In addition to the air quality stove project, we are working with a local school teaching health seminars and starting a girl’s soccer program in order to encourage healthy and active lifestyles. We are teaching topics such as self-esteem, body image, drugs, mental health, HIV/AIDS, sexual health, and also preventing teen pregnancy. Our girl’s soccer program is targeted towards the 12/13 year olds because this is the earliest and most common age that girls in Nicaragua become pregnant. Teen pregnancy is a huge problem in Nicaragua for many reasons. Talking about sex is taboo in society; therefore parents don’t talk to their children (more importantly, their daughters) about the consequences of having sex or even methods of protection. There is no open dialogue about the matter; and as a result, there is an influx of pregnant teenage girls, who are then left with no choice but to drop out of school, depend on their families, etc. Our girl’s soccer program focuses on mobilizing and motivating the young women in the Monimbo School to get excited about sports and developing healthy, positive self-esteems.
Our first day of working with the school was actually 2 weeks ago. During our first week with the kids, we opened the floor to talk about their goals, ambitions, and dreams to get them thinking about steps they need to take with their schooling to achieve goals with their future careers. In my group, I got a lot of responses ranging from future presidents, teachers, nurses, and even some doctors. It was a great way to form the foundation of my relationship with many of the kids. During our second week working with the students, we split the 5th grade class into boys and girls. Garrison and Onyema worked with the 12/13 year old boys, and I worked with the 12/13 year old girls. Originally, I was only planning on working with 20-30 girls…. but apparently I can’t count because I ended up working with 55 chavalas (young girls). After splitting them up, I led them into the computer lab/library area and they all scrambled for chairs, forming a circle around me in a very tight space. This was beyond overwhelming. Our second lesson was on drugs…and I was expected to teach this in Spanish. I can barely hold a 10-minute conversation in Spanish—how am I supposed to teach a 30-minute lesson on drugs?
I spent the afternoon/night the day before looking up terms, words, and ways to teach the lesson in another language all the while scribbling questions to ask the class on notecards. I began the class by asking all of the girls what their names were. This would’ve been helpful if I had heard any of them. They were all incredibly shy and chose to mouth their names to me…so in reality I still had no clue what any of their names were. After pulling out my notecards ready to teach, I asked them all an open-ended question: “Qué son las drogas?”. I flipped over the notecard ready to read the response in Spanish….until I realized that the other side of the notecard was blank. Frantically, I flipped over all of my other notecards only to find that they were all blank. Somehow I had managed to forget to write the responses to all of my questions. I couldn’t let the girls see that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing at this point….so I did what I do best: winged the entire lesson. From blank notecards to blank stares, I started encouraging the girls to share what they knew about drugs…after all, the best types of lessons are learned through an open discussion. I ended the lesson with having them sign a pledge that they would never try drugs and that nobody would leave the room until I had 55 signatures on my drug pledge. Overall, the lesson went well. One of my students asked me to sing America’s national anthem, and we compromised that the only way I would sing it for her was if she’d teach me Nicaragua’s national anthem. She agreed. The exchange is expected to happen next week.
After our lesson, it was time to play soccer. Something that had irked me in particular upon visiting the school prior to last week was the fact that during recess, the soccer court was consistently occupied by all of the boys. All day. Everyday. When I told the girls to get ready to play soccer, I received nothing but puzzled stares. “What? We get to play on the soccer court? But that’s for the boys.” Nothing frustrated me more than hearing those last 5 words. I let them figure out the answer when all 56 of us marched onto the court, divided into 2 teams, and started playing. As usual, I had no idea what I was doing. I am not a soccer player, nor will I ever be one. Needless to say, I got my butt kicked. And I’m completely okay with that. The absolute highlight of my entire trip was seeing the girls’ faces light up when they realized that the soccer court was designated for them to dominate and no one else. The boys kept creeping onto the court trying to play and getting in the girls way, but it wasn’t before long until they were met with an angry hijabi yelling at them to get off the court because it was reserved for the girls’ soccer game. After several rounds of games, the girls began screaming about “el finale! El finale!” Confused and exhausted, I followed their lead about this “el finale”. They formed a circle around the goal post, placed the ball at my feet, and motioned me to kick at the goalkeeper. El finale = penalty kick. The girls wanted to take turns taking penalty shots, and I was the lucky chica to go first. Onyema and Garrison joined the circle and encouraged everybody to start chanting my name as they waited for me to take my shot. As expected, I missed the shot. By a lot. I’m talking a whole 4 feet above the goalpost. I didn’t care, I was having a blast and no penalty kick was going to keep me from making an even bigger fool of myself via soccer.
I’m really excited about continuing our work here just because the students are always so excited when we come every Wednesday for lessons and soccer. It’s obvious they really respect us and truly want to hear what we have to say; I can really see our time spent at the school as one of the most beneficial uses of our time simply because we have such a powerful, positive influence. They often form massive circles around us asking questions from how many children we have (0 in case you were wondering) to if we know how to salsa.
Here are the stats for the frequency of questions I received from my girls in just one day:
Q: Why do you cover your hair? (11 times)
A: [Insert religious spiel]
Q: Do you have a husband/fiancé/boyfriend? (9 times)
A: No, I’m just a student
Q: Do you have any children? (a whopping 12 times)
A: No, I’m still just a student
Here’s a picture of my El Finale. It pretty much sums up my entire trip in Nicaragua: me not having any clue what I’m doing, Nicas wildly entertained by me, and Onyema and Garrison laughing at me.