Equator's SchoolBOX Adventure (or How to Change a Life in 10 Days)
In May of 2013, we had the great privilege of taking a team of 14 people to participate in a SchoolBOX build and to inaugurate the newly finished Equator San Antonio School near Jalapa, Nicaragua. It was truly a life changing experience!
A Bit About SchoolBOX
SchoolBOX is a locally-based charity that Equator has been supporting since 2010.
It began in 2006 when founder Tom Affleck casually gave a couple of girls a notebook and pencil and changed their lives by opening the door for them to go to school. From that point forward, he put his energy behind not only providing school supplies, but also building schools and libraries for many children in Nicaragua. Last year alone, SchoolBOX handed out over 15,000 educational packages to children and The Equator School was the 44th classroom completed. Equator is really proud to support such an amazing and effective organization. Tom is seen here with his wife Sarah Kerr (Executive Director of SchoolBOX) and the students of the San Antonio School. They are an amazing team!
How The Dream Started
It was in 2011 that Equator owners, Craig and Amber Hall (that's me), asked Tom if it might be possible to build a school in the area where our Nicaraguan coffee farmers are located. This region is in the most northern tip of Nicaragua called Nueva Segovia that borders Honduras. The farmer cooperative is called PROCOCER. Although SchoolBOX had never been that far north before, they agreed to check it out.
What they found was a group of farmers passionate about the education of their children and a little community called San Antonio high up a mountain doing their best with a small adobe hut for a classroom. With a supportive community, a hardy team of SchoolBOX workmen, partnership from the Ministry of Education, funds from Equator and a beast of a 4x4 truck that would have to make 27 trips up and down the mountain to bring materials to the site, the project was a go!
Our Build Community
The remoteness of the community (and the resulting lack of available safe food supply, accommodations and healthcare) made it impossible for our Canadian team to spend all of our time in San Antonio, so instead we applied our muscle to school-building on another project in the region of Tipitapa in a community called
Quince de Septiembre (named after Nicaragua's independence day of sorts). This community of approximately 250 homes, 46 of which don't even have their own latrines, was very poor to say the least, but our team was incredibly impressed with the sense of community and perseverance of the families who so badly wanted a safe, permanent, local school for their children to attend.
Completing The Circle
One of the other things that deeply impressed us was the forethought that the SchoolBOX team gave to making our experience both memorable and effective. There's no doubt that they are able to complete a school build without Canadian teams participating (as evidenced by the San Antonio project), but what can't be accomplished is a connection between the people and those that are supporting their children towards a brighter future.
These beautiful people were so excited to meet the ones who are providing the means for their community to improve long into the future. Just like when you receive a gift, you want to thank the giver, the circle would not be completed without this step. For our team, the welcome we received everywhere we went was overwhelming. The kindness of the people was outstanding, from preparing meals for us to welcoming us into their homes and sharing their stories.
SchoolBOX Knows How to do a Welcome
During our trip, we were able to visit three different schools and communities - one in progress (we built the foundation posts), one in session with 600 students, and one newly opened (a direct result of Equator's initiative and support). At each site, we were greeted with the most enthusiastic welcomes, complete with balloons, songs, dances, speeches and welcome signs. If you want to feel like a rock-star, just go on a SchoolBOX trip!
Construction in Nicaragua starts with pretty simple materials - rebar, wire ties, shovels and lots of concrete! The beauty of these methods is that even relatively unskilled and untrained workers can participate effectively in the process. In Quince, we were the first team to work and it was our job to build the foundation columns that would be used to create the framework for the school.
In addition, we had to dig the 21 holes that these columns would go into for the 3 classroom plus a library structure that was being built. Considering that temperatures were a minimum of 35 C (feeling more like 45) and it was dry season so dust was plentiful and shade hard to come by, this was no easy task. Our team, however, worked so hard side by side with the community that we felt extreme satisfaction at the end of every day and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment.
The Equator School
It was incredibly rewarding for us to be able to inaugurate the Equator School. Craig and I traveled a year ago in May of 2012 to meet the farmers, teachers and students and to make plans for this year's build and it was so meaningful to be there and hear them say how happy they were that we did what we said we would do.
Many promises are made in this country but not many are kept. We were especially blessed to see the pride of the PROCOCER farmers as they presented the students with handmade educational packages for the year. For them, these children represent the future of their farms and communities and they are so happy to see them in a proper facility where learning will be much more safe and enjoyable.
For our team, this was an experience we will all cherish and we can't wait to go back and share the adventure with more family and friends. If you're interested in participating yourself, you can find out more at schoolbox.ca. To read more about our first trip to San Antonio in May 2012, check out last year's blog: The Little School That Could.
What Some of Our Team Had to Say
"I don't think I'd like to do an all-inclusive resort again. Working during the day feels so much better - you can enjoy relaxing at night knowing you deserve it!" - Emily Arbour
“This trip taught me that happiness can’t be found with material things. True happiness can only be experienced with family, friends and community.” - Brad Weir
"Many things impacted me on this trip. The faith, joy, love and strength of the community that we were in for four days was something that impacted me greatly. I truly wish we had more of that up here. The joy of the kids, even with nothing, was also impactful. All kids should see the joy of a child with just a skipping rope or a ball. I'm hoping to take my kids, so they can see this." - Christena Holden
"I don't have even one negative comment to make about this experience. SchoolBOX thought of everything - about food, safety, making it fun and effective and helping us connect with the community. They really know what they're doing!" - Matthew Della Foresta
"I was impressed with the little group of boys - Javier, David, Donald, Jonathan and Domingo - who greeted us every day on the worksite. In Canada, you would never have the opportunity to see children and their families participating in the building of their own school. As well, the compassion that the SchoolBOX staff have for the children and the patience of the construction crew with the volunteers was amazing!" - Pamela Cotnam