Friday, November 14, 2014

Top 20 Countdown: #17 Built 1 School & 1 Preschool

In 1994, our first year here, we worked with one barrio named Roberto Clemente (yes, for all you fans, it was named after the baseball player).  The barrio was up the dirt road from us on the edge of Ciudad Sandino and it was a destitute place.   People lived in shacks thrown together with tin scraps.

When we had medical volunteers, we would send them to Roberto Clemente to see patients.  Nora Laws, a pediatric physician’s assistant who has been with the CDCA since its conception, was one of those medical professionals. Seeing all those malnourished children broke her heart and got her head rolling.

After talking with the leaders of the community, Nora went home and got her church, Parkway United Church of Christ (Winston-Salem, NC) involved.  With funds raised and volunteers from the church and barrio building together, a feeding center/ preschool was built.  Bob, our appropriate tech guy, worked in putting in a efficient wood-burning cook stove.  Our daughter, Jessica, and another volunteer painted murals on the walls.

This was our first construction project that was completely ours… and we learned so much of what not to do later… oh, the mistakes we made! 
The leader we
Nora seeing patients in Roberto Clemente
worked with turned out not to be a natural leader after all. The community as a whole was behind this project... as long as someone else was taking responsibility.  It only worked as long as the CDCA ran the preschool and feeding center, which included paying for staff and all the food. 

Nora tried to fund it as long as she could… and she managed it for several years.    
Building school in Las Parcelasa

The second school we built was in a rural community, Las Parcelas, where we had started working to market farmers' sesame.  The community approached the CDCA to see if we would help them build a health center and a school, because their kids had to walk to another village to attend school, and they had a teacher who lived in Las Parcelas, but she had to go elsewhere to teach.
Teen volunteers juggling fire in Las Parcelas

With the help of many, funding was raised for the materials.  Our volunteers and the community jointly built the school and it was fun.  The community welcomed our folks with open arms.  Several of our groups had children and teens; working and hanging out in Las Parcelas made a significant impact on them.  

The differences in the communities taught us a great deal:
1.    Rural communities and urban communities are different.  Rural communities are made up of extended families and people who have lived together for decades… urban neighborhoods start out as strangers.
2.    The “leader” presented is frequently not a natural leader… the ones who have the respect and the pulse of the people. 
3.    No matter how great an idea is… if it does not come from the people, then it will not be effective or sustainable.

Rogelio making blackboard at Las Parcelas school
Once we stepped away from the Roberto Clemente preschool/feeding center, it sat empty until the community of Roberto Clemente decided that it really was a good idea. Then the parents organized themselves and now the Roberto Clemente preschool is a model preschool in Ciudad Sandino.  The parents run the preschool.  Children are fed and taught.  Twenty years on, Roberto Clemente is a stable community.

Building schools is not a priority for us; the current Nicaraguan government provides free education as well as support for students, like free meals, books, and supplies.  Many schools are being rebuilt after damage to buildings from tremors last spring.  

What continues to be a priority for us is listening to communities and working closely with them.

Future educational projects:
  • Continuing our extensive volunteer programs and speaking trips... on-going
  • Helping co-ops learn business skills and wade through technical aspects of their work... on-going
  • Public health education... on-going
 We continue these programs and are  constantly expanding them as new needs arise. 

20 years/20 dollars: help us keep doing more by giving $20. - Kathleen

Counting down to #GivingTuesday on December 2nd, we’re highlighting the CDCA’s accomplishments over our 20 years in Nicaragua. Follow our countdown in this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. Help us keep doing more by giving $20. Our goal is to raise $20,000.