A wonderful month in Diriamba!

 

Living and volunteering in Diriamba was an incredible and unique experience. I learnt so much in just one month from the places I went, things I did and, more than anything, the people I met. I’m amazed by the connections I made with people and the town in such a short amount of time, and already can’t wait until I can go back-Nicaragua definitely found a place in my heart!

Before going to Nicaragua, my Spanish was pretty basic, and just before I left I started worrying that I’d made a massive mistake and was going to be completely out of my depth-in a totally different country, on my own, and not being able to understand people (let alone try and teach them!). It turned out, my worrying was completely unnecessary: although living and working in a language I didn’t know very well was a challenge, and mentally tiring at times, everyone was so patient and helpful and my Spanish improved so fast! Nicaraguans’ laid-back, friendly and helpful nature and the fact that almost nobody in Diriamba speaks English (as it’s not on the tourist trail) made it the perfect place to learn Spanish.

Living with a host family is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture, lifestyle and language of the country you are in, and it completely enriched my experience of volunteering. I loved having the time to properly get to know my family, and learn about their beliefs, experiences, opinions and just day-to-day living. It was really interesting to see things from the perspective of people who live in a culture and country completely different to my own, and very eye-opening! (Also, eating rice and beans three times a day was not as hard or tedious as I expected-I actually started loving them after a week or two, and couldn’t wait for meals!)

Teaching was a completely new experience for me; the idea of standing up in front of a class full of children was quite daunting! I had two classes, fifth and sixth grades, which showed me two very different sides of teaching. Fifth grade were loving, lively children, eager to learn and quick to understand. They were an absolute pleasure to teach and I just wanted more time so I could get to know them better and continue to help them progress! Sixth grade were definitely more of a challenge, as most fourteen and fifteen year olds are, and I had my work cut out to keep them engaged and learning instead of gossiping and doodling on paper... Although my lessons with sixth grade were more tiring and less immediately rewarding than fifth, they definitely pushed me to be more creative with my teaching. It was a good reminder that doing things which are challenging or out of your ‘comfort zone’ are always positive, teaching you new skills and improving you as a person. Teaching both classes were valuable and memorable experiences.

One, Two...Tree! were great to work with and for, and I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to contribute to a wonderful project run by such good-hearted, lovely people! As for Nicaragua...all I can say is BEAUTIFUL. Everything from the landscape and nature, to the buildings, streets full of horses and carts and ‘moto’ taxis, and (of course) the people. Having the opportunity to travel around on the weekends and my days off (which is really easy and cheap-I was amazed at how good the Nicaraguan transport system is) took me to some incredible places, and I was surprised at how quickly Diriamba started feeling like home!

I could go on and on about all the great experiences I had, but I think I’ll stop here. I have so much gratitude to Pedro, Maru, my host family, all my students and everyone at APAN for making my time so valuable, unforgettable and amazing. Gracias!!

Aeve J

Laura, a first hand experience!!

Hi, I am Laura and I lived in Diriamba for 2 months, which was definitely not enough time to do and experience everything that I had intended.   Between preparing and teaching classes, spending time with my host family, and traveling during the weekends, I never had a dull moment.  Living with a local family was a unique and memorable experience because it enabled me to become more enriched in the Nicaragüense culture.   My family was so excited to immerse and include me into their personal traditions and daily activity that I assimilated quickly to the different customs.  This includes taking the local transportation, walking to the local market, eating in the comedores, purchasing snacks in the pulperías, or simply hanging around the central park. Furthermore, there is always a festival or some type of activity that is happening in Diriamba, or surrounding cities, all that are well worthwhile to not only go see as a spectator, but to participate in as well.

Spanish is my second language, which I primarily learned in school and picked up from various family vacations so I was not sure what to fully expect when arriving to Nicaragua.  When I arrived, I felt pretty confident with my Spanish-speaking capabilities. However, the Spanish dialect in Diriamba is different than what I expected.  Many people do not put the S on the end of words, and there is an additional form, vos.  This form of vos is not to be confused with vosotros, as used in Spain. Therefore, it was a relief that my host family was patient with helping me to learn, to understand and further develop my language skills. Now, I can definitely say that I am more proficient and confident with my Spanish-communication skills.

Teaching was an amazing experience because it enabled me to further enrich myself into the culture and spend time with local children.  I find this to be a very important aspect of the teaching experience- to broaden the children’s’ perspective and knowledge about other cultures and customs around the world, in addition to demonstrating that although physical traits may differ, people generally are the same.  Form a different perspective, teaching English was so rewarding because the kids, although shy and timid about learning a new language, were nonetheless eager and enthusiastic.   I was able to see the development that the kids made from each class by being greeted in English on the street by students and increased participation in the class as their confidence grew.

Traveling during the weekends to other cities of Nicaragua is also a noteworthy experience.  By using the local bus transportation system, I was able to travel around the country economically and practice my Spanish as well. In addition, I was able to see and visit areas in Nicaragua that are beautiful and unique, but not known for tourism.  This also allowed me to become more culturally aware of different economic and government infrastructures, traditions, and life styles.

After my 2 months were up, I definitely was not ready to leave. Currently, after having left Diriamba two months prior, I still remain in contact with my host family and do plan on returning to visit.  The experience was wonderful and I would not trade it for anything.

Nos vidrios Diriamba!

I can’t believe I’ve already been back in the States for a week.  It almost feels weird to say that I’m  home when for the last seven months I have called Diriamba, Nicaragua home, and not just called it that but truly felt it as well.

I arrived to Diriamba in January in a microbus with my luggage and two phone numbers.  I didn’t know much about the town nor did I know anyone who lived there, so I was a little apprehensive during that first hour spent waiting by el reloj (or el rolex as some of the locals call it J).  If I had any idea how the next couple of months were going to unfold, I definitely wouldn’t have been as anxious as I was.

From the very beginning, everyone accepted me as one of their own.  I felt like just another son, brother, nephew and grandson with my host family, another part of the team of volunteer educators at the APAN youth center, and another member of the faculty in the schools where I taught.  Whenever there were birthdays, school presentations, or events at APAN, they always invited me, and I was always more than happy to lend a hand.  I am and will be forever grateful for these displays of hospitality.

In my responsibilities as coordinator, I encountered the same positive attitude.  All of the schools’ principals and teachers were thrilled to be collaborating with One, Two… Tree!  We really could not get the volunteers to arrive fast enough!  In Diriamba, English classes are only offered in private and secondary schools, so offering these classes for the first time in the public primary schools was a really big deal for everyone involved.  The students of Diriamba were so excited when their first English teachers started to arrive and almost heartbroken when their time came to depart.

Our volunteers were great as well.  The majority came with little experience in teaching, but none of them lacked the work ethic and enthusiasm necessary to get the job done.  We had volunteers managing a classroom full of kids their very first day!  When not teaching, some even helped out with painting the wall that surrounds APAN, one of the secondary projects sponsored by One, Two… Tree!  They were also very adaptable.  I’m proud to say that our volunteers didn’t have any problems that we couldn’t solve during my stay in Diriamba.

I really wish I could have stayed longer.  I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who said “Don’t hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.” And I did love the work I did in Diriamba.  I seemed to always be busy, whether I was in class or visiting host families, in meetings at the schools or answering emails, and I always enjoyed it.  I also was able to meet and work with some really great people.  Each day brought a new challenge, but also a new adventure. I can say with perfect honesty that I would not trade my sojourn in Diriamba for any salary.

This experience was truly once-in-a-lifetime and I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Pedro and One, Two… Tree! for offering me the opportunity to volunteer and to everyone associated with APAN who made my time in Diriamba unforgettable.

Sincerely,

Patrick “El Chele” Beauchamp

 

Colorful bliss

I started my volunteering journey approximately 20 days ago. It's the first time in my life that I am actually fully immersed in volunteering work, but I love it so much that it feels like I've been doing it forever. 

As soon as I drove into town and saw "El Reloj" (Diriamba’s trademark by excellence) I called Ronald (APANS' coordinator) and he brought me to my host family’s house. The house is small in size but huge in warmth, and it has Royal Blue walls (my favorite color, destiny!).

I googled "Diriamba" several times before I actually arrived (I was and continue to be as excited as can be) and read that one of the trademarks of the city was that the houses didn't have a specific number, instead they used the colors of the houses as a reference for addresses and orientation. And as soon as I got here I realized that it’s not just the houses… Everything in this town is more colorful, the cars, the parks, the clothes, the festivities, and even the sunsets!

I was aware of the fact that I was going to be living in a place where the conditions were going to be totally different from what I was used to back at home. To be perfectly honest, before I got here I really wasn't 100% sure about whether I was going to be able to endure it or not; but since the very first day that I spent with my host family, the first starry night that I stared into (this place has one of the most gorgeous skies I have ever seen) and the first smile that I saw drawn on a little kid's face I knew that I was not only going to be "fine", i was going to be "GREAT".

Every single day here is packed with a bunch of teaching, laughing, playing, learning, walking and appreciating the beauty in the tiniest of things. By the time each mealtime comes I am so hungry that all the food tastes incredibly delicious (my stomach had some tiny issues on the first days but now it has gone into full Nicaraguan mode) and by the time the day comes to an end I am so tired that my pillows feel like goose down, my sheets like Egyptian 400thread sheets and my bed like the single most comfortable piece of furniture in the world. 

I still have approximately 5 months to go as I am the new Volunteer Coordinator of the organization and so far I am as happy as can be! I will continue to keep all of you posted on my teaching experiences, adventures, life lessons learned, and a little bit of everything else that is worthy of sharing!

Cheers and good vibes to you all! 

 

Maru J

Adios al Chele!!

Last summer I was travelling around Central America looking for NGOs teaching English to children when I ended up in Ocotepeque, a small village in Honduras close to the Guatemalan border. I was planning to visit ´My little red house´, of which I didn´t know anything until I got there. In Ocotopeque I found 5 volunteers from the US and Ireland who were teaching English in that same school. They let me stay at their flat, so we shared some good moments playing guitar and card games. Among them, there was this talented guy, slightly younger than the rest and very integrated into the Honduras life. By that time I didn´t have a clue that Patrick would become six months later the first volunteer in One, two…tree!        

In Nicaragua, el Chele means white person. ´Clarito´ they say. Patrick is indeed very clarito, it´s funny how much they talk about him by his nick name. Everyone seems to have taken Patrick with a sort of esteem and care. Whereas he is not excessively outgoing, he got to know everyone in Diriamba. There was never a farewell party with so many people coming. There were students, host families, teachers from other schools, coordinators and lots of APAN children. He danced for the first time that night (he will also be remembered by that dance) and gave a speech where he concluded: ´Esta es mi familia´.

Patrick arrived early on February facing a huge challenge. Everything was still to be done in this organization. Starting from zero, he got in contact with the schools, host families and APAN coordinators. He organized the teaching schedules were the coming volunteers would fit, also the accommodation with each host family. Soon he took the role of answering and following up applications, which he also did very well by gradually improving our processes and tools. Whereas there was no one in Nicaragua to look after his work, he regularly followed our instructions. For example, I was surprised to learn that every single photocopy for the English teaching had the corresponding invoice kept in our records.  

While I am writing this, Ronald Mendieta just passed by. He is the founder of APAN, the NGO we partner with in Nicaragua. When asked to say some words about Patrick, this is what he said: ¨Although he is so young, Patrick has been entrepreneurial on his objectives, responsible, full of joy and good purposes in life¨. I could also ask some girls to describe Patrick, apparently, he will be remembered here not only for his work. You could see in the eyes of some of them how much he will be missed in Diriamba. This is Patrick´s song according to the girls from APAN.

Yesterday was Patricks´ last day in Nicaragua. He left after seven months of hard work. We left him in the airport with the feeling of a thankful goodbye. He didn’t work in exchange for a salary as we are used to see in our home countries, I guess the only thing he got back was the feeling of helping those who need it most in the most needed countries. As the founder of this organization, I will always be thankful to Patrick for his dedication, his persistent good mood and his commitment.

Gracias, Chele!

Pedro Pestana da Silva