#28daysofwriting Day 16: Progress or backwards steps?

Two volcanoes in the distance across a large body of water.  the larger one to the left is cloud capped, the smaller to the right is free of cloud.
Ometepe Island with its volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas.

This Christmas and New year I spent four weeks in Central America visiting Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  I have to admit, I knew nothing much about either country except for their location and that they are Spanish speaking.  I also had vague memories from my teenage years of names such as the Sandinistas, Somoza, Ortega and Chamorro.  Normally, I like to find out quite a bit about a country before I visit, but a serious lack of time meant that I really hadn’t learned much by the time I set foot on the plane on the way there!

I think it was actually pretty good arriving there with little or no perception of what to expect.  I had a blank slate on which my impressions started to chalk up.  No preconceived ideas of the people or the place meant that I took things at face value, listened more carefully to the people to whom I talked and formed my own opinions.

It is a cliche to say that Nicaragua is a poor country but that the people are happy.  But the people we talked to did seem happy, they make the most of what they have and work hard.  One of the taxi drivers who took us from the ferry in San Jorge to Rivas proudly talked about Nicaragua and its people and he even showed us his house!  He also showed us where the Spanish conquistadores and Nicaraguans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1821.  A cross and a statue mark the point in the road.  He told us about how Christopher Columbus came in 1492 and the Spanish stole the land of the indigenous people and drove them out.  He was proud of how all the countries that were colonised by Spain have now achieved their independence and their freedom.  There is a real sense here of patriotism and pride in who they are; poor but free after the struggles they have had in the latter part of the 20th century. In the Parque Central there are statues of the people from the FSLN who were instrumental in overthrowing the dictator Somoza.  It has taken the country many years to get over the damage caused to the economy by Somoza and, whilst the poverty here is clearly evident, systems are in place and seem to be working.

It isn’t difficult to understand that the Nicaraguans might want to take any opportunity to improve what they have to continue to make life better for themselves.  One such opportunity is a new canal, financed by a Hong Kong company, that will cut right through the country.  It is envisaged that it will take the traffic that the Panama Canal cannot and will bring wealth and jobs to the people of Nicaragua.

It will also cut through swathes of beautiful countryside, lay waste to sensitive ecological sites and destroy habitats of up to 22 different species.  It is easy for those of us in wealthy nations to damn the Nicaraguans for going ahead with such a project on the basis that plants, animals and insects will die when they are really thinking of what is best for the people.

Map showing where the canla will cut through Nicaragua

We spent four days in La Isla de Ometepe which is situated in the Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua).  The canal will come straight through the lake to the south of the island.  It is a beautiful, clean, impressive lake. It feeds the local communities, it is fast becoming an ecological tourist venue, bringing jobs and opportunities for the locals.  It is unspoilt and certainly a haven for world weary western tourists.  But is that enough for a people who have been downtrodden for generations and who are simply trying to get themselves back on an even economic keel?

It seems though that opinions are split, that the proposal is controversial.  There are those who are keen to push it through and those who fear that it could end up being a huge white elephant.  In October, San Jorge witnessed demonstrations in the streets against the project.  Is it an idea that will bring short term gain and long term loss to a country that has a lot to offer in terms of bio-diversity, especially in a world where eco-tourism is big business and where we are starting to realise what we have already destroyed in the name of progress?

These two articles explore further the impact that such a project will have on the country.  I encourage you to read them.

Land of opportunity and fear: along the route of Nicaragua’s giant new canal

Nicaragua’s new canal could be an environmental disaster

Life outside the school walls

Le Dentiste 


Do you sometimes feel that your whole life revolves around school, education, our students, the lesson you are teaching next, the next round of reports, marking?  It is often difficult to gain some perspective and remember that there is a world outside school.  We also sometimes get very wound up about the fact that “we have no time” to do anything but meet the daily demands of our work, like improve our practice, read about what other teachers are doing in other schools or go to conferences.  I was reminded this weekend of an analogy made at a conference a couple of years ago about our reluctance sometimes to keep up with new approaches to teaching and learning. Imagine you went to the dentist, you walk into the surgery, there is an old uncomfortable leather chair that has two settings; upright and flat.  Instead of bright shiny, clean instruments the dentist has the sort of equipment that you remember from your childhood.  There is no injected anaesthetic or even any mouthwash, there are spitoons on the bench …. I don’t need to go on.  Would you be horrified that this dentist had apparently not moved with the times, was not taking advantage of the benefits that technology and advances in his field could offer both him and his patients?  Wouldn’t you EXPECT a dentist or a doctor or any other professional with whom you have interaction to be abreast of modern methods, technology, thinking, science?  I would.

I found this article, “Virtualy Reality display lets fire crews see in a blaze” in the New Scientist and marvelled at how this technology could help save lives and these sorts of advances are happening and being used in creative, humanitarian ways all over the world and in all sorts of professional spheres.  Now I know that teachers are not in the business of saving lives …… but we are in the business of changing lives.