Today we had our first day at the Diria National Institute teaching the students. It was an interesting day, because the kids there didn’t know any English at all, and we didn’t know very much Spanish. There was a lot of miming to get our points across. It was interesting to see how different their school life is from ours. Their classes all ended when the lesson was finished (around an hour), instead of an exact time like The Study. Although it was extremely nerve wracking to be teaching them, it was also very fun. They were extremely enthusiastic, and very forgiving about our jumble of Spanish. We ended up having a very fun class. All in all, it was an amazing experience.
Today was the best day yet in my opinion. First, I was mesmerized by the beautiful dresses the girls wore for the traditional Nicaraguan dances they presented during the assembly. We asked them later (in Spanish!) and it takes them about 45 minutes to do their hair & makeup for those dances. Then after lunch at the Perez’s, we taught our lessons at the Diria National Institute. I was so nervous about this day as a general and specifically to start teaching but I had no reason to be. Our teaching group started with two ice-breaker games (POW & Ninja) which they really enjoyed. We then started with Emily’s lesson which was on jobs and they were so much better at English than I had expected. My buddy’s favourite class in school is actually English and she even takes extra lessons outside of school. After today I realized how much laughing together with people you just met breaks the ice and brings you closer even without necessarily talking.
I woke up this morning nervous to meet the students at the Diria Institute. I feared that the language barrier would be an unsurmountable obstacle. However, I was quickly proven wrong upon meeting everyone. My buddy was kind and made an effort to adapt to my ability to speak Spanish. We managed to have an entire conversation with hand gestures and broken sentences. Teaching our first class was a rollercoaster of emotions. We entered the classroom in a bundle of nerves and awkwardly stood in front of the class while fourteen pairs of eyes analyzed us. We started the class by playing POW as an ice breaker game and everyone got really involved in playing. Laughter filled the room as students approached the white board to attempt answering questions in english about colours in my teaching group’s interpretation of jeopardy. I was surprised at how interested and involved the students were in our lesson and I was shocked at how much I learned about each individual student and their personalities in an hour, despite the fact that we did not speak the same language.
Throughout our first four days in Nicaragua, I was able to experience a culture and lifestyle that was so rich and amazing to observe. One of the things that struck me the most was the sense of community instilled within the population. Everyone is smiling and laughing and has so much kindness towards each other. They are all so grateful for what they have and are so proud of everything they do. Many locals lucky enough to have a job are so passionate about what they do and are so happy to teach us about their trade. The entire population has an enormous respect for one another and for their families and that struck me since it is very different than the community life we experience in Montreal. However, contrary to how we live, they do not have as much as we do, yet they still manage to live fulfilled and happy lives. This has inspired me to be more appreciative of what we have and to embrace every moment.
For almost two years, through pictures, Powerpoints and video presentations narrated by Ms. Liogas, I’ve heard about this incredible Nicaragua project of ours and naïvely thought I knew what to expect on this journey but boy, was I ever wrong! What doesn’t translate through the projector is the sensory overload one feels when at The Diria Institute. When walking off the bus, the first thing that hits you is the immediate attention we’re given from all the students. It was recess when we arrived and the students filed into the main square where we were going to present the donations. They were trying to catch a glimpse of the new group of Study Students. There is the constant smell of smoke from patches along the road of wood cinders or burned garbage. The tin roof above omits intense heat but is in such a bright, open area that it allows for the wind to provide us with some relief. For myself, I felt my heart tugged in all different directions. One minute the little girl from the church service the day before runs over to give us a hug and to say how happy she is to see us at her school, and that she’s been waiting for us for months, the next minute we’re walking into a scholarship winner’s home and seeing a level of poverty none of us were able to imagine. The floor was packed dirt. Just to get to it we had to walk through what seemed like a hallway in a house of tin cards. This path lead us to a small open area, half covered by a patched tin roof, and a few walls. This teenage girl shares a sleeping space about the size of a double bed with her 4 brothers. The actual “bed” was more like mismatched pieces of soiled mattress and covers patched onto some wooden pallets. One of the sweetest and saddest parts was bringing in the bag of groceries to her family. Her 5 year old brother, the same age as my son, almost immediately began taking out all of the groceries and laying them out on the rusted tin sheet they use as a counter. He must have been so hungry to have done this, and what’s even harder to process is the wafting smell of fresh bread from the bread factory nearby. How difficult it must be not only for that little boy, but for all of them to have to smell the baking without ever having the means to purchase it. This is what drives this project. Groceries are such a short term help. The hope that with an education, this young girl can raise up her family from the depths of poverty it is in now. I get it now, Ms. Liogas.
And finally, a sign in the restaurant we saw at dinner.