Almonte's SchoolBOX helps build a Nicaraguan school.

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byArlene Somerton Smith and Robin Morash

When Canadian teens come face to face with Third World poverty, the encounter affects them for life. The youth from Anglican Parish of Huntley in Carp, ON are now “hooked on helping others” after they spent 10 days last spring in Bella Vista, Nicaragua building a school. “My Nicaraguan experience really changed my perspective on the world,” said Samantha Green, 17, West Carleton Secondary School. “It is a poor country rich in people.”

The teens worked with local volunteers and skilled trades people to complete work on a school in the small rural village of Bella Vista. There are no cars in the farming community, and only a few bicycles. Nearby sugar cane fields provide a livelihood for some, along with the prospect of a shortened life expectancy due to exposure to pesticides. Often children help their parents with crops instead of attending school.

The Bella Vista school will be available to educate 32 children from Kindergarten to Grade 2. The youth from Carp became friends with these children, drawing out the shy ones and communicating despite the language barrier. “The children of the village taught us just as much or more than we taught them: joy in being alive and the ability to play despite poverty and lack of opportunity,” said Ryan Howie, 17, West Carleton Secondary School.

The Bella Vista community welcomed them on the first day with balloons and a celebration to help to get to know each other. They played games together, and the children loved to help them with their work. “By being there, we showed the children that we care about their education, and that every child has a right to education. It was a great experience for both our group and the children of Bella Vista,” said Drew Morash, 17, West Carleton Secondary School.

While there, the group worked with SchoolBOX’s Director of Operations, Ronald Chavarria, a dedicated staff member who constantly shows his love of the kids he helps. Ronald grew up in absolute poverty as a young boy and teenager but went on to become a chartered accountant and is now an ambassador for SchoolBOX. He models how education can change a life—a necessary role model for the kids of Nicaragua who do not know whether school is really worth it for them.

Building a school with SchoolBOX was an educational, cultural and life experience for youth from Carp. They hope to visit the school and the children again in the future to see how their work changed lives. “Together we celebrated the building and opening of their much improved new school. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. Upon returning home I was reminded of my blessing in being Canadian,” said Lindsay Green, 15, West Carleton Secondary School.

Education is the best weapon we have against poverty. If you want to support the work of SchoolBOX and have fun at the same time, their 6th Annual Latin Fiesta will be held on Friday, September 30 at 7:30 in the Agricultural Hall in Almonte. Enjoy dancing by Salsa Olé, live music by the Star Tools and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, free for 13 and under, and they are available at the door.