The Little School That Could
SOMETIMES WORK IS A CHALLENGE; OTHER TIMES, WORK IS JUST THAT - WORK. BUT THERE ARE SPECIAL TIMES WHEN WORK IS AN INCREDIBLE GIFT, A BLESSING AND TONS OF FUN! THAT'S WHAT MY JOB WAS FROM MAY 20-27TH WHEN I HAD THE AMAZING PRIVILEGE OF VISITING NICARAGUA AND MEETING THE COMMUNITY OF SAN ANTONIO WHERE I WAS INTRODUCED TO THE STUDENTS OF "THE LITTLE SCHOOL THAT COULD".
Since 2010, Equator Coffee has been supporting an amazing organization called SchoolBOX. SchoolBOX began "Making Education Possible" in 2006 when Tom Affleck discovered that a simple notebook and pencil was often the difference between a child being able to attend school or not. Since then, it has grown to where now well over ten thousand children and teachers are provided with school supplies each year, soccer programs encourage kids to stay in school, and schools are being built in communities where no other organization is willing to go. San Antonio is one of these communities.
When we began our partnership with SchoolBOX, we hoped that some day we'd be able to build a school in the region where our coffee is purchased from. That dream is now becoming a reality. Through the diligent work of SchoolBOX's Nicaraguan director, Ronald Chavarria, who met with Roberto Villegas, manager of our producer co-op PROCOCER, we found out about the small community of San Antonio. Pictured on the right are Ronald, Roberto, Tom, Craig and Amber Hall (me) from Equator and another of PROCOCER's farmers.
San Antonio is located at the most northern point of western Nicaragua very near the border with Honduras and about 8 km from the nearest town of Jalapa. It is no small feat to reach this little coffee-growing village. On our trip up, it took nearly an hour in a tired hard-working 4x4 to traverse the washed-out, windy and very steep sandy road. There were times we thought we wouldn't make it. This is the trip that the current teacher has to make each day as she works her way up the mountain to this school with 24 students. It helps that the surrounding countryside is filled with beautiful, lush coffee farms and views that take your breath away.
When we finally reached our destination, we were not prepared for the welcome that awaited us. The entire community was there - parents, students, teachers, farmers and neighbours - with welcome signs and even a 'red carpet' of sorts, made from pine bark and needles. It was truly overwhelming. The students had prepared songs and poems including the Nicaraguan National Anthem as shown here, the farmers spoke about the incredible cooperation of all parties involved, and the Ministry of Education was there to voice their support. The teachers shared the story of what a difference this school would make.
The current school at San Antonio was a labour of love. Up until four years ago, there was no school at all. The community realized that their children needed to get an education, so they decided to do something about it. Reusing materials from another building and local adobe-building methods, they constructed a small (approximately 8x10) building that has served them well. But, it is true that "if you build it, they will come" and the current structure is now attempting to house the education of 24 very bright and energetic young students that do not nearly fit in the space that has no windows and holes in the roof that make for a very muddy dirt floor when the rains come down. June to October is rainy season and the other months are extremely hot, so there are many days where conditions are very poor and learning is difficult to say the least.
So what happens now? This interesting mix of incredible community support through difficult circumstances is the perfect place for SchoolBOX to step in. They have learned not to take over in such a situation, but rather to work with all partners involved to achieve a result that will be looked after for many years to come. Before we arrived, the Ministry of Education worked with farmers to gain clear title for the land the school will be built on. Our visit confirmed that the community is truly committed to supporting the project. Now, a Nicaraguan engineer will make plans that will work for the site. With permits in hand, SchoolBOX's trained builders will make the challenging trek with all their materials and begin work with community volunteers to construct the building. Next year, Equator staff, friends and customers will travel to Nicaragua to take part in the building, meet the farmers and their families, and learn about the origins of the coffee they love.
When the school is completed, the Ministry of Education will take over the payroll of the teacher and the maintenance of the school. Finally, SchoolBOX will continue to provide educational materials for the students and teacher each year as well as to monitor the support and ongoing conditions. To the right, you'll see an exampe of a one room school built by SchoolBOX near the community of Telic. The Equator School will be similar allowing for better flooring, lighting and ventilation as well as security for the educational supplies housed within. It will also allow even more students to attend.
We can't wait to go back next year and see the dream become reality. Please consider taking part in this adventure with us. We will be travelling to Nicaragua again next May to work on the school. This trip is not for the faint of heart. We will be working hard every day, staying in very simple accomodations with only cold showers available and travelling over difficult terrain. However, the benefits will far outweigh the inconveniences. You will meet some of the most inspiring people, see beautiful landscapes, learn much about coffee and make a huge difference in the lives of children. We'll keep you posted as more details become available.
A few more pictures from our Nicaraguan adventure: