Maddie Birky and Brianne Brenneman have service placements in Estelí, the 3rd largest city in Nicaragua. Maddie serves with an organization that has a Bibliobus-a mobile library program for school children especially in the region of Miraflor outside the city of Estelí. Brianne serves 3 days a week at Escuela de Cristal, a private school that has many children with disabilities or other challenges, and 2 days a week at a small Centro de Salud/public health center.
JOURNAL EXCERPTS BY BRIANNE BRENNEMAN:
My First Day at Work: “Today was hard. I wasn’t expecting my first day at work to be so draining but it was. There are 135 students and 15 workers-including three administrative people and 2 cooks [at the school where I am serving]. 30% of the students have a disability and many more come from homes filled with violence, single parent homes or have family caught up with drugs. It is loud, chaotic and very fulfilling work.”
Typical Day at Work: “I have three different types of days but I am going to just talk about my Monday and Tuesday typical day. I arrive at Escuela de Cristal at 8am and I welcome the kids into my classroom. I teach alongside Christopher although I work specifically with the special needs kids and he gives me direction on what to do with them. I have two boys with Down Syndrome and two girls who have been misdiagnosed with ‘a little bit of Down Syndrome,’ and a boy with Asperger’s.
I work on math with them by drawing circles and having them count the circles. I light a candle and have them each blow it out from far away. I have them blow up balloons and learn ways to make different sounds when the air is let out. I have them color pictures and sometimes one of the students eats the crayons. I have them blow bubbles in cups filled with soap and water. Everyday someone drinks it instead of blowing bubbles. We also play a lot of soccer….By 3:30pm I am wiped out but I try to stay until all the kids are picked up which is usually isn’t until 4:00pm. My job is testing, harder than I could have imagined and I have extreme respect for everyone who works there. I am forming bonds with my co-workers as well as my students…”
Days at the Centro de Salud: “I started at the [Centro de Salud/health center] today and it was monumental. The day started out slow but Carla, the doctor I work with, was always willing to explain each patient’s problem with me….She has been working there for twelve years and she told me that she loves her profession…She is really helpful when I have questions and she lets me see everything…I got to listen to the heartbeat of a 38 week pregnant woman’s baby. She taught me the difference between the sound the placenta makes and the sound the heart of the baby makes. It was breathtaking…I am glad I am doing service at Escuela de Cristal because this [time at the Centro de Salud] isn’t service-it’s me learning more about the profession I might go into. I am thankful for what both places are teaching me and I know I will leave Estelí knowing a lot more than I did when I arrived.”
JOURNAL EXCERPTS BY MADDIE BIRKY:
All in a Day’s Work: “…We have what I like to call ‘office days’ and ‘visit days.’ Office days start at around 9am and the first part of the morning is dedicated to making a list of things that need to be done that day in preparation for our next school visit. We work from 9am to noon, take 30 minutes for lunch and then work until 4 or 5pm. The work we do varies greatly. I’ve spent the time doing everything from memorizing a children’s song, to drawing an angry hamburger 4 times. I’ve even helped write a story with my co-worker, Isamar. Visit days are very different. On visit days we have to be at the office at 7am which is when we load up the bus with books and anything else we’ve created or need for each visit. Then we drive 30 or 40 minutes outside of Estelí to one of 8 different rural schools in Miraflor. After 2 hours at the first school, we pack up and drive to one more school (two schools per day). At each school, we split up the grades depending on how many people we have working that day. Usually we have pre-school through 2nd graders together and 3rd through 6th together. The two hours are spent reading to the kids, singing with them, coloring with them, solving riddles together and then, of course, reading books on the bibliobus. We usually arrive back at our office in Estelí at 12:30 or 1pm completely exhausted. So we eat lunch, clean off the books, repair anything that needs it and finish off with a short group meeting where we process what went well that day and what didn’t, ending at 3pm.”
Dancing and the Power of Music: “Today we began what was my second round of visits to the schools in the Bibliobus. We were scheduled to visit 3 schools, but after we left the first school and arrived at the second, we found it closed. So when we arrived at the third school much earlier than planned we set up early and had a lot of time to kill. We had brought a large speaker with us, so our driver plugged in his phone, played some music and our team started to dance. The children were supposed to be at recess, but they quickly appeared at the door, crowding to see what all the commotion was about. I quickly noticed one girl bouncing up and down to the beat so I danced my way over to her and she immediately broke out into dance moves impressive for a 9 year old. Within minutes almost the entire school was dancing in circles, relishing in our spontaneous dance party.
Afterwards, the kids were so much more attentive to our planned activities. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more productive the project I’m working with could be if the children had access to music even just once a week in school. There are countless studies showing the correlation between music students and higher learning abilities. Today’s experience made me incredibly happy but left me feeling helpless and wishing I could help provide these children with the opportunities they deserve.”
Different Church, Same Homesickness: “So yesterday, I decided to join my mom and sister for mass. My family here is Catholic and they go to mass every Sunday. I’ve only been to mass once in the U.S. and it was a long time ago, so this was basically a first for me. The mass took place at a small church inside of a nursing home for the elderly without families but there were younger families in attendance as well. Communion was just as I remembered it being, and the sermon and scripture reading was fairly typical but hard to follow. What surprised me was the music and singing. There were two girls in their 20’s and 2 guys also the same age who played guitar and sang songs or hymns that were fairly “current” and just not at all traditional from what I could tell…
When it came time for individual prayer on our knees, I closed my eyes and a strong wave of homesickness overcame me. But what calmed me were not the words of the preacher like back in Diriamba at my Baptist church. What calmed me were the lyrics of this song that rushed into my head and eased my heart: ‘Come and fill our hearts with your peace. You alone, O Lord, are Holy. Come and fill our hearts with your peace, Hallelujah.’ In that moment, the Lord did send a wave of peace over me. It went away after a short while, but it came to me when I needed it most and I’ll forever be grateful for the many and countless times I’ve seen God’s face and felt Her presence here in Nicaragua.”
Dualism of Being: “ ‘There is something beautiful, mysterious, and pleasing in just being. Staring into space, feeling a cool breeze on my face, and relishing in the pace that tingles from the tips of my fingers to my toes. I smile, taking solace in the fact that I be She, made in the image of God Herself.’
I wrote this yesterday morning when I was sitting at the kitchen table after having washed my laundry by hand by myself for the first time. I loved just being all weekend. It was so refreshing. I know there will be many times in my future when I will long for that moment, a precious print in my life when the only thing I had to do was be…”