We Are Islands – Islands of Hope

This project is about hope.

The hope that comes with learning what you need to get ahead. For poor children in Nicaragua just being able to go to school is a challenge. Pueblito Canada and FUNARTE are two organizations that are working hard to help improve those children’s chances at getting a good education. We can help them by raising some of the funds they need to keep doing the work they do. Which is why I’m donating part of the proceeds from all sales to Pueblito Canada for their project with FUNARTE.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you would like to learn more, please read on.

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Why Nicaragua?

We all know that for a country to develop and thrive in the current economy it must have a well-educated, literate, technically capable population. But not all countries have the resources to help their populations thrive. Nicaragua is one of those countries. Already struggling, since the 1980s this beautiful Central American country has endured the devastating effects of a civil war, hurricanes, tropical storms and floods and landslides which destroyed homes, roads, bridges and agricultural land.

With much of its infrastructure destroyed, Nicaragua has struggled to provide many of its people access to the basic necessities of life, including food, housing, clean water and education. The situation is at its worst in many of the rural areas, and the impact is felt most by poor families and children. In poor areas the children are malnourished. Many do not attend school because their families cannot afford uniforms or the transportation to get them there. Nor can they do without the income their children can earn working.

The effects of lack of education reach beyond the individual child and their family. A good education for every child, regardless of income, where they live, or their family background is an essential building block in the creation of a better future – for themselves, their families and their country. Without knowledge it is impossible to grow, or choose a path for the future. Without people who have skills it is impossible to move beyond being a subsistence economy – or to grow an economy well.

Pueblito and FUNARTE work together to help some of those children, to provide nourishment for body and mind. They are working to make those children strong both in body and in skills. By donating to Pueblito’s projects with FUNARTE you can help make a difference not just for a child, but for a society.

The Figures:

Figures gathered by UNICEF show that in 2007 one in every three children had some degree of chronic malnutrition, and nine percent suffer from severe malnutrition. Many do not have access to clean water, or good sanitation. Poverty affects the ability to children to go to school, since many families cannot afford to send them or to lose the money they earn when they are working instead of learning. Only 29 percent of children finished primary education (Grade 6) in 2007 with many dropping out after Grade 1, and efforts to improve the situation still face the barriers created by lack of classrooms, teachers, training, transportation and funds.

Basic information on Nicaragua can be found here.

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Pueblito – Reaching Out to Help

For a small organization Pueblito makes a big difference in the lives it touches. The organization began in 1974 with a small group of Canadians under the leadership of Peter Tacon. Touched by the plight of homeless children in Costa Rica, they established a children’s village designed to provide family-like homes to care for the children. Since then, even as the organization changed and new projects were developed, worked on and completed, Pueblito has stayed true to the vision which guided its work in those first years. It has found ways to improve the lives of children and young people struggling with poverty, and worked directly with local communities and families so that they can learn, share knowledge, and build local resources. Projects may end, but they leave behind the foundations for a better life.

Pueblito has spent many years working to help youth and communities in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Nicaragua and Honduras. Over the past ten years the organization has focused its efforts on younger children, a group which aid programs often overlook. This focus has evolved from the recognition that the first six years of life are the foundation on which a persons life is built. During these years good nutrition, healthy food, safe surroundings and the opportunity to learn form the basis for a productive life.

This is the basis of Pueblito’s current work in Nicaragua, including its work with an organization called FUNARTE. In Nicaragua almost half the population live below the poverty line. Many children begin their schooling in community preschools with untrained teachers, and less than half the children who go on to Grade 1 graduate from Grade 6; many, unprepared, drop out after Grade 1. FUNARTE has developed art-based learning techniques which enrich the classroom, help teachers develop new skills for working with their students, and help pre-school and first grade children learn in ways that foster creativity, observation, thought, co-operation and a sense of accomplishment. They also work with the children’s families and communities, helping them to support and respect the children as they learn so they will encourage them to stay in school.

The projects, called ArtWorks and Primary Colours, are designed to both build and build on the knowledge and resources of the communities they take place in. The effects go deep and spread wide, making a difference that lasts long after the project is finished and providing a base of knowledge and skills within the community that everyone can continue to draw on and develop for a long time to come. The consequences are felt beyond the lives and prospects of the children who benefit immediately, helping generations to come. We say, in many different contexts and many different ways, that children are the future of the world. By helping to fund projects like these, we help children to come to that future with knowledge and experiences that benefit us all.

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FUNARTE, Artists Changing Lives

FUNARTE (La Fundación de Apoyo al Arte Creador Infantil) was created by a group of artists who wanted to use their knowledge of art to work with children and adolescents held back by poverty and violence. They used the process of creating art to help children develop creativity, a sense of identity, self-esteem and independence. In the process of creating art the young people were learning the skills they needed to live in peace and harmony within their communities and families.

In the beginning they focused on helping young people deal with the impact of civil war on their lives. In 1987 they began working with children and young people to create murals. The weekly mural workshops they began then continue now. Discussion, co-operation, making decisions together and carrying the projects through from concept to completion as a group are all very important aspects of the process. The themes they explore include Nicaraguan history, health, legends and stories and children’s rights. In the process the young people learn more about themselves and their community.

With support from other groups FUNARTE is able to offer these workshops at no cost to the community or the children who attend. This is important, because it means that everyone can participate no matter what their economic situation is.

FUNARTE’s work with community leaders and teachers supports the work they do with young people. They also meet and work with students from other countries who come to volunteer and to learn for themselves what life is like in Nicaragua. And the high quality of the murals they produce is widely recognized.

Pueblito has helped FUNARTE extend their work to rural preschools in the Department of Esteli, where most of the teachers are community members who have little schooling and no formal training for the work they do. FUNARTE has developed art-based techniques to enrich and improve the classrooms, techniques which community teachers can learn and use, and they have done so working with local materials as much as possible to keep costs down. One purpose of the program is to help the children in these classrooms get ready for being in the first grade classrooms of the public primary school system.

Getting children ready for Grade 1 is only the first step. Drop-out rates are very high. Recognizing this, FUNARTE, working with Pueblito and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, is helping children stay in school longer and learn more while they are there. The art-based techniques the organization has developed for working with grade 1 and 2 students enrich their education, encourage them to think about and understand the world they live in, teach them the benefits of co-operation, give them the ability to express themselves and encourage pride in the things they accomplish. To complement their work for children, FUNARTE has developed an art-based program of interactive parenting skills workshops. These are designed to help any parent offer their children the emotional and social support they need to learn. Literacy not required.

FUNARTE’s programs are designed to work with and develop local resources, and because of this they have a lasting and spreading impact. Support for these programs is an investment in a better future for poor children and their families. The payback? knowing that you’ve given children – and their communities – a chance at a better future.

Some Education Facts:

The barriers to education in Nicaragua are many. In January 2008 the government made attending school from the last year of preschool to the end of Grade 6 compulsory, and theoretically free. However, since the policy applies to state schools, and there are not enough of them for everyone to attend, education is limited by availability. In 2008 Josefina Vijil, in an article in Envio digital, described the situation like this:
* there were 20,000 fewer classrooms than were needed,
* many schoools have no desks and chairs
* 54% do not have drinking water,
* teachers’ salaries are very low and
* they have little or no teacher training, with the training they do have mostly being provided on-the-job.

In 2008 the average number of years spent in school by people in Nicaragua was 5.6 – 3.6 in rural areas and 7 in urban areas. Policies imposed by the IMF encouraged the disengagement of the national government from involvement in schools, and left poor communities struggling to provide the education their children needed; recent policy changes are hampered by a lack of money to support them.

Free schooling means only that there are no school fees. In a country where poverty is widespread other costs are barriers to education. These include transportation, school materials and uniforms and shoes. As well, families lose part of their income when children go to school instead of working. This is why many children drop out after Grade 1, and others take a long time to finish their primary education as they alternate between education and work.

4 responses to “We Are Islands – Islands of Hope

  1. Pingback: The Toronto Event: Fans Chose their Favorite Painting… « MairImages.ca

  2. Pingback: How Can Arts Teach? « MairImages.ca Blog

  3. thank you for this excellent post

    • Margaret Mair

      Thank you for taking the time to come past and read it, Eddie. Art, edication and children – all things dear to my heart.

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