Building Classrooms, Changing Lives
Mario Pizzuto is a fourth-year applied linguistics student.
Hello, my name is Mario Pizzuto and I’m a fourth-year applied linguistics major and team leader of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to El Chile, Nicaragua.
In the indigenous community of El Chile, I came face-to-face with many differences from my everyday life here in Ottawa. It was a new experience for me to spend a week without running water, surrounded by animals that were both domestic and wild (horses, cows, monkeys, pigs, SLOTHS!) While the breathtaking landscape and small-town feel was something that Guatemala and Nicaragua share, I left the trip awestruck by the distinct cultures that both places have.
Our group lived with a local family who was extremely friendly and supportive. All of our meals were prepared with fresh produce reflecting the local cuisine. I remember noticing that even the foods we share seemed fresher and more flavourful than the things we eat here in Canada. The perks of locally grown food!
We performed our service at the local elementary school, which was undergoing some repairs. The school has classrooms for students from grades 1-6, although the furniture and learning conditions are unlike what I saw growing up in Canada. Some classrooms are divided by a mere sheet of metal that hardly separates them from each other; the desks are worn down and some of the whiteboards don’t have enough working markers to really be effective. Yet, even in these strenuous circumstances on education, the children who go to this school seem so much more interested and invested in their education than I ever was as a child.
The community is in the process of building another structure that will house another classroom, opening space for more students to have access to education. One part of the project involved replacing the roof on the existing school and refurbishing the windows. Our group cleaned and painted the beams that will be used to construct the new roof, as locals worked overhead to remove the existing roof. We also removed rust from the existing grates that were windows for the school, and applied paint to make them look a little bit sharper. The work was fun and it felt good to support the project in ways that the community had identified as important.
Outside of our service, we also did several fun excursions including a scenic hike up a mountain (not a hill – a mountain) that eventually lead us to one of the highest peaks in the whole area. The view from the clouds was unbelievable. We visited the largest coffee plantation in Central America called Selva Negra, where we learned about the process of making coffee and the conditions that coffee pickers live in. We saw the ladies who were reviving the art of weaving. We participated in an indigenous ceremony with members of the community.
These things and our nightly reflections were what really made the trip so much more than just a volunteering trip. And that is what makes ASB such an incredible, worthwhile experience.
Submitted by Mario Pizzuto, a fourth-year applied linguistics student.
To learn more about ASB, visit the website.