Geertje’s first six months in Las Lagunas
On her way to the schools, Geertje van der Pas, since this spring in charge of the Corazón education program, contemplates the differences ánd the similarities.
Hopping in the van to go to the schools, I realize again that the contrast with the hotel is enormous. Two different worlds linked by Hotel con Corazón. The hotel is nice, clean and cozy. Las Lagunas, the rural area on the outskirts of Granada where we run our tutoring program, is poor: small wooden houses with dirt floors, poor sanitation, some chickens, a pig or a lean horse and many, many children.
Yet I discover two similarities: the peace and the greenery. The atmosphere in the hotel is always relaxed and that is the same in Las Lagunas. And both locations have a view on the Mombacho Volcano. Actually this one is won by Las Lagunas. From the hotel the view is distorted with electric wires and you have to stand outside the hotel to see the Mombacho. In Las Lagunas you can enjoy this beautiful picture right from your hammock. I wonder if people who live here have time and attention to enjoy this view?
My husband Joost and I have been working half a year now at Hotel con Corazón. The hotel gets great reviews on TripAdviosr: “excellent”, “fantastic”, “nice staff”, but for the education program type kind of feedback does not exist. Our students do not post reviews on how they at last succeeded recognizing the letter ‘z’ or ‘t’, or how they enjoyed a computer game to make sums. Or the fact that their “profi” gave them a hug, which made him feel good. When I am at the schools, I see that the children are motivated; they really work hard and they are increasingly at ease with our tutors. The tutors notice that the children’s behavior has changed a lot: they no longer fight immediately, but try to solve problems with words instead. They have learned to have respect for the other, and for themselves.
At present Hotel con Corazón contracts eight tutors, one English teacher and an educational manager. Four tutors work at a daily basis at Bertha Gutierrez and the other half at San Pablo. The English teacher goes once a week to both schools and two mornings she works with 1st and 2nd graders in secondary school. She also teaches English to the hotel staff. The education team is made up of women only, which is not always easy. Chatter and gossip do occur, but it seems to be a lot better than last year. Skarleth, my counterpart and I are open about this “virus” (as they have called it themselves) and we talk about it individually and in group meetings, with a positive result. Everybody recognizes the improvement, but a male tutor would be more than welcome!
At the same time I struggle with the actual results we are achieving. How do we measure them? Attendance is important and easy to measure, but would I walk two hours through the pouring rain on a dirty slippery mud road to get extra lessons? Or would I not obey my father who wants me to help with the harvest? Or my mother when she asks me to look after my little sister, while she goes to the hospital with my brother? And so there are many other excuses, passing by every week. And that why attendance sometimes drops to 79 or 82%. But we are strict. When a child is really too often absent and we’ve talked to the parents more than once about this, a child may no longer participate in our program. However, this is never an easy decision to make.
Another instrument to measure the results is the reading and math test we conduct twice a year. The tests show that the children are advancing, some go quickly, others more slow. We also note that a majority of the children in our program have better scores than the children that don’t participate in our tutoring classes. But are these outcomes really the result of the Hotel con Corazón program? This is difficult to prove, because our education program is not a laboratory but a real life learning project.
A choice between education or love
I dare to say with certainty that our Corazón children definitely learn to read and write and that some of them otherwise would not have achieved this. Furthermore, I am convinced that the tutors -due to the personal attention they provide- encourage the older children to continue their education after primary school. At the start of the secondary school children are most at risk. In Nicaragua only primary school is compulsory by the government. This means that most children enter secondary school, but that -especially in rural areas- they drop out often because their parents need them to work at home or on the land. Or the young girls fall in love and further learning is suddenly not important any more. They get pregnant and believe in a future with the family. Unfortunately, the reality in Nicaragua is often a different one.
Therefore it is important to have role models in the community of Las Lagunas. Meyling is a good example. Meyling was born and raised in Las Lagunas and she is now studying at the University in Managua (UCA). She receives a 100% scholarship from the government because she had excellent results in primary school. However, because she lives in the countryside, transport is difficult (a forty minutes walk + a one hour bus) and too expensive for her family to pay. Hotel con Corazón now pays these costs. In exchange, Meyling works two Sundays in the hotel. And during her holidays she often helps with the tutoring classes. A role model at her best!
The education team in Granada and the board in the Netherlands have regular discussion on these topics. How do we measure the impact of our activities? How can we reduce dropouts in secondary education? How can we create more role models for the two communities?
Development is not easy and sustainable development cooperation is even harder. That explains these reveries. It’s hard work and it is slow. But we have happy guests and above all students, young people with a future ahead, who know a little better how they can improve their lives.