2020 Spring Updates from Nicaragua
Compiled by Beth Merrill, Founder, Director, Planting Hope, Paul Angell, Board Member and Mercedes Guerrero Arista, In-Country Director, Sembrando Esperanzas.
We were off to a great start. Planting Hope’s January vacation camps were fully enrolled. For 3 weeks, 30-35 students from three neighborhoods around La Chispa Library walked to our camp to read story books, eat a hearty snack, while learning drama, dance, music, English, science experiments and math games. For some, it was their first time using a computer. For some, it was their first trip to the La Chispa Library, perhaps a 25 minutes walk from their home, at a pre-schooler’s pace. They loved it and were excited to come back during the school year to this place that I told them, which belonged to them.
In February, we had great enrollment in art, computer, dance and English classes. I gave a math games workshop to our staff, got them seeing the teachable moments in playing card and dice games to teach math. I smiled often at my good fortune. I have a job I am excited about, working with competent and compassionate people I love and respect. I had had a great 2 months with them in Nicaragua and was going to miss each of their them when I returned to Vermont. But I was excited to see them again, along with the Planting Hope Host Families for our planned April delegation to Nicaragua. Unless Coronavirus became an issue. I blocked that thought out of my mind as I returned to the US in late February.
Soon thereafter, in mid-March, Planting Hope Board member and retired special educator Paul Angell arrived in Mataglapa for his nearly annual his visit to La Chispa Library. Paul planned to observe some library patrons with special needs and challenges and to give a workshop to Planting Hope staff attend to this population. Paul shares the following:
“What I found at the library was a program that was lively and energetic. Children eagerly came looking for books and worksheet activities. Others worked on schoolwork or painting. Still others got on a laptop to check email or search the web. They often came as groups of siblings and then joined others. They clearly felt entirely at ease in that setting.
Similarly, when I joined the staff for one of their afternoon visits to the rural communities, children had clearly been waiting with much anticipation. They came out from nearby houses with books they had previously borrowed and guarded carefully, looking forward to exchanging them for new ones. They subsequently participated in some large group songs and activities before dividing into smaller groups to participate in challenges the staff had prepared for them.
That first half of the week reminded me of what a joyous presence Planting Hope has become in the communities it serves. The second half of the week was spent retooling that model completely in the face of the COVID 19 pandemic. Staff had been following the news and seeking out guidance on how to respond. They had initially set up a hand-washing station by the entrance and were giving spontaneous demonstrations of recommended hand-washing practices to children as they arrived. They moved some activities outside and made use of all available space, but ultimately decided that they would need to close the library, which they did starting on March 20th. That day was spent planning, cleaning and with an abbreviated version of the workshop I had been preparing. Beth joined us electronically and helped think through some of the strategies staff could use while the library is closed to maintain a connection with the children in the various communities they serve.“
Planting Hope In-Country Director, Mercedes Guerrero Arista, explains the situation from her vantage point in Nicaragua.
“When the first case of Coronavirus in our country was publicly disclosed, children immediately stopped coming to the library and stopped participating in our rural after-school programs. Planting Hope took immediate preventative measures to protect the many children, youth and adults who usually visit the library on a daily basis, as well as children whom we visit in the communities. We were also concerned for our staff. Despite the fact that the government has not provided much pertinent information to the population, Planting Hope decided to take preventive measures since the sector we serve is vulnerable. The measures we took included the following:
–We promoted hand washing upon entering the library.
-Small talks were given on hygiene and hand washing to the student we serve.
-On the 20th of March we decided to implement social distancing measure for our staff and the population we serve.
-From March 23 to 27, we prepared and delivered 230 educational packages to children who were registered for computer, dance and English classes at La Chispa Library, as well as the students we serve in our outreach work. We delivered educational packages to children in the communities we visited (Cerro El Toro, Sabadell, Pueblo Viejo, La Calera and Las Carmelitas). These packages were delivered with the purpose of helping to keep children studying, in the case that the government decided to close schools and during the 2 weeks of Easter holidays. We wanted to ensure that our students had materials to work with at home, to distract themselves and to feel taken into account. The Nicaraguan government has not yet instituted a stay-at-home order and they are requiring students and teachers to continue to come to school, citing a low number of imported Covid-19 cases.
-Planting Hope staff continues to work from our homes and from there every day we read a storybook and share it on our Facebook page La Chispa Library and on our YouTube channel. You can check our and subscribe to our how-to folkloric dance videos, as well as stories read by our staff and their young family members in Spanish here.“
Paul remarks, “I am constantly amazed by the resilience and responsiveness of the Planting Hope staff in the face of challenges that arise. They work well as a collective unit to gather relevant information, make an assessment of the situation and determine how to respond. They are realists and pragmatists. They show great dedication to Planting Hope’s mission while also taking care of themselves and each other. They have found exciting, new opportunities to engage with the children in their communities during this time of social distancing. I don’t think any of us at Planting Hope can predict what our future holds in store. What I do know is that we are an important resource in the communities we serve and we have a seasoned staff that has a demonstrated ability to stay true to its mission in the face of overwhelming difficulties.”
As an organization, as a country and as a world, we are experiencing this moment in history one day at a time. If you find it in yourself to “pay it forward,” and have the means to do so, this is a time that Planting Hope could really use your help to keep things afloat financially as we continue adapting to this new COVID 19 reality. The socio-political crisis of 2018 and the subsequent lack of income from service trips hurt our organization greatly. Again in 2020, we have had to cancel our one trip planned for this year. Suffering two major crises in 2 years is a huge challenge to say the least, yet our staff remains committed to finding their roles amid this latest crisis and to providing children with resources to continue their learning. We all look forward to the day when we can resume contact with our eager patrons and students.
Click here to make a secure online donation to Planting Hope. You may also mail a check to Planting Hope, PO Box 56, Montpelier, VT 05601