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Polly Wilding 2000 – A volunteer placement at the Santa Rosa School, Managua

Monday, 18 September, 2000

In March 2000, Polly Wilding from Worcester began part-time volunteer work for the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (Network of Women Against Violence) in Managua, Nicaragua. She was there for six months and to make use of her free time she volunteered to teach English to a few teachers at the Santa Rosa School. On the 5th May she was introduced to the school by the SRF treasurer who happened to be in the region. Not too surprisingly, the school used her visit as an excuse to put on an ‘acto’ – an acto to welcome Polly. Here is her account of that first visit to the school and a couple of photos from the day.

We made our way punctually to the school at 9am, despite the Nicaraguan tendency to be late
– Martin had made this mistake before, breezed in an hour late to find all the kids sweltering in
their costumes … waiting.

They had promised us a presentation from the band and the dancers. This was definitely in honour of all the members of the Santa Rosa Fund. In this respect I felt a little like an intruder, having not actually done anything for the school as yet, and riding on someone else’s glory. Luckily I had a large camera to hide behind and Martin’s assurance that the teachers and pupils liked any excuse to display their prize-winning carnival style sets.

We were sat at the end of the schoolyard along with the headteacher Virginia, with the entire school lined up alongside the edges forming an avenue into which the band marched. About 15 uniformed boys make up the largely drum-based band including a very large xylophone. Three girls head the band with their big lipstick smiles and bright outfits, twirling their sticks and performing a range of dance styles.

The hundreds of kids alongside seem genuinely interested in seeing the performance too. In between sneaking looks at us, they gaze intently at what is happening before them. After 15 minutes of very Latin influenced movement, there comes the (for me) culturally more interesting bit, when the girls dance to the traditional Marimba – an old folkloric dance with its roots in meditation.

A large bundle of letters is proudly presented to Martin, to be passed on to pupils of the school in Plymouth. As some souvenirs are presented and words of thanks are made from the headteacher, the choreographer, Modesto, and Marta Elena (who will get her teaching certificate in June), the odd child slides up and presents us with a forgotten or just-finished letter.

After this is all over we are ushered into the staff room, where a continuous stream of the braver
children in their semi-bashful manner come and ask us the odd question, kiss us on the cheek or
get a signed paper. Meanwhile, we’re dying for that Pepsi!

We then get a passionate tale from Virginia about resisting the offer of painting the school by Coke and Pepsi (which includes the emblazoning of the logo on the side of the school for free!) and making a stand – “This is not a bar or a fiesta, it’s a school!” Finally with a bit of cunning Virginia managed to bully the Ministry of Education to provide the necessary paint, 9 gallons of which are now proudly standing in her office, to paint the classrooms like a school.

The lasting impression I got from this hour or so at the school, is their overwhelming enthusiasm
and warmth. As an outsider, despite the feeling that such odds are stacked against them, not least the pitiable wages, lack of resources and respect, and unmanageably large class sizes, the majority of them have an amazing amount of energy and fight in them. You also really get the feeling, that just giving a little can mean quite a lot.”

Polly went on to start teaching English to some of the pupils rather than the teachers as she had expected. The staff are either too busy or would simply like to learn English as a sideline rather than as something which is likely to save their job. In future, taking Polly’s advice, we might look for volunteers who can offer other forms of teaching or activity rather than just teaching English to a small number of staff.


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