Vol. VI, December 2008
Vol. V, April 2008
Vol. IV, January 2008
Vol. III, October 2007
Vol. II, May 2007
Vol. I, March 2007


Newsletter Volume IV, January 2008

I. USAid Inauguration
II. Archeology Project in Villa El Carmen
III. Building the Second Fence: A Slightly Different Experience
IV. A Nicaraguan Experience for Robert Morris University Nursing Students

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the January 2008 edition of our CHESS Newsletter!

Happy New Year to our partners and friends and to all of those who are just learning about our exciting work in Nicaragua! We have much to celebrate in our CHESS project from 2007 and we have much more to achieve in 2008. We are excited to report that what we have accomplished thus far is only the beginning of our 28 month health and education work in our 12 designated schools and 3 health posts in Villa El Carmen. The first 10 months of our project were filled with community-based accomplishments and many new challenges that were not even imagined to be part of the project plan at the time of project launch in March, 2007.

For those who are new to Children, Health, Education and Supporting Services in Nicaragua (CHESS) let me begin by giving some project description and background on our partnership for sustainable development in Villa El Carmen.

The Children, Health, Education and Supporting Services (CHESS) concept became a reality as a result of the collaboration between four main partners: Gran Pacifica Nicaragua, Pittsburgh Rotary Club, Programa Alianzas para la Educacion y Salud/ US AID, and innerCHANGE associates international (iCHai) in March of 2007.

The CHESS Nicaragua project has been designed to assist the municipality of Villa El Carmen, Nicaragua, in achieving community empowerment through improved primary school education and health. To achieve this vision, iCHai recognizes the need for sustained collaboration among several partners in private, public and non-profit sectors operating internationally and nationally within the local target communities. Through CHESS Nicaragua, innerCHANGE associates international serves as the project management partner to implement, coordinate and evaluate the contributions and activities of an international partnership. The key Nicaraguan staff is supervised by iCHai and coordinated, in-country, by a project coordinator, Ligia Diaz. With 2 community facilitators, Manuel Marenco and Aracely Sequiera, one education liaison within the schools, Helio Alfaro, one part-time project assistant, Juan Martinez, and one part-time accountant, Douglas Delgado, we are able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate support services for international collaborations (the CLASSIC approach offered exclusively through innerCHANGE).

With the CHESS Nicaragua project, innerCHANGE associates international provides intercultural project management services through a two-tiered approach: 1) leverage and enhance existing programs in the community; 2) provide additional training and education and support services based on needs as defined by the communities. The overall goal of this project is to achieve sustainability through the long-term participation, contributions, and interconnectedness of the partners living and operating within the Villa El Carmen municipality.

In this January edition of the CHESS newsletter you will read about the last few months of our activities. Please read on to learn more about the exciting school fencing projects in partnership with the Ormond Beach, Florida Rotary Club, the US AID/Programa Alianzas para Educacion y Salud official launch of our CHESS Nicaragua project in October, the new partnership with Robert Morris University School of Nursing with their health education and services visit to Villa El Carmen in November, and the exciting beginning of our CHESS Cultural Heritage and Archeological Education Program in October and November.

We invite you to communicate with us by e-mail, phone, or in-person at any time with your ideas, suggestions, and feedback. We invite you, as well, to consider how you might become a new partner with us this year as we continue to build new connections in support of sustainable development in Villa El Carmen and throughout Nicaragua.

With warm wishes for the New Year,
Janet Foerster
CHESS Project Director


I. USAid Inauguration top

CHESS is Inaugurated!
By Ligia Diaz

On October 31st, a large celebration was held to officially announce and inaugurate the CHESS project. The event was held at Nandayosis 1 School, located on Km 34 old road to Leon, 100 meters to the right in Villa El Carmen. The CHESS project started with Nandayosis 1. One of the very first CHESS sanctioned acts was to repair the playground equipment and latrines. Gran Pacifica shareholders painted the school while parents fixed the garden, the roof and the lights that were broken. It seemed the perfect setting for the inaugural festivities.

Donors, collaborators, teachers, parents and students and even members of the press were in attendance. The event was hosted by innerCHANGE’s CHESS personnel and the project’s benefactors, Gran Pacifica and the Pittsburgh Rotary Club. The following attendees presided at the main table:
1. Mr. Denis Espinoza, Ministry of Education Delegate in Villa El Carmen
2. Teacher Rosaura Lopez Brenes, School Responsable
3. Mrs. Carol Horning, Acting Director, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
4. Mr. Michael Cobb, CEO, Gran Pacifica
5. Mrs. Janet Foerster, M.Ed., CHESS Project Director
6. Dr. Yelba Hernández, Ministry of Health Delegate in Villa El Carmen
7. Mr. Jose Luis Palacios, Children and Youth Commission from the Mayors Office.

The event began with the pomp and circumstance of a true celebration including short speeches by the attendees at the main table. Following the speeches, the true reason for celebration became evident.

Teachers from Nandayosis 1 have attended all our workshops since March and their students in the 5th and 6th grade who are participating in weekly English In order to showcase their progress, the teachers at Nandayosis 1 divided one of the classrooms into several stations, each consisting of a different presentation. Each station represented something that the teachers and students had learned with the different workshops and programs they have attended thru CHESS. For instance, one station showed an example of how children are instructed to use the water filters. Another one showcased short stories students have written using techniques they learned after their teachers attended the Global Education Fund workshop. A third station displayed art projects created by kindergarten students.

The students taking English classes sang the Rainbow Song in English.

The “best” student said a few words in both languages at the end of the program.

Students from the kindergarten class sang and danced in traditional Nicaragua attire. The exhibit was truly enjoyable and inspirational for all who attended.

One attendee, Mrs. Horning, acting director of the USAid was so amazed and impressed by the work of teachers and students that she invited Ms. Ellen Ledy, Office Director for Central America and Mexico USAID, to visit Nandayosis 1 the following week. Both expressed that among the different schools they have visited and all the projects they have witnessed, this school has provided the best example of hard work and productive learning experiences.

The event served to remind both the donors and community of the main goals of the CHESS project and to exemplify the achievements of the first six months. CHESS will improve the educational experience for the children; CHESS will improve the health of the community through the introduction of filtered water.

CHESS thanks the community, teachers and students for making this event a success.

II. Archeology Project in Villa El Carmen top

By Ligia Diaz

Thanks to the request from Villa El Carmen’s Mayor and Nicaraguan Minister of Tourism, CHESS put together a series of workshops and visits to archeological sites in Villa El Carmen with the objective of developing a sense of pride and interest among locals for their archeological treasures. In addition to simple appreciation, the more CHESS focused objectives are also to teach students science and social studies in a hands-on environment and to improve the quality of a possible tourist site that could be a future source of income for locals.

The first teacher workshop on Archeology took place on September 20th. We gathered approximately 30 elementary teachers from each of the 12 CHESS schools in main Villa El Carmen and Yanira Campos, with a bachelor degree in Archeology from UNAN- Managua provided the training. She has been working in the Municipality for two years now. The guidelines, format, and contents for the workshops and trainings were set-up by Manuel Roman, who earned his PhD in Archeology from the University of Pittsburgh in January 2007.

Teachers at the workshop

From 8 am to 11:30 am Yanira provided information to answer questions such as “What is archeology?” and “What do archedological sites mean? Why are they important?” Material detailing the archeology in Villa El Carmen followed. Lunch was provided by a Villa El Carmen catering small business and served at the soccer park in the town center. After the morning session, the CHESS team provided transportation for the teachers and trainer to the two sites that were designated as most accessible and easiest to explain: El Apante and Rio Lodoso.

At the El Apante site, rocks with several petroglyphs were presented.
The presenter explained the forms and the shapes of animals that were drawn by indigenous populations there in a time believed to be between 900 and 1500 CE. The teachers learned, from both the visual and the verbal information, the importance of these sites. At the next site, Rio Lodoso, the same format was followed. At each site the emphasis was on both the meaning and the care of the petroglyphs. Many of the teachers had never been in an archeological site and were very impressed by what can be learned from the sites. They are eager to share this information with their students.

Teachers walking to see the El Apante site

Educational trips for the students for 10 of the 12 CHESS school were carried out in the October – November timeframe. Students learned from CHESS facilitators and teachers about what they were seeing at Rio Lodoso and El Apante sites. In 2008 we will continue with the visits and we will encourage students and teachers to present reports and research done based on these trips. Even though other organizations in the area work to protect and preserve natural areas, they have not worked to teach the young generations about the richness of the archeological sites. CHESS is very enthusiastic to be the pioneer in doing this.

III. Building the Second Fence: A Slightly Different Experience top

By Greta Schlender and Ligia Diaz

As part of the ongoing effort to improve life in Villa El Carmen, CHESS partnered with the Ormond Beach Rotary Club to install fences at as many schools as possible. In late August, the first fence was installed at Osneida Medrano School. Although the project had its share of ups and downs, Rotarian Chapter President, returned with several other members to continue their good works. The site of the second installation was the Calle Nueva School; this school employs 3 teachers who are responsible for educating 68 students in grades K through 5. Built in 2000, the school used to have a fence but it had stolen, bit by bit, over the years.

Rotarians and parents working together.

On Thursday, October 25th, Mr. Slick and his group of fellow Rotarians, began their mission. The Rotarians that came with Mr Slick were quite a mixed group, all joined together by the desire to have this unique life experience and make a difference in the lives of children. For two men of the group, this trip to Nicaragua was their first visit to a foreign country. One, Mr. Slick joked, “is the pickiest eater he had ever met” and yet, the man happily ate all the food prepared by local mothers. Another is an executive of a large real estate company, while a third runs an oil and gas company. Two of the men drive race cars professionally.

The team installing the first fence in August 2007 at Osneyda Medrano School was faced with many unexpected challenges. This time, the weather cooperated and the supplies arrived on time. A larger group of workers allowed the project to be completed in just two days. The workers learned that one of the most important things about building the fence was making sure that the fencing itself could not be pulled apart and stolen. As a result, each piece was soldered to as many other pieces as possible, ensuring that none of it could be taken away. When questioned as to why fences are so important to the community, the parents and teachers gave several answers, ranging from keeping chicken out of the yard during school hours to deterring theft.

To reinforce that point, one of the parents shared the story of one such theft. Schools in Villa El Carmen are given provisions for their students just once a month, breakfast and snacks for the children on school days, are stored in one of the classrooms in the school. One day, these provisions were stolen from the classroom by someone in the community, most likely out of desperation, but stolen nonetheless. The children were left without this food for the majority of the month, something which should not have to be a concern. A fence could have at least deterred this theft, and this is one important reason it needed to be built.

Slick and company finishing a corner of the fence.

The school community was so thankful for the help of the group, saying that this was the first time anyone had come to help them; that it was a gift from God. Mr. Slick said that these experiences are something “breathtaking and rewarding,” a chance for people to “invest of themselves” and promote “enlightened self interest” in a country that desperately needs it.

Manuel Marenco, CHESS facilitator, and Rotarians working hard.

This, more than anything else, is what keeps CHESS and Mr. Slick making schools more secure. Nothing can replace the smiles and thank you’s they get in return for just a day or two of fun work, work in which the whole community gets involved, and for which they really are eternally grateful. Mr. Slick said. “We were here [with them], and the community never left us.” He added that the efforts of the community are something to be revered and that it is “and absolute trip” to see everyone get so wholeheartedly involved.

The Ormond Beach Rotary Club has served for several years in different projects in Nicaragua. Mr. Slick recounted how relationship started six years ago, when they put on a BINGO night to finance CAT scans and MRI’s for children in need. The project was expanded in 2004 and groups have come down to replace air conditioners, paint buildings, clean hospitals, and bring supplies. Donations as large as entire shipments of hospital beds have been delivered by the group. Mr. Slick said that it might be easier to just front the money and pay someone to do all of these things, but it is just so much fun that people are always ready to participate.

IV.A Nicaraguan Experience for Robert Morris University Nursing Students top

By Janet Foerster

From November 8 to November 19, the CHESS project staff welcomed 14 undergraduate students, 3 doctoral students, and 3 faculty and university representatives from the School of Nursing at Robert Morris University (RMU). This exciting inaugural RMU trip to Villa El Carmen is a direct result of the unexpected and miraculous CHESS project in 2007 involving Elkin Fonseca Zapata and his tracheal surgery in Pittsburgh.

During the nearly 3 months stay in Pittsburgh, Elkin and his grandmother, Miriam Araica, stayed at the home of Dr. Carl Ross, wife Denise and their two sons Matt and Eric. Dr. Ross knows Nicaragua well. A professor of nursing at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and founding director of the university’s international nursing program, Dr. Ross, has traveled to Nicaragua more than 60 times during the past 10 years, bringing student nurses and other medical personnel to do humanitarian work throughout the country. He holds an adjunct faculty position with the Universidad de Politechnical, has consulted with the Ministry of Health, and is only the second American to receive the Ora Taylor de Deaz award for Outstanding Nursing Practice in Nicaragua.

Dr. Ross worked closely with Janet Foerster, CHESS Project Director, throughout Elkin’s surgery, recovery and return to Nicaragua in July. An unexpected outgrowth of this Pittsburgh/Nicaraguan partnership project, which provided life-changing medical care for a child from one of our CHESS schools, was the planning and implementation of this RMU/CHESS health services trip in November of 2007. The undergraduate students worked in several of the CHESS schools in the mornings offering health education classes to the children in: hand-washing; basic concepts of health in nutrition and clean water; parasite control; environmental safety and basic first aid.

They spent the afternoons providing health care services for the families and the children of the community at one of our 3 health posts or within the schools. In the four days of the service project, the nursing students and healthcare professionals examined and provided health services to nearly 400 people. Such basic medicines and preventative supplies were administered as: multi-vitamins for adults and children; hydrocortisone; anti-biotic medications; calcium supplements; blood pressure medications; arthritis medications; anti-diarrheal medications; and many other basic prevention assessments and services.

The 3 doctoral nursing students conducted qualitative interviews in the afternoon health clinics, with the help of CHESS translators, to study the health perceptions of older Nicaraguan women in this municipality of Nicaragua. This will be a published research study in the future and will be a major contribution to understanding how to most effectively offer health care to members of communities such as Villa El Carmen in rural Nicaragua.

Our in-country CHESS team worked extremely hard to plan, support, facilitate and prepare the communities for this large-scale RMU study trip in November. Ligia Diaz, CHESS Program Coordinator, Juan Martinez, CHESS assistant, Aracely Sequeira, and Manuel Marenco, CHESS facilitators, provided the essential liaison to the schools, health posts, and health and education ministerial representatives that such a trip as this one requires to make it a successful one for the service providers and the recipients of the services. Janet Foerster, CHESS Project Director, spent the month of November in Nicaragua to work with RMU and CHESS throughout the visit. With our CHESS system in place and working closely within these communities, the all-important follow-up can be provided and evaluated in planning for future trips and next steps in 2008 for similar service projects

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