By Nancy Klos
This newsletter will be a “two-for-one” bargain. Two brigades have taken place in 2016 already, one in January and one in February.
The first took place prior to the students returning for the new 2016 school year. The week was spent cleaning, organizing, preparing, and planning.
Volunteer Barb Williams and I were very fortunate to participate in a home visit to meet a new potential student, named, Angela. Her family lives in a remote area accessible only on foot. We met with mom, shared plantains cooked over a wood fire, and enjoyed the beauty of their “back yard” while Angela got comfortable with us.
A typical student recruitment occurs much this way. Either through word of mouth in the small mountain communities, through referrals from Los Pipitos or our clinic in Jinotega, or upon recommendation from a current student family we are given names of potential students. The Albergue staff follow up with a call to request a home visit. The travel can take a full day trying to locate the remote homes within the hills. After informing the family about the Albergue program and learning back ground information about the child, it is up to the family to make the decision to give care of their child to the Albergue during the school months. This will be life changing for everyone and not taken lightly. If the family decides to go forward, at a determined date, the student travels with a parent or other family member and they spend a week getting acclimated to this new and very different home away from home. Some transitions go smoothly, some do not. As with any separation, it is a process that takes time and the Albergue staff does a superb job helping families and students adjust.
There have been several staffing changes since the start of the year. In December, our lead teacher, Ana, resigned as she was relocating to Spain. Jasmina has assumed the position of lead teacher, with Rosa continuing as the high school teacher replacing Marlene during the school year last year. While I was there in January I was able to sit in on one of the interviews for the open teaching position. Prior to school starting in February, Sandra, the person I met, was hired. Sandra has 10 years experience elementary teaching in the public schools. She learned sign language when a deaf first grader enrolled in her classroom. She was determined to provide the little girl access to education, so took it upon herself to take sign language classes. Kudos, Sandra!
It has worked out very well to have the boys bedrooms in the main Albergue building and have the girls’ bedrooms at the Casa. After much consideration it was determined in January to change the staffing structure at the Casa to match the main building which is 24 hrs on/ 24 hrs off. Alicia and Sylvia, current house parents, will work those shifts at the Casa rather than have a family live at the house 24/7. This structure was proving to be too confining for the family’s natural home life.
The work of campus maintenance continued during the February brigade with painting and library organization. Volunteer Sharon Bish who is a librarian with the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System gave us a week of expert shelving and cataloging of newly donated books. We hope to put her recommendations into action on future trips.
In the afternoons, the teachers and students were delighted to have volunteer Evelyn Delaney back in town (4th trip?) to provide support and guidance in the classroom.
Evelyn taught the older students card games which were enjoyed in the outdoor garden.
Dr. Laida Restrepo returned with Beatriz de Diego, one of her doctoral students at Arizona State University. Beatriz has been providing speech therapy to one of our students via Skype. On this trip she was able to meet the students face to face and to spend some time working with them. Laida and Beatriz are working together on a plan for a proposed Study Abroad program for ASU students to come to Jinotega next Spring.
In conclusion: School supplies are always in great need. Prior to each brigade we have gathered donations of materials to take with us. But it is becoming more difficult to bring adequate supplies without incurring the cost of paying for additional baggage since we are limited to 1 checked 50# bag per volunteer. For those who wish to contribute school supplies we are requesting cash donations, designated for school supplies. We cannot get everything in Nicaragua needed for the classrooms but basics such as notebooks, pencils, paper, etc. can be purchased in town, saving us room in our suitcases for more specialized educational items.