The Little Victories

This week is a light week in León because kids are on vacation, so that means no preschool and no women’s group. I figured it would be a good time to reflect on what I have done and learned so far. For starters, I have come to realize that comparing Nicaragua and home, or the U.S., is a pretty pointless exercise. I could spend all day using words like “better” or “worse” to describe the two, but who is to say one way of doing something is better than the other? Why is being on time better than being late, or washing clothes by machine better than by hand, or a private vehicle better than a bike? In a place where almost everything is unlike what I am used to- the language, the food, the heat, the education system- I believe that different is a more useful qualifier than better or worse. Which leads me to my next point… because so many things are different than what I am used to, it is nearly impossible to try to tackle similar problems with similar solutions. I came to this conclusion in the midst of frustration- I was frustrated because there was no discipline system in place in the preschool. Kids would hit each other, jump on top of the tables and escape from school during the day without so much as a no. I sympathized with the teacher because it is nearly impossible to control that many 4-year-olds all by yourself, but I figured it was about time to instill some rules. We came up with a system comparable to the infamous time out chair, where I would pull the naughty kid aside into a little corner room and talk to them about what they did wrong and tell them their classmates are their friends so we must treat them with respect. But, because physical punishment is so common in many of their homes, the kids were convinced that they would be smacked when they went into the room. They said things like ‘please don’t hit me’, and when I went to give them hugs, they flinched. My intention was not to terrify these kids, but that was what was happening. We have tried some other methods of discipline with some success, but my big takeaway was that we are not in the U.S. anymore. I cannot treat kids the same because their experiences are so different.

This week, we will be starting a mural inside of the preschool and I would love to incorporate some symbols and slogans dedicated to respect- respecting each other, respecting the environment, and respecting ourselves. One thing these kids have taught me is the importance of instilling positive messages in young, impressionable minds. They soak up everything, and unfortunately some of what they see is violence in their own homes. We have been trying to reverse some of these images with ‘pleases and thank yous’ and hugs and congratulations. I know it sounds simple, and actually pretty corny, but I believe investing in youth is the best thing we can do for our communities and our planet. Their little spongy brains are already spitting out pleases and thank yous automatically, words that were not even part of their vocabulary 5 weeks ago.

With that in mind, my final big takeaway is not very big at all- appreciate the little victories. It is so easy to be fed up with a neighborhood because only 7 people showed up to a community workday, but for this community that is a success. Seven is more than zero, thirty minutes late is better than 2 hours, and a Spanish sentence almost grammatically correct is better than not trying to say it at all. That is not my way of denying that things can be tough and that the poverty is not hard to swallow. It is. But, I try to remind myself that eliminating Nicaragua’s poverty is not my job while I am down here. Not even close. Nor is it “saving the children” as Katie so beautifully referenced, or providing hope to the hopeless. Because, these children do not need saving, and believe it or not, they are not without hope. The most I can do is try to lead by my own example, and learn along the way.

I am sad to report only 3 more weeks left in León, more updates to come!

Mary Maloney
León, Nicaragua