Meet Martha, a young woman living in Acahualinca, one of Casa - Pueblito's partner communities. Martha lives in this underserved community on the outskirts of Managua with her mother and two younger sisters. The community of Acahualinca faces a number of major challenges: drugs, alcoholism, unemployment and low levels of education among others. The average family income in this region is $70USD per month. Many community members work in informal forms of employment, mainly related to the collection of recyclable materials (like metal & tin) at the local dump.
Martha has three years of high school education, but she has to work odd jobs to help support her injured mother and younger siblings. In 2014, Martha began participating in the Podcasts for Peace program, a collaborative project with Casa - Pueblito.
Along with her younger sisters, Martha takes part in Podcasts’ arts education programming. The program provides a safe and positive space for at-risk youth like Martha. Instead of spending time at the local dump, a haven for drugs, violence and crime, Martha and her sisters are able to spend their time at Podcasts, where they can take dance and music classes, use free Internet, and get help with their homework.
Casa – Pueblito has been partnered with Podcasts for Peace for almost 4 years, and works to promote economic development through creative education with a focus on empowering vulnerable groups, mainly young girls and at-risk youth. Through a variety of workshops, courses, field trips, art classes and other educational activities, Podcasts provides youth in the community with an alternative to being on the streets or the local dump.
At Podcasts, Martha participates in a number of dance classes. She also recently received a scholarship from the program, along with 5 other girls, to take English classes at a university in Managua. Martha says, “I like the support that Podcasts is giving to youth in my community. We need progress in our community. Podcasts has helped the neighborhood a lot.”
Martha and Podcasts participants are able to work towards developing economic self-sufficiency with this comprehensive educational program via its workshops, classes and training. She says, “Podcasts is training youth in different things that can allow us to find better opportunities in the future.” She hopes to continue her education and involvement at Podcasts so that she can help her family and others in her community.
Meet Porfirio, an organic farmer on one of our biointensive family gardens in the UCA Tierra y Agua cooperative. Porfirio lives with his wife and two children in the Aguas Agrias community near Granada.
In Nicaragua, many people work as day labourers on coffee and sugar cane plantations. The average family income in this region is $110US each month. Employment on farms is precarious, and many farmers face health problems and lack access to basic necessities like food and water. Porfirio is lucky to work his own land, and sell the plantains he grows to make money for his family. He has worked hard to ensure he never had to work for a large farm, and says his dream is to never have to.
Casa – Pueblito has been partnered with the UCA Tierra y Agua cooperative for 8 years, and works to implement sustainable farming techniques and training. Porfirio was a participant in one of our biointensive agricultural training programs last year, and has returned again this year for a refresher course. With his newfound knowledge and training he was able to start a vegetable garden on his land where he grows tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers.
Through his participation in the project, Porfirio learned of the dangers of pesticide use in large-scale farming to both people and the environment. He is passionate about organic gardening and ensuring the health and safety of his family and community by growing pesticide-free produce to eat and sell. Farmers in the UCA Tierra Y Agua communities are now able to grow their own safe and healthy produce, which means they no longer have to make the commute into the nearest town for food. This allows participants to focus more of their time on providing for themselves and their communities.
Porfirio says, “I want all members of the community to live well with enough food and that all their needs be met. I want them to be happy without needing to beg anyone to hire them for the day.” He takes pride in his gardens, and hopes to show others in the community the benefits of organic farming.
Iván Josué Sevilla corrales
Iván Josué Sevilla Corrales lives in the Barrio Arlen Sui in Estelí. He is nine years old and lives with his mother and his sister. Iván is an intelligent and creative child. Sadly, the barrio is faced with the challenges of economic migration, youth violence, poor health and many single parent families, like Iván’s. Most people in the community work in tobacco factories earning $160USD every month. All of these barriers make it harder for children like Iván to reach their full potential. Fortunately, Casa - Pueblito has been partnered with the community for the past three years. Together Barrio Arlen Sui and Casa - Pueblito have been working to strengthen and broaden the offer of arts and culture education for low income children and youth. This is great news for Iván, who loves to play the trumpet. Music has become an important part of Iván’s life and has helped to build his confidence and focus his energy. When asked about his hopes and dreams for the futures Iván says, “When I’m a grownup I want to work and support my mom. I would like to teach others how to play music. When I have children I will teach them music.”
Iván is a model student studying guitar, flute, choir and music theory classes as well as the new trumpet class. Iván participates in the performances that are organized by the music school. He says, “I like it when people enjoy the music and applause.” Through the community partnership, Casa - Pueblito offers art classes in addition to the music lessons. Iván says, “If I could I would join the painting and drawing classes but they are at the same time of my music class.”
Iván has a lot to say about how he believes the project will change the community for the better. “The music classes have helped me to be-have better at school. Before I was very mischievous, I would talk a lot during classes, I didn’t take notes… now I study more. After music classes I go home and do homework. The other children (classmates who don’t attend the music project) don’t behave, they just talk and don’t take notes. I think that if they come here (music project) it would help them to do better at school.”
Teacher Practicum Reflections from Pearl Lagoon
Jocelyn Hay, York University:
Before leaving for Nicaragua in spring 2015, I was nervous and unsure about what I was going to experience while I was there. I had gone through the kit provided by the University and their list of websites and readings I should review before leaving for Nicaragua in order to better familiarize myself with the area. Despite this preparation, I still did not feel like I was completely prepared to venture into a new country and begin teaching students who speak a different language than I do. The day I left, I felt queasy and almost felt like I would miss my flight and back out. But I pushed myself to board the plan and take on the amazing, new adventure.
When I first got to Pearl Lagoon, my first thought was: “Wow, this really isn’t that small.” In my head, I had pictured this rural location with minimal development and when I rounded the corner on the panga boat needed to get to Pearl Lagoon, I was surprised by the amount of development there. We arrived at Miss Ingrid’s and were greeted with open arms, like we had been there many times before and were now like family. When we arrived at the school to receive our classrooms, I was stunned to learn the directors wanted me to work in a high school! I had not stepped foot in a high school since I left one years ago, let alone teach in one, so when I was told I became even more nervous than I had been before leaving to come to Pearl Lagoon. But, I looked at the experience as an opportunity, an opportunity to put myself even further outside my comfort zone and learn something new.
Over the weeks my confidence grew with the amazing support I received from my host teachers. I worked with one teacher at the Pearl Lagoon Academy of Excellence (P.L.A.C.E. for short) and two teachers at Las Perlas Institute. It was different switching back and forth between schools and difficult to get into the swing of things at the two schools. However, working alongside the teachers I was placed with made the experience much more fluid and enjoyable. At P.L.A.C.E I was able to accomplish more teaching because it was all in English. And at the Institute I may not have taught as much but I co-organized the classroom and learned some Spanish along the way! It was an incredible learning experience for both myself and my host teachers; we took from each other new ways to teach and work with a classroom. It was amazing how quickly we both trusted each other to take the lead and make suggestions for the students and their learning.
Being a student from a teacher’s college program specializing in urban diversity in Toronto there is one moment (out of 1000 great moments) that really stood out and changed how I thought about teaching back here in Canada. They were playing a quick game of “land, sea, air” students stood around a circle and the teacher quickly would say one of the three environments and the students had to say an animal in that environment. It was a very fast game with many hilarious mistakes made. But what I really took from this was that I had no idea what animals they were talking about. They were saying animals I had never heard of. When the teacher asked if I would play I immediately said “no thank you, I’m enjoying watching.” Even though I really wanted to play because it looked like a lot of fun, I was worried I would not be able to come up with the animals from the area and I would look silly in front of these Grade 11 students. I was taken back as I thought of this later that day and how it applied to my teaching back home. Many of the resources, although this is improving every day, are centered around one culture and does not represent the vastness of cultures found in Toronto today. I realized how these children must feel listening and trying to figure out a culture they do not recognize and feeling like they cannot participate because of it. Sometimes students are labelled as difficult and unwilling to participate in classroom activities because they chose not to do an activity or give their opinion on a discussion. I now wonder whether these students are really not wanting to participate or if they cannot participate. When we create activities or have classroom discussions, as teachers, we have to remember that some students may not be all that familiar with the culture depending on where they have lived or even currently live. For example, in the game, if I had said raccoon as a land animal I would have received some odd looks because Pearl Lagoon does not have raccoons. I would have been the odd one out and as an adult I am able to explain but as a child, they may feel uncomfortable if they did not have an animal or had one no one knew about. Having experienced this alienation as an adult, I could not imagine how it would feel for children who could not express this as freely as I am now. This experience has allowed me to reflect on my own teaching practices and how I would alter my classroom to ensure it is inclusive for all students.
As I mentioned, there were many amazing experiences I had while teaching in Pearl Lagoon. To write them all down would lead to a very lengthy paper I’m not sure all would get through. I have told stories to many people in only a week and I can only get through the first week before the listener is a little tired (since it’s been about an hour on the first week!) I cannot wait to use some of the things I have learned in my own classrooms and continue to learn new things as I remain in contact with the Teachers from Pearl Lagoon. This was an incredible experience I will never forget and although it was sad leaving the students, teachers and new friends of Pearl Lagoon I know I will be returning as soon as I can.