My Journey: By Bernadette Garcia, part 1
- 12 August 2014
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Bernadette Garcia (pictured here with Luis Fernando) is a recent school leaver from St Andrew's and St Bride's in East Kilbride. She spent a year with SCIAF funded project 'Special Families' in Nicaragua.
In two parts, she will share her story.
the year before when SCIAF flew out the founder, Sister Rebecca Trujillo and one of the psychologists, Claudia Meza to Scotland to be involved in various activities, some of them, giving talks about the work that they do. My mum and my sister attended one of these and being aware that I was on the search for a Latin American organisation of this kind, suggested that I should contact them and find out about the possibility of volunteering.
I did just that and a little over a year later I found myself on a flight to a country which I had never been to, where I knew no one and to a culture that was far from my own. Despite these daunting facts of wandering into the unknown, from the beginning I felt thrilled and passionate about starting this journey which I knew would soon become an unforgettable year.
Of the various programmes that run in Special Families, I chose to be involved in the school, which consisted of only one classroom. My day was split into two. The Primary aged kids (5-12years old) would come to school at 8am and finish at 12pm. This programme is called ‘Rayitos’ meaning ‘Rays of Sun’ and consists of various activities including maths, Spanish, P.E, art, health and morals. The children are split into three different groups which are mainly arranged according to ability however because the children have such different needs, it complicates this and makes the teachers’ job a lot harder. Each group has a teacher and I, at different times, assisted all of them.
Sometimes I would be asked to take a child on a one to one basis or the teacher would ask me to work with a smaller group of children at one end of the table while the teacher took the others. Some of the disabilities which the children had included autism of varying degrees, down’s syndrome, language problems, behavioural problems and one of the little girls was deaf and mute. There is also a classroom assistant who is deaf and mute so sign language is used on a daily basis and most of the children have a basic understanding of sign language because of this. In my time there I was able to also learn basic Nicaraguan sign language and by the end of my trip I could express myself and almost hold a conversation, something I am proud of.
It is so easy to become attached to such affectionate children and after only a short period of time I knew it would be so difficult to leave them, needless to say, it was. However each of these children hold such a special place in my heart and I’m sure that with the aid of my thousands of photos, cards and drawings, it’ll be enough to keep me going until my next (and I’m trying to make it happen asap) visit to Rayitos!
My lunch break would be from noon until around 1pm or 1.30pm. After that it would be time for the older class to come in, a class of all females aged between 12 and 40 years old. This programme was called ‘Progreso’ (Progress) and despite the ages of the majority of students being well beyond that of primary school kids, their education is at a very basic level. All of these women had additional needs and disabilities of different kinds and were once part of the Rayitos class and moved into Progreso when they reached 12 years old, or they had never previously been to school. Aside from the academic work, being a very vulnerable group, the girls also did a lot of work surrounding self confidence and life skills such as discussing their qualities and those of their peers.
They learned dance routines and performed in front of audiences, learned what the colours of the traffic lights symbolise and learned to handle money. All of these things helped the women to become a little more independent and they always enjoyed when we organised something a little bit different, even if it was just taking them down the road to see the traffic lights! I always found the atmosphere in class to be a very upbeat, friendly and it was rare that the students ever had disagreements. They were some of the kindest people I had met and loved any opportunity to do my hair whilst quizzing me on Scotland. I bonded very well with the girls of Progreso and it was always so humbling to be in their company, I am proud to call them my friends!
Look out for Bernadette's next blog coming soon!
Below you can see Maria Jose, who I worked with regularly, being looked after by two older boys and a group of girls from the Progreso group showing off their creations.