A Word From Ed & Barbara Dunsworth
Director and Assistant of Operations (Nicaragua)
31 March, 2020
Hello to all from Ed and Barbara Dunsworth in Connecticut.
1st of all we´d like to thank all of you for your prayers and support in these most difficult of times.
Because we are in the higher risk category Barbara and I decided it would be prudent for us to shelter-in-place here in Connecticut and oversee the Pathway Program remotely from here.
Our daughter Jacqueline and her husband Matt, have kindly offered us their apartment and for our safety they have moved to another available location nearby. We are in day 10 of our 14 day quarantine after travelling from Nicaragua on March 22nd.
We, our 4 children and their families are all well.
Hand in Hand Ministries started the Pathway Program in 2006 with three grade one students and that number has grown over the years. In 2009, a newly incorporated Canadian non-profit, Pathway to Progress Nicaragua has partnered with Hand in Hand Ministries enabling the program to expand to 90 students.
Things are a lot different now than they were in the initial years.
Then, we were new to Nicaragua and learning how to function as foreigners, educators and mentors to the families that entrusted their children to our care.
Then, as novices in a strange land, we navigated the terrain and learned, little by little, how to best implement our vision of offering children from disadvantaged households an opportunity to get a good solid education that would hopefully lift entire families out of generational poverty.
Then, unsurprisingly, we encountered a fair amount of mistrust and resistance from the very families that we were called to help. Their belief that education could be of any value was weak at best and their understanding that they had a role to play in their child´s education was scant.
But we persisted, always focusing on the goal and always asking ourselves at every turn, every decision, “What would we do in this situation for our own children?”
Over the ensuing years we encountered many challenges and many heart-wrenching decisions affecting children and families in the program. We soldiered on.
And here we are in 2020, after almost 15 years of hard but very rewarding work.
Over the years we have noted small incremental steps in trust-building and lessening resistance in the families towards us, and the program in particular, until we arrived at a place where we have built an educational ministry that became fully functional and much-loved and trusted by the participating families.
Most of this success was and is due to the hard work and dedication of our staff of 11 Nicaraguans who fill the roles of social workers, tutors, cooks and den mothers towards our 90 students.
We have graduated 36 students from high school and the vast majority of them have gone onto higher education.
Although this, in and of itself, is impressive, a more satisfying result for us lies in the change in attitude the program has fostered in the parents. Proof of this change played out at the end of the 2019 school year when we had to ask 3 students to leave the program for various reasons, all revolving around non-compliance with the program norms.
This, as you might imagine, was a very difficult decision for us and was only made after exhausting every other available alternative during the entire course of the 2019 school year.
Well, guess what, those same 3 students are now all enrolled and participating in their classes in Loyola in 2020 because their families saw the benefit of a good education and couldn´t bear the thought of returning their child to the public education system.
And now this challenge of Covid-19 is facing us, not only in the U.S. but all over the world, including Nicaragua.
A few weeks ago when the vice-president of Nicaragua announced the 1st confirmed case of coronavirus in Nicaragua, the people panicked. Our families, along with many others throughout the country, immediately held their children back from going to school.
Because of the experience of the social crisis in 2018 when a similar reaction from the parents ensued, our students´ two schools, Loyola in Managua and Asunción in León, very quickly reverted to online classes.
Understandably, our families as well, decided not to send their children to our Center for tutoring nor to swimming and extra-English classes on the weekends.
During the 2018 upheaval students still attended our Center and the weekend activities and our social workers were still able to visit the families in their homes.
This time around all those options disappeared overnight.
Shortly after this it became clear that severe budget cuts were going to have to be made for the program to survive.
Our staff of 11, sensing the gravity of the situation and the impact it would have on their employment, on their own and without any prompting whatsoever came to us and unilaterally said that they would all prefer a salary reduction rather than see anyone lose their job.
While all this was hanging in the air, the staff, led by the coordinator Arlen, quite quickly came up with a strategy to enable the continued service of our mission.
With social distancing as the goal, the social workers, Dalieska, Conny, Darling and Anielka, switched from home visits to phone visits to enable them to continue to accompany the families and determine what assistance and support was necessary.
Juan, our lead tutor, who had in 2018 started a YouTube channel to post videos in Math and Physics to provide extra help and review, started upping the content to enhance the capacity during the current crisis. Juan as well as our other tutors, William and Guillermo, are responding to the students’ needs online and through WhatsApp and telephone communication to help them generally and more specifically through this weeks´ 1st quarter exams.
Luvy, our reading coach is making sure the students have access to the books in our reading library and this week will start making videos to share stories online with the different grade levels.
Ivonne, the Center´s den mother is assisting Arlen in myriad tasks.
Arlen, our coordinator is busy managing the expenses and overseeing the other 10 staff and their needs.
Our social workers are in constant communication with Arlen to let her know what difficulties the families are facing and as a result we have helped out in various ways:
- We´ve lent 3 laptops to families that have no way to access the online classes from Loyola and the tutoring help from our tutors
- Since our meal program at the Center is no longer operating we parceled the remaining food supplies and donated them to 4 needy families in the program
- We also are keeping a close eye on each family to enable those that need food assistance have it on a timely basis
- We are assisting financially those families that need help buying data to stay online
Over a year ago Barbara set up all our students on Duolingo and she continues to monitor their progress online.
In short, due to the efforts of our staff and your continuing support, the Pathway Program is continuing to work with the students and their families to try to ensure the best outcomes possible under these very trying circumstances.
Many thanks to all of you for your prayers and support. Together, with God´s help, we will surmount the obstacles we have all been forced to deal with.
May God´s blessing be upon you always.
Edward and Barbara