“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!


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!

A Fresh Start for the Daycare and Reading Corner

The Reading Corner and the daycare in Santiago are going through a lot of changes at the moment. Last week, a team of workers including 3 local Nicaraguan guys, the daycare and Reading Corner workers, and a host of Mariposa volunteers, worked the whole week to give the building a new look! Venice and many of the local workers had been wanting to fix up the bulding for a while, and it all culminated this past week in this massive renovation project. 


They started off by cleaning everything, then set to work on the more difficult parts: re-plastered the walls, added locks to doors, repaired all windows and doors, and constructed a new window, so altogether, lots of changes! The workers worked from 7 am to 4 pm each day, with the daycare ladies 

cooking lunch for everyone who came to help. The ladies of the daycare as well as the Mariposa volunteers were not paid for any of their contributions and instead volunteered their time to help out the community.


A wall was placed in the middle of the building, so it is now divided in 2 seperate classrooms: one for the Reading Corner and one for the daycare. Before that, they shared the same classroom, which caused miscommunication between the teachers. This problem is solved now luckily! The Reading Corner is going to be open in the afternoons, and the school is going to be open only in the mornings.

Next week we are going to continue work on the renovation by painting murals. We found 2 guys that are going to paint beautiful murals on the walls, inside and outside. Janeth from the Reading Corner came up with the idea to do at least 1 mural with the kids. This will make it all the more personal and we are really excited about that! After that, we want to start with the interior to make sure the teachers and the classrooms have all the materials they need to function as a Reading Corner, and now as a pre-school.

The daycare has now turned into a pre-school. The 3 women that work here, Karin, Orla, and Dona Candida, went to the Ministry of Education and were told that the daycare is a pre-school from now on. The ladies are going to attend a course, sponsored by the ministry, that will teach them how to make lesson plans and coordinate the school for each week. This means a lot, because the Ministry of Education is willing to invest and do more for the children now that they’re are attending a pre-school! The school is going to open as a pre-school for 2, 3, and 4 year olds on February 13th. It will be open from 8 am to 12 pm each weekday.

This is the news so far about the Reading Corner and the daycare! Keep an eye on our blog and follow us in this project! 

Want to contribute and help this project by making a donation? Both projects need a few things to function even better: paint for the murals, a couch for the Reading Corner, books (Spanish and/or English) for both projects, bookshelves, pens, notebooks, materials for arts and crafts. For more info or for donations you can get in contact with Venice, one of the interns: veniceatmopawiro@live.nl

Thanks! 🙂