Pictured here: Laura taking Bianca and Justin to “Kid’s Club” on her bike.
Laura Kennedy having volunteered in South Africa, then pursued a career in primary school teaching. She writes here about her time teaching in Nicaragua
Choosing to leave the comforts of friends and family, a paid job, my own home and a way of life that I loved was never a difficult decision. I had spent six weeks volunteering in South Africa in my mid 20s and knew that it was something I always wanted to return to, this time with more skills to offer and for an extended period of time. Having returned to college to retrain as a primary school teacher, inspired by my time in South Africa, and also having a fairly high level of Spanish, I found myself in a small fishing village in the north west of Nicaragua, working at an after school club and also at the local primary school.
Arriving to what seemed like paradise, a small village on the Pacific Ocean with deserted beaches and the most beautiful sunsets, I quickly fell into the rhythm of life there. I chose to live with a local family so as to become a part of the community and share their way of life. The village has sporadic electricity and no running or potable water. Showers are buckets and toilets long drops. Water is drawn from the well to complete every task and nothing takes ‘just a minute’.
School begins at 7. There are four local teachers and roughly 100 children enrolled at the school. For there to be 50 or 60 there on a given day is a more accurate head count. Most children drop out by 4th grade to help at home or to work and earn much needed money, living in a village where the majority survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Teaching styles are rather draconian and to cope with high numbers in the lower grades and falling numbers in the higher grades 1st and 5th grade share a teacher and classroom as do 2nd and 6th.
Working daily with the children in the school was incredibly rewarding but it was sharing methodologies with the teachers and watching them interact in a more child centred and interactive manner that will have the real lasting effect on the lives of the school children for years to come. Watching the stern 1st grade teacher sing a song about the numbers with her class of 6 and 7 year olds was a pivotal moment for me, it was the first time the children had been taught with music and movement by their class teacher, and soon games of cards and bingo were understood to be of benefit in helping these children recognise their numbers up to 10, with which up to that point the majority had been struggling.
The heat was often times oppressive and the lack of basic facilities wearing in times of ill health or exhaustion. Spending 11 months with the one community and living with a local family ensured that I was welcomed in and made to feel a part of that community. However, I will always be the woman who had enough money to choose to live there. We shared a present but our pasts couldn’t have been more different. Volunteering has many highs and lows, emotions are heightened and you return to the first world seeing life through new eyes. It is an experience I would never change and I look forward to the opportunity of sharing life with a community in the developing world again some time soon.
For anyone thinking of volunteering Comhlámh’s VolOps pages on Facebook and Linked in are an excellent place to find out about sending organisations and find the fit that is right for your skills, ensuring that both you and the project you work on benefit as much as possible from your volunteering experiences.