bag. We leave with a beautiful pair of black athletic shoes that cost more than I had counted on, but Manuel is so happy and proud that it makes up for it. We are looking for socks in the stalls on the sides of the street near the market. After a while Manuel kindly tells me I am asking for tshirts (camiseta) instead of socks (calcetina) as I am using the wrong word. No wonder we weren’t finding any socks! OK, so with proper shoes, the path opens up for schooling. First the public school. They turn Manuel away because there is only two months left of school till the end of the year. He can start in January, but not now. Then we go to Dona’s Escuelita. It seems a shame to not capitalize on our momentum and get Manuel in class. We get turned down because he has to come with a parent. Problem is, education is not a priority for his parents. However my neighbor, who is his aunt, and who has been home-schooling him for some time, says she will take him. They get turned away too, twice. Easy to see at this point why many of the kids or their parents give up. I can’t understand why all the hurdles and think that the proper response should be “good for you, here is your seat”. So I write to Dona yet again and tell her of my frustation with her school. She quickly assigns a foreign volunteer to work with Manuel, starting immediately. In parallel, the aunt comes by and tells me proudly that she has spoken to the father and he will “do the right thing” and come at 9am to help his son start school. This morning, 9am comes, there is a knock at the door. Manuel is at the door alone. His head is buzzed, his new shoes on, he is scrubbed clean and is holding his head high. Today, he will go to school. Since the father is a no-show, I decide to go together with the aunt and all three of us walk to the school. A scuffle at the door, as the teacher hasn’t gotten the message, and she tries to tell us he can’t come in without his father. At this point, I am determined that this eager child will start school today. Punto! After much discussion — not very welcoming or motivating for Manuel, as he is reminded once again of his father’s absence — his aunt and I almost push him in the door. Finally, he starts his first day of school. A few hours later, Manuel comes by. He looks different. He is proud. Tomorrow he will go to school again. He points out that he is back in his broken plastic shoes — he doesn’t want to spoil his brand new shoes and is keeping them for school only.