January 20, 2013
Una Semana en Rincon de Cuentos, the Reading Corner
by Jennifer Spring, homestay student at La Mariposa 1/6-2/3
A microbus ride to La Concha, a mototaxi lift into Barrio Santiago, and a walk through orange groves delivered me and fellow volunteer Angie Popek to El Rincon last Monday. This is the Reading Corner (literally the Story Nook), a little school maintained and staffed by La Mariposa as a community center. It provides enrichment for children after school and during vacations, as well as space for adult continuing education the other half of the day.
Angie and I arrive our first morning in the back of the little black La Mariposa pickup truck. Ruth Jansen, one of the interns here handling the many details of running the school, the hotel, and various projects, is along to introduce us to the teachers, Rosa and Maydelin. The truck is on the way to a produce pickup for the kitchen at La Mariposa. The ride is picturesque for sure, but Angie and I are also concerned with memorizing all the turns on the route so we can find our way home and be able to return by ourselves the next day!
We begin the morning by helping Rosa set up the school for the kids. We take down the barbed wire fence, open the colorful shutters, set out books, puzzles, drawing paper, and a craft project of making necklaces of cut straws and paper flowers. The children arrive in family groups, some from right across the lane. Most have American names pronounced with a heavy accent and still sound foreign until you finally recognize… “oh, it’s Edgar!” About 10 kids arrive, shy and polite but friendly and curious about us, of course. The littlest ones walk up to us with their hands held palms together and fingers pointing forward, a simple and sweet gesture of greeting and respect. All but the youngest children are reading Spanish. Working with kids here is much the same as at home– and probably the world over. All kids appreciate loving individual attention and appreciation of what they have accomplished, as well as a chance to learn something new.
My background is elementary education. For the past three years, I’ve taught in a literacy program for students in a low income area of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Many of our students are from immigrant families and speak Spanish at home. I decided to pursue a certification in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) in order to learn additional skills for teaching literacy, and took vacation time and a leave of absence to spend a month in Nicaragua working intensively on learning Spanish.
3A highlight of each day was recess on the avocado-littered patio. With old but serviceable balls, we played kickball and baseball (your fist is the bat) with leaf piles for bases. Angie and I joined in of course, and so did Rosa and her husband Moises. The toddlers wandered through the playing field and were never run over. There was always a lot of laughter, and good sportsmanship. We shouted “foul!” and “safe” in English, but everything else in Spanish. One day I asked Rosa if I could teach a favorite, good-for-all-ages game. With a few Spanish words and moving people around by the shoulders, the rules were conveyed and and the game was enthusiastically played for quite awhile. It’s a wonderful feeling to make a contribution. Rosa commented that part of what made it a good game was that no one got hurt! Angie and I learned how to play new games too, including El Raton y El Gato– a good chasing game!
On Wednesday the day went a bit differently. Alexandra, another La Mariposa student joined us, so five teachers in all were available to wander the streets of Santiago, stopping by homes more distant from El Rincon, picking up children who followed along until we reached one particular house with a large yard. We asked the lady of the house if we could all sit under the trees and read together. The dirt yard was carefully swept clear as is typical here. Chairs were brought out from the house, and we unpacked our bag of books onto a wooden bench that became the library. The family obviously didn’t have much, but they were welcoming and had an openness that is common in Nicaragua. I worked with a daughter of the host family. She was about nine years old, shy, and a very quiet reader. As we went along, I asked to take a turn occasionally, and made sure to read in an animated voice and point out anything that might be humorous. Soon the little girl gained confidence and read book after book, enjoying making sure I got a turn now and then — but not for long! At the end of that visit, and indeed at the end of our week at El Rincon, it was hard to say goodbye to such sweet and smart kids. They don’t have electronic toys to play with, but they do have family, friends, and the beautiful, abundant rainforest around them. It’s wonderful to see the smiles of the children here– a look of pure delight that is a wonder and a surprise.
As the morning was winding down, a child or two would disappear through the open doors of the school and return with several mandarins and oranges picked nearby. We would sit in the breezy, cool classroom (muy tranquilo except for the day when a mototaxi arrived to haul off a squealing pig) and enjoy our snack and each other’s company, some kids throwing seeds and peels into the trees, discussing what game to play next or who wanted a volunteer to draw with them. Angie and I brought face paints and candy for the kids on Friday, and we had a little fiesta that ended in hugs all around. We helped Rosa shutter the school and struggled to pull the barbed wire gate into place. The kids walked up the lane with us until they reached their turnoffs. “Adios! Adios!”
Many former students at La Mariposa have been enchanted by experiences like ours at La Rincon, and have gifted the school with supplies, books, and personal contributions. I’ll be leaving my trusty set of face paints for the kids, and Angie saw a need and bought pencil sharpeners, and brought sports equipment for the Ruben Dario School from home. But the new experiences and the love we shared with everyone at Rincon de Cuentos were the best gifts of all!