A third of Nicaraguan children don’t complete their primary education. With a lack of clothing, long distances, muddy houses and the hardships of living, many find it difficult to get to school. So it’s a big deal when a child has an excellent school attendance.
This is Maria Ángel Córdoba’s story:
This eight-year-old girl lived in a one-roomed space with plastic bin bag-type walls with her mum and four siblings.
The roof wasn’t watertight because it was propped up with sticks. There was no privacy and no study space for the youngster.
Despite the obstacles, Maria proved to be a very hard-working student with an excellent school attendance. That good record gave her the chance to take part in a La Esperanza Granada lottery. Maria’s name was picked out of the hat and that won her family home improvements.
Her proud mother is Ana Jesus Martínez.
“My daughter is such a good student. She’s always at school,” she said.
Meet Kathryn Sachs and Rick Weismiller, from the United States.
Lots of people say they don’t have time to help.
Many also believe a holiday to somewhere like Nicaragua is the chance to relax and enjoy the weather, but not Kathryn and Rick.
They quite literally had a 12-day work project.
“We got involved with the project because we had planned a trip to Nicaragua. But we wanted to see more of the country, get off the ‘gringo trail’, and become a bit more involved with the local people,” says Kathryn, from Wisconsin. “We also really wanted to find opportunities to speak Spanish and do something that would benefit the communities.”
The couple was part of a five-person team, which included three locals. They all worked under the heat of the Nicaraguan sun from about 8:30 each morning until about 5 p.m., mixing concrete, shovelling cement and constructing walls of wood and sheet metal to put Maria, her mum and her four siblings under a sturdy new roof.
“It was great for us, because it allowed us to meet a Nicaraguan family and practice speaking Spanish. Ana cooked us lunch every day, which was really good, and also very touching, considering her limited resources,” Rick says. “The new ‘house’ was a definitive improvement over the old house, which made me feel pretty good. And it was nice to sweat out there in the humid, tropical sunshine for a few days. That sort of work is good for everyone.”
A secure and watertight house resulted from the couple’s work. Ana and her family were over the moon with the results.
“Before Kathryn, Rick and La Esperanza Granada came along there were six of us in one room. The walls were plastic and it was really stressful because we were all squashed together. It was depressing, to be honest,” said Ana.
Kathryn admitted she felt ashamed to be shocked by how the family especially as it became clear this was how many others in San Ignacio lived.
“It’s hard to say that I was horrified or shocked by the house, and that is a bit sad.”
But she says everyone benefited from the project.
“This is a world away from anything in the U.S. that I have encountered, and so, I was left without a real way to gauge the living conditions I witnessed,” she says. “By any US standard the condition of the home would be horrifying, indeed.”
Kathryn says Ana and her family to be unhappy and to feel unsafe because of their living conditions, yet she found “There was a real sense of community among neighbours and the family demonstrated so much love and care for each other in a way that was very inspiring.”
“It really made me question my pre-conceived notions of what each of us needs to be content,” she added.
The newly-repaired house gives Maria something that many children in the neighbourhood don’t have – a dry, secure base from which to start the school day and a greater opportunity to get to school and complete her primary education.
“They came along and changed the walls and gave us a new roof. I am so happy,” says Ana. “I can’t begin to describe how content I am about the way things are for us in our lovely home. Thanks to Rick, Kathryn, La Esperanza Granada and my daughter Maria.”