As I prepare to leave for the second trip to Nicaragua, I have been reflecting on the very different purposes of the trips.
We have a small school project for young deaf students in Leon. They meet from around 2-5 in the afternoon and there are three classrooms. As with everything in Nicaragua, people do the best they can with what they have. After the fourth trip, the teachers became more receptive to different teaching strategies even if they are not able to make the changes as fast as I would like. Much of it is cultural and will not change. The wisdom is knowing the difference between what we can impact and the courage to persevere.
I have been strongly encouraging Jonathan to come with me on the trip because the teachers and the students need to see a successful, independent, intelligent deaf adult. While we brought fun activities and great teaching ideas, having them interact with Jonathan was amazing! The deaf adults could not believe that Jonathan was able to read & write and go to school !! The students could not understand how he left his mom and dad and was able to travel alone. The teachers were astonished that Jonathan was from a deaf family and had a natural, complete first language in American Sign Language. He explained how his parents raised him bilingually with ASL and then posted English words all over the house. Hopefully the teachers can see now why I've been so adamant about them signing all the time--- the students need access to language !
We were also able to meet up with four deaf students from Gallaudet University who were backpacking through Central America. They did not know a word of Spanish when they arrived in Panama but have picked some up in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. They were actually able to come to the school one afternoon and captivated everyone's attention. I'm not sure I've ever seen the students (or the teachers) so attentive! Mariella kept asking about how they know so much and how they can do these things by themselves! This is the cultural piece that is difficult because with such high unemployment, people with disabilities--including the deaf-- usually live with their families for the rest of their lives.
We showed "Math-U-See" which could have been "Teachers-finally see". :-) The color-coded blocks are so important for any student-- but especially deaf students. The students enjoyed playing Bingo for the first time and really enjoyed the "Elephant Game." Some students do not know how to spell their own name and most do not know each others' names. We definitely spent time on that!!
Our goal for the school has changed over the years. We thought we might want to look at expanding to older students but fundraising is always an issue. We buy pottery and bring it back to sell in the U.S. We need to raise $1000/month to pay the teachers and we are in the home of a lovely 85 year old woman. Our goal now is to try and prepare these students as much as possible for the ability to maybe transfer to a deaf residential school in Managua when they are older. One of our former students has done that and has the potential to maybe one day go to Gallaudet! We saw Leonela near the cinema one night and we hardly recognized her !! I have so many stories about her and she has a special place in my heart.
That was the primary purpose of the first trip.
Part of the "Faculty Research International" grant was to expose faculty to international research in an area that someone already had an established relationship. Now........ as part of the grant we are able to go assess schools in the Leon department of Nicaragua. This will inform our training modules for a diplomado in special education with our sister university. (more on that later).
Right now as I type, I can imagine that Kris, Beth & Mitzi are still trying to stuff things in their suitcases as they embark on this new adventure!