Week 2 Down & I’m Feeling Tuani!

With the help of my host family, my Spanish vocabulary has expanded to include a few odd phrases and Nicaraguan slang, my favorite so far being “Tuani,” which means awesome. Most of my “lessons” take place on my host family’s porch, where Nicaraguans typically spend a lot of time just sitting and talking at night. We trade trabalenguas (or tongue twisters) in both English and Spanish – I’m still struggling with the one that is all words with rolling ‘r’s – and greet the neighborhood passing by. There’s an interesting community feel here that I would not have fully understood from strictly a tourists’ perspective.

I’ve been getting quite the education at Las Tias as well. Initially, it seemed like there wasn’t all that much for me to do at this work placement and I felt a little bit like a passive observer, occasionally able to help kids with their homework. But this past week things changed a little as I started instructing English classes. Now both the teachers and the kids treat me more like I have a role in the program instead of just being along for the ride.

That being said, teaching English is no walk in the park. I hold a class in the morning and in the afternoon, offered to students who have completed their homework and wish to improve their English (in secondary school Nicaraguan students take a mandatory English class in school). My first class was a group of about eight students, all very attentive and motivated. The afternoon class didn’t go quite as well. There were about 15 students for this one and they were all restless after a full day of school and 2 full hours spent at Las Tias already. Outside the classroom’s open windows, the younger kids were screaming, running around, and playing tag. So not the best learning atmosphere. Some kids definitely wanted to learn, but there was a group of boys that were more into fooling around. It was a little frustrating to have disinterested kids since it was an entirely optional class. I also haven’t quite gotten the handle on disciplining kids in a different language, it’s hard to be stern and in charge when you don’t speak the language perfectly. There’s also a bit of a different cultural response to fighting here. A lot of the boys and girls will either have pretty intense play fights or borderline real fights here that get a lot calmer response than I imagine they would in the U.S.

I have much to learn and have to get busying planning the next few English classes. There are a lot of students who are really excited to learn and practice with me outside of class. My classes started out small, but everyday there’s at least one kid eager to join, so I’m sure they’ll be growing in number soon enough! Greg, the PGL Director here in Nicaragua, lent me some of his English as a Second Language books that he had in the office, so that will be a helpful tool. I’ve definitely noticed the absence of worksheets here in Nicaragua. Back home at EL Centro, every single piece of homework was a worksheet – either math, spelling, reading, you name it. But in Nicaragua, the teacher dictates the assignment and every student copies it down in their individual notebooks and completes it there. This makes it a little bit more difficult to help the children with their homework because depending on how attentive they were that day, it’s sometimes unclear what their assignment actually is. I’ve always found worksheets to be a helpful, more organized learning tool and never realized what a luxury that was until now. I’m planning to photocopy select pages in the ESL book and giving them worksheets to practice on next week so we’ll see how they respond.


Mario and Kerry

There’s another volunteer at Las Tias with me who is an Austrian completing here practical in Social Work at Las Tias. It has been a great experience to experience this new program alongside someone else around my age. I’ve also been able to get a little window into what she will be doing at Las Tias, mainly working with the Social Worker. I’ve had some conversations with the Social Worker as well and she’s planning to take me along next time her and Sara (the Austrian volunteer) go to a home visit. I hope this experience will give me a fuller picture of the children’s lives and a better understanding of the situations they face. Even talking to the director this week I was able to learn a lot more about Las Tias and the students enrolled. Most of the children come from broken homes with a history of violence or abuse. There is a psychologist and social worker in place to help the kids deal with their lives in a constructive and healthy manner, while also confronting the problem at home. Of course, it is the family’s decision to send their child to Las Tias, so I imagine there is some level of parental involvement or desire to improve their child’s life. Upon enrolling in Las Tias, the parents or guardian must sign a number of contracts, one promising not to send the child to work and jeopardizing their education. The director says this clause is unfortunately not always followed, but it’s definitely a necessary part of the program. Since I’ve been here, I’ve definitely noticed school age kids on the streets and stationed in touristy areas selling items during school hours. Although public education is free in Nicaragua, some families and children view it as a negative opportunity cost to be in school instead of working and making money for the family.

Most of the week is taking up with Las Tias and activities with my host families, but weekends are generally free. Victoria and I are keeping ourselves busying exploring the beautiful natural sites in Leon! We tackled Cerro Negro last weekend and went volcano boarding down. This weekend we kayaked in the beautiful mangrove forests and got to see some more wildlife. Both of these trips have been with a nonprofit Environmental Education organization, SONATI. Our tour guides are volunteers from all over the world and often only a few years older than us. I’m definitely enjoying the outdoorsy activities here and I’m looking forward to signing up for a few more tours!

I’ve been here for more than a full two weeks now and have quite the pile of dirty clothes accumulating, so I’m off to learn how to wash my clothes by hand with a washboard  – wish me luck! Kerry Mullen ’15 Nicaragua