In October I traveled to Nicaragua to see the great but under-represented coffee-growing regions of Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia. The journey there and back is a story unto itself. A story for another time. But in the midst of muddy roads and steep hillsides covered in dense forest yielding to the spindly branches and shiny green leaves of coffee trees, we encountered a one-room schoolhouse built of old, timber boards. Kids walked up and down the narrow road, some asking for a ride in the back of our pickup truck, piling in to save some of the day’s steps. These are the kids who attend that school, if they can afford the supplies.
On a trip to Nicaragua a few years ago, in the same general area, I met a woman who lives in a house made of these same timber boards, with a dirt floor and indoor wood cooking stove made of clay, like most people in rural Nicaragua. She had a densely planted field of coffee trees trailing down from the back of her house into the creek bed below. Her son helped with the picking and pulping of the coffee and the younger daughter likely helped with whatever household chores a small child can perform. The mother told me her son was in school, but she couldn’t afford to send her daughter. I told her I thought school was free in Nicaragua. And she told me that school was free but they couldn’t attend unless they had paper and pencils, and she couldn’t afford to buy these for her girl.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation, but it makes you realize that the money you might find in your sofa cushions could change the life of a kid. And that this problem is too wide-spread to start dis-upholstering your furniture.
But here we are, looking at a school down the road from our farm, with the potential to help lots of kids. The school is called Comunidad La Peña and they have 63 students, including 12 pre-school kids.
We partnered with Monte Cassino to gather up the basics and lots of extras, all the things a student might need. Not only that, the fifth- grade Spanish class at Monte wrote a bunch of letters (the snail-mail kind) in Spanish to the Nicaraguan kids, which they hope to get pen-pal replies from. We’re shipping the whole mess down to my friend Luis to take to the schoolhouse in Matagalpa. The teacher is very excited to receive the supplies and says he feels it’s a God blessing.
We have our fingers crossed and have been talking to our contacts in Nicaragua to find out the best way to get these things safely to Luis, but we’re aware there’s a possibility they’ll be confiscated or heavily taxed upon reaching the destination. Godspeed, school supplies. May the spirit of Catholic charity find its way into the hearts of those customs agents responsible for passing the crayons and glue sticks on to our school kids at La Peña.