Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thank you, Nicaragua, Humbly yours.....

I just returned from a week in Nicaragua on an immersion trip with colleagues from my university. It was a powerful experience and one that is not yet finalized within me. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the laughter, openness, spirituality and wisdom of the people living in and around Managua, Matagalpa, and Masaya. They gave of their precious time to fourteen professors and administrators from Seattle. I have much to think about as I remember the experiences I had. At this point I have just returned from a long trip, little sleep, hot, hot weather, and what, on the surface, appears to be vast differences between a small country in Central America and a city in the US. But over the next few weeks as I sort through my notes and journal, photos and videos, I will return to this journey again and again. Tonight I am too weary and spring quarter begins tomorrow so I will be brief with a few ramblings. We can't go into countries such as Nicaragua (the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) and save anyone. We are not the experts. The poorest women from Matagalpa joined together to form the Union of Organized Women of Yasica Sur (UMOYS). Over twenty women walked to meet with us, many walking for more than an hour during the hottest part of the day. They generously shared their story. More than 300 women strong just in the Yasica Sur basin area, these women talked of their work to better the lives of women and families by assessing the needs of their communities. They need roofs to keep the rain out, medical care, shoes for their children so they can attend school, peace in the home. They talked with us for over an hour, sharing how they have built a strong and sustainable organization. A woman said that, because of her work with the UMOYS, "I now feel free, liberated. I did not know what was out there. We are poor. But now I can talk to anyone." I will listen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It is the end of the quarter at my university and life has been extremely busy. I was out in the field (schools that is!) observing my grad students at their practicum sites. It is so fun and makes it very clear why I love this field so much. The KIDS!!! I have dedicated, awesome grad students that are teaching KIDS (children and young people with disabilities). These kids are so amazing, brave, funny and endearing. I will give each of them a name as I tell their story but of course you know it is not their real names!

Carrie is a middle school student that cannot speak in school. She is able to speak to her family but not her teachers or peers. She listens, she writes, she works in groups but she does not talk. Her teacher (my student) is completely supportive and accepting as she communicates with Carrie and carefully puts her with other students that treat her with respect. Carrie comes to school to learn; the school is helping her and waiting patiently for the day that she might share her thoughts with her voice. But, if not, she continues to receive a great education.

J is a thirteen years old and struggles to write at the 2nd or sometimes 3rd grade level. There is nothing wrong with his ability to learn; he has a disability in written language. The students write in their journals every morning before beginning their lesson. My grad student was amazed that J had increased his writing from one or two sentences to an entire page. She asked if he was willing to share his writing with the small group of students. He said he would and haltingly read his journal, describing his fear as he went out with the garbage before coming to school and found that his families' car had been broken into and the stereo torn out. He read how he ran back into his house to tell his parents and that they did not believe him at first. He retold the sad tale of his morning ... reading his own writing. It was important to him and relevant to his life. The teacher gave him the respect and support that he needed to find his own words on paper.

Nate is also in middle school. A clumsy, crazy and unique time of life for a child moving to adolescence and on to adulthood. My grad student has a class of unique and wonderful students with a range of severe to more severe disabilities. She manages a crew of paraprofessionals that teach and care for these children with respect and appreciation of their own individual stories. I observed "award time" where my student announced three or four awards for her students that had done exceptional work making it to classes on time, sharing space with other students; seemingly small accomplishments but huge to the individual kid. Nate's name was announced and he went mad with joy. He leaped into the air and hugged each teacher in the room (he stood in front of me with a huge grin and debated whether to hug me or not, he didn't!) and then ran in ecstatic circles waving his small piece of paper in the air. Someone watching through the window would have thought he had just won American Idol. It was wonderful and life-affirming to witness his happiness for his recognition for doing something small.

If you know a special education teacher tell them they are doing a great job. If you know a child or young person in special education find time to share their accomplishments. Each of the students that I saw in the schools will contribute to our society in so many ways. Work, school, friendship, inspiration, and sometimes a nudge to others to take joy in the small stuff.

Just a cool picture taken on the Mississippi River.....