Follow the 2013 Nicaragua Outreach Team

June 18, 2013

Elim is committed to partnering with people and ministries internationally so that the mission and message that God has given to Elim might become a beacon of hope for people living with special needs around the world, and so that wemight create a global learning and sharing community. This week, we have sent a team to Nicaragua to work alongside, share expertise with, and learn from our partners at Tesoros de Dios in Managua. This page will be updated while the Outreach Team is on their trip. Earlier posts will be listed toward the bottom, with the most recent posts at the top.

JUNE 21, 2013

Today was a sad, yet joyful day at Tesoros de Dios.  We started out by leading devotions for the Tesoros staff, which was led by Ashley and Anthony. We thought it was a great chance to tell them about our Elim theme, “One Body, Many Parts”.  Tesoros is one body but broken up into many parts.  This shows them that all the teachers, therapists, parents, and children all make up an amazing team. We gathered all of our gifts and materials we worked on to present to the staff.  During this presentation we walked through specific teaching methods and tools that we identified with them throughout the week. Prior to this trip, we had asked the Tesoros staff if they could share their approach to involving parents in their program.  It was inspiring and challenging to learn their approach and we are excited to consider ways that we can continue to love and support the children and families at Elim through what we have learned from the staff at Tesoros. It was important to our team to stress the fact that everything we saw this week was absolutely amazing. The hard work, love, compassion, and encouragement the staff has for these children is truly inspiring. Knowing that we can share these same gifts with our Elim children was a way for us all to connect. They were so grateful for our visit and plan to use the materials and tools we use at Elim in their everyday school work.

It was so great to end the last day with a fiesta for the parents and children. Not only was this fun for us to see and be a part of their culture, but was the highlight of the trip for Anthony. The fiesta started with group singing led by Wendy, a personal testimony from Sinead and Anthony, a dramatic skit by the Tesoros staff, and then a Nicaraguan dance led by the male staff and Anthony himself. He was so happy and excited to be a part of the team dance. He was not only the star of the show but got to show off his killer dance moves. To end the fiesta, a piñata was brought out for all the children to enjoy, as well as Anthony (by the way, he took the last hit). It was such a great way to end our last day with so much laughter and joy. We said all of our goodbyes to these remarkable friends that and wished them luck with all their successes at Tesoros de Dios.

Anthony dancing in Nicaragua from Shae on Vimeo.

We had our last dinner together at the guesthouse and shared all our highlights of the week. It was great to know that all the hard work we had done before and during the trip had finally come together at last. We thought it would be fun for us all to go out one last time together as a team and explore the city of Managua. This made for a relaxing night of just being together and being thankful for this amazing experience we had shared as a team. This trip has taught us all so much about the gifts God has given us and how much we have to share with the rest of the world. Each one of us has been impacted by the reality that God is alive and active, transforming people and communities by His love all around the world. Nicaragua is one incredible place that will always have a special place in our hearts.

JUNE 20, 2013

Today has been the longest day thus far, but in my opinion also the most inspiring. Our day today started bright and early as we piled in a van and began a four-hour drive to a different Nicaraguan department called Somotillo. It was there that we gathered at the Food for the Hungry (FH) office, an organization that serves 19 communities in Nicaragua providing support in education, health, agricultural development and more. There we met with various FH staff, parents, grandparents, teachers, advocators, and even a Ministry of Education staff member. We, as the Elim team, had the opportunity to present to these wonderful people. It is important to understand that acceptance of individuals who have disabilities, let alone inclusion, is still a foreign concept in many parts of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for parents or grandparents to “hide” their child from their community.

After both the Elim team and our audience introduced themselves, my brother Anthony and I began to tell our story and recall some of our best and some of our most challenging moments and memories. We talked about things like what it was like growing up and going to different schools and what inclusion looked like in the US during Anthony’s education. We shared what some of our favorite things to do together are, and what a world of difference it can make for a family to support an individual with disabilities.

We then focused on Elim’s Five Stages- a description of five different attitudes one can have when considering disability acceptance. Each person on our team explained at least one of the five stages by offering up their own testimonies, stories, and personal experiences. People were really moved by our group’s honesty, passion, and vulnerability. When our translator asked the group if they had any questions, people began to actually stand up and express their gratitude to us for being there. They acknowledged that God was working through us to help inspire people there to advocate and encourage others to see people with disabilities in a new light. Some people even began to delve into their own stories. It was incredible.

After we ate with the whole group, we got right back to business.  We talked about some practical strategies that both parents and educators can do for individuals with disabilities. We showed them some visuals and answered any questions that they had. We also did an overview of what communication may look or sound like for some learners. For example, we made it very clear that just because someone may not be able to use words or their mouth to communicate- that it doesn’t mean that they do not have the ability to express their likes, dislikes, wants, or needs. A grandmother stood up to tell us how her grandchild communicates with her by smiling when he likes something and by crying when he doesn’t. People in the audience all nodded in agreement. Even with the obvious language barrier, it was clear that what we were saying was making sense. That was a very cool feeling.

My favorite part of the day came next. At the end of our presentation, people stood up and formed a line. They each hugged and kissed us, thanking us wholeheartedly for what we had said and done. It was by far one of the most moving experiences I think that Anthony or I have ever experienced. People asked to take pictures with Anthony and I and with the help from our translator, they told Anthony how impressed and proud they were of him. They also told me how proud they were of my family and for encouraging Anthony to be the man that he is today.

After leaving the FH office, our journey continued to a more rural area outside of Somotillo. It was there where we met Victor, a thirteen year old boy that both FH and the staff from Tesoros de Dios have been working with. Victor was born a typically developing child but developed meningitis as an infant. This has compromised Victor’s cognitive abilities greatly. While Victor is considered “nonverbal” he is certainly a very active young man who has a lot of cognition, ability and potential to communicate. During this home visit, we met Victor’s family, saw where he lived, and had the opportunity to ask questions and offer any suggestions that we had. Victor’s family was very welcoming and happy to have us in their home. They even let us pray for them. That was a very neat moment for our team today.
After leaving Victor’s home, we had an awesome privilege to visit a beach on the Pacific Ocean and unwind a bit. We spend some time taking pictures, getting our feet wet, and had dinner at a restaurant on the beach. We even got to see the sun set! It was beautiful.

Over dinner, we shared our highlights of the day. It was clear that we were all in agreement that today was full of incredibly inspiring moments and we were able to be a part of a very hopeful time here in Nicaragua. Today was quite a journey- a flat tire included- but we are all very blessed and ready for some rest!

– Sinead Ford, Teacher, Elim Middle School Program

JUNE 19, 2013

Our schedule was much different today than the last two days at Tesoros De Dios.  We started our day with our daily devotions with the staff. It amazes us to see their love for Christ and their passion for the work they do to serve the children.

After the devotions, we headed out to the private school, Nicaragua Christian Academy-Nejapa.  We were asked to observe several students that the teachers and staff had questions about.  Inclusion of students with disabilities into the classroom is a fairly new concept in Nicaraguan schools. We observed one student, Oliver, who is starting to use a Dynavox to communicate.  It is relatively new for the teacher to incorporate the device into their lessons.  Oliver has minimal verbal communication and has started this year in the second grade.  He learns through auditory listening and his mother is there to serve as his one on one assistant.  Being the bright boy that he is, Oliver was able to use his device to spell various words and show us how he does work in mathematics adding equations.  He made all of us smile at his uniqueness and his ability level to navigate throughout his device, which he scanned through using a switch and his foot. We will continue to talk to the teacher about ways that the she feels the device can be brought into the classroom instructions more to create more independence for Oliver.

After our observations with the other students, we met with the elementary and high school principals, director of the school, and the psychologist.  There we shared the wonderful things their teachers were already doing and some strategies we felt would help the few students we observed better work in the classroom.  We were all amazed that they looked to us to provide insight on these students.  They told us that everything we shared with them in the meeting would be presented at an upcoming staff meeting and the teachers would be encouraged to find ways implement these ideas effectively in their classrooms. We left them with different materials to give to their teachers.

It is clear that there is immense value in sharing knowledge with our colleagues around the world.  When we are in this environment we are seen as experts which is humbling.  We know that when we are at home we are not experts and, in fact, are among many talented and gifted colleagues who are much more knowledgeable than us.  We are learning that this is not about being ‘experts’- it’s about being open and willing to share what we do know. We can’t wait to get back home and get feedback from our colleagues about our observations and follow up with the teachers and staff we connected with today.  Oliver, and the other students we observed will be positively impacted and transformed through the support they are receiving. So exciting!

– written by Ashley Smallwood, High School Special Education Teacher at Elim<

JUNE 18, 2013

Today was such a great day! It was our second day at Tesoros de Dios, but we feel like we have been there much longer. It has been so fun getting to know the staff and students, seeing new sites, trying new foods, and sharing our stories with each other. We are starting to feel like a little familia!

For the first part of the day, we divided into smaller groups to observe specific students. It is so cool to see our team’s talents, as they work so well with students without even knowing the language or having much prepared. They all fit right in, and have such a good eye for this kind of work. I can see why God has placed each one of us on this trip. We all have different ideas to contribute, different strengths, and different personalities.

Speaking of staff, we are all extremely impressed by the staff at Tesoros. They are patient, loving, and determined, which shows in how they interact with the students- you can tell they love what they do. Once class starts you can see that their hard work has been paying off. The students are eager to learn, to play, and to be at school. The parents also seem right at home. I love seeing them dedicated to their child’s life as they watch during therapy or carry out sensory activities in the early intervention area. The parents are there with their children the whole time, so they take part in activities such as helping their child brush their teeth, sit in a chair, shake a tambourine, or become included in a group for the first time. It is so great to see how proud the parents are, and how much they care for their children. For many of them, this is a place where they can come to feel loved for the first time.

Last year, I was able to meet a boy named Pablo, and his mother. Pablo has autism and goes to Nicaraguan Christian Academy (NCA). Since then, he has started to come to Tesoros de Dios twice a week in addition to NCA.  He has grown so much- it is like he is a different person. When I first met him, he had a hard time sitting in class, focusing, and completing schoolwork. At that time, his mother was struggling to accept and comprehend that her son had autism, and was starting to feel overwhelmed and confused. After suggesting strategies to try at home and school, I remember she started to cry, and told us how lost she felt. Seeing her and Pablo today really blew me away. He is now happy, spunky, and excited to be at school. He sat at his desk, talked with peers, and successfully answered questions. Today we were able to show him how to use a reward system called a Token Board. He was able to work for time to use the iPad, and once he understood the idea, he was all for it! He worked so hard!  I was so filled with happiness and hope and felt so thankful that God has let me see this amazing transformation. I am so proud of Pablo and his mother, and all the hard work they have put in. Seeing them today was a moment I knew that God was with us, that He is good, and that He has been watching over them and the work that is being done at Tesoros de Dios. That was a special moment.

We are so excited for the rest of the week, and can’t wait to share our stories with you when we get home! Thank you so much for all your prayers and support, we are so grateful!

– written by Carolyn Meves, Assistive Technology Assistant at Elim

JUNE 17, 2013

Today was the big day that we met the kids at Tesoros de Dios in Managua, Nicaragua. We were welcomed with smiles from a staff who were eager to meet with us and share what they love to do every day. We began with devotions and prayed that God would show us the way with a productive week. This week will be a challenge due to a language barrier but we are blessed with some bi-lingual staff and translators who helped us engage with the students.

The school itself is a large open environment. This year the school added an additional building because they wanted to grow and provide education for more students. The walls are decorated with the colorful art projects created by the kids. A similar set up to Elim, Tesoros offers an educational set up with various activities to engage their students, including horse therapy, physical therapy, classrooms and a technology room.

Our team was blown away by the creativity of the staff at Tesoros and we are blessed by their openness to receive feedback from our team. Everyone on our team was eager to serve and had something positive to bring to the table. We took time to observe in each learning area and became aware of the students’ strengths and needs. We shared our observations and worked together with the staff at Tesoros to learn and grow through trial and error.

Meeting the students was the biggest blessing of all.  Every one of them was excited and eager to learn. It was meaningful to all of us.  After months of planning for this trip, preparing tools and training materials, meeting the kids was that ‘ah-ha’ moment that made all of our hard work make sense. The kids were so smart and so cute! Every one of them touched our hearts and they each carried a contagious smile upon our arrival. We thank God for this wonderful opportunity and we hope that the collaboration with the teachers will help these kids develop to their God given potential.
…written by Jessica Villarreal, Former Para educator at Elim

JUNE 16, 2013

We made it!  We arrived in Managua on Sunday morning at about 9:30am.  We were all tired from the overnight flight.  But we were greeted with a big hug and smile from Wendy from Tesoros de Dios – the therapeutic center we will be spending most of our time at this week.  What a blessing to have someone welcome us with such warm hospitality!

The team did some grocery shopping for lunch for the week, went out for an authentic Nicaraguan lunch, and then took the opportunity to rest at the guest house for the afternoon.  We’ve enjoyed taking some time to connect more with each other as a team.  The passion that every member of the team has for being here and seeking the Lord as we serve this week is energizing.  We are excited to see the kids at Tesoros tomorrow and meet the staff.  We all just have this sense that we are going to be so incredibly blessed this week.

Tonight our devotional focused on Philippians 3: 7-11.  In this passage we learn that true maturity in Christ is knowing that we are not mature, but that we are weak and always strive to be more like Christ.  As we anticipate our week at Tesoros de Dios, pray that we as a team seek to be humble, eager to learn and grow, and whole heartedly seek the face of Christ as we walk with those He loves here in Managua.

More to come!
– written by Jenna Hania, Elim International Outreach Coordinator

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