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 III, October 2007

  1. English Classes to Primary School Children
  2. Water Filters Workshop
  3. Art as a Tool for Training
  4. I found an unexpected home in Nicaragua
  5. Teachers attend the Global Education Fund Workshop
  6. Installing the fence Osneida
  7. Welcome Home Elkin

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 3rd edition of our newsletter for Children, Health, Education and Supporting Services (CHESS Nicaragua) program in Nicaragua. Our innovative and dynamic international partnership project has generated some very exciting “steam” since our last newsletter. Not only do we want to update you on our progress in the municipality of Villa El Carmen within our 12 elementary schools and our 3 health posts, but we invite you to follow along with us on our journey of “reaching out to make a difference” one small step – one community – and one person – at a time.

If you haven’t heard the story of the Starfish, we, in CHESS Nicaragua, believe that it beautifully illustrates our philosophy of international development work.

“While walking on the beach one day, I saw a Starfish by the shore.  And everywhere I looked it seemed I saw a thousand more.  Then what to my surprised eyes appeared a boy of nine or ten. And as the Starfish washed ashore, he threw them back again.  ‘One fish won’t make a difference son;   You can’t change this situation.’  He stooped and picked up one more fish, then looking right at me, ‘I can make a difference for this one, sir’ and returned it to the sea.  So I went and gathered all my friends, my brothers and my cousins.  We joined in with that little boy and saved Starfish by the dozens.  There’re still many to be rescued – many Starfish on life’s shore.  And you can make a difference too…by saving just one more.”   By C. A. Milbrandt.  Or go to www.kindredspiritscottageretreat.com/StarfishStory.html for another version of this same story.

In this newsletter you can read and see the impact of the CHESS Nicaragua Program of Activities from June to August with articles by Ligia Diaz Roman, Greta Schlender, and Kristin Allen on the following events: the Water Filter workshop in June; training for pre-school teachers in July; Elkin returns home to Nicaragua in July; English classes for primary school children through the summer; the reproduction of Global Education Fund Workshop in Villa El Carmen in August; installing the first fence around one of our schools in August; and an essay by our summer intern, Kristen Allen, on “I Found an Unexpected Home in Nicaragua.” 

We now have our project completely launched and moving forward.  You will be receiving the next newsletters on a bi-monthly basis to keep you up-to-date on the exciting, ground-breaking activities of CHESS Nicaragua.  As a preview of what’s coming in late November, we will be covering the service project being organized for the Gran Pacifica Shareholder’s meeting scheduled on January 12, 2008.  We will be featuring this volunteer service event in the next edition with an introduction to one of our newest advisors in CHESS Nicaragua who will be working with us on the design, building and stocking of libraries within some of our 12 schools.  In addition, we will be describing, through photos, an exciting new CHESS Nicaragua partnership between Robert Morris University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh and Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) in Managua.  These new partners will be working with us in November in our health posts, and with health education classes in our schools.

What we have accomplished so far and what we are currently working to achieve is changing lives on all sides of our service work.  Those of us inside CHESS Nicaragua have been changed immeasurably since starting on this journey over 2 years ago.  To be a part of a change process in remote parts of countries and the world is rewarding, challenging and inspirational.  To work alongside the children, teachers, families, volunteers, and community leaders has been a deep learning experience and a gift for us all.  We are grateful to be a participant in this development work in Nicaragua – and together, to help make a better world one Starfish at a time.

Janet Foerster.

CHESS Nicaragua Project Director


I. English for Primary School Children top

By Ligia Diaz and Greta Schlender

The three partners supporting CHESS Nicaragua firmly believe that students should not have to wait until the seventh grade to start learning the English language. For those students that do actually make it to high school, the transition is a hard one; for those who can’t continue their formal education that far, there is no chance to learn even the basics of the language.  We want to do more than simply teach the semantics of the English language; in order to do just that, we strive to plant the seed as early as possible in their lives and make it as much fun as possible.  Therefore, on April 16th, the first English classes were held in 111 of the 12 schools with eight English teachers from the municipality.

English Class

We were very fortunate to find 9 English teachers2 who are very committed and obviously love what they do. The teachers had to overcome many challenges to be effective in this environment. Many had never taught small children before; the multi-grade classrooms encompassed all grade levels and instruction had to be modified to include everyone. Text books were unavailable. The seemingly simple logistics of the location of the schools themselves posed a huge obstacle to teachers working in multiple locations within a limited time period; they simply could not get from here to there in a timely enough manner. And, of course, one could not have expected that the launch of the CHESS Nicaragua project would coincide with a national strike in the education system.

Despite these factors, the project is proving to be a success. Over the course of  just one month (April 16 – May 16), 58 hours of English language instruction was delivered to as many as 417 primary schools. In subsequent months (May 16 – June 16), we saw an increase to 96 hours taught while keeping costs at a minimum of $100 in teacher fees. Even with the flux caused by teacher turnover during the June to July timeframe, 63 hours of English were still taught and the numbers quickly rebounded once that teacher was replaced to an amazing 103 hours.

In addition to the Nicaraguan teachers, the CHESS Nicaragua program benefited from a very energetic native English speaking intern. Kristin Allen went to all the schools and, in addition to evaluating the English teachers, jumped in and sang songs with and played games to teach the children English. The students were having fun and they were learning too!

Follow up visits to the schools, even after the teachers strike, have yielded very encouraging results. At one school, the California School, iCHai/CHESS Nicaragua staff was greeted by students singing a song in English. Some students were able to introduce themselves in English. At the Osneida School, students were able to associate the English words with pictures of fruits and animals. They were so enthusiastic about showing off their new skills and appear to thoroughly enjoy their new text books.

The indirect benefits of this education are immeasurable at this time. Students have told members of the CHESS Nicaragua team that their parents are very excited about them learning English as it opens up a new range of possibilities for the future.

Only the Institute Gustavo Carrion is not part of the program because their sixth graders are already participating in English language classes.

1 Only the Institute Gustavo Carrion is not part of the program because their sixth graders are already participating in English language classes.

2 The English teachers involved are Helio Alfaro, Elvis Gutierrez, Maria Isabel Cruz, Luis Felipe Reyes, Nestor Muños, Henry Fonseca, German Chavarria, Germania Gazo, and Mary Obando.

By Ligia Diaz

CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator

In order to support the CHESS Nicaragua initiative of teaching the citizens of Nicaragua the important practices of hygiene and the role of clean water, 30 teachers in Villa El Carmen received hands on instruction from Frank Shuringa, owner of the Nicaragua based, Filtron, a water filter company. Using a proprietary mix of clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver, the Filtron clay water filters have been proven to eliminate 98% of the bacteria, parasites and impurities in the water.

water filtration

To date, each classroom has a water filter and the teachers and students refill them whenever it becomes necessary.

water filer

By Ligia Diaz

CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator

On July 13th, CHESS Nicaragua hosted the “Uso del ARTE como herramienta de la enseñanza”, “Art as a Tool for Teaching” at La Ceiba School. This first workshop was designed specifically for preschool teachers; it was led by Maricela

Gonzalez and Ana Fredes of Colegio Caminos in Managua.

The first 20 minute activity served to both break the ice and show the teachers how a large group could collaborate to create something more than the sum of the parts. Each participant received a small plastic bag full of puzzle pieces and a small photocopy of an image to be created. A large piece of paper at the front of the room was sectioned off into areas representing earth, water and wind. As the teachers finished their individual puzzles, they were asked to come to the board and add their individual pieces to this larger piece of paper. When every one was done and all items were placed, the result was a beautiful mural with three different themes: earth, water and wind. The purpose of this activity was to show that in just 20 minutes a whole class can create a beautiful mural; Maricela and Ana helped the teachers think of other ways that the puzzles could be used such as decorating greeting cards or the students’ personal books.


The teachers continued to experiment with the visual arts by painting pictures with their eyes closed.


The funniest activity of the day served a very profound purpose – to teach young children that there are alternative ways to express themselves. They can use their bodies! To illustrate this lesson, the teachers were asked to cover their bodies and heads with a sheet leaving only their feet exposed. Maricela then told a story about the feet being chased, scared or happy and the teachers, behind the sheet, acted out the story with their feet. The sheet was then adjusted and the activity repeated with only the hands exposed.


Teachers learned how physical movement, with laces and balloons, to the rhythm of music or simple claps can create a feeling. Along the same lines, the teachers worked together to craft stories orally; teachers often struggle with how to help children who have not yet learned to read and write and Maricela and Ana provided them with many ways to explore this alternative.


Maricela and Ana kept the group energized and excited throughout the training. They weren’t able share all of their artistic ideas with our preschool teachers but they certainly gave them many things to think about. They left the teachers with samples and suggestions of projects so that they could touch them and see that they are really possible to make. We, at CHESS Nicaragua, are certain that this training would have been beneficial to any of the preschool teachers in the area and we are so very thankful to have been able to share it with our special group of teachers.


By Kristin Allen

CHESS Nicaragua intern

Nicaragua.I never thought that I would fall in love with this word. I never knew that I would fall in love with this country, the people, and the life.I went to Nicaragua without expectations.I went without knowing anyone.I went with hardly knowing what I was getting myself into. Perhaps, that was the best way to go.

I arrived on a rainy evening, my flight arriving an hour late.Exhausted, I was faced with a culture that I had never witnessed before.Taxi cabs so full of people, there was no way there were enough seat belts for all.Pickups carried even more passengers, standing up, in the beds of their trucks.We passed cement buildings, sheet metal as roofs.Billboards, people on foot and bicycles, mules pulling wooden carts supported by car tires.I was in complete awe. I had traveled before, but I knew at that moment that this was going to be an entirely different experience.And I was soon about to see that.

CHESS Nicaragua had just begun an English program with the 5th and 6th grade of 12 rural schools in Villa El Carmen.Upon my arrival, distribution of English books to the classroom was already underway. By the end of my second week, all of the books were distributed, and my schedule of school visits was prepared.I spent my next 6 weeks visiting the schools, occasionally teaching an English class, aiding the professors, and developing new relationships between the professors and the students.Throughout all of my visits to the schools, I had never seen such enthusiasm for learning a language.These children want to learn English, and their excitement shows.They are learning new words and songs.I know that with every class, I was increasingly more and more impressed with them.

Working with the CHESS Nicaragua project as an intern opened up my eyes to a new world, and to a new side of me. I met so many people in Nicaragua through this project that impacted my life in ways they will never know. I was amazed how quickly and affectionately the students and teachers accepted me into their classroom and into their lives. Maybe they can say that they learned English from me, but I know I learned a lot more from them. I became great friends with the workers of CHESS Nicaragua.They are brilliant, kindhearted people with wonderful hearts and a passion for helping others. And of course, the people of Villa El Carmen, who accepted me into their community and treated me as if I were one of them.The people who took me in and made me feel right at home in a third world country.

I experienced the fiestas patronales, the crowing of roosters and barking of dogs waking me up at all hours of the night, the blazing Nicaraguan sun, the pesky flies and other insects, the smiles of children running along dirt roads, music and dancing at Pista Club Yalily, the pigs and cows wandering through the streets. I experienced a life I had never known before, and one that I never thought I would come to know.

Like I said, I had gone without knowing anyone or what I would be getting myself into. But, I could not be happier and more grateful that I did choose to go.I left with lasting friendships and relationships that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I will never forget the things I saw and learned.I will never forget the people who changed my life for the better. My first rainy night turned into a beautiful journey.And indeed, Nicaragua became an unexpected home, and one that I hope to return to one day.

To view more pictures click here.

To see a video of the childrens singing with Kristin our CHESS Nicaragua Intern click here.

By Ligia Díaz

CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator

From July 22 to the 28th, six members of the CHESS Nicaragua project participated in a week-long training in Managua; participants stayed overnight with approximately 100 other teachers. This training is very special because not only do the teachers learn new teaching strategies but they exchange ideas and experiences with other teachers in a social environment and get to participate in cultural programs. The cost of enrollment varies from $200 to $500 a teacher depending on factors such as how much the organization can afford to contribute or their past participation in GEF trainings.

GEF has been bringing teachers from the United States to Nicaragua every year since 1996. Its founder and president, Ms. Judy Richardson, organizes the event from her post in the United States and brings the teachers with her on a volunteer basis. These teachers hold master degrees and have many years of experience teaching in their respective areas of expertise. They are fluent in Spanish and able to facilitate the workshops in the Nicaraguan teachers’ native language.

CHESS Nicaragua was able to sponsor four teachers and the two local facilitators; over the course of the next month, the remainder of the Villa El Carmen teachers training materials will be passed down to all the Villa El Carmen teachers in a similar manner. The GEF workshops were divided into three subject tracks: Spanish, Math and Natural Science. Two of the six CHESS Nicaragua participants attended sessions in one of the three particular tracks. Upon completion of the program, the participants were awarded a Diploma signed by the Ministry of Education’s General Director.

GEF workshop

Participants, GEF in Managua, from left to right: Alberto Aburto, Luis Ernesto Flores, Brenda Mejía, Ligia Díaz (Coordinator), Janet Foerster (Director), Aracely Sequeira (facilitator), Dolores Hernández, and Manuel Marenco (facilitator).

Upon returning home, the CHESS Nicaragua teachers and facilitators organized three Fridays, one day per subject, for 30 teachers and a couple of school directors to attend. They replicated the style of training they had learned at the GEF and covered topics such as writing short stories in groups, writing a journalist article with titles cut out of newspapers, and making science experiments with students.

GEP workshop

The day of science the teachers were asked to leave an egg in vinegar for several hours and observe the changes. In this process they could observe how the egg looses the calcium of the shell, how the carbon reacts with the vinegar and expels CO2 liberating bubbles. Many of the teachers have tried doing this in the classroom already, and students get enthusiastic about observing and explaining the changes.

GEP workshop

By Greta Schlender

Execcutive Assistant

During a visit in October of 2006, David Slick, a Rotary Club member from Ormond Beach, Florida, expressed his club’s interest in beginning an ongoing program in Nicaragua. The goal of this program would be to support the children of the area who especially tugged at his heartstrings. Word of David, and the Rotary Club’s interest, passed to Ligia Diaz, CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator. As David’s interest seemed to be in line with the overall goals of the CHESS Nicaragua project, Ligia escorted him to six of the twelve schools in Villa El Carmen. The most urgent needs for the students, parents and teachers were discussed; one common theme was that of security. School rooms in very remote and severely depressed areas are very vulnerable to both vandals and wildlife. From this visit, the idea of having the Ormond Beach club Rotary provide the manpower necessary to install fencing at local schools emerged.

Over the next several months, logistics were negotiated and by, May of this year, the Ormond Beach club committed to joining efforts with the CHESS Nicaragua program to installation chain-link fences in five of the six neediest schools.  For the agreed-Cargando las secciones de malla miniupon project, the CHESS Nicaragua program, using funds provided by Gran Pacifica and Pittsburgh Rotary Club, purchased the materials for the fences, and the Ormond Beach club provided the necessary workforce.

Following USAID approval (to verify that the project was environmentally sound), materials were purchased, and on August 28th, David Slick and his son, Benjamin, went to Osneida Medrano School, the neediest of all, to install the first fence.

Osneida is the most remote of the CHESS Nicaragua schools and it is very difficult to reach, even when it is not raining.  It is the smallest in terms of enrollment, with only 45 students in kindergarten through the fourth grade.  It has been built for 20 years, and before CHESS Nicaragua arrived, they had never even painted the school. The first and only time it has been painted was in January 2007, when the GP shareholders made an event of painting the school.

 Colocando la malla en el patiominiAlthough the project that could technically  have been completed in a day, the first fence installation ended up taking four full days due to weather conditions and natural obstacles.  But, when all was said and done, 428.22 meters of foot tall chain-link fence was installed around Osneida by the volunteers and CHESS Nicaragua personnel.

Ligia Diaz asserted: “This has been the hardest task I have faced since I work coordinating CHESS Nicaragua. So I have to recognize that without all the people around the office, the community and worker at the property, this first fence project would have been a failure.”  Despite of the inclement weather and the logistical challenges, everyone was more than cooperative and extremely positive.  So many people rose above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that this project was successful:

  • The people who gathered to help with the installation included 10 parents, 10 construction workers from Gran Pacifica who donated their time, Ligia, Helio, the CHESS Nicaragua facilitators, Franco, members of the community and, especially, David and Benjamin Slick. All worked for two exhausting days to get the fencing in place.
  • The truck driver that transported the materials to the school, which is one of the most remote and difficult to reach, got stuck in mud for several hours; no additional charges were added for the extra time or wear on the vehicle.
  • Franco Canton, One of Gran Pacifica’s in-house architects, negotiated prices, purchased all of the materials in Managua, and arranged for them to be transported to the school.
  • Helio Alfaro coordinated with the welder and construction workers at all times.
  • Manuel Marenco, CHESS Nicaragua facilitator, coordinated with the community.
  • Adiak Barahona, guided us throughout the process.
  • Cesar Abella, coordinated the permits to use the generator from Gran Pacifica property.
  • Marcela who made all the transportation logistics possible.

to view more pictures click here.

By Janet Foerster

CHESS Nicaragua Program Director

Direct engagement with the children, families and elders of the participating communities is an essential aspect of our culturally focused project management strategies.  In October 2006, Janet Foerster, President of innerCHANGE associates international and Project Director for CHESS Nicaragua was conducting a preliminary site visit to one of the 12 target community schools of Villa El Carmen. During this visit, Ms. Foerster met Miriam del Socorro Araica, the grandmother of eight-year old Elkin Enrique Fonseca Zapata.  Elkin had fallen from a tree 14 months prior and had hit a fence post that fractured his larynx and transected his trachea.  Elkin was emergently operated on in Managua, but because the country does not have ENT surgeons with expertise to handle this type of injury, and the family has no healthcare, Elkin was left with a metal tracheotomy device and very little medical care or follow-up treatment.  Miriam Araica, the grandmother, entreated the CHESS Nicaragua project to help her grandson, one of five children (ages 5-12) under her care after their mother died three years ago.


In January 2007, during the Gran Pacifica annual shareholder’s meeting in Managua, Dr. Edward Barksdale, Associate Professor of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh was appraised of Elkin’s situation.  He provided an on-site medical examination of Elkin in his home in Villa El Carmen, and subsequently presented this as a potential humanitarian global health care case to The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of two preeminent centers in the United States for Laryngo-Tracheal Injury treatment.  Because of the great need and urgency of this case, Mr. Roger Oxendale, the CEO of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, authorized bringing Elkin to Pittsburgh for evaluation and medical care resulting in potential surgery.  The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh agreed to cover the hospital and medical care costs for this complex reconstruction surgery. 

With innerCHANGE spearheading the multifaceted effort, arrangements were made to bring Elkin and his grandmother to Pittsburgh.  This proved to be no small feat as passports, powers of attorney, visa interviews, and appropriate medical documentation were necessary; the costs incurred were covered by Gran Pacifica. Airline accommodations, ground transportation and translation services were arranged. Carl Ross, Professor at the Robert Morris University’s School of Nursing, and his family opened their home to Elkin and his grandmother while they were in Pittsburgh.  The Rotary Club of Pittsburgh, which is leading the Rotary effort in supporting the CHESS Nicaragua project, covered local support costs for Elkin and his grandmother.


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