SAN JOSE DE LOS PERROS, NICARAGUA (Markets and Money): “We would like to help in whatever way we can,” we told the reporter. “We helped build a clinic over near Rancho Santana. Now, we’re going to help this project for poor children in Tola. The kids need uniforms, because many of their parents aren’t able to buy them clothes. So they don’t go to school. It doesn’t cost much to provide shoes and clothing to these poor kids. We’re happy to do it.”
Your editor made his first radio appearance in Latin America…and did his first interview in Spanish…yesterday. Naturally, it all came about by accident.
Upon leaving Padre Walter’s center for poor children in Tola, Nicaragua, we saw a young man with his thumb pointing in the direction we were headed. We stopped. He got in. Turned out, he was a reporter for the local radio station.
“What were we doing in Tola?” he asked.
We explained that we had come at Padre Walter’s invitation.
The Padre is the priest for the whole of the sector. He makes the rounds of the little churches in all the towns in the area, sometimes on foot, sometimes by catching rides with passing motorists.
“There are so many poor people in this area. And this year is particularly bad. It is so dry. The crops have not done well. A lot of the children I meet just don’t go to school, either because they don’t have clothes or they have to work in the fields. The law says that all children have to go to school until the age of 16, but in practice, many don’t. That’s why we have begun this new project in Tola, to work with the families…to try to help them by providing a secure place where the children can come after school…and where they can get religious instruction…as well as a good meal, and whatever else they need to in order to stay in school.”
The center was a large, modest house, which had been converted into something resembling a school. There was a lunchroom, open to the interior courtyard, as well as several schoolrooms on the other three sides. The courtyard itself was surrounded by various tropical plants… unidentifiable to your editor…with no apparent plan or formula.
Padre Walter introduced us to the two nuns who ran the place – both very pleasant and energetic women in their mid-30s. The two gave us a tour of the establishment.
“We are part of a very small order,” the older one explained, “started by an Italian in the 17th century. He noticed that only rich children, at that time, were able to go to school. The rest were often almost abandoned in the streets. So he started taking in these street children and helping them. Now, our group has only 100 nuns…with centers in Italy, Africa, and Romania. But we are still doing the same work.”
“The key to it,” said the other, “is that we don’t take children out of their homes. And we don’t provide schooling. Instead, we try to help the children stay with their families and in school. So we work with both the families and the school to try to support them. What we find is that if a child comes to us early enough, we can make a big difference. We can help him get what he needs to continue his education. He’ll stay with us for years, coming here after class. We make sure he gets fed properly. We make sure he has shoes and clothes and notepads. These are little things, but many of these families can’t afford them.
“Nicaragua is not a rich country. It is a poor country. And in this area, there are many families that have been broken up by the need to find work. Often, the men go to Costa Rica to get jobs. That leaves the mother in charge…sometimes with a lot of children at home and not enough money to take care of them all. We make a point of visiting the home and figuring out how we can help.
“But it is a big job. This is a Catholic group, but we get no support from the Vatican or from the Curia. So, naturally, we welcome any help you can give.”
We liked the women and Padre Walter. It is one thing to try to improve the world…but it’s another thing altogether to try to help a few poor kids. Here, we are not so far from the facts. We can see with our own eyes that there is much work to do. And we can judge for ourselves how likely it is that these workers will make a good show of it.
“We’d like to at least donate the money for the uniforms,” Elizabeth volunteered. It wasn’t much. $35 per kid…50 kids. But the nuns seemed as happy to get it, as we were to give it.
It was after we had made this commitment that we picked up our hitchhiker. And after we told him what we were doing, he pulled out a tape recorder and did an impromptu interview. It was a small opportunity, but we squeezed it; trying to leave the listener the impression that not all gringos were necessarily the greedy bast**ds some people thought they were.
Markets and Money