“Wonderful”: the Panama Project

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Because La Mariposa has multiple focuses, and there are a variety of initiatives that are proposed by people in the local community, we have quite a range of projects. Our newest one opened about three months ago…  it’s called the Panama project, and it focuses specifically on offering English classes (usually to children between the ages of 5-12).

The original Panama project began when a friend of Paulette’s (who now does one of the homestays — his name is Hector) asked Paulette to visit the school he taught at. The school itself was in Panama, one of the poorest barrios in La Concha, and the lack of resources there was staggering; the only teaching materials available in his classroom were a chalkboard (no chalk) and a ruler.

Hector asked it’d be possible for La Mariposa to support the school by providing things like books, paper, pencils, and chalk, and pointed out that some of the students in the community were affected by a lack of resources as well.

He noted that there were two young sisters who only came to school on alternating days; he had realized it was because they only had one set of clothes between them.

With this in mind, La Mariposa began to collect donations and accumulate resources. In addition to providing student supplies and various classroom materials, they used funds to mend the roof, paint the school, put in latrines, and build a dining area for the children. The school continues to use these today — however, a few years ago, the project itself was forced to close due to some issues with the Nicaraguan education administrators.

After the first project ended, La Mariposa began to work with a family who lived in the local area and were close with the Mariposa community; their names are Doña Maria and Don Martin. LM rented a small piece of land from them and built an area to hold classes (Doña Maria takes care of class area upkeep as well).

The program launched this past April, and there are currently 5 English teachers for 50-60 children (and sometimes adults!) every afternoon.

The children themselves are extremely bright and energetic — “Good afternoon”, they shouted at me when I said hello — and intently focused on learning. Initially, I was hesitant about the concept of them having to learn English (colonization of language and all that), and Paulette tells me that she was too… but many Nicaraguans in the local community supported the idea of English lessons, and insisted that this would be a good idea.

During my ride in the microtaxi, I asked Tania (one of the primary teachers — she’s the one in the orange shirt) about this. Why did she think it was important for the children to learn English?

In secondary school, she told me, English is often taught — these classes offer children a background in the language and some extra preparation that will become more and more important as they continue in their education. In addition, learning English often expands the amount of opportunities available for Nicaraguan students; “they don’t have to be fluent, but one or two words here and there are helpful to know”.

Tania herself studies English at the local university every evening after she finishes teaching at the Panama project… and even though this means her days are incredibly long, she cares about the children and she thinks this project is important and she keeps doing it.

Even the littlest students — the ones who are too young to read or write — are learning.

“Ask them a question,” their teacher requested, and I hesitantly queried, “Um… how are you?”
They smiled big and the boy next to me shouted, “I’m fine thank you!” The little girls next to him responded, “I’m good!” “I’m great!”, and the last one threw her arms into the air and exclaimed, “I’m WONDERFUL!”




if you’re interested in helping these kids by donating to the Panama Project (and the other projects that La Mariposa regularly sustains) you can do so by going to our homepage and scrolling down to find the “donate” button… thank you so much!


Earth Day at La Mariposa by Wylie (intern)


Piles of children hang onto the back of La Mariposa pickup truck.  A jabbering gang of fifth graders from the Barrio Panama primary school have just helped me flip a large blue barrel full of water onto its side in the bed of the truck.  The water pours from the barrel, over the grinning, yelling children, onto a dried out sandlot in the hills of Barrio Panama.  Clouds of dust billow into the hot air as the truck drives in circles around the small brown rectangle of land we’ve chosen to commandeer for our Earth Day soccer tournament.  The small hilly outcropping above the field is lined with children.  They cheer on the progress of the truck, in eager anticipation for the moment when the field is completely watered and La Mariposa interns finally relinquish control of the soccer ball to let the tournament begin.

Wetting down the pitch

                The black pickup, adorned with side by side decals of Mazda and Che Guevara, progresses across the small field in jolting zigzags and tight circles before the flow of water tapers off.  Students flood onto the field as the truck leaves, only to be corralled back to the edges by a small group of shouting, sweaty teachers.  With surprising efficiency two teams occupy opposing sides of the makeshift soccer field.  I raise the ball above my head as I step into the center of the slightly damp, but newly dust repellant, soccer pitch.  My explanation of the rules, delivered in stilted, improvisational Spanish, is widely ignored and as the ball is released the entire field erupts into frenzied, kicking activity.

The soccer tournament in full swing

                The soccer tournament was just one part of La Mariposa organized Earth Day activities at Escuela Panama and Ruben Dario.  In order to both raise awareness of the environment, and to physically improve the litter situation surrounding both schools, La Mariposa interns organized a day long trash cleanup project, which was completed successfully last Wednesday. 

Collecting trash

                At Escuela Panama, the students were divided into six different teams, distinguished by different colored masking tape stuck to their shirts, and given recycled rice sacks to collect trash as they walked down the street towards the makeshift soccer field.  They brandished posters with phrases such as “Feliz Dia de la Tiera” and “Mi Comunidad es Bonita Porque yo no Boto la Basura en la Calle” to passing motorists.  Upon arrival at the soccer field the group paused for a midmorning snack of fresh fruit and juice, and then continued with the grand, exciting, Earth Day soccer tournament.  La Mariposa’s dirt covered interns ate a hurried lunch back at the Spanish school and headed out again to repeat the process at Escuela Ruben Dario that afternoon.

Not even the presence of Mariposa volunteers could stop a rowdy group of older Ruben Dario students from secretly mixing their team labels and plunging the afternoon soccer tournament into an anarchic free for all.  After three games I was forced to give up on the tournament bracket in order to refocus efforts on including the younger teams. 

“Who here is on the Black team,” I shout to a group of over forty giddy Ruben Dario students.  All hands are raised. Children who just played in the Blue vs Red match push their way to the front of the crowd to assure me of their allegiance to the Black team. One would be footballer tries to pull the ball from under my elbow.  I raise the ball above my head, pick out five kids who had been standing in the Black team’s general area at snack time, and watch as the entire group fights their way towards the soccer two PVC pipe goals.    

As the “tournament” crashed along at this disorganized pace, and I began to recognize the repeat offenders sneaking into every game, the more competitive soccer players lost interest and drifted back in the direction of public transportation and their homes. The day concluded with an ecstatic group of girls kicking the soccer ball down the street as the dirt covered Mariposa interns trucked bags of collected garbage back home for later sorting. 

A resounding success.      

Interns organising the football teams

A Week in the Life of a Mariposa Volunteer

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.

The reading corner at work






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.

Reading with the kids at home






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!”

Ball at the Reading Corner






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!