Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moving on a bit early, no regrets

I have decided to head for home early.  I loved my experience overall and I tried my best.
My Resignation Letter:

November 16, 2010


Dear Superiors,


            After extended deliberation, I have decided to resign from my position as an agriculture volunteer in Peace Corps Nicaragua. I will be returning to the United States to prepare myself for the next major step in my career. I am applying for a doctoral program in Public Policy which should begin in August of 2011.

            I do not regret the experience I have had in Nicaragua and I will carry what I have learned with me throughout life. Overall, I feel that I had a beneficial experience and I did what I could for the benefit of my host community. However, my current low workload and plateau in personal growth have led me to believe that staying in Nicaragua is no longer the most responsible choice. In brief, I made the decision to resign because the disadvantages have started to outweigh the utility of my presence in the community. Most days my only tasks involve socializing, while I aspire to be involved in technical assistance and education. I have observed that my services are not in high demand within my village. My community demonstrates a dependency on receiving gifts and I feel that local organizations may be more effective communicators in the local culture. Furthermore, I feel that I cannot continue working completely alone, without a reliable counterpart organization.

            My work reports should be reflective of the tremendous effort I have put forth throughout my first year of service. I stand firmly behind the development ideals of the U.S. Peace Corps, yet I feel that I have exhausted my remaining motivation. I will leave with great respect for the Peace Corps and lots of friendship in my community in Jinotega.




Michele Aquino

AG 50, Jiguina, Jinotega

Coffee harvest

The picking has already started up here in Jinotega.  This morning I passed a coffee drying plant on the road to Managua (un beneficio seco).  There was a large crowd frantically pushing against the plant's front gate.  Hands were waving with emotion for a chance to work.  The scene made me think of photos and movies that depict the depression era in the United States.  The bosses would pick the workers needed for that day...perhaps at random.  Well, this economic reality is here today in Nicaragua.  The coffee harvest provides lots of work, but it seems, without looking up the numbers, that unemployment is still a huge problem.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Little Library

As suerte would have it, my digital camera's memory chip seems to have a virus...oh the joy of always using poorly maintained public computers!  So this brief post will not include the adorable photos of rural Nicaraguan kids reading.  Yes, although most of these youngsters like the pictures more than the words, I have a growing number of students that are being exposed to books!

After over a year of living in my community, I am surprised to say that a small (38 books and counting...) community library based out of a small cloth bag is my most fulfilling and successful (by my count) project.  Largely because of a little cartoon monkey named Curious Jorge, the little ones walk out to the farm where I am living to borrow books.  I thought that the books would quickly disappear and I would have to go house to house awkwardly taking back the family's new-found treasure.  To my delight, debunking my pessimism, I have been lending the books for over two months without losing ANY.

The details:

1. Each child is supposed to get a library card with their name and the title of socio, or member.  This has proven unnecessary and more of a hassle because most of the kids are so young, but it was attempted at least.
2. One 11 year old girl helps me control the notebook, in which we record all the members and which books get checked out on any given day.
3. Each book has a number written inside the front cover, which we use to record who has what.
4. The kids are given a due date one week from the day they borrow and they are only allowed to borrow one book at a time.
5. The kids are supposed to pay 1 peso (5 cents in U$) to borrow the book...but collecting this has been a challenge.
6. The kids are encouraged to care for each book so that they can continue borrowing and sharing the books with others...

The idea of charging to borrow the book was:
-to eliminate irresponsible members
-to encourage saving and choosing wisely how to spend money
-to build ownership of the books; the students would themselves be financing the purchase of each new book

I have found that parents are telling the kids they cannot participate for the cost of borrowing, so I am very forgiving about this fee.  I am the one financing these books at this point anyhow...
Behavior change is slow, so one must understand that.  Parents may not see the value of their children reading, but the smiles I see expresses the value right away.  The children cannot practice reading if they do not have access to books!  And for an economic comparison, the fee of 1 peso (1 Nica cordoba), is the same cost of a popsicle sold at the local junk food shop...and the kid's seem to suck on at least one popsicle per day.

I have also found that the group that has formed is a healthy, positive outlet from the not-so-dynamic daily life of these children.  They can come read, we have made popcorn, we have colored, played frisbee, and tomorrow they will get a chance to try some Pop Rocks that I brought from the States.  Attracted to visit for the books, the kids are eager to participate in other games and learning activities as well.  One book is world atlas that the kids (and adults) get to read to learn where Nicaragua is in the world.  Que bueno!

I have written a short, bilingual children's book about the coffee process, which contrasts the experience of being around coffee in Central American and the States.  I am currently thinking about having the local kids try to illustrate it.  If it would be a possibility to publish this book, I would like to distribute it for free to schools around Nicaragua.

Va pues,

Jinotega, Nicaragua

*Special thanks to my parents and my Tía Diana for her generous contribution to the library.