I am very excited and happy to share that I have donated school supplies to four schools on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua using funds from “Gabby’s Birthday Fundraiser 2022”. During a visit to Ometepe Island from February 18th, 2022- March 4th, 2022 my family, boyfriend and I purchased supplies and hand delivered supplies to the following four schools: Las Cuchillas, Escuela el Madroñal, Escuela Primaria Balgüe and Escuelita Los Ramos (now located in Ciudadela).
I selected these schools with the help of the community and friends I have on Ometepe. I then asked a representative at each school what they needed most for their students, classroom and teachers. The teachers were all extremely kind, helpful and very grateful that I had contacted them. Using their lists, the number of students at each school and the fundraiser money, we visited four school supply stores on Ometepe Island to purchase school supplies and one grocery store, Pali, to buy cleaning supplies the schools needed. I always intended to buy all the school supplies on Ometepe Island as this would help local businesses. Safe to say it definitely did. Not only was each school supply store owner shocked at how many items I was buying, but they were extremely happy to be making a few months’ income in one day. The store owner in Moyogalpa said it was an excellent day for him, and he was more than happy to give a slight discount on bulk items so I could give more items to the schools. I have my dad to thank for helping to negotiate the price and Eric to thank for driving to each store and helping me to carry all the supplies. This process went smoothly thanks to their help.
Breakdown of Costs**:
Total Funds to Spend: $1,540 CAD ($1206.54 USD)
Money spent at:
School supply store in Moyogalpa: $570 USD
School supply store in Altagracia: $117 USD
Convenience store in Altagracia: $170 USD
105 pencils purchased at Balgüe Librería: $15 USD
Cost of guide for 2 schools: $40 USD
Money left: $120 USD
** Extra money will be used to buy soccer balls for the four schools. A big thank you to my Mom and Dad for doing this as I did not have enough time during the trip.
** Based on local exchange rates. I covered the costs for money transfers and exchanges.
Escuela Las Cuchillas
My first stop was the primary school in Las Cuchillas, not far from Balgüe on the Maderas side of Ometepe Island. The teacher I messaged over WhatApp told me it would be extremely difficult to find, as it was an hour walk from the main road up very rocky terrain on the side of Maderas volcano. To ensure Eric and I didn’t get lost we asked Miguel Medina to be our guide to Las Cuchillas. He led us up the road as far as the car would go. Then, we carried all the school supplies to Las Cuchillas which was approximately another mile up the rocky road. When the three of us got there, we were sweating buckets but were greeted by happy and excited kids. Miguel told us the kids were saying, “Look! They are coming!”. Considering how isolated and remote this school is, they probably aren’t used to seeing foreigners show up with bags of supplies.
We met the teachers and handed out school supplies to both classes. We gave each student one book, a pencil and a pen. As a thank you, we were given fruit grown on the school grounds and from the students’ families. We were also presented with a song by a class called “Tortuga (turtle)” and one class even sang us “Happy Birthday” in English (probably because I mentioned the birthday fundraiser).
Eric and I noticed the students’ supplies on their desks were not in the best shape. We also learned that the teachers walk from Balgüe to Las Cuchillas everyday, which takes over an hour and a half. We left there knowing that the supplies would go to good use and really make a difference for the 47 students and their teachers. We left happy and ready for the rainy walk down to the car. We couldn’t have done it without Miguel!
Escuela Primaria Balgüe
This school was our second stop and closest to home on the island. It is a very large school and they were especially in need of cleaning supplies. Eric and I drove to the school with a very good friend Jenniffer, who helped us coordinate the visit. I thought we were going to have a standard visit and drop off the supplies before making another school stop that afternoon. Though to our surprise, Jenniffer led us to the school Director’s office where we were told to sit in chairs overlooking the courtyard. Students poured out from their classrooms. Yes, it was a school assembly! The Directors and some teachers did speeches, while the school’s English teacher was kind enough to translate. Eric and I were in awe and shock to say the least. I gave a quick, impromptu speech telling them these supplies were bought with donations from my family and friends in Canada, and I told them to keep studying and working hard. What followed were a series of dances by students including the infamous “Baby shark” dance, lovely poems being recited on stage and a traditional Nicaraguan dance by the youngest students. The students were so talented. After the assembly, we unloaded the supplies in the office and then visited a classroom (where Jenniffer’s son, Santiago was). The teacher handed me a folder titled “ In memory of the boys and girls at Escuela Primaria Balgüe in grade 3” (translated) with about 30 hand drawn pictures of Ometepe Island from the students. I will hold these very close to my heart. I can’t thank the school and Jenniffer enough for organising that warm welcome for us. I don’t feel like it is deserved, but I know the supplies will keep their school clean and help them learn in the classroom.
Escuela Madroñal, also on the Maderas side of Ometepe Island, was our third stop. We had taught an English class here the week prior and had a great time with the students. This time, we taught the younger students English and then handed out a book and a pencil to every student. The students loved their new notebooks. We also gave both classes many shared items to use such as graph paper, calculators, plasticine, construction paper, white board markers, tape, pens, pencils, pencil crayons, crayons, staplers, scissors, chalk, disinfectant, soap, toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, soccer balls and chess sets. As a thank you we received fruit from the students (lots and lots of fruit). Karina, one of the teachers and a good friend at Escuela Madroñal, gave a very heartwarming speech thanking us and everyone who donated to the fundraiser. I was surprised and extremely thankful for the gift she gave me from the school, which had a lovely thank you note written on the back:
Thank you very much Gabby for your valuable support of our school. “God bless you always… and all the people who support us.” “Thank you for bringing us Joy…” Madroñal School
Escuelita Los Ramos
Our last stop was Escuelita Los Ramos. This school was located in Los Ramos, though after the landslide which ran down Concepcion in 2014, the Los Ramos community had to relocate. The school and community is now located in Ciudadela, which is closer to the lake. The school and community is far from the main road, so thankfully Miguel Medina led the way. Thankfully, the car made it down the winding dirt road to the community, which was a bit challenging to find, even for Miguel. Once we arrived we were greeted by smiling teachers, students and even some parents. The school is actually not in a school building, but is being run out of two side by side houses. The teachers thanked us for the donations and they send a message to everyone who donated saying a very big thank you. Especially as this community is in the midst of rebuilding, any supplies make a difference. We handed out one notebook and pencil to each student, and they were some of the most excited kids we had seen on the trip. As a thank you, we were given two very big boxes of fruit from the students and I was extremely grateful. Safe to say we had the best fresh fruit juice on this trip!
This experience was truly heartwarming and one I will never forget. Seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when handing them a notebook or pencil really touched my heart. The expressions of thanks, gifts of fruit, student drawings and performances were amazing and words could possibly express how grateful I am. School supplies have the power to improve education for students more than we realise. This experience made me want to continue this work in the years to come.
I want to say a very big thank you to all donors to Gabby’s Birthday Fundraiser 2022. Thank you for giving me the funds to do this work. Your money made a huge difference in the lives of so many students on Ometepe Island. Every student and teacher expresses their thanks and gratitude for your act of kindness.
Thank you to the following donors: Georgia Rodrigues, Peter Kozlowski, Paul Richardson, Christine Richardson, Jenny Greidanus, Megan Smith, Eric Kozlowski, Julia Robinson and Nick Milasinic, Lorna and Joe Kozlowski, The Cocca Family, Camran Baig, Joshua Keca, Morganne McPhee and Jacob Podraski, Vienna Garofalo and Nicholas Cino, Andrew De Fazio, Connor Farris, Elijah Mendes, Matthew Dittmann, Mary Kate Murphy, Eve Moss, Mark Chuba, Vikram Chadalawada, The Sanjevic Family, Brian Fernandez & Family, Sharon and Andy Hockin, Glenn and Colleen Nortje, Sierra Richardson, Karlee Vizi, Victoria Kay, Jenna Lehocki, Cynthia and Alban Mendes, Philomena Fernandez.
A special thank you goes out to my mom and dad who have supported this project from the beginning and made everything possible. The inspiration from my volunteer work comes from them and I love them loads. I also cannot thank friends on Ometepe enough for their help and guidance in organising this project. It was possible because of them and the kindness in their hearts to help their community. Lastly, words cannot express how thankful I am for Eric’s help. He drove to all the stores, the schools, helped to package supplies, took photos and kept track of spending costs. He was there for every moment and I could not have done it without him! Love you, Eric!