Dec 21, 2016

Our New Learning Center Means Greater Success for Students

Children lining up outside the learning center
As the clock nears 1pm a line starts to form outside the green metal learning center doors. The eager children chatter while they wait. Volunteers and ayudantes work swiftly to prepare the center for the afternoon sessions. Some volunteers are creating name tags for the children, cutting tan card stock into squares and writing down each child's name. Ayudantes Luis and Francisco set up the tablets and computers for the computer classes. Maria and Scarleth prepare to check in the children and let them choose their first learning station. The children can hardly contain their excitement and smile gleefully. 

How it all began

Practicing Spanish with coloring
The idea for the learning center has been a long time in the making. Shortly after her first volunteer experience with La Esperanza Granada, Pauline realized there was a huge gap in the educational experience of Granada's children. During a brief return trip to Australia, she saw that many of the children there spent time learning in the home before and after school. Doing crafts, working on computers, practicing their lessons.

The Nicaraguan children in these impoverished barrios have no access to even basic resources in the home: pens, crayons, paper, books, craft materials or computers. Often they don't even have a table and chair where they can sit and do homework or crafts. Building the learning centers became a way to supplement this need that the schools and parents who often have little or no formal education could not meet.

How it works

The learning center is open every day. It's a safe and clean environment where children can come during their free hours outside their normal school classes to continue learning. The children that attend are truly engaged in learning and are well behaved, compared to large size classes in school where children can often become bored and misbehave as a result.

As it's just getting started, we are only working with the younger children who would normally attend school in the mornings so the learning center is only open now in the afternoons. The center operates three one hour sessions from 1pm to 4pm. There are four stations available to the children in the center: math, Spanish, art and computers. Each child can only attend the same station twice during one visit, and must stay in their chosen station for the entire one hour session.

The children create paper gatos
Volunteers and ayudantes assist the children with engaging and interactive math and Spanish games. They lead creative art projects where the kids get to take home something they created every day. They help the kids learn how to use and navigate engaging learning games and activities on the computers and tablets.

Going forward

The learning centers present a unique opportunity for us to truly help the children in Granada learn, and we mean really learn, as opposed to simply copying words and sentences from the chalk board as is often the reality of normal school classes where resources are stretched very thin. The plan is to build two more centers during the first half of 2017, with the help of Builders Beyond Borders.

Two of our university sponsorship graduates
More importantly, we need a dedicated director for the learning center program, to oversee the operation and management of all the centers as they continue to open. It's very rare that a job like this exists in Nicaragua, and too often it goes to someone who is not a native of this country. Our hope is to hire one of the students that graduated from our university scholarship program. It benefits one of the students we've helped succeed in school, and a local person will understand the needs and desires of the local communities far better than anyone else, and will be willing to commit for a greater length of time.

In order to hire one of these lucky graduates we need $3000 per year. While that doesn't seem like much by U.S. or European standards, that's a pretty outstanding salary in Nicaragua for a very demanding and time consuming commitment.

You can help

We're trying something new. We're asking for support from our fans and past volunteers to help raise the funds for this critically important position through a fundraiser on We're hoping to raise $12,000 to fund this position for four years. We chose to fund raise using this method as a way to better engage our online community and gain traction outside our normal donor list. 

We're immensely grateful for all our current and past volunteers and from our regular donors that sponsor many local high school and university students, but we need support outside those avenues to continue growing and providing greater opportunity through education for the children of Granada. Please share our fundraiser with your friends, family and social networks and make a donation if you can. Any amount helps.

Watch to learn more about our fundraiser

Dec 2, 2016

Ayudante profile #3: Teodora

This is the third in a series of profiles of our ayudantes. Ayudante means ‘assistant’, and is the name we give to the young people receiving university scholarships through La Esperanza Granada. Alongside their studies, the ayudantes are long term interns who give 5 hours of their time every weekday to support La Esperanza Granada. Our ayudantes are so much more than assistants – they are critical to our success. More information about our ayudante programme is available here. 

When speaking with Teodora, it quickly becomes apparent that you are talking to a smart, determined young woman, confident of her direction in life. This is someone who is going somewhere.

Teodora is currently in her second year as an ayudante at La Esperanza Granada, supporting the teachers and volunteers in Pablo Antonio Cuadra school. Her first year was spent working with kids on computers in two schools, Nueva Esperanza and Escudo, and her desire to succeed and to see the kids progress has given her a firm preference for working with small groups.

“Although we can do a lot of good in the classrooms, we are most effective when working with small groups, or on computers. Kids focus better with fewer distractions and more dedicated support, and we have a chance to tailor our methods to each child.”

Having worked with numerous volunteers, Teodora is also willing to offer an insight into what makes a good or bad volunteer.

“Most volunteers are great – they are enthusiastic, hardworking and make a real difference to the kids. The very best are those who bring skills and experience with them, or who come up with new ideas.

The worst are those who think this it should be one big party and who don’t take the job seriously, turning up late, sometimes hungover, and not paying attention to or remembering what we say. When that happens, it’s a real missed opportunity, for both them and the kids.”

Teodora is in a good position to appreciate the value of the opportunities we can sometimes take for granted in more developed nations. Like Juan Carlos, Teodora´s High School was only able to offer three years tuition instead of the normal five, so she had to switch to technical college.

Encouraged by her father, she studied construction, and dreamed of going on to study engineering at university. However, this would have meant studying at a particular university in Managua, and their fees proved prohibitively expensive.

Instead, Teodora went to work in the office of a construction company. Her work there included all aspects of office administration, and she found a natural instinct for managing the company´s books. A career as an accountant began to look like an increasingly attractive option, and she signed up to study accountancy at university.

“The first year was really tough, because I had to work constantly to be able to pay the fees. I don’t even remember how many different jobs I did that year! But I do remember how exhausting it was, and how little time I had left for studying.”

After hearing about La Esperanza Granada through a friend, Teodora became involved with the project and was soon lucky enough to receive a sponsorship from Project Pulsera to fund the rest of her degree. Although balancing her studies with her duties as an ayudante remains a challenge, Teodora is clear on the benefits it brings.

“It’s made an enormous difference to me, and I’m hugely grateful. Without sponsorship, I don’t know how I would have been able to carry on studying.”

Unlike most students with another two years of studying to go, Teodora already has a clear plan for life after university.

“I hope to be able to start a business with a couple of friends. We are all either accountants or lawyers, and we’d like to create a professional services company, providing legal and accountancy services and advice to other businesses.”

Although common in more developed countries, this sort of integrated services company is a rare thing here. Having spotted this gap in the market, Teodora could be just the person to bring it to Nicaragua.

Oct 27, 2016

Volunteer Teaching Techniques

One of the most effective ways La Esperanza Granada volunteers are able to help is to focus attention on children who have fallen behind their peers. This blog aims to shine a spotlight on some of the best techniques our volunteers are currently using with these children.

Sensory approaches to learning numbers
Naomi and Margarita are both experienced professionals in their home countries. Naomi is a primary teacher in the UK who specialises in children with learning difficulties, whilst Margarita has many years experience of working with children with severe difficulties in the USA. They are part of our team of volunteers in Pablo Antonio Cuadra school, alongside volunteers Paula and Embla, and ayudantes Teodora and Ofelia.  

Both Naomi and Margarita agree that one of the major differences with their home countries is the lack of provision for children with learning difficulties in Nicaragua. They get no special services or additional resources, and there is often an expectation that they are not going to progress. 

Volunteers have an opportunity to change this expectation, by spending time with the children and structuring short, manageable tasks which are targeted at each child’s level. Although the progress they make in each session may be small, the sense that they are doing something worthwhile and are able to successfully complete tasks can be empowering. Naomi:

“Feeling like they are getting somewhere makes a huge difference. I start every tutorial by reminding them of their successes the day before, which builds a sense of progress and makes them much more willing to focus and try again. Keeping up this positive reinforcement with praise throughout the session also helps keeps them engaged.”

Using textured letters to learn the alphabet
Another helpful approach is the use of tactile resources. These come in many forms, including large, colourful, textured letters and numbers, plasticine, picture cards and more. 

“Sensory learning uses a combination of visual, auditory and tactile stimuli to engage multiple areas of the brain, making it much easier to recall information later. Using tactile objects also helps make kids feel more engaged and in control of their own learning. 

For example, I’ve been working with a number of kids who have struggled to learn their alphabet. Tracing their fingers over a large, textured letter shape then re-making it out of pipe cleaners or plasticine can really help fix the shape in their minds.”

This approach is also important in maths, where sometimes children (and not just those in Nicaragua) learn the forms without really understanding how they relate to reality. This can lead, for example, to children memorizing that 5 + 4 = 9, but not being able to work out problems in real-life scenarios. Sensory learning builds this link to reality in from the start.

“We also play simple games with the kids, which highlight how all numbers are related. For example, I sometimes ask a child to order number cards from one to twenty, then I remove one of the teens. Figuring out which number is missing requires them to think about that number in relation to the others around it, and they often deduce the missing number rather than remembering it.”

When children have more severe difficulties, a more tailored approach is required. A good example is a young boy who has difficulty speaking and is unable to engage much with the other children or his classes at the school. Margarita:

“One of the first things I noticed was that he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, or look at my face. This is often the case with children with speech difficulties, who haven’t learned to watch faces and to copy the shapes people make with their mouths when speaking. Persuading him to watch me speak was one of my first aims.”

Learning to sort shapes
With this boy, much of their focus has been on helping him develop skills children ordinarily learn much earlier, such as the motor skills to hold a pencil, and how to complete basic tasks like sorting blocks by colour or shape. 

As with other children, creating a sense of expectation and rewarding good behaviour has been key:

“It was especially important to make it clear that nothing is going to come for free – he both can and should earn the things he wants. This starts very small, like not allowing him to play with the blocks until he´s made eye contact with me, or looked up at my face. But it builds into an expectation that he tries in every session, and if he does, he gets a reward. This is really important in motivating him to practice more difficult things, like repeating words and learning to count.”

Being read to at the end of a session is the most popular reward by far. For both Naomi and Margarita though, reading books to children shouldn’t just be considered a treat, but an essential part of their learning.

Reading to the kids

“Being read to engages children on lots of different levels – it improves their vocabulary, helps link written and spoken words, introduces new ideas and activates their imagination.

We always try to read slowly and follow the words with a finger, so they can see how the sounds correspond to written words. Asking them questions about the story afterwards invites them to reflect and think about it too.

The kids love this, and it’s one of the easiest things we can do as volunteers. But it is also an incredibly powerful learning tool.”

The techniques highlighted here require additional time and resources that can be limited in Nicaraguan schools. By being this additional resource and focusing attention where it is most needed, our volunteers are making a real difference.

Sep 30, 2016

Ayudante profile #2: Enoc

This is the second in a series of profiles of our ayudantes. Ayudante means ‘assistant’, and is the name we give to the young people receiving university scholarships through La Esperanza Granada. Alongside their studies, the ayudantes are long term interns who give 5 hours of their time every weekday to support La Esperanza Granada. Our ayudantes are so much more than assistants – they are critical to our success. More information about our ayudante programme is available here. 

Enoc is one of our newest ayudantes, and began his internship with La Esperanza Granada just 9 months ago. He is based in Mercedes Mondragon school, where he teaches English to the children alongside some of our international volunteers. This can be challenging, with classes routinely containing up to 35 children, but Enoc enjoys it. He cites one key factor to their success - teamwork.

“Everything about our work in the schools is done together. We plan our lessons together, and teach alongside each other. Even when we are able to divide the kids into groups for different activities, we are still working to the same plan.”

Enoc knows what a difference a strong ayudante and volunteer team can make – he was in the 6th grade at Nueva Esperanza school when La Esperanza Granada volunteers started to work there, and remembers how it changed things.

“They introduced lots of new activities, games and sports, which really helped to keep us interested and engaged. The teachers just don’t have enough time for that sort of thing, but it makes a huge difference to the kids.”

After primary school, Enoc found himself drifting, struggling to adapt to high school and losing interest in his studies. A high school sponsorship from La Esperanza Granada gave him the opportunity to change school, re-engage with learning and embrace a more optimistic outlook.

“The new school was totally different. They taught a wider range of subjects, gave us more support and really sparked my interest in learning again.”

Enoc is now in his first year at UCAN University in Masaya, studying software engineering and learning how to code, build databases and more. He has always been interested in technology (and has also taught computing for La Esperanza Granada), and this course has provided the opportunity to take his understanding to a new level, and turn his interest into highly employable skills.

“The opportunities in Nicaragua are getting better all the time. Once I have finished my studies, I hope to find a good job that makes the most of the skills I’m learning now.”

When asked if he has anything else he want to add, Enoc has only one thing on his mind:

“I just want to say thank you for the opportunities I’ve been given through La Esperanza Granada. Without the support of my sponsors, I wouldn’t have finished high school and could never have dreamt of going to university or working alongside volunteers from all over the world. I’m delighted I’m able to give something back by working for La Esperanza Granada whilst studying, and I hope to help support many other kids like me to go on to high school and university.”

Enoc’s unprompted enthusiasm is a good reminder of why La Esperanza Granada is here – to support young people to get the education they need to take control of their lives and realise their potential.