Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An education in the midst of poverty

Nicaragua is a remarkable country, with unforgettable landscapes and lovely people, pleasant food in comfortable settings for anyone on a budget.. However, it is tough being a child in poverty in Nicaragua. The world which can be so wide and deep for a child when the resources are available to widen the horizons, reduces microscopically for someone without bus fare, much less the spare change to purchase a soft drink in the street. For many children, the oppression of extreme poverty has driven their parents apart, leaving them in a state of abandonment among others in a similar plight, exiled inside a shanty town.

Kids without complete families, without anything approaching a full-time job among anyone in their household, without anyone with a high school education to mentor them, fill the neighborhoods of the poor areas of cities, towns and settlements throughout the country. The rules that middle-class people learn, that one does things right and expects to be rewarded for working hard, being honest and cooperating with one's friends and peers, just does not work for poor people. There are not enough schools, not enough teachers, and not enough lunches to ensure that all the children can participate actively in a creative, learning environment in a school, and learn what is supposed to be learnt in school. The presence of God or any spiritual values can be so invisible to people in these neighborhoods, where despair reigns over everything else.

Children of Nicaragua Christian School are provided classes, books, supplies, and uniforms as donations. Photo Brenda McCrary.
The schools in Nicaragua are universal, free, and even compulsory for the younger ages. But, funding is very poor, and teachers have poor salaries and poor training, so putting a good education to practice in a completely impoverished country is not at all easy. The public school system is so impoverished, that the great majority of students who make it to university study are products of the private school system. The public schools are relegated to handling the students whose families just can not pay to send their children to a better center to study.

Nicaragua Christian School
Children of Nicaragua Christian School wear uniforms to promote egalitarian values, so that no child be ashamed of not wearing the latest fashion. Photo Brenda McCrary.
A few visitors to Nicaragua from the United States have noted this deficiency and they decided to do something about it. What began as just an idea from a few folks on a mission trip with their church, grew as they developed their ideas in conversations with their friends and with people in Nicaragua, including the local mayor and officials in the Ministry of Education in Leon, the second largest city.

The mayor of Leon, Transito Tellez, aided these individuals in choosing an underserved neighborhood in which to develop their project, on the grounds of a former cotton farm which had lain fallow for decades and now was being developed as new housing for people of very limited means. The local schools were unable to keep up with the rapid increase in demand for school placements, and Mayor Tellez prudently recommended to these folks a project in the neighborhood now called, Barrio Ruben Dario. In 2006, land was chosen for a new, private school directed toward the impoverished residents of this neighborhood, and groundbreaking for the first buildings began.

Parents are deeply involved in the education of their children at Nicaragua Christian School, even when the parents may not be able to read themselves. Photo Brenda McCrary.
Today, there are children attending levels from pre-school to high school. The first class will be graduating soon, and young people will be going on to their new phases of life, some to college, many to work, and all with lots of life skills they learned from a environment filled with skilled and caring people. The students receive all the classes in the national curriculum from approved teachers, plus religion classes. An enriching spiritual environment is provided to children who may never feel love at home. A staff psychologist works with the teachers and students on the multitude of problems that children face in their homes, from physical and emotional violence, to special material needs for families in economic crises.

The school chooses its students on the basis of need, precisely the opposite of what happens at any of the other schools in Nicaragua. This is because there are folks in the US who are interested in sacrificing a small part of their monthly income to sponsor a child to attend the Nicaragua Christian School. Special donations from many groups and individuals have provided for a spacious auditorium, which provides space for parents and teachers to meet, community gatherings to be held, and even church services every Sunday. The school property is integrated into the lives of the students and their parents, and on any day, one can expect to see parents cutting grass, cleaning spaces, and providing other kinds of help to make the school run well. Many of the parents and their children attend church services and community activities on the school grounds regularly.

Nicaragua Christian School
The children of Nicaragua Christian School learn cultural, spiritual and educational values with highly qualified staff. Photo Brenda McCrary.
The Nicaragua Christian School has received some of the greatest accolades for a school in Nicaragua. Its program has been very highly ranked by the Ministry of Education in Leon Department, and its students have recently won best student competitions on a municipal level, competing against even the schools of the wealthy in the area. But Nicaragua Christian School was not designed to win awards; the greatest award is to see a young person grow learn and grow in all the ways that would not be available otherwise, academically, spiritually and even physically.

The children of Nicaragua Christian School learn in a loving environment. Photo Brenda McCrary.
While on campus, the children of Nicaragua Christian School can sense the peace of a shaded campus with comfortable buildings, structural order, and caring staff who are guided by Christian values. For them, the school is a kind of oasis where they can forget about the difficulties at home, and even get a nutritious lunch without worries as part of their study program. In that way, their parents receive support in raising their children and hopefully, the order and peace that emanates from the school reaches their own homes and helps these families to find better ways to confront the challenges of life in a poor neighborhood.
Nicaragua Christian School
The simple, elegant architecture of the auditorium of the Nicaragua Christian School is the centerpiece of the Ruben Dario neighborhood of Leon today. School assemblies, cultural activities, and church services keep this building occupied seven days a week. Donors of all sizes made this building possible. Photo Brenda McCrary.

Nicaragua Christian School
Students and parents gather for an assembly in the new auditorium at Nicaragua Christian School. Photo Brenda McCrary.
Many churches, individuals and groups come together in making the Nicaragua Christian School work. Unlike any other school in the country, the children here do not pay for their education. The teachers and staff, the lunches and uniforms, the books and all activities are covered in complete scholarships. The students come from places where payment would be very difficult, but all the parents pay in other ways, by contributing in cleaning buildings and grounds and other activities, and learning to become better parents every day.
Agustin Jarquin Anaya, third from left, member of the Nicaraguan National Assembly, has supported the legalization of the Nicaragua Christian School and has been a visitor to the campus. Here, Dr. Jarquin poses with staff and board members. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
FUNDECI/GAIA supports the Nicaragua Christian School, because we recognize its great vision in making a difference among the people who need it most in Nicaragua. Any visitor to the school will note the effects of this project on the neighborhood. Hope and faith are given space in the lives of people who face discouragement daily. It is no surprise that many important people in Nicaragua also recognize the special success that this school has had on the lives of many people and the fabric of their community.
Nicaragua Christian School
Staff and board members of the Nicaragua Christian School visiting with members of the Nicaraguan National Assembly, Gladys Baez and Agustin Jarquin Anaya. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
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