Cassidy’s book helps kids at Panama School

A small girl fundraises for kids at Panama Primary School

written by Tom Spoth, La Mariposa volunteer

About two months ago I started volunteering at the Escuela de Panama, a primary school in a very poor community near La Mariposa. The community of Panama is a few miles up the highway from La Mariposa, and consists of about 800 people in houses centered around a dirt road that leads up into the hills. The community is located directly in the path of smoke from the nearby Masaya volcano, which makes it impossible to grow crops other than pineapple and pitahaya, and also creates health problems from using rainwater contaminated by the smoke. The municipal water system doesn’t reach Panama and residents typically must walk to nearby neighborhoods if they want to buy potable water.

The effect of poverty on the children who attend the Panama school is clear. Many are malnourished or come to school in dirty or tattered clothing. Two years ago, La Mariposa sponsored the construction of a small library at the Panama school to give the kids a place to experience the joy of reading and help to foster a sense of excitement about learning. The project is doing its job: Every morning when we ask the kids “who wants to work in the library?” and we’re met with a flurry of shouts and raised hands.

Kids working in the library

However, the families in Panama lack the resources to provide students with the materials they need for a complete educational experience. The students sometimes lack even the basics, such as notebooks and pencils.

Cassidy , a girl about the same age as the first- and second-graders in Panama, visited the school in 2008 with a group from La Mariposa and saw the challenges the students there face. She was moved to write a small book about her visit to Nicaragua and the kids in Panama, who don’t enjoy the same level of education that she does in the United States. By selling copies of her book, she was able to raise about $250 to buy supplies for the school.  Check out her book here!

A few weeks ago, I took a bus up the highway to the nearby city of Masaya with Fernando, a local teacher whom La Mariposa pays to work part-time in the library at Panama. We went on a mini-spending spree in a bookstore in Masaya, filling a small shopping cart with educational materials for the students. Among other things, we were able to buy dozens of notebooks, hundreds of pencils, coloring books, rulers, staplers, markers, glue, drawing paper, pencil sharpeners, and posters displaying the alphabet and multiplication tables. We also visited a local pharmacy to purchase various types of medicine, because parents in Panama are often reluctant to send kids to school in poor weather for fear that they’ll get sick.

Fernando with the school supplies

I was surprised to find that even after lugging a huge box and two backpacks full of supplies back to Panama, we still had about $50 left over, which Fernando used to buy a broom, pens, several calculators, additional notebooks, and a few balls for the kids to play with during recess. It’s been a pleasure to watch the students’ delight at having new things with which to play and work. It’s also been an eye-opening experience to see their astonishment at receiving brand-new balls, pencils, or modeling clay — items that students and teachers in most places take for granted.

The students in Panama still face daunting obstacles in receiving a full education. Even in first and second grade, some of the children rarely attend class. By the time they reach fifth or sixth grade, the numbers dwindle even further because their parents see more value in keeping the kids to help around the house or in the fields than in sending them to school. And even if a student at Panama manages to complete their education at the primary school, the cost of transportation to the secondary school in San Juan — about 50 cents per day — is out of the price range of most families in Panama.

Kids in class at Panama School

Many of the students at Panama are extremely bright, and every single one of them loves to come to school, loves to read and loves to learn. It’s sad to think that due to the economic realities of their community, these children will never get the chance to reach their potential. Recently we saw the difference that even a relatively small donation can make, and I hope that with the help of more people like Cassidy the children of Panama will be able to have the opportunities they deserve.

Tom and a few of his students

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