Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Hard's Day's Work

So my mom keeps telling me "You haven't updated your blog!!! We're all waiting to see what's going on with the funds you raised while home over Christmas break!"

I totally understand and apologize for not getting this entry together sooner. But in response to the many requests, here is where some of your donations are going. Thank you so much to all those who have supported the Nicaragua: A Dream Come True fund. Your contributions are already having an impact in Somoto!

Since arriving back in Somoto, I have begun a new adventure called teaching at an elementary school. The school, called Monte Sion, is benificiery of the funds you all have donated. Monte Sion was started by a good friend, Glenda Espinoza, 2 years ago. The school has about 70 students and includes pre-school through 4th grade. It is technically a private school because it doesn't receive funds from the government, and stays afloat by charging 5$ per month for each student. These funds are used to pay the 5 teachers a below average pay of about 50 dollars each month. The public school teachers are paid better (and to be honest their salary is pretty horrible as well) but have to deal with worse teaching conditions.

Glenda started this school because she felt the Somoto community needed a really good quality school. One that gives personal one-on-one attention to its students, has classroom's with small class sizes (the public schools have up to 60 kids in a classroom while Monte Sion has a maximum of 23), and instills good values and morals like respect, discipline, honesty, patience, and understanding.

All the kids receive one class a week in basic Biblical studies that teach and reinforce these values. But don't worry this is not a radical religious school. The kids that attend are actually from various religious backgrounds.

I must tell you that having worked there several weeks now teaching English and giving basic lessons in health and personal hygiene, that these kids are bright, so well behaved, they are absolutely adorable and most importantly eager to learn. Each morning as I enter the school to bring them a new lesson, they swarm me at the gate, saying "Good morning Miss Lima" trying to practice the new English they learned. Some even hug me and others have bought me snacks at recess time to show that they appreciate me. At the end of each day, they are so excited to practice with their friends the new vocabulary they have learned and are sad when I tellt hem I won't return untill the next week.

This is why I think it is so important to invest in the school and its students - because it has so much potential, just lacks funding to provide the basic things it needs like textbooks and other materials and enough money to pay a decent salary to the teachers.

So far the Nicaragua: A Dream Come True funds have been used to give 1 year scholarships to 3 students who couldn't afford to continue their education. I have met and taught these three students and all are very hard working and good students. Unfortunately, they come from very poor families that are struggling to keep their kids in school. In the next week I hope to take a picture with them so that you can see who is benefiting from your generous donations.

Today, I will be spending some more of the fund's money to buy textbooks for 3rd and 4th grade. The textbooks will be for Spanish and Social Studies classes that are currently taught for these grades. The school's director, Glenda, and I sat down last night before my trip to Managua to decide which books and for which classes, and let me tell you she is just absolutely thrilled that her students are going to now be learning with textbooks. She was practically in tears as we discussed the integration of this new learning tool into her school.

If we receive more donations in the coming months, I will be buying more textbooks for other classes such as science and math. But meanwhile the kids are going to learn so much quicker and better how to read because they have materials to practice and develop their skills with. Here are some pics to help you get to know the Monte Sion school and its students.

The entrance to Monte Sion school. It is located at the side of the Baptist church which provides the classrooms free to the school. The church also is sponsoring 3 students this year with scholarships.

Alison with 4th grade kids Edward, Noe, Hansel, Judith, and Adriana. (this pic and the others was taken last December at the end of the school year. Some of the kids didn't return to the school this year, likely due to an inability to pay the 5$ fee)

3rd graders hard at work

2nd gradersThe school's Director, Glenda Espinoza (right), with one of last year's teachers and our 3rd grade darlings! (Fran, Marcio, Ivania, Cristel, Janielska, Gorgieli, Jorge Ramon). Uniforms are required in all schools in Nicaragua, public and private alike, but as you can see some kids can't afford them so they wear their regular clothes.

Gorgieli presenting her work while Cristel and Ivania look on. These 3 are some of my best students in that class.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How we get around

To start a series of cultural posts, I thought I would start off with a very important part of life in Nicaragua: Transportation. From animals to bikes, cars, and tractor trailers, there is a wide variety of ways to get you and your stuff around.

Which means of transportation does Alison use?

I use buses, trucks, taxis (mostly in Managua, the capital), some walking and occasionally I mount a horse for a good time's sake!

What about Nicaraguans?

Let´s start off with ANIMALS.

Donkeys or "burros" are everywhere in my part of the country. My town, Somoto, is even called the City of the Burros. Donkeys are used for transport of goods, especially firewood and sacks of food like beans, rice, and corn. They can hold an amazing amount of weight, and have a fascinating ability to walk to specific places without having a person herding them. I often see them walking alone down my street where I live carrying heavy loads without any human being leading them...I don't know where they are going, but they sure do! Donkeys are also commonly used for transport of people, especially children.

Bulls are used in transport in two ways. They pull large wooden carts used to move large objects (like furnature) for cheap prices. They also are used for riding during cultural events like rodeos which are held in my town during all major festivals. There is even a mini-running of the bulls event in the streets during the annual November Carnaval in Somoto.

are a large part of Nicaraguan life no matter where you live. You can see them even on highways in the capital city of Managua alongside tractor trailers, cars, and motorcycles (see below). Principally they are used to transport people from place to place, herd animals (sheep, cows, donkeys, bulls), control the bulls during the rodeo, and during the festivals' horse and cowboy/girl parades which are called "Hípicos". Horses are even used during Fiestas Patronales during the competition to choose the Reina or queen of the festival. One of my personal goals is to learn to ride a horse before I finish my service.

Now let's talk about transporting with VEHICLES:

In order to move in and out the many items produced and received here like beans, corn, and soda, it´s necessary to use tractor trailers. I often see these because they come and go on the highway that passes my town on their way to Honduras- I live about 20 minutes from the Hondoran border. Tractor trailers are also used to transport the occasional migrant worker home from other countries such as Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Trucks are one of the most common vehicles used by Nicaraguans to get around. Very few people own their own cars here so most people catch a ride with a friend, neighbor, or unknown person passing by and going their way. People pack into the back of trucks like you would not believe...a safety hazard, but a free ride and often the only means of getting around. I use a truck in my job as we travel to rural mountain communities to teach about sexual and reproductive health to adolescents. They can also be used to transport materials for building structures like houses and latrines.

The SUV is rather uncommon here in Nicaragua, though it would be an ideal vehicle for getting around the rough roads, if only it didn't eat up so much gas! SUVs are, however, used as ambulences in each county and you can find the Nicaraguan rich riding around in them in Managua and larger cities.

Cars are used most commonly as taxis but some are used for personal use as well. I will note that the Toyota Echo, my mom's car, is one of the most popular here amongst private owners, and goes by the name Yaris in Nicaragua.

The bus, I would say, is the other major means for transportation amongst the general public besides trucks. Buses go to nearby communities and far away cities like the capital. Every state capital has a bus station and you can even get to other countries using the bus. Bus rides tend to be an interesting experience. Most are old school buses from the U.S. sold to Nicaraguans, and some still carry the old U.S. city's or school's name on their sides. The owners often paint them as they like with various colors and the names of the major cities the bus will go to.

The buses are always really really packed with standing people leaning in to where others are seated because there just isn´t enough space. At major stops, vendors will get on, usually women and children as these are amongst the poorest jobs, selling food like fried chicken, enchiladas, ice cream, and drinks. They even sell natural medicines, jewelry, and anything else people will desire to buy for cheap.
Sometimes a church member will get on asking for donations to build their church, and children, the physically disabled, and the poorest of the poor in general will get on and outright beg for a peso (worth about 8 U.S. cents).

You can see some pretty funny and crazy things on the bus. A few of my personal favorites have been: a live pig kept in a bag with its head sticking out so that it doesn't get away, people carrying live chickens upside down (next month's dinner), Nicas wearing funny Tshirts in English without realizing what they say (I once saw a a large guy from the campo get on with a shirt that had a picture of a latrine and said "Luke, don't force it Luke!" in reference to someone making use to that latrine, and a lady carrying a bucket with freshly chopped cow legs hanging out of it. Needless to say, the buses are hot, a little smelly, cramped, and noisy...but somehow I still very much enjoy taking them for the they are cheap.

Motorcycles are common amongst Nicas that work for NGOs and government positions that require them to travel to the rural communities. Lots of men also purchase them, as they are cheaper than a car and most women do not drive here.

Tricycles are bikes with a sitting cart in front for transporting people short distances that have some baggage. I personally like to use them for getting myself and my groceries from the store to my house as they are cheaper than taxis and more fun.

Planes are principally used here for travelling long distances out of the country, but one can also take a plane to reach the Atlantic Coast states where there are some major Nicaraguan tourist sites. There are buses that go, but the roads are long and in really rough shape.

For a lot of Nicaraguans, walking is their prime way of getting around. Walking doesn't cost money and its often the only option for those that can't afford or don't have access to other means of getting around. People here walk hours on a daily basis for various reasons: to get water (carrying buckets on their heads), to get to school (anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of walking to school), to get to a health clinic, to go shopping in the nearest city for food, clothes, and other items, to go to work, and to visit friends and family, amongst other reasons. I often see mother's carrying babies and small children and men with heavy sacks of food walk 10 or more miles to reach their destination. It is both heartbreaking and astonishing to see what Nicaraguans endure because of poverty.

transportation photos

Trucks are a major transport here for people. This is our work truck we use to reach rural sites to give health workshops. These trucks are often packed to the brim with people inside and out.

Here I am on a horse during one of the cultural events in Somoto called the Fiestas Patronales, or Patron Saint festival. During the festival there is a rodeo with bull riding, a cowboy horse parade, a competition to choose the queen of the Fiesta, a big dance party, and some parading around the city of a figurine of the Patron Saint by Catholic community members. oh, and lots of yummy food!

Donkeys are used for transportation of goods like firewood and people, especially kids!

Lots of people get around short and long distances on bikes. This example of 3 people on a bike is not an uncommon tale (it´s like carpooling!) and always provides me a chuckle.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nicaragua: A Dream Come True

Alison Lima is a Taunton citizen currently serving in the Peace Corps as a health volunteer in Nicaragua, Central America. She graduated from Taunton High School in 2001 and Iowa State University in 2005. She misses home quite a bit, but is having the time of her life in Nicaragua. She would like to request that her friends and family immediately send her Kale soup and linguica sandwiches, as she is a little tired of rice and beans.

One of my favorite things about growing up in Taunton, Massachusetts was the cultural and extracurricular activity opportunities that seem endless and so overflowing in the city. I remember as a kid never having a dull moment or too much free time. If I wasn’t practicing for the next weekly game of girl’s softball, I was heading to dancing school or practicing my flute for the middle school band’s upcoming parade performance. Whether it be music, sports, theatre, or arts and crafts, Taunton’s kids had and have plenty of recreation activities to choose from. And even though I didn’t notice it as a kid, the light bulb is starting to finally go off as I say to myself in Somoto, Nicaragua: “These activities were not just fun and games; they were important means of personal development and learning of life skills!”

Think about it. You name the activity, I bet it will help your kid build self esteem, become more goal oriented and disciplined, and learn how to create and maintain healthy relationships. For girls, it plays an essential role in developing strong female leaders and community members who value themselves and their role as women in their town, or as we like to say here, “pueblo”.

Extracurricular activities teach kids skills necessary for a healthy life and successful career…like how to respect and value yourself and others, how to be a part of a team, the true meaning of hard work and dedication, and the importance of setting goals and working together to achieve them.

I never truly came to appreciate these seemingly routine parts of an American kid’s life until I stepped foot in Nicaragua. While Nicaraguans take much pride in the sports and cultural activities they have available (they love baseball, soccer, and traditional folkloric dancing) and appreciate and recognize the value of such activities for the development of their youth into strong leaders and healthy and responsible community members, they are often limited in being able to “aprovechar” or take advantage of these powerful learning tools.

Why you ask? Well, in a country where 83% of the nation lives in poverty and too many households have to choose between feeding their children and buying them basic necessities like clothes without holes and shoes that actually fit and will endure a year’s worth of walking mountain roads to school 2 hours each day…it’s hard to think about how you will pay for a child’s uniform, softball glove, or dancing costume (which will be used for years, unlike Americans’ costume change at each recital).

Extracurricular activities here are not by any means routine, although the Nicaraguan people would love for them to be. But when you are so poor that your family lives in a house made of dried mud and sleeps on a dirt floor (44% and 49% of the population in my town, respectively), and when you have to pull your child out of school in the fourth grade (kids in the “campo” or rural pueblos on average go to school for only 3.3 years. More than 70 % of residents in my state of Madriz live in rural areas.) so he or she can help full time in coffee or corn harvest so that the family can afford a rice and beans dinner each night, the dream of playing on a sports team or learning to play a musical instrument (which might cost more than 6 months of your entire income) just doesn’t seem much more than a that…a dream.

And what are the consequences of not being able to afford and provide extracurricular activities? Kids don’t have an outlet for personal growth and life skills building. They too often turn to what is available: alcohol, drugs, and sex. My Peace Corps town has a major problem with alcohol, and it’s not just old drunks I see lying on city streets on a weekday afternoon, it’s young kids too. These kids and adults then find themselves not only alcoholics, but also the cause of major and multiple acts of violence in their homes and communities.

Another problem that stands out and could be prevented with the help of lessons learned from cultural and sports activities is teen pregnancy. 50% of women in Nicaragua at age 20 have at least one child. Teen pregnancy becomes a catalyst for terminating a young girl’s education and job opportunities and further promotes the cycle of poverty and the devaluing of women. Yes teen pregnancy is often the result of a lack of education about family planning, etc. But all too often I see it here as well in girls that have plenty of knowledge…what they are lacking is self esteem (which is necessary to fight off male dominated cultural pressures to have sex and make babies), guidance in setting personal goals, and an outlet (besides sex) to express themselves.

So why am I, your fellow Tauntonian, writing to you about how sad the world is for Nicaraguans? Well, (1) to share my eye-opening experience as a Peace Corps volunteer with you and promote awareness of other people’s cultures and living conditions. Through my two years of service and a few blog posts, we can learn together about this beautiful, but greatly challenged country.

And (2) to offer you an opportunity to take this eye-opening experience, open your heart and then your wallet, take action, and make many people’s dreams come true with very little effort. How, you ask? By donating to a fund I am initiating called “Nicaragua, A Dream Come True” which will be used to support and provide local cultural, educational, and sports activities in my Nicaraguan community of Somoto.

Somoto is a county of about 40,000 people, half urban and half rural (and very very poor) in which close to 50% of the population is 18 or younger - the population that directly needs support for extracurricular activities that will build life skills and offer diversion from a life stricken with poverty and hardship.

Taunton does an exemplary job of offering its youth opportunities for personal development and recreation. Realizing this, I say who better than Taunton’s citizens to enlist in sharing their passion for youth promotion with communities around the globe, starting with Nicaragua! And what better time of the year than the holiday season to offer a child or young adult something he or she needs that they’ve never had before?

Want examples of how you can make someone’s dream come true? Here are ways that your donations will be used: to buy textbooks for a school that has never been able to afford books for their students, to buy sports equipment like gloves, bats, balls, and uniforms for a women’s softball team I am co-creating with a local physical education teacher (women’s sports in my town are practically non-existent, although there is a strong demand for them), uniforms for a co-ed dance troupe and both boys and girls soccer teams, and musical instruments for new classes that will be offered in drums, guitar, violin, and marimba (an instrument used to play Nicaraguan popular folk music).

A lot of friends and family have asked me if there is anything I need here in Nicaragua, if there is anything they can do to help me during my Peace Corps experience. Well yes, there is. Send money. Send cash or a check (made out to “Nicaragua, A Dream Come True”) to the address below. Your donation may be as little as 5 dollars, but it’s enough to provide those who need it most with a very precious gift this holiday season: the gift of opportunity. My sincere thanks for your kindness, and Happy Holidays!

Alison Lima
728 Burt St.
Taunton, MA

You can also give donations directly to my mother, Joan Lima, at the Taunton High School Guidance Department.

Friday, October 06, 2006

a photo 4 u

Here's a cute photo of me with the kids I work with in the weekly radio program Zona de Riesgo: Sexo, Drogas, y Roock! (Risk Zone: Sex, Drugs, and Roock!) It was taken this week at a meeting to evaluate how the project is doing and to plan for upcoming months' radio topics.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

want to see more photos???

So I have put my photos on were far too many to put here. So if you want to see them and weren't already invited by email...just send me an email and I will send you the link and how to access have to be invited by the program, otherwise I would just put the directions here on my website.

They are super fun and tell my Nica Peace Corps tale better than words, so check them out.

My email:


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A very special message.

This is just a belated (but none-the-less heartfelt) HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my soon to be brother-in law Bob....Hope it was fantastic!!!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Two more lovebirds

In the spirit of love and photos, here´s a couple to be admired! Congrats Rochelle and Bob on your engagement! XOXO

Donald and I

Here´s a pic of Donald, my boyfriend, and I in front of his house. Just for those of you curious about what he looks like... I will be posting more pics this weekend so keep an eye out.