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The Road Less Traveled

March 2, 2013
By Sarah Bergman
If you have ever received a tour of Empowerment International´s (EI) Nicaragua operation, you have seen the inside of the activities center. You have probably walked a little way into Villa Esperanza, the single street which houses the majority of the kids in EI programs, and, if your tour was as recent as this past summer, you were also shown the blue-walled photo gallery, located only six blocks from Granada´s Central Park. This accounts for the majority of EI´s presence, but leaves out one crucial element of EI´s undertaking: the small rural community of Santa Ana.
The road to Santa Ana can quickly turn into a river

The road to Santa Ana can quickly turn into a river

Santa Ana de los Malacos is located about thirty minutes from the EI activities center. As the crow flies, the community is only about ten minutes away, but it feels like another world, remote and rural. Much of the time is on dirt roads, which  vary greatly depending on weather conditions. I´ve had the opportunity to travel to Santa Ana every Tuesday since I arrived in Granada mid-September. The journey is always an adventure. The first time I visited Santa Ana, it started to rain around 2 o´clock in the afternoon. We quickly packed up our things and dismissed the kids from tutoring. Even with our fast response to the rain, the dirt road out of the community was nothing but mud. We slid and spun like we were driving on ice, but we made it out without getting stuck.

In other trips, during the rainy season, our truck could not navigate the thick slippery mud and we had to take a horse-drawn carriage. Sometime in the middle of November, the rains gave way to the dry season, and our Tuesday commute now consists of twenty solid minutes of rolled up windows to keep out the thick clouds of dust.
Dusty Santa Ana (dry season)

Dusty Santa Ana (dry season)

Carla Velez is the EI team member in charge of Santa Ana. She has made the daily trips and now bi-weekly trips for five years now. Carla is responsible for the entire home visit program in Santa Ana. She spends her mornings visiting families in EI’s home visits program, helping children and families overcome any barriers to education. Her afternoons are spent with the children who come to the community center for tutoring, computer class, and to have some fun. Carla says, ¨The community has changed a lot, more kids and parents have taken an interest in sending their kids to school, many because they have been given the opportunity financially by EI to attend school. The travel into the community has always been very difficult but all the parents have helped me out. Parents have come to pick me up in horse-drawn carts when it´s been too muddy for EI´s truck; they are always available to help.¨
Carla navigating through mud to do her home visits

Carla navigating through mud to do her home visits

Santa Ana is home to 102 kids, about 80% of whom belong to Empowerment International’s programs. The rural nature of the community is such that these children mingle with turkeys, cows, pigs, and horses on their daily walk to the one-room school house located at the entrance to the community. Most of the parents who work, work in the campo or agriculture fields that surround the community. This could mean sugar-cane, peanuts, or wheat. If you are lucky enough to visit the community of Santa Ana, you will notice that the atmosphere is much more quiet and calm than that of Empowerment International’s urban barrio. But the reality of the houses and family situations are the same as in Granada. The importance of education, the struggles of impoverished families and their deep appreciation for Carla´s visits and EI´s support are apparent and ever present.

About the author:  Sarah Bertman is an Amigos Gap Year volunteer.  She speaks Spanish fluently.  She also teaches English and helps to coordinate projects and activities with the students.  She is planning to begin University in the next year.  EI is especially lucky to have her as a volunteer.

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