For Eli and I Granada was supposed to be a quick pit stop before we moved onto our next adventure in Nicaragua. We would be coming here with my mom in a few weeks so we wanted to leave the city unexplored for when we returned.
Granada, though, had different plans for us.
While hanging out in our hostel a poster asking for volunteers at a local school caught my eye. I emailed the director and to my delight she replied explaining that she had the perfect spot for us.
We have been volunteering at Education Plus for almost two weeks and loving every second of it. Education Plus is located in a poor barrio right outside of Granada called Pantanal. Education Plus focuses on feeding the students’ minds, bodies, and souls through classes, activies, nutritious meals, teaching core values (God, Family, Honesty, Share, Respect, Listen, Encourage, Dream, Laugh, Love), and creating a supportive and loving environment. The goal is to get the kids involved and loving their education and off the streets. The kids who grow up in Pantanal live in small huts with dirt floors, they are malnourished and many come from abusive families.
Everyday from one to three we practice reading with the kids of Zebra class whose ages rage from six to ten. After class time is lunch and then free play. These kiddos amaze me. Even though they do not receive what they deserve from life they are kind, joyful and eager to learn.
Some highlights of spending time with the amazing kids of Education Plus:
- Jonathan is a nine year old boy who absolutely loves to read. Every day after class we take turns reading story, after story, after story. Before we begin he delegates who is going to read which page and we pass the book around in a circle. Once we get to the end he dramatically sings “finnnn” (the end) and then bounces up and down asking for another story. Once the day begins to cool off we migrate to the “playground”, which is just monkey bars and swings, to pasa a mano (go on the monkey bars) and play games.
- When Eli and I arrive at school we are greeted by tons of smiling faces and lots of hugs. The kids are so sweet and I love encouraging their curiosity and partaking in their joy.
- The other day I was playing a image matching game with a group of boys. We were laughing and yelling, having a blast, and they keep making fun of me every time I would mispronounce a spanish word. I would teach them the English word for the image and they would teach me the Spanish word. I was terrible so I had a few helpers so I wouldn’t lose by a ridiculous amount.
- I sprinted like my life depended on it from “la anda” (The person who is it) with a group of twenty kids. We barreled through bushes, jumped over seats,and then skidded to a halt to turn around and run back to “pio” which is base. I raced Jonathan, Gennar, Rojer, and Julian on the monkey bar and lost every time. Josue made me flowers out of reed and Eli helped Jimmy’s mom learn the alphabet so she could learn how to read.
- Friday is the kids free day. Each class comes for an hour, gets lunch, plays, and then goes home when the next class arrives. Leo and I played fútbol on the cement slab between classes. We punted the flat soccer ball, slipped on spilt water, yelled “goaaaal” with our hands in the air, and laughed until our bellies ached. Yennifer braided my hair while I argued with Jonathan and Gennar that I was NOT wearing the same outfit I wore yesterday while they giggled merciously. I swore up and down that it wasn’t and now I’m honestly not so sure. I shook my booty with Francheska and the other girls during dance time and twirled a little bear (little bears are the two to three class). And let me tell you these girls can dance. They twirled, shimmed, and booty popped with giant smiles and fits of laughter.
- One day after school Eli took turns putting the boys on his shoulders and chasing the other kids around as we watched the students and teachers play fútbol in the twilight. The little girls marveled at my long hair, twisting, pulling, and braiding. Eli and Oscar sang songs in Spanish and we tickled them until they cried that they would pee their pants.
Hayley’s Favorite Volunteering Moment
My best moment of volunteering so far involved a little boy name Julian. Julian, and his brother Pablo, comes from a not so nice family and has a hard time in school, he spends most of his time ignoring the teacher and staring off. He doesn’t have a distinct group of friends and floats around the playground watching the kids play games. He doesn’t bring table wear for lunch and uses another student’s when they are done. This results in him eating last and eating alone. The other volunteers don’t give him much attention, not sure why, and so Julian exists somewhat in his own world. Until a few days ago I had never heard him speak. On Wednesday I decided I wanted to join Julian in his little world and give him the undivided attention he deserved. While he was eating I asked if he would like to hear a story and so we read about Fredrick a mouse who hadn’t collected food for winter like he was supposed to. I ask him questions about the book, who he thought Fredrick was, what he thought the mice were thinking, and he replied in short answers. This is the first time I had heard him talk and I was so happy. After lunch I helped him on the monkey bars and we played tag with the other kids. When it was time to go home we were both covered in sweat and had permanent smiles plastered on our faces. Julian is a sweet, shy little boy and I’m happy I had the opportunity to give him the positive attention, love, and encouragement that not just he but every child deserves.
Eli’s Favorite Volunterring Moment
Although every minute of being at the school can be considered a “favorite” moment, nothing beats seeing how eager these kids are to better themselves in terms of education, and one kid in particular catches my eye. His name is Jonathan and he is truly something special. Even when it’s play time, Jonathan pleads to Hayley and I to read with him constantly and I love it. The kids in the US need to learn a lesson from him and all these kids that education is a privilege not an obligation and it should be treated as such.
I feel absolutely blessed to be able to partake in such an extraordinary opportunity. These kids have rocked my world with their smiley faces, their goofy personalities, their eagerness to learn, their trust, and their love. Thinking about leaving them breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes. We have one week left and I’m excited to spend as much time as possible with the kids who have stolen my heart.