Six years after founding our center, and with our first program at Hogar Luceros del Amanecer well established, we decided the time was right to expand and to make more of an impact on the community. Since our mission is “to promote community development through education” we decided to branch out and address the needs of more children in Camoapa. In January, we initiated a new program, Ayudame a Crecer (Help me Grow) to provide our signature wrap-around educational services to 54 additional children.
This new program provides more limited services to double the number of children in our established program. These 50+ children have now been enrolled in the public school system. We make regular visits to their homes and classrooms, maintaining contact with both parents and teachers. In addition, we are offering daily extra-help sessions at our center to target their specific needs, including homework help, social skills development and time for play. With support from the Ministry of Education, we have also been able to provide them with new backpacks, school uniforms and school supplies.
Literally walking from barrio to barrio, we identified and selected these children based on their poverty level, living conditions, family situation, academic level and age. The majority are in 1st grade and between the ages of 6 and 10. Most of these children have never been to school, or started school at some point but dropped out. (50% of children in Nicaragua drop out before the 5th grade.) Several of the children are over the age of 12 and are entering school for the very first time. Still others are in 2nd or 3rd grade, but need extra help and/or encouragement to prevent them from missing days of school, falling behind, or being pulled out of school by their parents. In other words, these are the children who are likely to grow up illiterate or with very little education, due to life circumstances of extreme poverty, family conflict, learning disabilities, etc.
Our new program continues to be a challenge. Sometimes we find that a child has missed school because a mother keeps her 7 year old home to babysit for her 2 and 3 year olds while she goes to work to feed her family; or because it rained all night and the road into town is impassable due to mud; or because the child is too far behind his or her classmates and feels inadequate. On several occasions we have met with families over and over, only to finally learn that their child has missed a month of school because they don’t have money to buy shoes. The old shoes fell apart and they were too embarrassed to send their child in flip-flops. We continue to try to troubleshoot with each problem that arises, but the challenges are endless.
Despite these obstacles, however, we are seeing success. The kids who are persevering are learning to read, to add and subtract. They are learning how to relate to other children and adults outside of their families. Despite all the odds, there are children who are arriving at school every single day and coming to the extra help sessions regularly, even though they are sometimes dirty or hungry. At times it can be heartbreaking, but their determination to get an education no matter what, continues to give us the hope to keep fighting for them.