A Tale of Two Schools
Recently, buildOn staff in Nicaragua met two very special young boys and their families, whose lives were bound together by their quest to receive an education regardless of the difficulties they encountered.
They live in two different communities: Yeldrin in Casas Blancas, and Reynaldo in Fransisco Arauz Pineda. Yeldrin is six years old and in the first grade, while Reynaldo is twelve and in the fourth grade. Yeldrin dreams of becoming a fireman when he grows up; Reynaldo hopes to be a teacher. Yet, despite their differences, these two boys share one important commonality: their determination to learn in spite of the obstacles they have faced.
Abandoned by his father before he was even born, Yeldrin has been raised by his maternal grandmother. His mother now has another family so Yeldrin lives with his grandmother, aunt, and cousin, in a humble house made of zinc sheet metal. To help his family, he sells popsicles that his grandmother makes, while she sells tortillas and enchiladas. Despite the hardships he has endured, those who know Yeldrin describe him as a happy child whose smile radiates with joy.
Like Yeldrin, Reynaldo is currently living with his grandmother. It’s coffee harvesting season so his parents have left for the neighboring region of Jinotega to find work. It’s hard being away from their children, but coffee workers’ wages were recently raised so Reynaldo’s mother and father are trying to earn as much money as they can to support the family and ensure that their two sons can attend school.
The small Nicaraguan communities of Casas Blancas and Francisco Arauz Pineda, where the boys live, used to share a single school, which was located on the border of a large sewage treatment plant. “The old school was ugly. You could feel the stench of the sewage treatment plant,” recalls Reynaldo. “When we ate, flies would come, and that brings disease.”
He goes on to explain that when the stench was too intense, classes would be cancelled causing the students to miss valuable hours of instruction. There were also huge snakes that were drawn by the numerous vermin inhabiting the treatment plant, and the students often feared that both rats and snakes alike would enter their classrooms. To make matters worse, the classrooms were so overcrowded that many children were forced to learn outside on the porch of the school.
You could feel the stench of the sewage treatment plant. When we ate, flies would come, and that brings disease.Reynaldo, student from Francisco Arauz Pineda
Understanding the dire situation the children were in, authorities from the Ministry of Education and the Mayor’s Office of the region of La Dalia asked buildOn to intervene and build not one, but two new schools– one in each community. This would not only reduce overcrowding and their proximity to the treatment plant, but would also mean that children from both communities would no longer have to walk 2-3 kilometers to get school.
When it came time to build their new schools, both Yeldrin and Reynaldo jumped at the chance to help. Yeldrin came to the worksite every day after school and helped by carrying water, cinderblocks, and sand, and even joined in the painting. Regardless of what task he was helping with, Yeldrin always had a smile on his face and loved to joke around with the other community members on the worksite.
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Every day after school Reynaldo would also immediately come to the worksite to help. On the days he didn’t have class, he would volunteer all day, supporting the project in any way he could. “I wanted to see the students happy and going to a new school for the first time,” says Reynaldo, beaming with pride at all his community has accomplished. The boys were not alone in their passion and drive to build the new schools– community members from Casas Blancas and Francisco Arauz Pineda contributed a combined 275 volunteer work days to the project and both schools are now complete and holding classes.
After years of watching their grandsons struggle to receive an education, the boys’ grandmothers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of attending a central school by the sewage treatment plant, Yeldrin and Reynaldo are now attending schools in their own communities, in classrooms that are far away from the horrid stench and unsanitary conditions of their past. There are currently 123 students enrolled in Casas Blancas and 58 in Francisco Arauz Pineda, but with their improved infrastructure and learning conditions both communities hope to enroll more students and increase the number of grade levels offered at their schools.
For Yeldrin, whose mother never received an education, this new school will help him to break the cycle of illiteracy in his family. Reynaldo also has big plans for himself and his family, in fact, he has already submitted a special request to his teachers: to help his grandmother, Reyna, learn how to read and write. With courageous students like Yeldrin and Reynaldo leading the way, there is no doubt that their communities will continue to improve and flourish.