While in San Juan, we decided to do a little volunteering. I was hoping that we would actually get involved with an organization and do more, but selfishly, we decided to focus on yoga and surfing instead. Although to be fair, we didn't stay in one place for long enough to contribute anything significant.
Now, calling it volunteering is probably being generous with the term. To us, it was more like taking the opportunity to see what country living in Nicaragua is like. One of the community organizations, Community Connect (http://www.comunidadconnect.org/blog/) set us up with a preschool just outside of town to come for a visit and play with the kids for the morning. So Dave and I put our heads together and over engineered a plan. It consisted of some Salsatots music (latin/english dance music for kids), a limbo rope, fruit, a blender, Spanish library books, stickers and of course, a mango for every child to take home with them.
Following the usual confusion with the taxi driver, we pulled up to the preschool. The driver offered to come back and pick us up at 11:00 so we prepaid him $5 for a $3.50 return fare.
It was awkward at the preschool at first because our Spanish is still pretty weak and the teacher Magdalena spoke no English. But after doing a bit of the Latin Limbo, we were all loosened up and proceeded to have a lovely morning. There were about 14 kids at the preschool between 4-6 years. The preschool itself had very few toys or resources but you could tell that the teacher was very creative as there was a lot of art/lessons on the walls depicting small/medium/large, same/different etc.
Notice the lack of play equipment in the yard. There was only a metal stand for holding up the neighbor's water tank for the kids to climb on.
Taro became quite chummy with another little boy his age named Fernando.
Eleven o'clock rolled around and we waited and waited and waited for our taxi driver Tony to show up. We were not totally stranded in the middle of nowhere, but it was going to be challenging to get a ride back to San Juan with the kids and all of our stuff. By 11:25, we completely gave up on Tony and in doing so, lost a tiny bit of faith in humanity. On our whole trip, we were never taken in, not even once. So, we walked to the highway to catch a bus or a collectivo taxi (taxi that picks up multiple people). Several full taxis drove past and we were told that the next bus came in 2 hours. By about noon, we saw an empty taxi speed round the bend then slam on his brakes to pick us up. You'll never guess who it was! Tony, our taxi driver, here to pick us up and only an hour late. We were thrilled to see him and our faith in humanity has been completely restored.
The Book Mobile
The following day, we took another trip out of town to join the mobile library. The schools in Nicaragua are extremely under-resourced. It appears as if the only funding they get is for the teachers' salaries (which are really low), a building and that is all.
Notice that there is nothing else in the classroom, just students and their desks.
Notice no doors on the bathrooms, running water or anywhere to wash your hands. Oh yeah, and no toilet seat or toilet paper.
Notice no playground equipment or fences.
The Mobile Library is a really cool service where they load up 6 big Tupperware bins full of books into a pickup truck and go out to the rural schools (about 30 in total). They also pick up a woman who brings art supplies to make crafts with the students. They visit 2 schools each morning and bring volunteers like us to read to the kids. Then the students can check out the books and keep them until the Mobile Library returns. It is a very good program which really helps these rural schools.
In return for some wonderful experiences, we donated $20 to Community Connect. This organization does a few things in the community including running the recycling program. So, our donation went towards making 2 more of this nifty plastic bottle recycling bins.