Thursday, July 30, 2009

Support for Local Education in Gigante Village

Background – In 2001 the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education built the first formal structures to serve as the elementary school and the kindergarten for Gigante village. Due to a lack of financial resources as well as the geographic isolation of the community, the government has only ever had the capability to provide Gigante with one teacher for grades one through four for the school year, which runs February through November. Basic school supplies for teachers and students like books, maps, calculators, chalk, and rulers are hard to come by. While daily snacks of cereal, rice and beans are provided by the government and prepared by the children’s mothers, supplies often run short and the students do not get a proper dose of nutrients. Even prior to Project WOO’s arrival in 2007, members of the community identified this situation as problematic and began asking a few of the foreign surf camp and restaurant owners for handouts of school supplies and money.

The Jose Dolores Rivera school in Gigante

Beginning with the 2007 school year Lynn and Betty Mangum, a couple from New York who spend a few months every year vacationing in a home they own in Gigante, took it upon themselves to support the José Dolores Rivera school by providing the salaries for three extra elementary school teachers. They soon realized, however, that in order to yield the progressive results they desired, the project would require hands-on leadership from an experienced community organizer.

When WOO Program Director Adam Monaghan was coordinating community development efforts early in 2007 he was introduced to the Mangums and became aware of their project to support local education. He, in turn, informed the Mangums that the villagers had identified support of education as a leading priority and explained the importance of coordinating efforts with local leaders, parents, teachers and students. A match was made and the Magnums asked Adam and WOO to take over management of the project starting in January 2008.

Lynn Mangum and WOO Program Director Adam Monaghan seal the deal to support the education of Gigante's children

Current Situation - Since taking the reins of the Jose Dolores Rivera school project, WOO staff and community members have identified and been working to address the following programmatic focal points:

  1. Provide an salary and health care benefits to three elementary school teachers to reduce the student-teacher ratio and avoid overcrowded classrooms.
  2. Provide a monthly stipend to one kindergarten teacher
  3. Supply classroom materials and educational equipment to teachers and students
  4. Train teachers in progressive education techniques to foster critical thinking skills and therefore break the cycle of teaching by rote memorization
  5. Organize and train the local parent-teacher association
  6. Improve the school building infrastructure

Kindergarten teacher Belkis Mora and her students

First grade teacher Mariel Arcia Guzman pictured with her students

Fourth and Fifth grade teacher Belkis Cubillo Perez with her students

Sixth grade teacher Marisol Chavarria pictured with her students

A community celebration where Project WOO facilitated the delivery of school supplies to the José Dolores Rivera school by the Fabretto Children's Foundation, our partner organization in supporting education initiatives in the Gigante village

José Dolores Rivera school teachers as well as teachers from other regional elementary school get together every two months for skills training workshops put on by our education partner organization, the Fabretto Children's Foundation

Members of the Gigante Parent-Teacher association gather for a picture after participating in a workshop put on by our friends at the Fabretto Children's Foundation

Gigante village parents shown here enjoying themselves as they make repairs to the school funded by Project WOO. This is a great example of how we work: organize, provide material support, and allow the local people the pride of doing the work themselves.

A great picture of Gigante mothers painting the kindergarten

Future Endeavors – Because of a lack of resources (both human and financial) Project WOO is currently limited to working only with the José Dolores Rivera elementary school that serves the approximately 80 students living on the coastal and northern access roads. We have just recently begun to develop a relationship with the other elementary school in Gigante, which serves about 30 students that live along the southern access road. The situation there is perhaps more urgent than that of José Dolores Rivera school because they have only one teacher for grades one through four, lack a functioning well to provide safe drinking water to the students, and have an active group of parents seeking to improve the situation of their children’s education. In light of this, Project WOO is seeking additional resources to fund our desired efforts to work with the Gigante #1 elementary school.

Additionally, the parents, teachers and students of both schools have recognized a need to build a small, two-room building on each school property that would serve as both a library and a storage house/kitchen to cook the student’s meals. To prepare for these projects, we will seek to work with the local parent-teacher committees to carry out project design and implementation trainings. Project WOO would therefore need to bring another staff member on board to dedicate his/her full attention to this process. We can do this with your help.

WOO After School Club

WOO After School Club volunteer Megan Kimble poses here with some of her students. She taught English to our students and developed a close relationship with many members of the Gigante community.

At the start of the school year in February 2009, the twenty five Gigante high school students began meeting two days a week in a structured environment for a few hours in the afternoon where they play fun games, do homework and have access to tutoring, and receive classes relating to a number of topics taught by Project WOO staff and volunteers, including (so far) English, organic gardening, and small business development. There are rules for attendance and conduct that have been drawn up with and agreed to by students, parents and Project WOO staff. During the time that they spend at the WOO After School Club, these once isolated students are exposed to new ideas while being prompted to think critically and analyze the world around them by responsible adult role models.

WOO After School Club volunteer Joe Buck and high school student Roberto dig a hole that they are going to fill with a tree at the Gigante elementary school!

WOO Director of Operations Norma Prendiz posing with our After School Club students

Our friend Aubrey from Surfers Without Borders leading a lesson is making art with everyday items that can be found in nature or around the house

Because the Gigante village is so small and isolated it does not have a high school. As such, our high school students are forced to travel as many as twenty miles every day over poorly maintained dirt roads to get to school in the town of Tola. Fortunately Project WOO and Gigante village members have come together to provide affordable transportation to these students. (Read all about it in our next blog entry titled: "Transportation and Economic Development Project"!!)

One of the great aspects of the After School Club is that when our students comply with attendance rules, they win a stipend from Project WOO that pays for 75 percent of their monthly bus fare. This results in a monthly savings of $30.00 per student for Gigante families. This may sound like small potatoes, but to families that only make $100.00 - $200.00 a month it is a big deal. So not only does the After School Club provide access to positive adult role models and access to new information and new ways of thinking, it increases the chances that parents will continue their children's education past primary school because of the reduced costs offered by Project WOO.

WOO After School Club volunteer Amie Riley showing the girls how to make a proper mixture of organic soil

9th grader Selena is enjoying the art session with Aubrey and Loren, our friends from Surfers Without Borders who dropped by to help out with the After School Club in May 2009

We are currently seeking to build upon our early success with this project. Project WOO is looking for creative, dynamic volunteers to work with our students on a daily basis to impart new, exciting classes and expose the children to different role models. Ideas for future curriculum include computer literacy, world events, sports programs, entrepreneurship, and marine biology. The sky is truly the limit as we look to expand the After School Club to include elementary school students as well. Please contact us at to see how you can partner with us to inspire the youth of Gigante village.

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