2018 Blog

Wednesday, March 2

Taking the mattress to the base of the mountain.


Bernarda’s father and brother carrying the mattress to their home.



Starting the walk to Bernarda’s home






Talking with Bernarda at her home




Bernarda showing us her Bachelor’s degree.



The mattress in Bernarda’s mother’s room.



Photos of the group with Bernarda and her family.





Going down the mountain.




The students practicing traditional Nicaragua dances.









The baseball team showing off their new equipment.




Ms. Howard’s science class.







The students with scholarship winner Geysel.



Maria Jose showing us the 97% she got on a recent report.


The students with scholarship winner Maria Jose.




Wednesday morning we walked up the mountain with our buddies to Bernarda’s house, in order to give her ailing mother a mattress. She used to sleep on a piece of wood, and we thought this needed to change because her diabetes is worsening; she’s losing her sight and also lost a few toes. Before walking up with the buddies, I was scared that the communication barrier would thwart the development of our relationship, but as we walked up the mountain, we seemed to be getting closer and closer. I was scared certain jokes are amusing only in certain cultures, or conversation topics vary from country to country, but soon I learned that they laugh, talk and cry about the same things as me. As we took more and more steps up the hill, some risky, some stable, I began to know myself better, and I also could appreciate their culture with a more aware perspective. For them, silence isn’t something they would term as “awkward.” They smile with a carefree look, laugh despite all the hardships they must brave everyday, and their smile speaks with vibrant colors. In fact, I soon realized that having dirty floors, or fruit left out in the open, represents one of the many difficulties they need to face, but for them, its something they are used to waking up to, or going to sleep to. When we finally arrived a Bernarda’s house, sweaty and tired, we were welcomed as always, with a warm sunny smile. “Our home is your home,” they always tell us. We were then given a tour of the house, and that’s when I realized how glad I was that Ms. Liogas bought the mattress. Bernarda’s mom’s old bed, a hard piece of wood in a room with very little walking space available, was in no way adequate to satisfy her growing and increasingly urgent medical needs. Before we resumed our long trek down the hill, Bernarda spoke a few words to give us advice. The main gist of her message was to focus on our studies, because this is what is most important in our life right now, and it does not make us boring.

Emma D


Today was a very eventful day for me as there was certainly one event that stood out the most. The walk to Bernarda’s house with our buddies is definitely a memory I will forever keep in my heart, as it was an amazing bonding experience with my buddy and to visit Bernarda herself. Ivette, my buddy, shared with me a story of her father who, fourteen years ago, lost both of his kidneys and was very close to death. Thanks to her uncle, he was able to receive one kidney that saved his life. I was truly touched by her story because without the generosity of her uncle, Ivette’s father wouldn’t be with us on this earth today. It made me think hard as how sacrifices to some may be life saving to others and many people in first world countries do not realize this like the people in Nicaragua do. Despite hearing this heart-wrenching story, I got to know the caring side of Ivette as each time when I would slip she would immediately grip my arm and tell me to be careful. When I would be too close to an edge she would bring me to the farther side and put herself in my place. We have developed such a unique bond despite our language barrier and it has made me realize that actions are more important than words. When there is nothing to say I point to an object and ask how to say it in Spanish as she gladly replies and I teach her the word in English. Not only is this educational but it is helping us connect and form such a wonderful bond. It will be a very bittersweet moment when Ivette and I will have to part ways as I know it will most likely be my last time seeing her. Yet I know I have left an imprint on her life and she definitely has left one on mine.



After lunch at Dr. Perez’s home we returned to the Diria Institute. We were told that we were going to teach before arriving at the school, but unfortunately for us non- dancers, a surprise was awaiting us. Once we finally settled in, we were told to wear the traditional Nicaraguan dancing skirts. We then began to start learning dances at quite a rapid pace. I think I can speak for all of us and say that it was far too difficult for our skill level. Not only were we nervous to begin the dancing, most of the school started to crowd around the agora making our anxiety skyrocket! Despite having over 50 people watching us dance (not so gracefully might I add), we all had an amazing time learning traditional Nicaraguan and African based dances and trying to move our hips in ways they’ve never moved before. After what seemed like forever, we finally got a chance to show them our dance. They really enjoyed learning the Whip/Nae-Nae because it seemed like they had already heard of the song before. The students seemed happy to learn a little bit of our culture and we certainly enjoyed getting to know a little bit of theirs.



Lisa, Alex, Samantha, Elizabeth, one of our buddies and I volunteered to try a traditional Nicaraguan folk dance, with six of the boys from the Diria Institute. Thinking that everyone was going to try it, we were all quite excited. However, we then later found out that the six of us were the only ones trying it, and were going to perform the dance in front of the entire school on Friday. Let’s just say that we were all about to faint. The five of us were completely scared and felt kind of vulnerable because all eyes would be on us – not to mention, messing up the traditional dance would be even more embarrassing. Some of us are not really used to having all eyes on us, as well as we had boys who knew what they were doing trying to help. Unfortunately, that made most of us feel extremely vulnerable. Once we finished attempting to learn the dance, we were so sweaty. It was pretty disgusting, but nonetheless, it was a new experience and not an entirely bad one at that.


Tuesday, March 1

The girls playing volleyball with their buddies.










Ms. Howard with teachers from neighboring schools who came by to audit her class today.



Science Class




Making new friends.





At Candalaria’s house.








At Valeria’s house.




After yesterday’s experience, my group was not very confident about how well we would be able to control our classes and make sure that everyone was having a good time. With a completely new lesson plan and 3 classes lined up for the day, we arrived to the school and were greeted by our class of grade 7 students. Saying that we were nervous would be a complete understatement. Last night we brainstormed to try to find a way to make our lessons more interactive and slightly less boring; and it definitely worked. We left every single one of our classes this morning with smiles on our faces and our confidence tripled. We found out that the key to being able to teach while having fun was to realize that the people in the class were kids just like us, and cannot wait to teach the rest of our classes.




Visiting the scholarship winners homes yesterday was not only a humbling experience, but also an overwhelming one. We’ve had a chance to speak to scholarship winners, which was an experience in itself, but realizing the conditions in which very intelligent people need to study and succeed is impressive. The homes were small, often with only one room and not enough beds, but so full of love and acceptance. Jocelyn, one of our winners, said to us many times that she hopes we like her home and that her home was ours. Her words made many of us very emotional but glad to be doing what we’re doing. Edith and her mother repeated to us many times how grateful they were for the way we’re changing their lives. It’s visiting the homes and seeing the impact we’re having on people that has put our efforts into perspective.




Walking into Dr. Perez’s home yesterday was nice, but seeing her backyard was a whole different, beautiful story. Walking through that last doorframe and entering the back of the house was incredible. Everything was green you could barely see the sky. It was almost like we were in this dome and if you looked up you could see the sun shining above you; it was a magical garden. The amount of joy surrounding each person was indescribable and we were all excited to be sitting around one table surrounded by nature’s beauty. It was literally an extract from a paradise movie. The food was delicious and everyone working at Dr. Perez’s home, including Dr. Perez, were so warm and welcoming, not to mention the two hammocks that were tied together by bamboo trees, which everyone was dying to try. The excitement to get on the hammocks increased and the food on the plates quickly diminished. I’m trying to put this in words, but the truth is that no amount of words will ever be able to explain what my eyes took in, how my stomach felt and how everyone was living in the moment.




Teaching in Nicaragua

Tuesday afternoon was my first teaching day at the Diria Institute. I had two Grade 11 groups – one a group of 29 and the other a group of 33 of non-English speaking students. I have to admit I was a bit nervous waiting for the students to enter the science room. Thankfully, I had Mme. Bousser with me to translate. I had brought the materials with me so that we could examine series and parallel circuits but before we started the actual building of circuits, we “played” around with an energy stick. It was very interesting to watch the students come to the realization that the human body is a conductor of electricity. After providing a brief explanation of circuits to the students, we moved on to building a series circuit with two light bulbs in it. The students seemed hesitant at first to try to build the circuit but they soon caught on and the complexity of the circuits I asked them to build increased and included series and parallel circuits with light bulbs, switches and buzzers. To say the classroom got quite noisy is probably an understatement! But the learning was evident. All too soon the first class was over and the second group came in to explore electrical circuits. The students didn’t want to leave at the end of the day and we actually had to tell them it was time to leave.

What stood out for me during my first day of teaching in Nicaragua? Realizing that a student is a student no matter where they live. We might have different life experiences but the desire to learn is in all of us. That watching students figure out a problem by trial and error is amazing. That seeing the smiles that lit up their faces when the circuits worked was so rewarding. That it is possible to reach students despite a language barrier. It was an incredible afternoon.

This morning two teachers from nearby schools joined my first teaching class. Prior to class I was talking to them and one of them mentioned that their son had come home yesterday and told them all about the great science class they had where they built circuits. I felt the classes had gone well but it was really nice to hear that a student had enjoyed it so much that they talked about it at home.

Ms. Howard



Candelaria’s House

Tuesday afternoon, our group went to visit one of this year’s scholarship winners, Candelaria. She was so welcoming as she invited us to her home; a plot of land belonging to her grandparents that had been split up among her family members. Canderlaria’s own home was not much more than four sticks, a tin roof and some cardboard walls, and yet the joy on her and her mother’s faces was so heartwarming as they expressed their gratefulness for the support they had received. The atmosphere at Canderlaria’s was all the more inviting and warm. Small children, mostly her cousins, ran about the dusty yard, kicking soccer balls and posing for our cameras. Chickens, roosters, and other birds roamed the yard freely, and we also spotted a few dogs, cats, and pigs. There was a small clay pot bubbling over a fire, and clothing hanging on the clothes line. Her family members, all full of the same joie de vivre, were all living in harmony, but even that could not distract us from the miserable poverty they all lived in.

We were lucky enough to ask Canderlaria some questions. She talked to us about her ambitions and university plans, where she is studying business and finances, hoping to later pursue accounting. We were shocked to learn that, in order to be at university on time, she had to wake up at four in the morning to catch her five am bus, not to mention all the studying and out of school responsibilities that she had to take on. Candelaria has four siblings, and she and her five family members share two beds in a small room adjacent to their main kitchen. She has a simple wooden bench set aside just for her, which she uses to study under the light of one bare light bulb.

While Canderlaria and her family thank us for the opportunities that Canderlaria has received, it was definitely her extremely hard work and unwavering dedication that allowed her to achieve her goal. Candelaria’s story is an incredible one, as are the other scholarship winners, because they teach us that nothing is impossible. As cliché as this sounds, Candelaria and the other scholarship winners are the living proof that it is absolutely true.

Emma H.

Monday, February 29

The opening assembly at the Diria Institute.

















Ms. Zannis doing a PD session with some of the teachers at the Diria Institute.



The girls teaching English to grades 10 and 11.





Ms. Howard teaching science with the help of Mme Bousser.

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Our students with Ethel (2016 Scholarship winner)



Our students with Jocelyn (2015 scholarship winner)



We pulled up to the school, excited as ever and ready for what we had been waiting/talking about since May of last year. We each took 1 out of 22 donation suitcases we had brought from Montreal and started to bring it to the agora. Looking around, Ms. Liogas pointed out how they painted The Study crest on their wall. All eyes were on us when we entered and as we brought the suitcases to their stage. Multiple emotions were running through my head at this moment, emotions of excitement, nervousness, warmth and a little vulnerability to have 400 students watching your every move. We unpacked all the donations from the bags for everyone to see. After we had finished this process, we were told to sit on stage where they had seats for us as the guests of honor. Three students walked in holding three different flags, the Nicaraguan flag, Canadian flag along with a flag of their school crest. They then played their country’s anthem and later played ours, before we presented and showed all the donations one at a time. It went by very quickly. Afterwards, 4 girls and 4 boys came out and presented a beautiful dance that seemed to be well rehearsed. Most of the girls were mesmerized by how graceful they moved to the rhythm; it was something extremely unique. Once the assembly was over, we had the pleasure of meeting our buddies. My buddy’s name is Fernanda. She’s a sweet girl who seemed to be very compassionate and friendly. All The Study girls seemed ecstatic to meet and get to know our buddies by playing games (still nervous about the language). Lunch seemed to arrive quickly where we ate at the magical garden of Mr and Mrs Perez as we practiced our lesson plans for the afternoon of teaching ahead of us. Once we returned to the school, we got to our assigned class for 45 minutes of teaching. My group and I were extremely nervous for the language barrier but once we got to teaching it didn’t seem to be a problem anymore because we communicated by hand gestures and examples. All in all, I think I can speak for my classmates by saying; it was a day we will definitely remember.

Lisa Marie

Sunday, February 28

Instead of being overly wordy, I’ve decided to let the students reflect on each day of the trip in order to give you a better sense of what they are experiencing. Before their reflections, I will give you the highlights of what they saw and did.

The Lagoon



Making a friend at the lagoon:



Meeting our old friend Jose in the Diria town square. We found out that Jose is going to University and studying communications and media relations.



Eating lunch with our graduates and their families.




Making new friends along the way.




Elsa’s husband showing us how to make pottery.








We ended the day by going to the Apoyo Lagoon and enjoying a marimba lesson.





Our sleeping beauties at dinner.





Our first activity Sunday was attending a church service in Diria. The church was big, and many people were attending the service with us. I have only ever attended a service when I was younger, so this was a relatively new experience for me. It was all in Spanish, so I only understood a few words. It was really beautiful to see so many people come together, I could really feel the strong sense of community this village has. At one point, we exchanged handshakes with the people in the pew next to us to wish them peace. A young couple and their little girl turned around, smiled and extended their hands with warmth. This struck me because without knowing us and without words, they wished us peace. We were surrounded by young children, all of whom were dressed in colourful apparel. It was overall a really beautiful experience, one I will not be forgetting anytime soon.




After lunch, we went to visit the home, workshop and pottery shop of a woman named Elsa. Elsa only had a third grade education, but she managed to send all her children through university. Her parents thought that education wasn’t very important and that knowing a trade was more useful, so Elsa only knew how to do pottery and grew her own business from there. She also taught her husband how to do pottery and we got to see him making poetry using the wheel. After hearing her wise words about her journey and her advice to us, Elsa’s wisdom led to the question: “What is the meaning of life?” Her answer was “Love yourself. If you love your eyes, you will never put smoke in your eyes. If you love your mouth, you will never put alcohol in your mouth. If you love your feet, you will never take the wrong path. That’s the meaning of life.” I found her pottery and her story so amazing that I couldn’t help buying multiple pieces. I would see one and I would think, “I have to buy this!” Almost all of us brought at least 1 piece of pottery, though most of us bought more than that because they were just so beautifully crafted. Some of us also got to try making pottery. Elsa’s daughter was also present in the home. Her daughter was 21 years old and already had a 4 year old boy and a baby in her arms. Even though we knew that people had children at a young age, it was still shocking to us because she would have had to get pregnant at our age, which is something unimaginable for us. The children were adorable and even though we didn’t speak the same language, we were able to communicate by hand gestures and a smile. The kindness of the family, the wisdom of Elsa, and the beauty of her work made it one of my favorite experiences so far.



During lunch, we invited the 3 recent graduates and their families to join us. After a lovely lunch of sharing laughs and some spanglish sentences between the 3 graduates and myself, time had flown by over our heads and we realized it was time to part. As the families were getting up from their seats, leaving the bus to travel back to their homes, Bernarda’s father had some words of thanks he wished to express to us all. Tears were streaming down his face as he spoke to us, familiar strangers, who’ve helped changed the life of his daughter, his family and so many other young girls through the scholarship program. Without ever meeting the people a couple of rows up from me on the bus, I couldn’t stop thinking that I have made a difference in their lives and that they have changed mine. It was moving to see a father show so much emotion in front of us, being that this country has so far proven to have a very “macho man” kind of mentality. His courageousness inspired each of the parents to get up and tell us how thankful they were, show their vulnerability and share personal bits of their lives. We are lucky enough to have Ms. Bousser and Dr. Perez with us on this trip, for without them we would have much difficulty in understanding their kind words of gratitude. Each of the three graduates from our scholarship program Maria Gabriela, Bernarda, and Cynthia wanted to leave us with a couple words of thanks as well. These girls spoke to us with such eloquence, giving us warm words of advice, encouragement, and genuine hopes and wishes for our futures. I couldn’t help myself from crying when Cynthia came up to speak because I realized that she was the scholarship winner that I had voted for 4 years ago when it was my first time on the Nicaragua scholarship committee. While all three girls spoke about how thankful they were for us students, and the students involved in past trips, I had to share how these girls have changed my life. They have taught me that making connections in life is what is most important. Creating a community beyond the borders of countries has fostered such an appreciation for life in me. I’m so glad that I got the chance to be with Cynthia, Maria Gabriela, and Bernarda and to get to finally thank them for the difference they’ve made in my life. I’ll forever be thankful for them and the people I have yet to meet in Nicaragua.


Saturday, February 27

Sorry for the delay in getting the blog up and running but we were having an issue with transferring photos. Thankfully Abby saved the day by having an extra cable with her.

Our first day in Nicaragua was quite the adventure. We started off by walking through the local market, taking in the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday morning.



We then walked over to the cooperative hammock store. The store is an amazing place that hires blind and deaf people. The girls were shown how the hammocks were woven and had the opportunity to meet people working in the store.





An ingenious way of making smoothies.


We then went to a local church to climb up the bell tower. The bell tower offered a wonderful view of the city of Granada.




The next stop was at a cigar factory. Students were shown how cigars are made and a few are bringing back cigars, hand made, for their dads.



We took a break at a chocolate museum and the girls enjoyed a cold milk chocolate made of locally grown cocoa beans. Lunch was at a fish restaurant that is made to look like you are on the beach.



We visited an archaeological museum and were shown pieces from the indigenous population.




The afternoon capped off with an organization of the donation suitcases.




Reflection – Samantha

Our first full day in Nicaragua was a revelation for me. After applying a ton of sunscreen and bug spray, we met up with Dr. Perez to begin the adventure. We set off in the streets and entered the market frequented by the locals. All of a sudden there were people everywhere. Stalls lined the streets and people hawked their goods. Then, suddenly, the stalls merged together into a covered area. The stores were grouped into sections: we passed stores selling clothing, others selling spices and some selling meats. I was struck by how the meat was lying on bare counters in the open air. I passed an entire pig’s head on the edge of a stall’s table. There was no plastic wrap in sight, and nobody wore a hair net. The market was a maze of narrow dirt paths barely covered by a tin roof… nothing could have been more different from our air-conditioned malls. More and more sections of the market unfolded, and some of them weren’t even under a roof. There were stray dogs panting and following people around. Two little children were carrying tomatoes passed me and tried to sell me their goods.

This first part of our busy day really struck me – I’ve seen a window into the daily life of the Nicaraguan people. Their reality is so different than ours. Those children shouldn’t have needed to work selling tomatoes. Each of those stalls needed a roof. The dogs should have had homes. All of these little things reflect the state of poverty that most the country is living in. Yet there was beauty all around – little children tending to their siblings, generous smiles, and even one woman warning Ms. Liogas to keep an eye on her camera. The market was a place of contrast and beauty. I can’t wait for the rest of the trip!