“Do you want to see our school?” he asks.
This from our guide and owner of the basic wooden huts we call home.
“We’ll be back in five minutes,” he says, but he is talking Nicaraguan time.
Marvin has brought us to a clearing in the jungle. We have hiked for two long hours through dense and murky terrain, hot and humid, our earlier coconut milk hydration already sweated from our pores. My brother and I and one Canadian couple stand here resting, wiping our brows, and thinking about the monkeys we have seen – capuchin, spider, and somewhere in that canopy of interlaced foliage high above, the howlers wait unobserved.
Marvin’s helper, Samuel, has macheted our way to this spot. There is a path of sorts, but the muck is simply too deep and cloying for us to risk. So he has cut a pathway of our own, and now we look upon a pasture green with grass and sparsely planted trees. This land – the jungle and the pasture and for many acres on – once belonged to Marvin’s father. Now it provides a simple haven for the traveler who hates tourists, the loner who hates crowds, and urban dwellers seeking refuge. We came here from San Carlos, Nicaragua by traveling on the river, Rio San Juan. We had to remind the boat driver to let us off, or he would simply have motored past this hidden spot of beauty.
The school is a surprise.
We hike across the pasture to the buildings in the distance. On our way we stop to collect a bag of lemons for Marvin’s cook. We crouch our way beyond the barbed-wire fence that marks the school’s land – acreage sold by Marvin’s father to the Nicaraguan government for this sole purpose: to help the rural children. It is the only reason he would let go this parcel of truly precious earth.
“The buildings were begun seven years ago. We finished this one just last year.”
The buildings are exquisite. The school is a compound really, almost like an army base, with single-story, rectangular constructions made of wood as hard as teak and polished to a deep, rust-red shine. Everything looks new. And every polished building serves a single purpose: a dormitory for the children, a kitchen, a dining room, and classrooms for the learning of the trades.
We meet the school’s principal, who generously answers our every question, and we begin to see the immense source of pride this school represents for Marvin, for the principal, for the children, and for all of Nicaragua.
“The new government has done a good thing,” Marvin says. “We do not have big Universities. These are rural people. They cannot afford to go off somewhere to school. The children come here instead. They live here. They eat here. Everything is provided for them so they can learn a trade.”
I think of how we used to have Trade Schools in the States – an affordable option to the more academic degrees, and a practical solution to unemployment – providing highly usable skills to many young members of our society.
“We offer four disciplines here,” the principal elaborates. “There is furniture construction, building construction, mechanics, and agriculture.”
We head for the cabinet makers, and soon come upon a group of sixteen kids hard at work, the unmistakable sound of lathes, table saws, jigsaws, and sanders providing a buzz-filled immersion experience. Fifteen kids – ages 16 and up; fourteen boys and one girl – all wearing hard-hats. They are as intrigued with us as we are with them, and we spend a while watching them work before group photos are taken all around.
We visit a classroom, where all the kids put down their books and listen attentively as the teacher explains our presence. Half the class runs to the front for another photo op with the gringos, and we are applauded warmly as we turn to leave. Their respect for us amazes, and we reciprocate sincerely with our own applause for them.
I cannot provide a similar, state-side comparison.
After further interactions with the staff, and further photo rounds, we return into the jungle to search again for monkeys. A sloth moves expeditiously upward, hoping to avoid further observation. But the image that sticks with me, when this exhausting day is done, is that of one small school in a clearing in the jungle, and a group of serious kids so very hard at work learning vital skills that will turn them into valued participants in their own community.
“We are very proud the school was built upon our land,” Marvin concludes.
It is, indeed… a quite good thing.
by Joel R. Dennstedt
Author – Journalist – World Traveler
Visit him on his Facebook Page
or at www.joelrdennstedt.com
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