Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 10 March 2006

Optimism…a little bit goes a long way

So, I feel like I have finally had a *small* professional breaththrough. Hopefully it will actually lead somewhere. I spent the morning in San Marcos, a small town about 7km outside of Jinotepe which is lovingly referred to as a “university town”. There are, indeed, many small branches of larger universities and myriad secondary schools specializing in continuing and adult education, etc. But, the jewel in the crown is Ave Maria College of the Americas. It is (if you can believe it) a private, 4-year liberal arts residential college. Yes, that is right. St. Olaf has met its Catholic match…in Nicaragua. Ave Maria has a nationally recognized Language Institute (probably better even that anything you might find in Managua), and I went there this morning in search of advice. After arriving, unannounced, the security guards helped me get in contact with the language institute, and after describing who I was, and what I was doing, they invited me up for a chat. Gloria, one of the professors, took some time to show me some catalogues and gave me contact info for some Managua-based ESL material vendors. While I imagine that many of the products are quite expensive and will not exactly fit our needs, it is a huge jumping off point, I now have some idea of where to begin looking for materials here in Nica. Gloria was very helpful and encouraging, and her English was impeccable. Far better than my Spanish. Students were lounging around on couches and garden benches studying VOLUNTARILY, and many were even speaking English with one another! I was truly impressed.

After a long, frustrating week at Juan Jose, I had begun to lose motivation (and hope, even). Seeing Ave Maria this morning raised my spirits and reminded me that people really do believe in education here…even the students! I left the school on a high of optimism, but as soon as I stepped off the property, I remembered where I was…and I thought about how the vast majority of Nicaraguans will never have the opportunity to attend such a school. I started walking back towards the center of town to catch a bus back to Jinotepe, and was pondering the state of education in Nicaragua, and was starting to get a bit down once again, but was met in the parque central by a huge parade commemorating the 26th anniversary of the Literacy Crusade, in which literate Managuans (and people from elsewhere) went into the pueblos and into the campo to raise the literacy rate one person at a time, countrywide. The crusade was (clearly) a Sandinista objective, and it was very reminiscent of the literacy campaign in post-Revolution Cuba in the 1960s. While the literacy rate in Carazo (the department that Jinotepe is in) was certainly not the lowest, there was still much to be done. In this morning’s parade, representatives from each municipality of Carazo (Jinotepe, Diriamba, Dolores, Rosario, Santa Teresa and San Marcos) marched and displayed their banners proudly. The banners proudly exclaimed “Yo si puedo! (Yes, I can!)” and one, in particular proclaimed “Del 28% a 2%. Rosario, yo si puedo!” The town of Rosario (about 5 km south of Jinotepe) dropped their illiteracy rate from 28% to 2% as a result of this campaign. It was very inspiring, and could not have come at a better moment. I am so glad that I went to San Marcos this morning, and not yesterday afternoon, like I had originally planned. I was definitely meant to be there at that moment.

Parade marchers dressed up in traditional costumes in celebration of literacy!

“For a Nicaragua free of illiteracy…!”

“For a Dolores free of illiteracy! Yes I can! 26th Anniversary of the National Literacy Crusade”

“From 28% (illiteracy) to 2%” These women proudly display their success in Rosario.

This one is just for fun: Fernanda and Mario, son of Gladys (yet another cousin!) I wish you could see his hair in this picture, it’s hilarious!

I am enthused and encouraged right now. Today’s parade helped remind me just how far Nicaragua has actually come in recent years. There is still a long road ahead, but I shant not take for granted the fact that every single one of my students in the English Lab can read… and now they are learning to do so in a different language. Small steps towards progress, but progress is ever made hastily.

I spent the afternoon in Granada (running errands, seeing a friend for lunch) and Masaya (shopping at the market!). Tomorrow morning I leave for San Juan del Sur for the weekend. Lots to look forward to, and lots to love about life and Nicaragua.

On a completely unrelated note, a friend I ran into in Granada, who I have met on several occasions while travelling (he is a UVA grad) told me that he met Alayna Tetreault-Rooney in Granada a while ago. This is such a small world, and Central America is an even smaller part of it! If anyone is reading this and knows Alayna (and her email) tell her hello, and it was cool to hear a familiar name, even if I didn’t see her in person. Hope she is well. And I hope you all are well, wherever you may be…

Think good thoughts about Nicaraguan students. They are, for the most part, wonderful, and perhaps, misunderstood…


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