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