The Friends Project

It’s open!

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I arrived at the preschool in Las Minitas to find palm fronds decorated with paper flowers on the door and tablecloths on the two tables families had brought to the school.

Javier, who also teaches our English class, myself, Frankling and Alcides and Marisela, the teacher, made quick work of hanging the whiteboard and putting up a bookshelf and outfitting it with the games, books and other creative things we were able to bring to stock the classes.

About 60 people came to the opening party – a true community fiesta for the inauguration – arriving in skirts or dresses and the smaller girls with princess-like pink satin dresses saved only for the most special occasions. When we had everyone there, who was either finishing lunch or work in the farm, Alcides led us off with a few words about the need for the school.

Families had used salvaged wood from the elementary school before it was built and replaced, including the old roof. That was the material that they replaced with a school, so when it rained, it rained inside the class, and really it was just a shell. That they dreamed of a preschool where the younger kids could learn to learn and not be afraid of it, and to get a head start for when they started first grade. Now it is happening.

I admit, I got shy about using my Spanish, because I can’t really say what i want to say because I’m limited with my grammar and vocabulary. But I hit the most important things: how they are an inspiration to me, and to us, and that more than 150 people collectively helped to bring this goal to reality. Their friends in the U.S. and beyond believe in what they are doing here, and their vision for the community and we are happy to be partners in it. Thank you for letting us be a part of it. 

 

People contributed because of the community collectively working towards its dreams, and because my friends, and their friends and people I did not even know, contributed because we all believe in the power of everyday people to make a huge difference. Las Minitas proves it.

Standing before the entryway and the bright blue ribbon we wrapped over the doorways, I remembered the little handprints of Joselito behind the palm frond. We had him dip his hands in blue paint for the school and press them on either side of the first door.

Those hands, I said, represent the ideas, the minds and the future of each kid that walks through there now and later for class. who knows what they will dream of? What will they think of? Invent? we don’t know, but this school gives them the start and finding out what they become is the amazing part. 

 

The hands also represent the amistad – or friendship – between us, and what we can accomplish together. 

Marisela, the teacher, cut the ribbon, because hey, it’s her school! I had her choose where to set up the board, the bookcase, where it fits best. She’s also a scholarship recipient of The Friends Project, attending high school. Here, those with high school education teach preschool, paid by the government, and she is among the few who have done so in Las Minitas. 

She cut the ribbon and led the preschoolers in, with Rolando wearing my GoPro fastened to his head (video coming!) They held hands in a circle, and we followed in. We took photos and then everyone came in, looking at the posters and the books and then we enjoyed cake that Erlinda made using a charcoal oven, which I’m not still sure how that works.

Marvin and Cristian and others played mariachi music, fast and upbeat with a chinka chinka circular instrument that was like a circular washboard and I first danced with Marisela and then Alcides and whoever else was not too timid to get up and dance. Each time someone did so, the crowd hooted and laughed.

I presented Marisela with the mascot that Kathleen so kindly crafted; Conejoito or tiny rabbit, as he’s now dubbed by the class, started life as a “calzetina” or sock. Now he’s the mascot in Las Minitas, watching over 10 kids daily. 

We also had a 16×20 canvas art board. We brought all the preschoolers together and Marisela and I painted their hands and pressed their tiny prints onto it, followed by us, in yellow, green, blue and red, to make our own fine art that will hang on the wall …

It’s now drying over the whiteboard. 🙂

Cristian fired up the band again and we danced cumbia and other moves for a bit and disbanded as the rain started.

I will be up next week or the week after to get photos with the doors on, which are being made by a member of the community, all handmade from wood from their farm. 

Amazing!!!

 

THank you all who supported this effort. 

Because of you, Las Minitas has a preschool that will last generations for tiny minds that will become … ????

Bienvenidos al preescolar Guardabarranco!

 

The national bird of Nicaragua is the guardabarranco, a lovely little creature with yellow chest and a splash of red on its wings and a long tail of bright blue like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

It is so common on the way to and in Las Minitas but every time it lifts and flies you see it is beautiful.

I was surprised yesterday, at the opening of the preschool, that Marisela wrote “Bienvendios al preescolar Guardabarranco” on the whiteboard.

I still don’t know if the families named the school or if it’s what every preschool is named. But it fits.

I have been inspired for many years by Marisela’s family, whose father founded the coffee cooperative, and other families there for years. What they have accompplished for their community, and the dreams they foster, despite very few resources.

I remember the day I decided to help them with their dream to open a preschool there for the kids now and in the future. Raising $4,500 seemed like a daunting task. The Friends Project (me and friends, literally) have helped with college scholarships and resources for coffee toasting and English class, but I’m not sure I’ve even ever saw $4,500.

We raised it though, and in short order; all people who either saw it happening or share the same belief, that everyday people working together can have tremendous impact.

Every day in that time was remarkable to me, and confirmed to me that this idea is not an idea, but a living, breathing THING.

Every day building the school has been remarkable, especially hauling bricks alongside Sergio and Alcides, or trying to fling the cement just right and forcefully enough to cover the walls.

In these times it showed me we are truly partners and opening the school yesterday was amazing.

At night I spent hours at Anunsciacion and Bernardo’s, talking and playing games, about ideas, what it’s like to travel on a plane, how you make coffee, killing chickens for lunch, …

This last time, Marlon and Fatima were there as always, and Marvin and another of Bernardo’s sons and we talked around the table, chickens waltzing in and out til hours past their regular bedtime.

Are there big differences between US and Nicaragua?

I said to them, yes, there are many. But it is like water in the sea. There is water you see on top. Below it is dark and deep and you do not know what is there, which is one the greatest things. But you do not know what is there, and it seems very different.

There are many differences here, like this water on top. Riding horses to school, growing only your own food, the way people do things and how things are day to day. But it on top water only.

When you swim down and you are in the dark and the deep, you find it is very much the same, with people who believe the same things and work for them and you and it are very much the same.

That is the greatness of the big water.

I also tried to tell them that this place and they have been an inspiration to me, and in many ways, the differences here are better.

Families are very close; they all live int he same house. but they are friends too, and there is nothing to do, like go to cinema or watch TV or go to restaurants, so people sit and talk for hours and hours, like us, and it is my most favorite thing.

Marvin told me then that this was my house too, and my family.

And that has been the most important thing, I guess, that in doing this project and we all partnering to get it done, that you can arrive somehwere that is on the top water very very different if not extremely different and find a second family when you take that breath and dive down.

the beast

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This beast will take us up the mountain this morning to Las Minitas despite a torrential downpour last night, loaded with a giant whiteboard and other supplies. Time to open the school.

The sour and confusing … Palmito!

Marlon harvests palmito - the core of a palm tree

Marlon harvests palmito – the core of a palm tree

Sitting on the side of a mountain eating the thready stalk of the inside of a palm tree, sweating my face off, I wiped the sweat out of my eye, stuck the palmito in my mouth, savored it and then thought, who thinks to open the inside of a palm tree and just eat it?

To whoever, thanks, because it is tasty.

In Brazil, we ate them all the time, and I went to a farm at some point outside Belém wher they harvest them.

In the U.S., they are $5 a jar, pickled in some sort of sour juice. Tasty, but not as, of course. They are also the only other thing I dedicate stomach space to on the Brazilian churrasco buffet besides the parade of meat.

I think I ate 15 once.

Here, I finally remembered them in the supermarket and dropped $5.

We were there volcano boarding and I remember Adam says, spitting it out, “they are sour and confusing. I hate them.”

Me: “I think I’ve been described that way.”

In Las Minitas, we were talking and Bernardo and Anunsciasion, my adopted family there, said, oh we have palmito!

Get out!!

This time, with more time, Bernardo and his sons, Marvin and Marlon, invited me to come with them at 7 a.m. to go harvest some, so they could cook it for me.

We hiked first to a second sort of look-out, lower with a different but just as grand view of mountain villages below, then, kept walking down despite me thinking about each step back up in the sun, til we found good palms.

I’m still not sure what made them good for harvesting palmito, except they were older.

Bernardo and Marlon made quick work of them with their matchetes.
They ended up with a white core, like the end of a giant leek, and we ate some right on the side of the mountain.

I stuffed it in and man was it delicious. Not sour at all and light.

we put the two cores into a bucket, and afloncina carried them back up.

today, Anunciascion cooked them two ways for breakfast: One pickled in a vinegar concoction, and the other in a sort of corn mash and cream.

I’d love to just eat a stalk.

Really cool to see how they do it, and to have them go cut one to try.

palmito

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School is painted, next week we party!

me.paint.handThe school is painted!
Spent all day Thursday painting the preschool with Sergio, Pedro and two helpers, and left with the blue bottom coat just starting to coat cement.

Go us. Go The Friends Project!

Joselito is in the preschool and despite being super shy he said yes, he wanted to put his hands on the school.

So we painted his little palms blue and his handprints now greet everyone at the door … a reminder of the little minds that reside there. Who knows what they will do or dream of!

Someone from the community is making 2 doors – by hand- and I’m arranging an opening party with some frosted cake (believe me, that’s a treat and uncommon sweetness) next Friday.

We will see how the cake fares. In 2011, when we opened the elementary school with Enlace Project, my job was to balance the 2 frosted and decorated cakes in my lap, whilst having pneumonia and bronchitis, on the 1.5-hour-long, four-wheel-drive trek up there.

At one point, i think I nearly launched one of them out the window. Frankling was driving and we cracked up pretty hard.

I’m guessing the same fate awaits me next week.
(photos by Frankling Lopez)

Going to paint!!

Off to paint the school today with Sergio and his helpers … nearly done!! The opening party is next Friday!

Monkeys!!

On a break on Ometepe Island, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua. I’ve already heard howler monkeys!!

The volcanoes looked so amazing they looked fake.

Taking pics for a Geneseo humanities class .. excited because I get to learn about pre Columbian history and also see petroglyphs.

Tough job. Read More