Greg and the Library

¡Hola amigos! Hello again from Nicaragua. I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and share with you about one of our first visits on this trip to Nicaragua, which has turned out to be more valuable than we could have guessed at the time. First a little background about me: My name is Greg Aikens and I am currently serving as the Program Director for ETI. I work as a teacher of students who are blind and visually impaired for Cobb County School District in metro Atlanta and have been teaching at Russell Elementary for the past 2 years. Go Roadrunners! I have done some traveling abroad and had encountered the needs of people, particularly children, with disabilities in developing nations and for several years my goal has been to get involved in international development in this area. I was thrilled to learn about ETI last summer and discover our mission to empower youth with disabilities around the world. I joined the ETI team in September and was delighted to become part of the team traveling to Nicaragua this summer.

Which brings me back to my story… Hannah wrote about our first attempt at finding the library for the blind in Managua. We were delighted to connect with the rehabilitation center next to where the library used to be, but we were pretty disappointed to find that no one at the rehabilitation center could tell us where it had moved. We mentioned this in passing to Manuel, a veritable Nicaraguan jack of all trades who also owns the guest house where we are staying, and like magic, the next morning he produced the phone number and an accurate address for the new location of the library.

Coming up with the address itself is an impressive feat, but in Nicaragua, that is only half of solving the puzzle. Manuel was also able to give us accurate directions to the address. In general, Nicaraguan addresses don’t work like addresses in the United states. Very few homes and buildings have street numbers, and while most of the streets probably have names, no one knows them or uses them for navigation. Instead, Nicaraguan addresses direct people to a general area of town and then to a landmark. From there, directions are given in the number of blocks in a certain direction. Sometimes these directions are the standard compass directions we are accustomed to, north, south, east, west, but often east and west are replaced with ariba and de bajo (the spanish words for up and down). To spice things up, some directionals include things like “toward the lake.” Occasionally the landmark will be something that no longer exists, e.g. “where the large planters used to be” or “where the movie theater was.” So navigation in Nicaragua requires a general knowledge of local geography, a great sense of direction, and sometimes knowledge of recent or not so recent history. As strange and disjointed as this system seems to my North American sensibilities, the system works. Thus far, we have been able to find every location we have needed with minimal searching, mostly thanks to the expert advice provided by Manuel.

The address for the braille library includes a large tree next to a small alley, which turned out to be a very accurate description. Our team arrived in the early afternoon and was greeted by Ynin, the coordinator for the library for the blind. Our intention was to request a meeting with the director of the library, but after sharing a little about ETI’s mission and our goal to have a seminar for parents of children who are blind and visually impaired while we are in Nicaragua, Ynin offered to help us contact parents and children to invite them and even offered us the use of the library space for the seminar. Our team was blown away by her hospitality and willingness to help. In planning for this trip, we knew that securing a location for a parent seminar would be one of the most important and potentially most challenging tasks to complete, and on basically our second day of work in Nicaragua, we had not only secured a space, but found someone who was willing to invite parents and children on our behalf to attend the seminar. This was a major step forward that made the rest of our work in Nicaragua far easier.