Tuesday, April 28, 2009

toy soldiers

If you’ve ever peeked through the slatted window of an elementary classroom in a Nicaraguan public school, you’ve witnessed chaos in its purest form. Full of packed desks and colorful wall decorations, the room is usually brimming with many, MANY (yelling and wiggling!) uniformed children and one very patient teacher.

In this education system, schools are often under-resourced and overcrowded. Though many teachers are enthusiastic and responsible, a lack of materials and space often causes children to be passed from grade to grade without ever completely learning the desired objectives. Basic math skills are missing; reading and writing are frequently far under par. For this reason, MPI offers afterschool literacy and math programs to supplement what is learned in school and to give attendees a heads-up in the classroom… and in life.

Though most PDs came here with no teaching experience (especially in a foreign language!), leading math and literacy has become a bright spot in my week. In math group A (I love the little ones!), we are learning to add and subtract… using anything and everything to enhance the learning: toy soldiers, legos, M&Ms. Cristian rocks with her numbers and dominates the games! Ulises counts on his fingers so well, touching each to his nose as he says its number! And though Armando is often the last to understand, he giggles at everything and loves to guess the answer!

These children that attend El Farito each Monday and Wednesday afternoon have demonstrated vast improvements in their reading and math skills. And more notably, we hope that they have gained a deeper understanding of the importance of numbers and the value of books. But far more significant than any skill learned or objective passed is the confidence we hope to instill in these children. Mastering long division promotes self-assurance. Reading challenging chapter books opens minds to faraway places and cultivates dreams beyond housewifes and farmers. We want to foster a deep ambition in these children, to encourage them to think outside their neighborhood, to let them know that they have the capabilty to do great things.

Perhaps it all starts with adding toy soldiers...


Sunday, April 19, 2009

goodbye josh

So, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve written. Let’s blame it on Semana Santa, shall we…?!

The truth is that all of Nicaragua shuts down during this week leading up to Easter. In such a Catholic country, Holy Week is a reason to (a) pray and/or (b) party it up. Manna PDs chose to spend our “time off” in the Caribbean on Little Corn Island, one of two islands off the Atlantic coast. Combine Swiss Family Robinson with a tropical Bacardi ad and you’ve created the rustic paradise of Little Corn. We spent a much needed vacation exploring the tiny island (4-square kilometers, there are no cars!), fishing in the crystal waters, and soaking up the sun.

But after a week of R&R and a worshipful Easter, we’ve hauled our peeling bodies back to the heat of Managua for MPI programs as usual. Unfortunately, among the fun classes and sweet home visits of this past week, we had to say goodbye to PD Josh Abeln on Thursday. Josh has been here since January 2008, pouring his heart into the construction and maintenance of facilities in the sports complex in Chiquilistagua. Most recently, Josh and the guys have been pouring concrete beneath the roof of a new indoor basketball court!

This sports complex, owned by our partners Halle and Kathy August, has been Josh’s sweet spot in Nicaragua. Now open to neighborhood children every afternoon, this area is home to soccer fields, a baseball stadium, a volleyball court, swings, a library, a computer lab, and much more. Green and spacious, the site offers kids a safe place to come and play, to explore, to feel secure and clean and loved. And so to send Josh off in Manna style, we opened the gates to this special place on Tuesday afternoon… and hosted a huge water fight! Everyone was soaked. And Josh dominated!

We miss him.