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 VI, December 2008

  1. Water Filtration Training
  2. Work at the Archeological Sites
  3. "Games for Educational Development," a Workshop for Primary Grades

Dear Friends,

The Children, Health, Education and Supporting Services (CHESS) concept became a reality as a result of the collaboration between three main partners: Gran Pacifica Nicaragua (located in the municipality of Villa El Carmen), Pittsburgh Rotary Club and innerCHANGE associates international (iCHai). With partner contributions and the receipt of USAID’s Program Alianzas para la Educacion la Salud, grant award of March 2, 2007, CHESS will, over the course of the 28 month project, deliver almost $300,000 in products and services to the community of Villa El Carmen. Under the project management of iCHai, funds will be used to achieve the encompassing goal of improving the quality of life for many of the people of Villa El Carmen most prominently by direct efforts to empower the community through improved primary school education and health training within 12 rural schools and 3 health posts.  This version of the CHESS quarterly report captures those activities that occurred between October and December 2008.

Program Objectives
The goal of the proposed Children, Health, Education, and Supporting Services (CHESS) project is to assist the municipality of Villa El Carmen, Nicaragua, in achieving community empowerment through improved primary school education and health.  Over the course of the 28 month project, the overall objective is to develop, implement, and coordinate a sustainable and replicable partnership model that will be operational in most of the communities of Villa El Carmen.  In partnership with two key international partners, Gran Pacifica Nicaragua and Rotary Club of Pittsburgh, as well as non-profit organizations already operating in the municipality of Villa El Carmen, this project builds on primary school peer-mentoring programs, primary youth leadership programs, mother’s nutrition programs, parent teacher associations and health education programs in primary schools that are constantly being strengthened in the target communities.  The CHESS project proposes to extend and enhance these existing initiatives through the following seven programs.

Health Education Workshops in Schools
These workshops will include topics on appropriate use of latrines, importance of washing hands, handling and water cleaning. The project will run six (6) workshops as a whole. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the same workshops will be delivered twice to different groups of 32 teachers covering the total number of primary teachers in the target schools. The cost will include the honorarium of the trainers, meals and transportation of trainees and trainers to the place of the workshop.

Trainings on How to Use Water Filters
Over the life of the grant, eight (8) workshops will be held to educate the teachers on the importance of clean water. The presentations will include discussions on the significance of keeping and consuming clean water, health related problems that derive from unsafe/unclean water, and the importance of having a method that helps provide clean and safe water. Water filters will be introduced to the teachers so that they understand how they are made, how they work, how to keep them working properly, and how to monitor their effectiveness. The intention is for the teachers to share their new found knowledge with the students who will, in turn, take this information home to their families.

Practice sessions will be held so that everyone in the workshop has the opportunity to see how the filters work. Two workshops will take place in 2007; two will follow in 2008 and the final four in 2009.  The costs will include the filters used in the trainings, honorarium of trainers, meals and transportation of trainees and trainers to the place of the workshop.

Continuing Training for English Teachers
Workshops on interactive methodologies of teaching the English language will be held four times in 28 months. These workshops are run by professors from Universidad Centro America (UCA) with Masters level degrees in Teaching. Members of the staff are also involved with the National Association of English Teachers in Nicaragua and offer these workshops for free as part of their mission to improve the quality of English teaching in Nicaragua.  The costs that appear in the budget are related to meals served during the trainings and transportation of the teachers and professors to the workshop sites.  At present there are ten (10) English teachers in Villa El Carmen; many of these teach English knowing only vocabulary and grammar further emphasizing the importance of this part of the project. 

As part of the plan for continuing education, the English teachers in Villa El Carmen will be given the opportunity to attend the annual conference at UCA to receive additional training as well as educational materials to use in their classrooms. Teachers will also have the opportunity to develop a support network of experienced English language teachers from all over Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America.

English for Primary School Children
Local English language teachers from Villa El Carmen schools will teach two (2) hours per week to students in the fifth (5th) and sixth (6th) grades. Seeing as each school is multigrade and very small, all students may be in the same classroom. For example, five (5) schools only have two (2) or three (3) classrooms so a single room can span four (4) different grade levels.  Eleven (11) out of twelve (12) schools are not teaching English to their primary grade students. Due to the wages ($1.25 per hour) paid to local English teachers sufficient funds are available to cover all the schools.

Educational Programs for Pre-School and Primary School Teachers
Workshops on the following topics will be held to educate pre and primary school teachers:

  • Importance of dental health in the pre and primary grade ages;
  • How to make creative activities for their classrooms;
  • Self evaluation to gain initiative, critical thinking and problem solving skills in their own teaching process as well as learning process including model school methodologies;
  • Effective management of multi-grade classrooms;
  • Teaching with a gender perspective.

Library Programs
In concert with local school officials and other partners, an effort will be launched to renovate abandoned classrooms and repair existing facilities to create inviting library spaces within the community schools.  Workshops will be offered to allow for collaboration on topics such as techniques for fostering a love for reading in students and how the libraries can be utilized to their greatest potential.

 Hands-on Science and Archeology Programs
Working closely with parents and local government and community members with a profound knowledge of the natural and archeological reserve area, practical trainings in science and social studies will be made available to the students. Advanced students will be taught how to use their field experience to design brochures in both English and Spanish; these brochures could be made available to visitors. Other workshops will include training students on the preservation of flora and fauna and preparing narrative dialogs for guided walks through the site; students will be taught how to answer extemporaneous questions about the site that may arise during these walks.  An added benefit of this training will be opening the door to the possibility of future employment in the tourism industry for the current students.

Program Strategies
Within its humanitarian division, iCHai engages skilled associates and critical partners to manage sustainable and culturally appropriate programs and projects. With Janet Foerster acting as Program Director and providing chief oversight in the United States, Ligia Diaz Roman, an iCHai associate, serves as the in-country Program Coordinator; she is directly assisted by Juan Martinez. Ligia is in the unique position of being able to provide on-sight guidance to two local facilitators, Aracely Sequiera and Manuel Marenco; these young adults are from the community of Villa El Carmen. They act as liaisons with the schools and make sure that programs are being implemented, help to organize activities and visit all 12 schools regularly to collect demographic data and to provide feedback to the teachers.  Helio Alfaro serves as the teacher liaison between CHESS, Gran Pacifica, who provides on-site physical storage for donated materials and books, on-site financial services, office space, transportation, and human resources, and the community. Edgar Largaespada acts as an Accounting Advisor for the CHESS project and is responsible for completing the Mid-term and Final Evaluations of the project.

Janet J. Foerster, M.Ed.
CHESS Project Director
innerCHANGE associates international, LLC

I. Water Filtration Training top

Water FiltrationIn early October, yet another one of the workshops scheduled for 2008, was held. The focus of this round of Water Filtration Training seminars was to encourage parents to become more active. The first phase of training had introduced students and teachers to the fundamental importance of drinking clean water; the second phase, held in July of 2008, invited parents to participate in the program but their participation was in small numbers. In October, however, the participation of parents skyrocketed; 187 parents attended the training sessions that were held in eight different schools over a period of five days.

Mr. Frank Shuringa, founder and owner of Filtron, S.A., was in attendance at the workshop. Filtron supplies the CHESS project with the filters that are distributed to the community.

During the workshop, parents are encouraged to participate to participate in the Water Filter program. They can volunteer to be in charge of activities in their schools whether it is cleaning the school, preparing the meal that MINED provides, helping the teacher with students that are staying behind , doing some small repairs in the schools or volunteering at the health posts. The commitment requires than just a verbal “okay”, or a shake of the head; those interested parents in attendance signed a letter of commitment to work with CHESS facilitators to reproduce the information about the filters. By agreeing to participate in subsequent workshops and becoming more involved with their local schools, the parents have the opportunity to earn a water filter for their home.

CHESS maintains its commitment to enriching the social sciences curriculum of the elementary schools and preserving and promoting the archeological richness of the area is integral to that.

Work at the archeological sitesOn September 20th, 2007, approximately 30 elementary teachers from each of the 12 CHESS schools in Villa El Carmen gathered together for a presentation by  Yanira Campos which served as an introduction to the specific material detailing the archeology in Villa El Carmen.
As a part of Ms. Campos’ presentation, the teachers were then transported to El Apante and Rio Lodoso so they could see examples of which Ms. Campos spoke.  The teachers were eager to share the information with their students. So, through out October and November, CHESS sponsored educational trips to Rio Lodoso and El Apante for the students attending 10 of the 12 CHESS schools. 

In October of 2007, the owners of the Rio Lodoso and El Apante sites were brought together to give everyone a sense of the importance of the sites to the community.  The families learned about the different sites from each other and became aware of the possibility of a microenterprise available to them.

Now, in October of 2008, we are at the stage of working directly at the fincas where the sites are located to protect and make the sites visible and accessible for anyone interested in visiting them. In conjunction with the local authorities and the owners we hope to create some important tourist sites for the Municipality where people can get informed and enjoy a walk along a river and petroglyphs.

CHESS is lucky to have a great team with experience in archeology. The team is led by Manuel Román, a Nicaraguan who has worked in Nicaraguan archaeology since 1995,  with a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and Mario Molina, President of ICOMOS Nicaragua and

former Director of Cultural Patrimony, with over 20 years of experience in the field of protection and research on monuments and sites. Andres Utting a young architect graduated from Universidad Americana in Managua is overseeing the every day details of the work in conjunction to CHESS staff.

CHESS personnel  has been involved in several visits to the sites with the archeology team to plan the exact place here the path, terraces, signs and view points should go.

Below, Aurora and Rafael Espinoza, owners of the Rio Lodoso, otherwise known as Poza Azul, site discuss important issues with us. It is critical to the success of this project that we have the support of the land owners

SitesFor example, CHESS has been careful to address issues such as the preservation of the natural environment (trees, rivers, rocks, animals) and proper disposal of the garbage to avoid contamination of the natural resources. In accordance with this policy, the owners will ask the visitors to carry their own non-biodegradable garbage back to Managua with them because in VEC there is no system to recycle plastic, metal or glass. The owners agreed to determine a spot where visitors could sit to enjoy a picnic since the nature by itself is beautiful.

Dr. Manuel Roman is often on site to explain to family members (I.e. the sons of the owners of Site El Danto) where the petroglyphs are and the importance of preserving them. Aracely, CHESS facilitators was accompanying us. Rio Lodoso or Poza Azul (muddy river or blue puddle) has a beautiful natural pool where visitors could enjoy at least rinsing their hands. Swimming

We hope to contribute to the preservation of sites, the environment and to give to the owners a sense of pride for what they have. We think with interest and good maintenance the sites can become a second source of income for these local families.

Here is a picture of a local boy enjoying a dip.

On October 24th, 2008, CHESS hosted “Games for educational development” led by Mercedes Gonzalez, M.Ed. Ms. Gonzalez  has more than 10 years of experience developing workshops for primary school, especially for early grades.Games

She enthusiastically put all teachers to play. The first exercise was an ice breaker which used name tags of different colors and six small balls of different color and textures. This activity allowed the group to get to know each other better as they laughed and ran about.

Ms. Gonzales emphasized how typical school activities actually repress children’s enthusiasm, energy and will to speak out. She showed how using games, such as the ice breaker that the teachers took part in, at different times of school day, can make class time attractive to children.

Ms. Gonzales involved everyone in an interesting activity to show what teachers really think about childhood and schooling. On four different sheets of paper she wrote: School, Child, Teacher and Play. She then asked everyone to write words associated to each of these four topics. Following the brainstorming exercise, each of the lists was reviewed. It was clear that the concepts of Child and Play contained similar words but that they were totally different from the concepts of School and Teacher.

This illustrated the different ways we think of children and school; they are just not in agreement. Now, Ms. Gonzales said, how can we continue to wonder why we have so much problem keeping kids in school. This was an easy way to illustrate for everyone how the conception that teachers, and people in general, carry about schooling and children.Games for Educational Development”, a Workshop for primary grades

Ms. Gonzales offered the teachers a very unique and exciting way to get students enthusiastic about studying poetry; this is a difficult area of Spanish and there are not many children who enjoy it but, at some point, it is required by the curriculum.

The approach was so very subtle that the teachers did not even realize what they were doing until it was explained to them AFTER they had already completed the task. Teachers were given pap3VGFT ;LMO5 er, paint and crayons and told to color to the rhythm of the music to which they were listening. They were then asked to look at what they had created and try to see different things in their “works of art”.  The teachers were asked to pick out a few of their thoughts about their creations and write a descriptive paragraph. The group took a short break and then each person read their paragraphs aloud. Surprising to the teachers, it turned out they sounded like poetry! Ms Gonzalez asked, “Did I ask you to study different poetry and then try to write a poem or were you just inspired to do it?”

How did this happen, the teachers wondered.  “When we play the different parts of our body activate” explained Ms. Gonzales. She quoted Carlos Alberto Mejia, educator and author, “after playing, we can assign the most difficult tasks because our brain is receptive and ready to respond and solve problems.”

ThisMs. Gonzales workshop reinforced what the teachers had already learned in the material covered by UCA professors at a recently finished course. In order to learn, a child needs a good, enthusiastic, friendly atmosphere. The child must be encouraged to use his/her own creativity and point of view when learning; memorizing is not learning.

During the workshop, teachers did not only reflect on the importance of play but also got to play a lot. Feedback at the end of workshop carried a common thread, “I thought it was excellent because I learned that through games I can bring more knowledge to the children.

IV. CHESS/PATH Address a Difficult Subject: Gender Based Violence and the Prevention of Cervical and Breast Cancer top

The CHESS project was founded with a commitment to educate the teachers and students of Villa El Carmen on the fundamentals of good health and hygine. Our first workshop, in April 2007, focused on basic hygiene practices. The second set of workshops dealt with the importance of filtering water and consuming only clean water.

Our third workshop took place November 26, 2008 at the main health clinic, Centro de Salud de Villa El Carmen. We were very fortunate to have professionals from PATH available to present to our audience.
PATH, www.path.org, is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. Through strategic partnerships, we hope aspire to improve global health and well-being.
This audience was comprised of both health personnel and school representatives. The topics to be addressed included sensitive issues such as:

  1. Preventing Gender-Based Violence
  2. Prevention and control of cervical and breast cancer

Gender TalkLicenciada Yamileth Molina of PATH is a trained teacher and also a lawyer. She has 15 years of experience working with the issues associated with Gender Based Violence. She uses a methodology called “In her shoes" which was developed by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the state of Washington.

Participants were divided in groups of three; each group was given a story to read. Each story told of a woman Gender Talkwho had suffered from either psychological or physical violence. After reading the story, the participants were provided with options as to what they would have done if placed in such a situation. With their own decisions generating the next action in the story, they read on until the end. This methodology was used to bring awareness to the particular issues associated with gender based violence and to discuss the obstacles and options that women have when they suffer from violence.

A clear impression was made on all health care professionals in attendance, gender based violence is a health problem that should be detected and given appropriate treatment even when a clinic does not have a psychologist on staff. It is reassuring to learn that there are several organizations working world-wide with women that suffer from violence.

TalkDr. Vivian Alvarado of PATH is a Cancer Epidemiologist; she has been working in the field of health management for 10 years.

Dr Alvarado provided an overview of both cervical and breast cancer. This basic information was so helpful because Nicaragua is a country where women do not go to have a pap smear taken because their partners don’t give consent. Dr. Alvarado encouraged workshop participants to simulate a pap exam on a plastic cervix.

TalkDr. Alvarado emphasized that a yearly cervical exam including a pap smear, papanicolau, is the best way to detect cervical cancer early on – while there are still treatment options available – and that is why it is so important to go to the clinic every year for the test.

Breast self exams were also described and demonstrated. Dr. Alvarado emphasized the ease

of this procedure and the benefits of doing them monthly. Breast cancer can be detected very early on with these self exams and many more treatment options are available if they can be done in a timely fashion and the worse consequences avoided.

In general, it was interesting to hear the questions and concerns of both mothers and midwives.  Both presenters fostered a feeling in the room that led to good discussions of beliefs and concerns.

CHESS thanks Ms. Molina and Dr. Alvarado for sharing their experiences and knowledge with Villa El Carmen health staff, mothers and midwifes. We at CHESS consider ourselves to very fortunate to make new friends and partners in order to enhance the services brought to the communities.

V. Fence Building in San Miguel top

Fence BuildingIt was December 4, 2008 and even the absence of our fearless fence building leader, Mr. David Slick of the Ormond Beach Rotary Club, did not stop the crew at San Miguel from jumping right into the project. Under the technical leadership of Ben Slick, the work crew of teachers, parents and students, quickly got to work digging post holes. 

Mothers and teachers did not let a temporary shortage of tools interfere with the progress, they lay down on the ground and dug with their own hands.

Fence BuildingWhile one group worked to prepare the holes, another group of parents started to mix the concrete that would be used to hold the posts in place.

CHESS personnel Juan Martinez, Ligia Diaz and Aracely Sequeira were cutting and fitting the top caps to the posts. Many students, mothers and teachers who did not consider themselves very skilled laborers quickly jumped in to help because they realized this was not a very difficult task.

Fence BuildingBy noon all the posts were in place and everyone gathered to have lunch, a nice “arroz a la valenciana” cooked by a woman well known in Villa El Carmen for her tasty food. Everyone in San Miguel joined together and had a relaxing meal, appreciating the outcome of their efforts.

We returned for a second day at San Miguel and it was equally surprising how much progress was made in such a short period of time. Juan Martinez of CHESS brought in the welder in advance of the arrival of the rest of the crew.  He was able to getFence Building a jump on the day and finish joining the gates before starting to weld the fence around the preschool.

When the Ormond Beach Rotary Group, this time with Mr. David Slick leading their efforts, arrived everyone quickly fell into a routine and started gathering the pipes and the mesh that would soon be lashed to the post and become the fence.
 Fence Building

Everyone was helping - the mothers, parents, and children carried pipes and mesh while others helped the welder. CHESS personnel jumped in wherever they could be of use; Manuel was leveling posts while Juan was helping David and others to stretch the mesh and joining it to the posts.

By the middle of the day, it became evident that everyone needed to recharge their internal battery so we stopped for lunch. During this break in the action, the teachers organized a group of preschool students for a brief performance.  The students sang two songs to show their appreciation to David and his group. Those individuals who simply appear ready help when CHESS and the Ormond Beach Rotary Club are so very grateful that these individuals came all the way down from United States just to help them to build their fence.

Fence BuildingSoon, it was time to roll up the very last roll of mesh and the remaining posts for the fence. “The fence looks great” a child said, and indeed the fence was looking great. By three o’clock in the afternoon a parent put the last screw on the fence and the work was done.  Everyone started to cheer and scream “we did it, we did it”.  It was beautiful…there stood the fence; David, the group that he brought, everyone in the community was smiling.  Candies came out of nowhere for everyone. “This, we hope, is not the last fence”, David said, “We hope soon to have our next fence project”.

return to the top of the page

©2009 Chess Nicaragua. All right reserved.