I have now spent 3 weeks at El Ayudante, so I wanted to fill you all in on what that has looked like.
El Ayudante is a child care and community development center in the beautiful city of Leon, Nicaragua. I will take one brief moment to note, firstly, that I am in Nicaragua not Nigeria. Nigeria happens to be quite far off although it begins with the same two letters. Secondly, please note that the city is the same as my last name, so basically this is my city… straight logic! Anyway, back to the history of El Ayudante. This organization was founded in 2001 to be a child protection agency, and for the first 7 years of its existence children were brought here by the ministry of families to live here. In 2008 laws were passed that sent all the children at this agency and the other orphanages and centers in Nicaragua back to their families. However, these children had been removed from their families for specific reasons, so El Ayudante adapted to fulfill the children’s’ needs while respecting the laws. At this point El Ayudante developed their before and after school program which gives the children food and medical care, school supplies and tutoring, and counseling. Currently El Ayudante works with 29 children from several families in the community of León. The part of El Ayudante which runs this children’s’ program is called the “HCN,” and this is the part of El Ayudante in which I am doing my practicum.
So let’s rewind. I am currently in my senior year at Union, about to graduate with my BSW degree. For this degree you spend your last semester in an internship called a practicum. For my practicum, I chose to go to Nicaragua to work at El Ayudante, so I will be spending 3 months here doing social work at the HCN. Currently it looks like my main responsibilities will include teaching several of the older boys English, teaching guitar to a child named Jesús, leading a relaxation therapy class with the kids, making home visits to the children’s families, selecting and teaching a relevant subject within social work to the professors, parents, and children (drug awareness or something of the sort), and giving orientations to the US teams which come in over the history, purpose, and goals of the HCN. Apart from this I will spend much of my time with the teachers taking daily care of the children and observing and supporting the educational psychologist in her work here.
I’ll get more into the logistics of what my day looks like in a later post, but for now I’ll just tell you a few stories to give you some snapshots of my life.
Being bilingual is pretty rough! My first issue, however, when I came here was the thick accent they have here for the most part. They swallow all of their S’s here and use a lot of colloquialisms. There are many words that I have never heard before, and I will ask them and it will be their own Nica word for something quite common. My director has one of the thickest accents I have heard here, and I swear that the first day she didn’t think I knew Spanish at all… which is unfortunate. My brain is always swinging between English and Spanish. This morning I was trying to switch from Spanish to English and instead I simply started speaking Spanish with an American accent, which let me tell you, was pretty ugly. I have also been having trouble bringing the English words which I need to mind. The other day, I was speaking to one of the translators that come to help the teams here. I was speaking in English and could not remember the English word for fan. This is especially pitiful because the Spanish version which I could remember is actually “fanico” which is literally a lengthened version of the word in English.
As always people here were curious how I could be blind and independent. Every child here thought they had come up with a new game when they asked me how many fingers they were holding up while walking further and further away from me. Since they were simply saying “how many fingers do I have” I started telling them they had 10. If they said they only had 3 I would ask them how they lost the rest of them. I don’t think most of them got it for a while, but I thought it was pretty entertaining at least.
The director also called me over for a meeting with the guards and gardeners at one point. She told me that they had been asking her how I could walk wherever I wanted so independently. I informed them that I had been in training and that this was simply a different way of life. However, I may have first looked at them and told them with a totally serious face that I was a secret agent in the CIA, so I was just pretending to be blind. What was more amusing than that, however, was the fact that when I was relating this story to the educational psychologist here, I said, “and I told them I was a secret agent in the CIA,” and she didn’t understand that I had been joking, and it took me 5 to 10 minutes to convince her that I was not actually a secret agent.
Machismo culture is also very alive here which means, in part, that many men have a sense of entitlement and dominance over others. Many of the translators have been flirting with me to a point that is just very annoying. One particular translator, who shall remain unnamed for his poor overly confident self, has really been getting on my last nerve because the way he flirts is just so condescending and feels degrading to me. Anyway, he came to me the other day and said, “Rebecca, I have a quote for you.” (At this point I am already like “Please, no. Lord save us all.”) He continued, “Women are like the apples on a tree. The best ones are at the top and maybe they don’t think they’re that great because no one comes to get them, but it is only the best and strongest men who can climb the tree and pick them.”
Needless to say, this was pretty offensive to me on a lot of levels, so I looked at him and said, “Unnamed translator, did you ever think that maybe they are at the top of the tree because they like it up there and they don’t want anyone to come get them.
He looked at me for a minute and then just said “oh.”
I have been really enjoying my time with the children here. They are ridiculously kind and sweet kids, and sometimes I have trouble hiding a smile when they do something wrong because I am thinking to myself, “That is the worst you can do?” Due to confusion in schedule this past Sunday, a few of the kids spent most of the afternoon with me. I am very glad for I-phone passwords, although I was eventually locked out of my phone for an hour. I taught them the cup game, they taught me that the way to eat green mangos is with a mountain of salt, and we played guitar and hide and seek for a few hours.
As for great accomplishments so far, I think I should mention that after filling 1500 water balloons, the professors here and I are now quite adept and professional at the art of water balloon making, although we may have each had a few extra baths on that particular day.
Again, I’ll fill you all in on more of my schedule next time, but I hope you enjoyed this stream of consciousness!
Rebecca ~


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