In July of this year, two Chapel Hill students, Gillie Weeks and Lena Cohen, decided to take their Rural School Partnership a step further and visit their sister school, Río Negro, for a week. These amazing girls stepped out of their comfort zone and into the world of these rural Nicaraguan children. The result was a transformative experience for all involved. We asked Lena to share her experience here.
My friend Gillie and I joined the Rural School Partnership program after visiting San Ramón in 9th grade on a school trip that SCSRN organized. Now in 12th grade, we lead a club at our high school dedicated to supporting and interacting with our sister school, Río Negro. This July, we returned to San Ramón to visit Río Negro.
Gillie and I planned to spend three mornings at Río Negro, playing games with the students and learning about their community. Schools in San Ramón were on break the week we visited, but the 5th and 6th grade students were invited to school to participate in activities with us. To our pleasant surprise, students of all ages, and even some parents, were at Río Negro when we arrived. Understandably, the kids were extremely shy at first- they were reluctant to even share their names. Luckily, the teacher helped us lead an icebreaker and the students slowly began to open up. Over the next three days, the activities we led included drawing maps of the community, outlining a typical day’s schedule, and drawing the most important aspects of the community. It was really interesting to learn about their community and get a glimpse of what their lives are like. Even though I knew Río Negro was in a rural community, I was very surprised by how spread the community was. Many students had to walk about an hour from their homes to get to school. Some of the most fun was had after the pre-planned activities, when we played games like Duck-Duck-Goose and soccer outside the school. We taught the students Sharks and Minnows and they showed us fun Nicaraguan games whose names I cannot remember! I was struck by how welcoming and kind all of the students and parents were.
We also learned from the teachers and parents how they had chosen to use the money from the Rural School Partnership. They had purchased metal bars to cover the windows and doors of Río Negro to prevent people from breaking into the school and stealing supplies. This caught both Gillie and I by surprise- we would not have guessed that bars on the door were necessary. This made us really appreciate SCSRN’s model of having the people who know the community best, teachers and parents, make decisions about what the school needs each year.
Before leaving San Ramón, Gillie and I visited Doña Ivania, our host-mom from the 9th grade school trip. Even though it had been 3 years since we last saw her, Doña Ivania remembered us and we spent a while in her living room catching up. Staying with a host family is a great way to form relationships in a community, and be more than just a tourist.
Visiting Río Negro was an incredible experience! I highly recommend a trip with SCSRN to anyone who values cross-cultural learning and wants see to see sustainable, respectful community development in action.
Thanks so much to Gillie and Lena (and their amazingly supportive mothers!) for taking the initiative to engage with their RSP school in new and creative ways! If you’re interested in becoming a Rural School Partner, click here to learn more, or contact us.