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Published: March 7th 2008
I came to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) Nicaragua expecting to be stretched in ways that would challenge me. This couldn’t be truer. Every day, there is something that makes me uncomfortable, be it the insects in my bed, not having gas for cooking for a few days, the hot weather, the cold showers, the kids that will not listen to me, the coordinators or directors who unexpectedly leave, or the communication that went wrong. However, life is a big lesson and if you are not open to adapting to the ever-changing pace of life, especially here for me, it will only make your life more difficult. I have been learning this lesson every day.
The pace of life here is often too hectic to really get into detail of what I do. And, to sum it up in a short story is really difficult. I feel that my experience here is best learned through living it. When I Skype home, I love sharing my life and about what I did with the kids. However, a part of me knows that my family and friends are not here experiencing my life with me. It is hard to have that separation, to not share in this life with the people that mean the most to me. In fact, they may not really understand the deepest joys I experience here on the island. However, this sort of separation is what comes from traveling abroad and I am grateful to have a big family here, of directors, other volunteers, and many kids to share it with.
I have been tested in ways since January that have made me adapt. There is no other way. The life here, especially given its remote location and the nature of the site as an orphanage, is hard and not everyone would be able to handle it. You are really uncomfortable, completely frustrated at times, and outright happy at others. Your life is a roller- coaster and many volunteers experience equilibrium here: you give as much as you receive.
It is hard to believe that I came to Nicaragua only two months ago! My life has gone by so quickly! I came to NPH with many hopes and aspirations, but am finding that realistically, one year is hardly enough time to accomplish all I want to accomplish. I would have to limit myself. One of those limits was sticking to my role here, as English teacher.
My original title upon entering NPH was English teacher for the primary school children. I planned many months for these little ones, and they finally arrived! The school director was under the impression that there were two English volunteers. Being the only one, I told her to give me as many students as my schedule for the 5 hours a day would allow, as I wanted to help as many as I could. It would be a big job, but one that I was prepared, or thought so, to take on.
As the days and weeks went by, I really enjoyed my time with the kids, as this was the first year the volunteer English teacher was integrated into the school. These kids, specifically all of primary and some of secondary, were being given the opportunity to have English classes! It was really exciting! I was also teaching the first year of secondary school, which is 7th grade, and the pequenos who were giving a year of service back to NPH. Although I was given a well-stocked room of supplies and decorations, I was alone and without a genealogy of the nature of the program or of past volunteers. I was expected to write a curriculum for eight different grade levels. It was quite the task, given my lack of experience in curriculum writing, but, with time, I learned and am still learning.
The kids were really testing and I have learned the importance of limits, even strict limits. I have experienced both the joys of a successful student and the disappointment of a student who doesn’t want to try. I have also been trying to master a dual relationship with the kids, as after school, after prep time at the house, I eat a majority of my meals with the kids and hang out with them. My relationship with some is tricky. However, with some it works out great. It is actually quite nice to be their teacher during the day and when I am not a teacher, they see a new side of me and our relationship deepens, as it is more complex.
One of those relationships is Francisco. Francisco came about a week after I came in January. Being new, I instantly became his new auntie; I wanted him to feel comfortable. He is from Bluefields, a beautiful city on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast. Over time, our relationship grew and it is still growing. He happens to be one of my best students as well. We continue to have great times talking or just walking side by side. Seeing him run up to me with a huge smile lets me know that I matter to someone a lot and our relationship is a special thing we share.
As you will learn when you work with many kids, it is difficult to say no to kids who want to learn English, for example. Being an English teacher, I have been asked by many kids to have private lessons. As hard as it is to say no, I have limited myself to two students. My relationship with those girls has really blossomed. I tell one of them every lesson that she is beautiful, and it is such a joy to see that smile on her face. As for the others, a few of the other volunteers have agreed to hold nightly English lessons. This has just started and it is good to have a good group of students who really want to learn. So, slowly but surely, my scheduled filled up. This was a great thing, as it meant more clubs and activities for the kids, but is also meant I would need to take care of myself, especially as things started to change in the coming months.
This month has brought many changes, one of them being that our volunteer coordinator left in the beginning of February for an unexpected surgery. Being the person who we went to with all questions, our volunteer group clung tighter together, working more as a team and trying to survive in the often- confusing system here without our leader. This experience has only made us stronger. Another change involved my students. Just as I really started to get used to my role as primary teacher, I was told that all of the secondary school students, who originally met in the afternoons at a different location, were moving to the primary school. This meant big changes, or so they felt, and it would all be happening within a week. Before this happened, I would often get complaints or questions from the girls in the secondary school that they did not understand their English homework because their teacher was from Nicaragua or they didn’t learn a native pronunciation of certain words. I can understand their pain. Furthermore, these students rely on English to pass their annual tests, as the little primary students do not. To them, it is a separate and fun class. This change was an opportunity for me to change as well.
I made the difficult decision to become the English teacher for the secondary school. It wouldn’t be until the next January or even July that a new volunteer English teacher would be coming. There was only one native speaker who was willing and able to teach and two groups of students, primary and secondary. Who needed it more? I decided that because the little ones have been a lot of my plate, it was time to let someone else take them. Plus, the older students really deserve a native speaker who wants and can teach. I was ready to take on that responsibility.
This meant many changes, internally and externally. For starters, I needed to change rooms, as the school was in need of my room for something else. I was given an office. The office used to belong to the team of teachers and psychologists at the school, which I was apart of as well. The office for that team is now moved and I am using the old space. This also meant finishing up my lessons with my little ones and saying goodbye. Everything was rushed and I feel very sad. I was working on a unit of introductions with all my students. I wanted the volunteer teacher to step in with a fresh start, so I hastily finished my unit up, which is actually still in motion. Some still needed to take tests. While this was happening, I had to pass my work off to the volunteer teacher, Barbara, who stepped in at the last moment. She happened to be a friend visiting another long term volunteer and has really been helpful for the English classes.
I also had to say goodbye to my students. With no real closure, just as I was warming up to them, I had to say goodbye. It was such a joy to at least see them during the day, and I didn’t feel as bad having to take time during the afternoons to plan, as I saw them during school. Now, I wasn’t teaching them. During the week we had before I would start my new role, Barbara and myself taught together. When I officially start next week, I would be in my new classroom, two doors down, with the secondary students. Barbara would be without a classroom, as now with 85 more students, things were tight. It will be hard for the kids to not have a special space to go to for English and it will be uncomfortable for the teacher where Barbara goes, as they will not be able to have a break when their kids go to English class.
This change was very hard as some of my students stopped calling me teacher. Barbara was the new teacher, at least for the month until we can find someone else. I always hate goodbyes, and after all this planning, I wouldn’t be with them. I would now be with the older kids during the day and planning lessons during my afternoons. I would hardly get to see the little kids anymore and I know that this will be extremely difficult. I have such a special relationship with some of them and now I will hardly get to see them. I will miss them calling me teacher too. All of this happened in a school week, or four days to be exact. It was a crazy week. I experienced excitement and sadness at the same time, a normal feeling here.
Even as all these changes have occurred, and at such late notice, I am in love with my enriching life on my paradise island. There is hardly a dull moment. I have really learned how to love while also learning how to let go, as here you need to learn how to adapt quickly and be patient with the way things are run. I am proud to call NPH my family in Nicaragua and look forward to planting more seeds, now especially with the older kids.
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