Children in Acahualinca

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A few weeks ago, my colleague Adela Dávalos asked me to participate in a social service project called Inner CHANGE WORKS Organization (ICW) in addition to my internship at the UAM International Programs Office. The project deals with Nicaraguan school children in an economically disadvantaged area. The goal of ICW is to motivate and educate children about culture and the importance of an education. For example, last year the organization provided a theatre seminar for the children in Acahualinca, which turned out a success. The ICW has noticed less violence now in comparison to before the project.
I agreed immediately to Adela’s idea and confirmed to visit this group.

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This photo was made by Ridel. 28.11.2015 © UAM www.ip.uam.edu.ni

On the 28th of November 2015, I visited the group of children with Javier Quinto, Casey Jenkins and Julia Chamorro. We went to a district in Managua, where children are planning to have another theatre seminar and performance. The preparations for this project are running during the next weeks. I used this visit as an opportunity to give some colored pencils, which I had brought from Germany with me to give to children from families in financial need.

A short prequel story behind the purpose of the pencils: Recently, when I participated in a film project in Germany close to Frankfurt am Main, I met with colleagues in a pub for an after-work-drink. There I met a young man, who already travelled around Central America and who gave me the advice to pack as much as possible colored pencils as “give-aways” for children. They seem to highly value pencils which gives them the opportunity to develop writing skills.

Back to Managua. It is nine o’clock in the morning. We met at the lobby of UAM’s campus. Javier is one of the project’s supervisors, who takes care of the children. He has been involved with ICW for more than two years.
Javier started to explain to us from the beginning his impressions from this project’s past and his wishes for the next few weeks. He hopes to keep this interactive idea alive and to develop more social competencies in-between the children.

We drove to the project’s location in Javier’s car. The houses in the community are very small, people build their houses with simple metal plates. The children are used to dirt floors and people in general seem not to own a lot of material things.

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This photo was made by Ridel. 28.11.2015 © UAM www.ip.uam.edu.ni

We probably drove 20 minutes by car from UAM’s campus. Our ride didn’t take long, nevertheless, I had enough time to exchange wonderful ideas about how to interact with the children with Casey.
Before we arrived at our destination, we stopped at the beginning of a street, where two young boys waited for us. The car continued very slowly while the boys walked next to us. One of them was Gerald, a 12-year-old boy, who seemed very friendly from the start. Gerald and Javier talked in Spanish about many things related to our plan. Unfortunately, I could not understand everything. Anyway the boy quickly made eye contact to us and welcomed us with his eyes.
We reached the schoolyards gate and Javier knocked softly on the big entrance door. I felt a little bit as if I were in Peter Pan’s Neverland, like in the movie “Hook”. It took a while for someone to answer the door, but then an old guard came to the door and let us in. The big schoolyard seemed very safe, because it was surrounded by a huge wall. From my point of view, a very effective physical protection for the children. In the future I may discover the reasons for such a huge protection.

When we entered the yard we couldn’t see many children at the first, but I was very sure that some were observing us while they hid behind some building walls. We walked directly to a classroom and suddenly a few children were around us. Young girls and boys of different ages. It felt more and more like Neverland. They curiously gathered around us. We sat down with them and started a short introduction. It was probably very funny for the children to listen to my “Baby-Spanish-Level”, but I prepared some surprises for them. Every time a child could answer a simple science question, they got a pencil for free. Immediately I saw the different talents of the children. Ridel took many beautiful photos with my camera. Gerald showed me his “human-jukebox” skills for three minutes without a pause. The children were happy, and I had a very good time with them. Some of them were extremely motivated to win multiple pencils. More and more I felt responsibility for those young people, but I concluded, that I have to find a balance between over-volunteering and taking care of myself. I was happy by this situation to learn once again that I can be here to contribute a piece of the puzzle of a wonderful development. I decided to support them in preparing themselves a bit for their next theatre performance.

We spent the day with the children and we all had a great time during a costume fitting activity, a simple geography lesson, playing some group rhythm exercises which I had learned during my theatre acting education and playing Ultimate Frisbee provided by Casey. Julia had wonderful conversations with some of them and translated for us a lot. After one of the activities, we requested to be taught by some of the children. We asked them to show us some of their playground games. It was a surprise for me, when they taught me some games that I used to play as a kid as well. I felt as if I was home, like I had just stepped back into my personal past.

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This photo was made by Ridel. 28.11.2015 © UAM www.ip.uam.edu.ni

Javier was very confident with our participation and offered to let me visit the children again the next Thursday to teach them basics skills in theatre acting. I agreed.

During this interpersonal experience, I observed many general similarities between the children and my own childhood experiences. I learned again during this day that being a child is something very universal. Those children practice the same methods to play like children everywhere. Even though the Atlantic Ocean splits our continents, our strongest similarities seem to already start during our childhoods. The schoolyard seemed to be a wonderful and safe platform for many children. There they get the opportunity to escape from their hard day-to-day life in their community. It offers next to education many playgrounds for sports too.

The day with the children confirmed to me once again, that play is the principal expression of the human spirit. I want to quote one of my most favorite quotes, which I received by one of my masters during my education:

man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.”

This line is from Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) on play from the fifteenth letter of “On the Aesthetic Education of Man.”

The theatre project can be successful by creating many role models for the children. The children can learn early the idea of taking responsibility only for themselves. With the students, I learned that children need a person to look up to. Youngsters and students find their heroes mostly in the commercial world, which charms to consume only.

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This photo was made by Ridel. 28.11.2015 © UAM www.ip.uam.edu.ni

Constructive communication and constructive experience for children through projects like this one, should be more widely supported as soon as possible. I believe that we all make mistakes sometimes, nevertheless, every society should have the responsibility to provide all children a safe protected area for human interaction and opportunities to grow through beautiful experiences.

The playing with the children was quickly possible and they quickly opened their hearts. I value this a lot. That’s why I will try to contribute to their theatre project as much as I can during my free time in Managua. Thank you very much to Javier and his team for supporting those young people these past two years.

Whoever wants to participate in this project can reach us in our office on UAM’s campus and we will provide you information and set up a contact with the responsible organization.

Thank you for reading my report. I hope you could get an impression about those potentials in Managua.

Neven Pilipovic

P.S. If you know somebody, who might be interested in contributing something in ICW’s work – please don’t hesitate to press one of the Social Media buttons below and share this information with your friends. ICW’s website is www.innerchangeworks.org.

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