A Better Back to School in Nicaragua

This January, as students across the United States return from winter break, the school year is just getting started in Nicaragua. When Nicaraguan students head back to school in the coming days, children in 27 rural communities will be attending class in schools very different than those they began last year in – if they attended class last year at all.

Last April, the buildOn Global Community Team from East Hampton High School in New York traveled to Cabecera del Caño, Nicaragua, to help lay the foundation for a new school in partnership with villagers from this isolated community. Yubeldi, a 10-year-old student, says the new school will be life-changing for her community. “Our new school means great things,” Yubeldi says. “Everyone can learn and everyone can do better and grow up to be whatever they want to be.” When Yubeldi grows up, she wants to be a doctor, a profession that is desperately needed in many rural parts of Nicaragua.

“Our new school means great things. Everyone can learn and everyone can do better and grow up to be whatever they want to be.”

With a strong love for reading and writing, Yesser, another 10-year-old student, is also excited about what a new school will bring to his village. “I feel happy about the new school,” he says. “We will learn many new things at the school!”


Above: Yesser (left) and other students sit inside the old, improvised classroom in the rural village of Cabecera del Caño.

In Nicaragua, it is not uncommon for children like Yesser and Yubeldi to be absent from the educational system. According to a UNICEF Report on Nicaragua, 500,000 children and adolescents are not in school, and a majority of these children are from rural villages like Cabecera del Caño.

Arnel Gaitan, an elementary school teacher who recently came to Cabecera del Caño, knows the reality of education in rural Nicaraguan towns. “In the countryside we find kids who are very behind, 13-year-old students in second grade,” Arnel says. “They work and often don’t have time to walk to another village to go to school.”

The Guardian reported in a 2015 article that Nicaraguan business leaders “…estimate that there are between 250,000 and 300,000 child workers” in Nicaragua, with one in three under the age of 14. Because of the high poverty rates in Nicaragua’s rural populations, children from small villages often find themselves working instead of attending school.

The village of Cabecera del Caño sits at the end of a long, muddy road in north central Nicaragua, just south of the Honduras border. Small coffee farms surround the village of 140 people. Community members harvest coffee, as well as corn and beans. At the time of the groundbreaking for the new school, a makeshift classroom sat underneath an elevated agricultural building. Like many improvised schools in Nicaragua, it had a dirt floor and was open-air, meaning there were no walls, no electricity and no protection from stifling heat and torrential rains that can derail a day of learning.

“I like to go to school, but it is hard to learn in the school we have now. It’s hard to see the blackboard because it’s dark.”

Arnel, the teacher, knew the limitations of the old school well. “The kids often complain about the school,” he said last April. “They find it hard to learn, they’re distracted, they don’t want to come. Wouldn’t you want to work someplace with better conditions?”


Above: The new buildOn school in Cabecera del Caño was built in partnership with East Hampton High School Global Community Team. Yubeldi is pictured in the center of the 2nd row wearing a pink hoody.

Yubeldi enjoyed school, but agreed that the conditions weren’t ideal in the old building. “I like to go to school, but it is hard to learn in the school we have now,” Yubeldi said last April. “It’s hard to see the blackboard because it’s dark.”

The new school in Cabecera del Caño was completed by community members in the summer of  2016 and was one of 27 schools buildOn broke ground on in Nicaragua in 2016. More schools and more classrooms mean that more students will be in attendance this year in rural villages across Nicaragua.

“Just since [the time] families saw the new school starting to be built, we have registered new students,” Arnel says. “That’s one of my main goals with having the new school, that it bring in more students, even students from outside this community. They know a better school building means a better education.”

Because the villages surrounding the communities like Cabecera del Caño are often able to send their children to the new buildOn school, it is safe to say that more than 27 communities now have greater access to education. And with the help our Global Community Teams, corporate partners, buildOn students from our U.S. Service Learning Programs and other Trek teams made up of compassionate individuals, we are looking forward to building even more schools in 2017!

Below: Yesser wrote a poem for the East Hampton Community Team and had it translated before they left the village at the end of their Trek. The bonds created between members of the Trek team and community members are often one of the most meaningful parts of a Trek. As Yesser wrote, “My soul hurts when I say goodbye.”