Meet Sarela Gutierrez, a 9-year-old scholarship student from the community of Batahola Norte. Sarela, as well as the other scholarship students sponsored by the Center, comes from a family with few economic resources. Although all scholarship students attend public schools, which are technically free of cost, many families struggle to come up with enough money for transportation, a school uniform, shoes or even a notebook for their child to take to class. The Center’s “Holistic Support for Vulnerable Children” scholarship program meets these needs for students from primary school all the way up to college. In exchange, the students commit to keep their grades up and fulfill their weekly social service hours at the Center.
Yet Sarela is part of a special set of families in the program: Sarela lives alone with her great-grandmother, Rosa Adela Villalta, who has 76 years of life experience and a young and energetic spirit. Rosa Adela became the sole caregiver for her great-granddaughter after Sarela’s mother left to find work in Costa Rica. Sarela’s reality is becoming more common here in Nicaragua as many parents faced with economic hardship leave their children behind to find work abroad. This may be the reason that in recent years the number of scholarship students with grandparents as primary caregivers has increased. There are currently twelve scholarship students in the care of their grandmothers, which has caused the Center look for ways to respond to the unique challenges and needs that this group of women face.
Since 2007 the Center has offered creative spaces and workshops for parents of scholarship students. This year the Center is including a workshop specifically for primary caregivers of advanced age, which began in October and will continue through the end of 2013. Psychology student interns from the local Jesuit university are facilitating the workshop called “Educate with Love,” which aims to improve communication, respect and affection within a multi-generational family, as well as build relationships among the women who share in this experience.
Carmen Augustina Torrez, another grandmother participating in the workshop, has come to the Center´s creative spaces ever since her granddaughter, Genesis Torrez, became a scholarship student. Carmen notes, “I started coming to the scholarship program activities because I wanted to play with my grandchildren and participate, too. I like it because I learn a lot and because I didn’t get to have that kind of experience during my childhood.” Genesis was eleven when her mother moved to Panama to find work and her grandmother became her primary caregiver. Genesis was a scholarship student for seven years, has taken a computer class here at the Center and is currently involved in the youth violence prevention network.
Carmen has continued participating in the program now that Genesis’ cousin, Josue Gutierrez – also cared for by Carmen – has become a scholarship student while his mother tries to find work. In reflecting on her family’s involvement in the Center, Carmen notes, “I’ve learned a different way of relating to my family. I give my kids more attention and I recognize that I have to help them find solutions to their problems. Before, my family was really violent, and now we’re not. We would fight and yell a lot; now, we’ve learned to sit down and talk things out. We have all learned a lot at the Center, and our family has changed for the better.”
Rosa Adela also reflects on how grateful she is for the support Sarela has received from the Center and that she is now also receiving through the workshop for grandmothers. “I’m happy to be participating in this experience and I hope that this group can continue to work together as companions and continue learning more about culture and family. Never before did I think that Sarela would learn to be so well educated. She has learned many things that I could not have taught her on my own.”
Article to be featured in Friends of Batahola Newsletter coming out in February 2014