Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ann Coyne School for the Deaf

We learned that the school for the deaf was officially named the “Ann Coyne School for the Deaf” in honor of Dr. Ann Coyne and her work with Rotary International for establishing the school in 2007.  The Nicaraguan government was quite confused because Ann is not a Sandanista, a revolutionary and she is not even a native Nicaraguan.  I believe she has done more to make a positive difference in Nicaragua in the last 8 years than most people can hope to achieve in a lifetime!  She has spent many summers in Nicaragua with UNO students, fostering adoptions or teaching classes and this summer she celebrated her 79th birthday while in León.

Over the past seven years I have taught the students as well as mentored the teachers.  Each and every time I mention the need for vocabulary and books.  Without knowing Spanish it has been difficult to truly model teaching strategies specifically geared toward the language, but I have given numerous ideas and activities.  It is not easy for the teachers to take an idea and apply it to different situations.  This has been frustrating for me but I imagine even more frustrating for them.

This trip, I happened to spend time with three boys who most likely have additional learning disabilities.  I ended up (on a whim) taking a children’s book and having them describe the pictures to me.  They were so engaged that the teacher was practically stupefied!  Then, they looked through the books for certain words and I reiterated the signs.  I reviewed the words a few more times that day and left the six vocabulary words on the wall.  The next day, Franklin was so proud of himself for knowing the signs for those words that I couldn’t help but share his joy. This is the same boy who has very little family support and most likely an additional disability other than deafness.

When discussing “Good Night Moon,” one boy used higher order thinking skills by noticing the mom was not in the rocking chair anymore on that page and that she probably went to sleep in another bed.  I asked him about the child and Eddy showed me the eyes closing but then one eye opening a little bit to look around before falling asleep. 

Maia and Lydia have modeled math lessons and fun review activities.  We also bought world maps that were in Spanish and introduced continents.  For the most part, they study only Nicaragua so having a map on the wall will hopefully lead to more questions.  As a former social studies teacher, they should be thankful we could only find one map-- otherwise, I'd have all kinds of maps and materials in their rooms.  The students respond to Maia and Lydia in such an enthusiastic manner and it was good for the teachers to see the students learning while also enjoying each other.

On Thursday, I met with the teachers after school and used this example to solidify the importance of having books.  I think it finally clicked with them!  After I posted on Facebook about the need for books in Spanish, I have several people looking at creating projects and I was led to a website with leveled readers in Spanish.  I told the teachers to spend the next two weeks with the free trial and let me know how it works.  If they are dedicated to it, I will seek a discount from the company or a donor for the $100 subscription for the year.

Olajide has had her own experience on her first trip to Nicaragua and will be writing a blog entry.  She has had the unique opportunity to interview roughly 20 different parents and we will be compiling the results of the needs assessment. She was also able to get a letter of affiliation from the school to submit with her Fulbright Application!  * fingers crossed*

-- Julie Delkamiller

Lidia, Maritza, Julie, Nubia, Olajide, Gladys

Monday, July 6, 2015

I Can Help

Olajide has been sick most of the weekend and I informed the owners of the hotel (Benjamin and Sandrine) that Olajide would be in the room again today.  We had two home visits scheduled this morning and we were a little concerned about communication.  While I was explaining this, one of the employees came over and said "I can help."  This was Norman's first day on the job at Flor de Sarta and he was so eager to help!  This is the true, authentic Nicaraguan hospitality!  Norman is fluent in Spanish and English but has no knowledge of sign language but liked learning about it.  Sandrine wanted to help too so she did Norman's job while Norman came with us on visits and Olajide tried to rest.  We gave him rave reviews and told the bosses to keep him!  ;-)

Norman did a great job translating for us today! 

The two visits today were very different again.  We walked into Yadir's home through the back yard where several men were welding. In the house we sat on the usual plastic chairs and had a wonderful conversation with Yadir, his mom, grandma, two younger sisters and his aunt.  While his mom sees Yadir as having skills in math and computers she will not let him play in the street as she is worried about drugs and gangs.  Yadir's younger sisters are able to sign better with him than the adults and mom is not able to go to the sign language classes because she works at the supermarket.  From my perspective, Yadir has been eager to learn at school and has great potential.  However, his mom was concerned that her son has never mentioned this professora from the United States and had no idea we had been there all last week.

Juan's dad expresses his many concerns about raising a deaf child.

The second visit was a little more complicated.  Juan has been with us at the school since the very first day but his attendance has been sporadic.  When he was seven years old, Juan's mother died from AIDS and Juan must have expensive medications along with Ensure fortified milk to maintain his health.  There are 12 people who live in the house and not nearly enough food.  We were fortunate to visit with Juan's dad who happened to be home today.  He will be leaving for Costa Rica this week in search of work.  His dad does not know sign language and fears Juan does not feel loved.  Does Juan know that his mother died or does he think she abandoned him?  Without language, the answer is unclear.  As his dad leaves (again) in search of work, who will take care of Juan and make sure he goes to school?  Juan is now 13 and is always hungry.  He does not have a sturdy grasp of math or reading which makes his dad wonder if Juan will be more easily persuaded to join a gang.

Yadir is a confident young man!
Juan has so much undeveloped potential.
 I sure hope that we are funded with the Rotary Global grant so we can create dictionaries specifically for families to use.  Hopefully I'll be like Norman today and be able to say to the families  "I Can Help."

--Julie Delkamiller

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Home Visits

The first two days of home visits have been an emotional roller coaster.  While some parents are being interviewed by Olajide at the deaf school, we are also visiting some of the families in their homes.  In particular, I am looking for ways to support the parents, siblings and extended family members in being able to communicate with the deaf child.  This is such a privilege to be welcomed into the homes and once again experience the humbling hospitality of Nicaraguans.

The families have shared their perspectives on the strengths and skills of their children as well as their visions of the future.  There is a deaf person who restores art at the museum and serves as an inspiration for these families that their son/daughter could also use their artistic skills to have a job in the future. Levi has skills helping out in the family store and his mom hopes he will have enough math and language to be employed.  In Nicaragua it is more the exception than the rule that individuals with disabilities live as independent adults so having that vision is a great step forward.

There is common fear that a son/daughter will choose friends who are involved in a gang or drugs because of the limited opportunities for deaf individuals. One student was recently hit by a car and broke his leg while another one has been abused by his dad.  Another dad is attentive to the twin sons but completely ignores the deaf child and refuses to learn sign.  These have been heartbreaking realities.

Visiting a single mother of three children in her home of dirt floor and tin walls was a struggle.  The son had bug bites all over his arms and face while the dog had fleas.  This mother is so motivated to learn sign language and I am inspired by her unconditional love for her children.  She eagerly took some of our notecards, markers and tape so she can label the items in her house with the Spanish vocabulary. She is willing to try anything!

A glimpse into the little house with  minimal electricity
that is probably stolen from a neighbor

While I have seen the living conditions of our students before, I hope I never become desensitized to it.  The reality is I can share my education but could never fix the multitude of issues in this impoverished country.  People do the best they can with what they have and I do my best to uphold the dignity of each individual I meet.

-- Julie Delkamiller

Thursday, July 2, 2015


It is hard to see in the picture, but the sky is actually very brown and full of dirt

 Polvo is not a word I'd expect to learn in a Spanish class but we definitely have learned it this week.  We have been breathing in tiny particles of earth after farmers have deforested the area around Leon and we have no idea if any pesticides or chemicals were used.  They are planting peanuts and the wind created a terrible dust storm on Tuesday. I've never seen anything like it.

Yet,  those tiny little particles of earth have made a difference in the air we have been breathing, the farmers' income and the food that people will eventually eat.  I can't help but think we are also tiny little particles of change in this vast country of need.  There are evident improvements in Leon's economy since 2008 when I first came to Nicaragua and I am hopeful that things will continue to improve.  I'm also noticing areas of stagnation which is particularly frustrating to me because I am inpatient. Instead of the tiny, incremental "polvo" elements of change it is almost like I want change to be more of a volcanic eruption with a steady flow of lava. Much like the starfish story, I continually remind myself that I am/we are making a difference one relationship at a time.

-Julie Delkamiller

Monday, June 29, 2015

We are back in Nicaragua

Lydia, Olajide, Maia, Julie

It has been nearly a year and I am so happy to be back in Leon!

The first student from the UNO College of Education is in Nicaragua on this trip.  Olajide Cooper was awarded a FUSE grant and is here to assess the needs of Nicaraguan parents who have deaf children. Based on the pilot project in Omaha, we are planning to create a book of Nicaraguan signs with home activities for Nicaraguan families to use.

I am also working on a project to hopefully create a video dictionary of Nicaraguan Sign Language so the families can better communicate with their children. We are anxiously awaiting news of a Rotary Global Grant!  If we are funded, we'll be able to create this dictionary and buy some tablets for families to borrow.

Two of my daughters are returning on this trip as well.  They have worked all year to save their money to come back and work with the deaf students. Maia and Lydia are planning fun and educational activities for the students while Olajide and I work on our projects.  We are looking forward to a very busy two weeks!

-Julie Delkamiller

Friday, July 25, 2014

Diplomado Fiesta de Despedida

Yesterday I told the teachers to drink lots of water and get a good night's sleep for the final examination.  As we walked into the room this morning, the participants were a bit stressed and yet they have built such a community of support that the mood was light.  Since we explored collaboration, a few thought they should collaborate on the exam!  :-)  nice try.

The "fiesta de despedida" is a "farewell party" but I'd prefer to think of it as more of a "sending forward."  Everyone has worked so hard that I feel good about sending them forward.  Kris had the great idea to make books using pictures from the past two years as gifts and to give UNO pins. There was a ceremony in which the vice-dean from UNAN-Leon spoke of the gratitude for the collaboration between UNO and UNAN-Leon.  She gave each of the teachers a Diplomado certificate and the  significance of this ritual was evident in the numerous photos! :-)  With Nicaragua moving more toward a dictatorship (again), the importance of training teachers is even more urgent!!  

There was such a positive energy in the room and I can only attribute that to the sense of pride & accomplishment in becoming even better teachers.  The gratitude was palpable also in the gifts the teachers gave us which were individualized.  The dean's office ordered meals for each of the teachers and Johanna Jiron made some pasta for us.  She also brought fresh vegetables and garlic bread.  :-)  

One of the first things that made me fall in love with the Nicaraguans, is the authenticity of the relationships.  They have so little in material possessions but they are wealthy in ways that most Americans can only dream about and I am blessed to share in it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Module 6

It's hard to believe we are almost done with module 6 and the entire diplomado.  I am inspired by the teachers' commitment and desire to become more effective teachers for their students. This is the first module that all four of us (Mitzi, Kris, Julie and Beth) were at, and it has allowed us to bounce ideas off of each other and determine the best way to proceed for the final module activities!

On Monday, we began with a review from the previous modules.  The participants were in groups to discuss the major concepts and to share how they have used it over the last two years.  There was a sense of confidence in their sharing as well as support from their colleagues.

Mitzi introduced the topic of collaboration and the participants were so engaged in the activities!  The self reflection took a lot of extra time because Nicaraguans are not generally expected to do this.  We could have spent days on this topic and they would have loved it.  

Moving on to families, the participants created their own genograms and discussed how their families communicated and reacted to varying events.  We spent time on the grieving stages that families experience when realizing their child has a disability and the importance of being sensitive to other people's emotions without judgment.

Indiana's group were here "foes"
She was instructed to walk on desks

Kris spent Tuesday afternoon introducing Social Emotional skills of children.  They especially loved the label activity!!  Wednesday morning Kris continued the teaching of social emotional skills and gave away some awesome books by Julia Cook (Fremont, NE) that were in both Spanish and English.

Beth & Mitzi realized the participants were at their saturation much content that we covered over the past 2 years and  with the final exam looming on Friday, they decided to scrap the Writing Strategies information and begin some intensive review.  Cooperative learning groups were assigned different modules and created four questions for each module.  We were very impressed with how the students examined the content of the modules and chose the most important concepts. This truly shows the growth the teachers have made over the past two years!

Thursday morning the groups presented the information while also sharing how they have used the strategies in their classrooms.

Thursday afternoon, the groups used the game boards from last summer to review over 35 questions! This was also collaborative because different people remembered different content and were able to help explain information to others.  This also helped our one and only translator Martha Celia.  It was an exhausting week for her as our only translator, but we appreciate her commitment! Thank you, Martha!

The final day.....Friday morning. The students will complete a self-efficacy survey on inclusive practices, the final exam and the evaluation of the training. 

We know they are cooking up (literally and figuratively) a great party.  It is going to be so hard to say good-bye to my friends-- but I hope I will be able to visit them in their schools someday.

- Julie

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rancho Esperanza: hostel with a conscience

Lydia and I in front of our cabana.
With most of the country heading south to Managua for the Sandanista Revolution 35th anniversary celebration, Ulises, Mitzi, Lydia and I went on an excursion a few hours north of León.  We stayed at Rancho Esperanza in Jiquilillo—which is self branded as a hostel with a conscience.  This was the first hostel I’ve ever stayed at and the first time I ever slept with mosquito nets! It was all part of the experience!

Our cabana with shower/toilet

Everything about Rancho Esperanza is focused on the village/economy of Jiquilillo.  They provide long term volunteer opportunities, use local foods and labor, conserve electricity and water and even compost toilet waste.  No flushing—just adding saw dust.  This was intriguing!

There are hammocks right by the beach and the sounds of the ocean waves were soothing.  My daughter Lydia was thrilled to get a surfing lesson!  We stayed in a cabana with a thatch roof, bamboo walls and our own semi-private shower (it had no roof) but the bathroom walls were made with recycled glass bottles.  According to one of the backpacking/surfer guests, this was the best and friendliest hostel he has ever seen. We met people from New York who volunteered with kids club for 7 weeks, the cooks are local villagers and the assistant manager is from Norway and speaks at least 5 languages!

Tortilla making class with a local villager

The three of us were all wanting to bring
3 year old Maria Jose home with us!

We took public transportation back, which was quite the experience.  Ulises said that earthquakes feel a lot like riding a bus in Nicaragua—really fast and bumpy, while always being worried something is going to fall on you. 

-- Julie Delkamiller

Diplomado Module 6 begins tomorrow:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Education and Mentors

Education and Mentors:  the two things people all around the world need in order to move out of poverty. With these projects, I am able to do both!  This kind of work cannot be easily quantified in numbers due to so many uncontrollable variables and progress is much slower than any of us would like, but it can be seen.  Between 2008-2010, I observed, assisted and modeled for the teachers.  It wasn’t until 2011 that I began to see the improvements, but they were there.  Each trip since then has reaffirmed my passion for the teachers and the kids!  

Giving Juan a "high five" after matching 1-5 on Math-U-See Blocks

This week, the mentors for the school were varied:  two successful independent deaf adults (Jonathan and Johanna), a hearing peer (Lydia), a professor in deaf education (myself), and Nicaraguan young adults (Rotaract volunteers).  Reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", playing "Around the World" for math review and buying a globe to study the continents were just some of the things we did this week. It was so hard to leave because the students were enjoying learning this week and we were simply loving them.

Introducing Geography-- so many didn't know there was a world outside of Nicaragua

-- Julie Delkamiller

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

World Cup around the world

We are back in Nicaragua!!

Watching the extra time in the World Cup Futbol
championship match in Masaya Nicaragua.
And my 13 year old daughter Lydia is with me for the first time and Jonathan Scherling's sister Johanna is also here for the first time.  We are World Cup soccer fans and were concerned about missing the championship game due to our flight to Managua.  When we arrived, we noticed so many people wearing soccer/futbol jerseys and travelers waiting at the gate watching the game.  Our driver Julio even stopped some random people on the street to ask the score (which was still 0-0) and we listened to the game on the radio.  Once we knew the game was going into extra time, we stopped in Masaya at a Tip Top ("fast food") to watch the game with the locals.  Many people were supporting Argentina.  In Granada though, the majority had Germany's colors painted on their faces. Then, when we arrived in Leon we noticed people still out celebrating the World Cup and numerous signs in front of businesses advertising they would be showing the games.  There was such an energy surrounding all of this!!  Soccer/Futbol is an equalizing sport around the world and witnessing this in another country made it very real to us.  Jonathan prefers baseball but was gracious in supporting our need to be part of this world event.
After Masaya, we stopped at Tio Antonio's Hammock
shop in Granada Nicaragua.  This hammock was made for 17 people
but has held up to 30.  These hammocks are hand woven by
deaf or blind individuals and are the best in the world!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Martha has the four littlest boys and
 has their attention!
When I first came to Nicaragua in 2008 to provide a teacher training workshop, I assumed the teachers had a strong foundation in pedagogy.  What I actually saw was a severe lack of materials and the class activities were seemingly unstructured with no sense of curriculum scope and sequence for students at any grade.  I saw very little preparation by teachers before starting each lesson and the students wasted over 30 minutes each day running around for recess.


It is so gratifying to see the school actually resembling.... a school.  In 2008, it barely resembled a poorly run day care.  The deaf students had virtually no language, one was a biter, the teachers had no structure and there were very few expectations in place.  It has taken several trips over the last six years but each one has been better than the time before.  We saw students sitting in their desks, there was a mini lesson plan on the white board, teachers placed students in groups, and the students were signing all the time!  Of course my biggest accomplishment a few years ago was convincing them to get rid of recess!  They are only in school for 3 hours/day and I kept reiterating that there is no time to waste!  ;-)

We spent the first day interacting with the students.  They had been looking forward to my visit which definitely made my day.  Great big hugs!!!  They were asking for Maia (my older daughter who has traveled here before) and of course, they wanted chicle/gum.  Immediately they saw the resemblance between me and Lydia-- and Lydia has already fallen in love with the students.  Jonathan and Johanna Scherling are exemplifying the possibilities of a deaf individual being a successful, educated, independent adult!!
I am working with Eddy and Yuirman on
 basic counting using the Math-U-See blocks

Julie and Lydia on top of the Cathedral
 Tuesday July 15, 2014

We started in the morning climbing to the top of the Cathedral.  Since being designated a historic site by UNESCO, it is undergoing many renovations.  This time we went up yet a different flight of stairs.  To go on the roof we needed to take off our shoes for the newly whitewashed ceiling.  One of the workers stopped Lydia and told her to get her sunglasses on because the bright white was not good for her eyes.  He then explained his pounding headaches in the middle of the day, working in the heat with jeans and long sleeve shirts.
Johanna & Lydia in Nubia's math class
At the school, Johanna and Lydia worked on teaching math to Nubia's class.  I helped with basic counting and math using the math-u-see blocks.  Jonathan led the group in the Elephant game again which is an all time favorite for everyone.

The Elephant Game-- every student enjoys this game!

Many people ask me what I do in Nicaragua and how I got involved. Here is an article that I wrote about my first experience in the country, in case anyone really wants to read it.:  
Delkamiller, J. (2014). Nicaraguan education initiation: A case study.  International                                 Journal of Science Commerce and Humanities, 2(3).

--  Julie Delkamiller