~ Empower. Inspire. Encourage. Innovate. Enhance. ~ Autorizar. Inspirar. Animar. Innovar. Realzar.~

The next morning Ruth and I returned to the Panama School.

Getting the suitcase up to Panama was my next adventure. We rounded Oscar one of the men that works at La Mariposa asking if he could carry my bag to the truck. We arranged for a ride from La Mariposa to Panama rather than even bother to fight with the packed micro-bus. Oscar was more than willing to help. He scooped that heavy suitcase up and tossing it over his shoulders atop his head, then we heard him grumble and we knew what happened. That damn suitcase was heavy! He managed though all the way to the truck and tossed it in the back.

Ruth and I hopped up in the back with the bag and rode over to the school. Sitting on the back of that truck I felt like I did as a kid. You never see people ride in the backs of truck in the USA anymore and here I was wind blowing throw my hair, rain pouring down my face, with a birds-eye view of La Concepcion, San Juan and Panama. Despite the weather you cannot help but be swept away by the glorious country side filled with plush green tropical vegetation and steep mountains and deep valleys. It is incredible.

Arriving at the school we wheeled in the bag…to the back of the room. The kids all took their seats smiling wide eyed at us in anticipation over what was in that giant back in the back of their classroom. Ruth was amazing in assisting me with translation. I was excited to be there, emotions screaming all through me, sadness from the poverty, excitement for fulfilling my dream, nerves standing before strangers and knowing I lack the ability to communicate in their language with my true heart. She did it for me.

We told the kids we had letters from a classroom in the USA to share with them. We explained where I came from and talked about it being a very cold place. They giggled a little at the sounds of it. Then we passed out the letters from the Vassalboro Community School students. They were excited to receive them but a little confused as they weren’t sure what was on them. You see the children here go to school later so they are older 7-10 years old and many are just learning to read and write in Spanish let alone this complicated group of letters on the page in English. I did translate each one for them and the teacher said I had done an excellent job. It wasn’t until we got to ‘corn on the cob’ that she looked at me funny…I realized how I phrased it didn’t make sense and the teacher, the student and I laughed when I made the hand gestured and they realized what it was…

The kids loved their letters after each had been read to them, and they loved the pictures that had been drawn for them too. Picking their letters up and pointing and sharing it with their friends.

Then it was time to give them their gifts. We explained that the backpacks were from the Vassalboro Community School and that the students worked really hard stuffing them. One by one placing a backpack into each of these children’s hands my heart leapt with joy, this was the moment I had been waiting for…A small piece of me was being pulled in another direction at the same time…more on that in a moment.
The children smiled and said ‘gracias’ as each bag was handed to them and opened them up inspecting the contents. A bible, notebook, packet on North America, Maine and all the fun stuff that makes up Maine, a ruler, pencils, colored pencils, sharpener, pens, erasers, scissors, homemade soap, and a glue stick…a the glue stick that was fun to explain! They rolled it out and looked at it like it was lip gloss and we had the darnedest time trying to figure out the Spanish word for glue stick. When we finally did they laughed again.

Then it was time to write back to the Maine kids. Each student took out their pencil and paper not from the backpack but from the one they had and began writing. The learning level in the classroom was interesting to observe as some were speedy and had excellent penmanship and others had a difficult time with writing and spelling. I noticed a few children that seemed to just not be interested. Watching these children it reminded me of my Special Education days. I realized that the education system is challenging enough in Nicaragua and though it is good it is severely behind and they are so impoverished at this location that a lot is overlooked or unheard of. One little girl was staring of in space and not writing not talking just seemed lost. I thought this is where in the American school system someone says hmmm maybe she should be observed more closely or tested for a learning disability. Not here not in this school. This little girl will likely struggle and remain right in this room for as long as possible as no one really knows what the issue may be or is equipped or educated in helping her, which broke my heart.

As I went around the room talking to the kids and taking their pictures I noticed little things about each one that made him or her unique. Kids are kids everywhere you go and some are friendly, some are shy, some are little flirts and others are hams, as was the case with these children. They wanted to touch me, my hair, my skin and my camera. They were curious and as they were curious, I showed I was too touching back in sharing more. The kids seem to come together from poverty but varying levels within that poverty. Some of the kids look healthy, well feed and dressed and fresh. Others are in rough looking clothes that are tattered and too small, their shoes if they have them are too tight, and their little faces are gaunt and soiled. Everyone has a, cough, everyone has runny noses and red eyes ((this is the volcanic ash I mentioned in my last blog)), everyone has stained teeth they are almost brown over the white from the water and air being so bad here. And no one can afford dental care so don’t even think about that…Some of the kids are in uniforms and some are in barely anything but ALL OF THEM ARE ADORABLE.

In an hour 20 letters were placed in my hand one at time by a smiley brown eye child. We told the kids we would be back in two days to finish the picture part of their project and that they should to bring their colored pencils and sharpeners to school with them that day, and headed back to La Mariposa.

That night in my room I cried myself to sleep. I thought here I had gone through a great deal of trouble to get the backpacks to the kids but in my mind I was revisiting the past two days, the condition of the environment, their life on the mountain, the poverty, the condition of the school, and how modest and barren everything seemed and I asked myself…Is it enough?

My friends at La Mariposa were companionate and reassured me that I had done a wonderful thing and that it was perfectly normal to feel the way I was feeling. They cheered me up by reminding me of the glue stick story. I still felt an emptiness in my soul, like all the riches in the world wouldn’t fix it, where would I start if I had money…Then reality, I did what I came to do and it was the best that I, Julianna Sterling could do with what, I had and it did help.

The rain prevented us from returning for a few days as it continued to get worse before it got better. When I finally did get to go back we had a blast finishing the pictures. Ruth bought some white paper in San Marcos for me to bring up to the kids, and I passed it out to them. At first they stared at the paper like what does she want me to draw…Then they started carefully drawing in the very corners these little tiny pictures in pencil. Even though they had all the colored pencils they could imagine they wouldn’t use them or spread out on the page. The teacher had to keep reminding them “mass grande” and motion with her hand to cover the page. She would repeat “mucho colores” and they reluctantly took a color or two out.

Watching that all transpire I realized that American kids, adults too, are wasteful. We think nothing of writing on a whole page throwing it away and starting over…we think nothing of using up all the colors or being careless with them…because we come from the land of plenty. Sitting in the classroom that day I realized I too was still a big waster watching them made me really reevaluate my wastefulness. From that day forward I wrote smaller in my own notebook and used my eraser and both sides of the paper, I also didn’t care if a scribble or spot was on my paper.

They finished their pictures they brought them up to me and had their picture taken so I could match them up to the letters later. When they were finished they giggled and played, then sang me a song as I walked out the door. Hopping on Fernando’s’ dirt bike for the ride home, I felt full with joy over having accomplished what I wanted to, and as I squeezed my eyes shut freaking out inside on the bike, I told myself next year; different class, same school, same project and opened my eyes and enjoyed the ride.
As Told By Jules: Journeys in Central America and beyond

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