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HomeFeaturesHow I Spent My Summer Vacation: Jim Reichle in Nicaragua

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Jim Reichle in Nicaragua

Lassen High teacher Jim Reichle shares with us his experiences as he spends part of his summer in Nicaragua volunteering with the La Esperanza program.

My major goal for going to Nicaragua is really a bit selfish as I wanted a situation where I would be forced to speak in order to improve my conversational Spanish. On the other hand, I welcome the idea of helping others so volunteering in elementary schools on the fringes of the city of Granada seemed like a perfect match.

Reichle and Manuel

I work with a program called La Esperanza and they have been in existence here in Granada for about 10 years. Volunteers are assigned one of five schools and are matched to teachers with local disadvantaged college students acting as coordinators (all of these enthusiastic college kids grew up in homes with dirt floors).

Because my level of conversational Spanish is weak, I have been assigned to help at the first grade level. Most days, the teachers will give me a student who is falling behind to work with one-on-one for 20 to 40 minutes. Often we do mathematics in the morning and Spanish in the afternoons.

I usually work with about 8 to 10 niños a day. Like in the US, the abilities vary widely with these 6 year olds but, remember these are the kids that need the most help. Some cannot spell their name or even understand the concept of numbers or letters. My lowest level student is 12 years old and we hope we can get him to achieve a first grade level before he drops out of school entirely.

Nicaragua is a place with some people living comfortably, at a level we are accustomed to and many, many people living in nothing more than tent-like structures. Many seem content with their lives which is difficult to put into words.

There is decent water here but most volunteers choose to buy bottled water. There is a sewage system for toilets (when there are toilets) but all gray water just runs into the streets which makes its way to Lake Nicaragua. Creek beds look like garbage dumps.

The playground at Reichle’s school on the outskirts of Granada, Nicaragua.

Luxuries like cars and cigarettes are rare. In this small city, many people still use horse drawn carts. People are walking everywhere and a family might ride down the street on a bicycle.

I have seen many young couples sharing a bike with the woman sitting side-saddle on the top bar as if she is riding the most elegant convertible. Amazingly, they look adoringly into each other’s eyes as he peddles down the street.

There are also many small motorcycles but generally, looking down any street, there will be few motorized vehicles and people walking at all times of day.

Did I mention it is hot here? Hot and humid. I haven’t slept with a blanket or top sheet since arriving. Dogs everywhere- mangy dogs looking for food. Funny, they all look the same, as if there is only one breed here.

The people look a bit dour but with a simple Buenos dias or Hola, their face lights up and they can be full of conversation. They seem very proud of their country and it is truly a place of wonder with coasts on two oceans, tropical forests and volcanoes everywhere.

It is a shame about the pollution but it would not take too very much to create these infrastructure items that would allow them to have a cleaner environment and more pleasant place to live.

Sunset on Lake Nicaragua / Wikipedia Commons

I have heard that the Japanese government is investing in a gray water sewage delivery and clean up system in Granada so things are changing for the better. If we could only get a dog birth control program!

I would not say Nicaragua would be a top-choice vacation destination but if you are looking for an opportunity to help people and see a beautiful culture, then it is a wonderful place. There are creature comforts here. There are a variety of nice restaurants, hotels with AC, a single street with many lively bars with cafe-like street seating and good coffee.

One weekend I climbed a volcano right above town and the next weekend I stayed at a caldera lake much like Crater Lake, Oregon except that it is surrounded by a tropical forest and the lake is accessible for swimming – all of the sewage is treated in this location!

This weekend I hope to travel to a small village on the Pacific, just an hour away. Many of the young volunteers like to go a surfer town further down the coast but I am looking for somewhere quiet. More on that later.

This experience has taught me much about appreciating what resources I have in my classroom.

The open air concrete block classrooms with latrines for toilets and a single spigot for water really taxes the abilities of kids to concentrate. One day we actually had cooler weather, and each and every child I worked with did so much better with their studies. Amazing to think that a simple change in sea breeze allows these kids to do better in school.

Hope all is well back home. One week from today I will be returning and, more than ever, I will appreciate how special a place our home really is. And not just because it is more comfortable.

Here I have seen that people love their life with no dreams of being somewhere else. Being home for all of us is the best place to be.

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Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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