Weekly Photo Challenge: Bridging Gaps in Nicaragua


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Bridge.

For seven years I have tried to bridge cultural gaps in Nicaragua. One of the most difficult gaps to connect is the lack of reading for pleasure in Nicaragua. So, three years ago I started a children’s library in my small La Paloma Elementary School.

One day, I delivered office supplies to our local police department, and in turn Juan Carlos asked what he could do for me. I had just the thing! “Juan Carlos, how would you like to come to my library and read to the preschool class?” I asked. He was thrilled! And so were the preschoolers. Bridging the gap of reading is fun!

El Castillo on the Rio San Juan River in Nicaragua is literally a horse town. No cars here!  Boats, horses, donkeys, canoes, and a few foot bridges tie the communities along the river. To market to market to buy a fat pig!

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Not my Circus! Not My Monkeys!


I watched the talking heads on CNN the other night and suddenly realized that I was screaming at the TV, “Not my circus! Not my monkeys!”  When my anxiety decreased, I became aware that these two simple phrases have a lot of meaning in my life lately. Then, I burst out laughing.

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How Reading Helps a Community


“We read to know we’re not alone.”
― William Nicholson, Shadowlands

I had many photos to accompany this post, but I received a call this morning telling me that it is against Nicaraguan law to post pictures of Nicaraguan police in uniform. I had no idea! So, I deleted my Facebook post with the pictures of the police reading to the students and I deleted the photos on my blog post to respect the privacy of the officers and the Nicaraguan law.

Our tiny police force on Ometepe Island consists of 14 police officers in Moyogalpa. They receive a pittance of pay and often work long hours without money for office supplies, gas for their vehicles, etc.

When they helped me recover my phone which was stolen from my house by my 15 yr. old friend, I repaid their kindness with a bag of office supplies for their bare bones office.
The other day my police buddy called me to ask if he could come to my house to talk. He mentioned the word “molestar” and I feared we were in trouble. Instead, when he arrived, he introduced me to the new officer and asked if I could give him a notebook and a pen.

I sighed a big sigh of relief because I realized he simply said on the phone that he didn’t want to bother me. “No quiero a molestar.”

I had him make a list of office supplies the police force needed…a very simple list with notebooks, pens, a scissors, and stapler. Then I purchased the supplies and took them to the office. I also went to the gas station and bought a voucher for gasoline for their vehicles.

The officers were very appreciative and asked in return what they could do for me. I asked if they could come to my elementary school library and read the children a story. I think it is important for the police to be role models for their community and I can think of no better way for them to help me develop a culture of reading than to start at the elementary level.

Yesterday, they picked me up in their police truck, and we went to the La Paloma Elementary School to read to the preschoolers. I had to laugh as I rode in the police truck because the neighbors were all freaking out! I know I created quite a stir!

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Let’s Get Real About Transparency and Donations


“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the political arena lately. However, my post is focused on transparency in giving. How can you be certain that your donation will serve others and not be used for administrative purposes? Can you earmark specific donations to an organization that has a tax-deductible status? What are the best crowdfunding and fundraising websites? And, how can you be certain that your donation to one of the crowdfunding websites will be used appropriately?

I’ve researched the best way for me to solicit donations for my little La Paloma Library in Nicaragua. I’ve debated on whether to apply for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status or continue as I have been, seeking small donations through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites.

I am preparing for the future because what will happen to my little library if I move off the island, travel more often, or return to the states? Can it survive without me? I’ve invested my money and time in developing a comprehensive program to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. It is my legacy. So, in preparing for the future, I want to leave a program that will last beyond me with solid plans and financial support.

So, Let’s Get Real about Transparency and Your Donations…

I. Everything you need to know about your donations to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization

This section gives me a headache! First, you have to determine if an organization is a charitable organization with a 501(c)3 tax-deductible status. According to the IRS tax-deductible donation rules:

The 501(c)3 groups receive the major part of their support from the public rather than from a small group of individuals. They also use the bulk of donated money to further their stated exempt-organization goals. The 501(c)3 groups include churches, hospitals, schools and groups that provide disaster aid, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and similar organizations.

If you would like to earmark your donation to be used for a specific purpose, it is important to know that charitable organizations welcome recommended designations, but that all gifts go to the organization and are subject to its control and final discretion. 

When a 501(c)3 organization receives a charitable gift the organization is required to submit a written receipt to the donor stating (1) the donee organization has ultimate discretion over the destination of the contributions; (2) a confirmation that the donor intends for the organization, not the individual, to be the gift recipient; and (3) an acknowledgment of the donor’s preference to support a particular individual.

The last point is ambiguous in this area of giving because qualified organizations must remind donors that improperly earmarking gifts may compromise the deductibility of the donation.

For example, if an individual wanted to make a monetary donation to my library, I could partner with a 501(c)3 charitable organization so the gift could be tax-deductible. However, there is no guarantee, according to the IRS laws, that an earmarked donation will be used for my library.

This is where transparency is needed. All donors to a 501(c)3 organization must receive a written receipt of their donation as well as be informed that the charity has the final say about where the money will be used.

It is too complicated for me, a one-woman operator. I can’t see the advantage of partnering with a 501(c)3 organization because of the excessive requirements by the IRS with no guarantee that my library would receive earmarked donations. And because of the tangle of bureaucracy involved in becoming a 501(c)3 organization, I would rather keep it simple. In addition, many of my donors are foreign donors whose donations are not tax-deductible because it only applies to U.S. citizens.

Tax Deductible Donation Rules

Fuego y Agua donations for my library and the La Paloma Elementary School.

La Paloma Elementary students check out the new book donations.


II. Crowdfunding and fundraising websites

Crowdfunding websites allow individuals and businesses to solicit donations for any kind of project by accessing a large number of potential donors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using crowdfunding websites and the potential for abuse is always a concern.

Best Crowdfunding Sites for 2016

I have used YouCaring to Help Los Ramos Rebuild after a devastating landslide that destroyed their community and for donations to support The Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Transparency in seeking donations on a crowdfunding website is important. I believe it is imperative to respond to each donor, to be specific in how their donations will be used, and to be open, honest, and accountable for  the money spent.

For these reasons, I always write a blog post with photos about how the donations have been spent and help the recipients of the donations write a letter or make a video thanking the donors. Goodie Bags for Los Ramos    Los Ramos Says Many Thanks

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Weekly Photo Challenge: My Quest for Cultural Diversity and Immersion


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Quest

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This is a perfect photo challenge for me because my blog focuses on cultural diversity and cultural immersion. My quest for cultural diversity and cultural immersion plopped me smack dab in the middle of an all Spanish-speaking community in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of a giant sweet sea, in the middle of Central America.

What have I learned in my quest for cultural immersion in Nicaragua?

I’ve learned that there is significant diversity in religious beliefs and practices. As a result, I am more informed, tolerant, and appreciative of various religions. I feel a deeper and thoroughgoing appreciation of the different religions; their infinite variety becomes a source of fascination and enrichment for me.
img_1291I’ve learned that children are children throughout the world. They all want to belong, to be loved, and to be appreciated for their unique qualities.
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My Place of Solace


“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” ― Mark Twain

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People often ask what we do all day since we are retired. One thing is for certain. We have stopped watching world news. It is too depressing. Besides, there is very little we can do about fixing the big problems in the world. But, there are many little things we can do as expats to help make the world a little better for our local communities.

I started a children’s library in our small La Paloma Elementary school two years ago. It has become my solace and place of refuge from this mad, mad world in which we live.
It is my place of hugs, laughter, and wisdom absorbed through my skin.

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Earth Day Nicaraguan Style


“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” —John James Audubon

This week we are celebrating Earth Day at the La Paloma Elementary School. Because one of the greatest environmental problems in Nicaragua is deforestation and destruction of the Nicaraguan forests, we decided to stress the importance of trees to the elementary students through a variety of fun age-appropriate activities.

The Nicaragua Network reported, ” Logging of the 72,000 hectares of pine forests in Nueva Segovia, Madriz, and Estelí was stopped on Apr. 13 by an order from the Nicaraguan Institute of Forestry (INAFOR). On Apr. 15, government communications coordinator Rosario Murillo announced the formation of a presidential commission to evaluate Nicaragua’s forests which would be led by Attorney General Hernan Estrada.”

We could think of no better way to teach environmental awareness than through Dr. Seuss and The Lorax. Ron hauled a bucket of dirt to the library and filled the cups with the dirt, while Maxwell and I set up the program for the first and second graders.

IMG_1614I found several songs in Spanish from The Lorax movie, downloaded them to a memory stick and played them for the kids using our new projector. We already had The Lorax book in Spanish, but when I was looking for songs in Spanish, I found a video of a woman reading The Lorax and downloaded that, too.

Maxwell introduced the book and asked the children what they thought the book was about. Smart kids! We received a variety of good answers; It is going to be about chopping down trees. It will be about dirty water. I think it is about how to take care of the earth. 

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Do What You Know


“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

What do you do after moving abroad when the newness wears off and you feel like everything has become routine? I hear many expats say, “I need to find my purpose here.”

For some, it may take several years to find their purpose. Others never find it and become disgruntled and dissatisfied because their adopted country doesn’t meet their high expectations. I arrived on Ometepe Island as a freshly retired teacher with two children’s Spanish books. Because of those children’s books and 30 years of teaching K-12 and University education majors, I found my passion naturally.

The neighborhood kids came to my house regularly to read the books over and over. It didn’t take me long to find my purpose. I did what I knew the best…teaching. I became a rewired and retired teacher…my own boss…and started a children’s library in my little local La Paloma Elementary School.

I converted a storage room into a library, made bookcases, collected over 2,000 children’s books in Spanish with the help of many generous benefactors, and hired and trained Maxwell to be my librarian.  He took English lessons from me eleven years ago…and when I expressed my need for a librarian…there he was.

I Do What I Know Best


Teachers are master fundraisers.
We know exactly what the students need and how to get what they need. We beg, plead, and seek donations, discounts, and items on sale like professional bargainers. We are marketing marvels…selling the needs of our students to everyone who passes by our classroom doors. Continue reading

Part Two: Service Learning and the La Paloma Library


“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~Sir James M. Berry

Sunshine they indeed brought…in the form of painting our library, the smiles and laughter of the children, and their service to others. In August, a group from Go for Hope completed a service learning project at our La Paloma Library.

I am sorry this post is so old, but I wanted to spread the word about our new donations.
Fuego y Agua Ultra Marathons will be held on Ometepe Island the first week in February. We volunteer to run the aid stations every year and it is so exciting.

IMG_0157This year, the Fuego y Agua is going to give all the proceeds from their annual Beer Run held on Friday, February 5th to our La Paloma Elementary School.
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The Savior Complex


“While we as people of  God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole “we’re blessed to be a blessing” thing can still be kind of dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be the “blessing” they’ve been waiting for, like it or not.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

IMG_0016There once was a little girl who believed that all good things will come to her if she is really nice and helps people. However, for me, it has turned into a bad fairy tale. I am not sure if it is Chikungunya or my mother’s death that spoke to me this morning as I was sweeping my floor, yet I had an awakening. I. Have. A. Savior. Complex.

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