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