An extra boost where it’s needed most
Over the past few years, the Sister Islands Association has expanded its efforts to support Ometepe young people who have special needs.
Our efforts began during the 1990s, when we received a request from Ometepe for Braille typewriters and Braille paper, which we were able to provide with help from a group of vision-impaired people on Bainbridge Island. Occasionally during the ensuing years we sent down more Braille paper. Then, in November 2005, Sister Islands Trustee Dale Spoor led a delegation of adults to Ometepe. One participant was Beth Schoenberg, who was teaching American Sign Language to students planning careers as interpreters. As a result of her interest, the delegation met with a group of deaf students, their parents, and the special education teacher on Ometepe, Marcos Cordoncillo. The families requested a workshop in Nicaraguan Sign Language, so we sponsored a month-long series of classes led by two teachers from the school for the deaf in Bluefields, in eastern Nicaragua. For the first time, some students and their families realized that there is a way to communicate on at least a basic level.
In early 2009, we hired Marcos, by then retired as a special education teacher, and Karla Varela, a local psychologist, to conduct a survey that identified more than 250 people on the island who have special needs. Later that year, the Sister Islands Association sponsored the first all-island conference focused on this community. Participants included about 200 Ometepinos, mostly children and their parents, and a 10-member delegation from Bainbridge. Officers of the national Nicaraguan organization for people with special needs, Los Pipitos, also attended, and an Ometepe chapter later formed.
Programs for deaf students
After the conference, part of the Bainbridge delegation, along with a young deaf girl and her mother, visited Escuela Hogar para Niños Discapacitado (or, in English, the Boarding School for Handicapped Children) in the town of Ciudad Dario in Nicaragua. The school, in operation for more than 30 years, is run by the Sisters of Saint Anne and serves both deaf students and those with a variety of learning disabilities. The Sister Islands group was very impressed with the school and later arranged a visit by other Ometepe deaf children and their parents. Three families decided the school was a good fit, and we now provide scholarships and travel money so the children can visit their families regularly. The 2009 Bainbridge student delegation paid the expenses for these students for two years with some of the proceeds from an auction they organized.
Meanwhile, the Sister Islands Association has also been sponsoring additional sign-language workshops on Ometepe. In 2010, there were three series of workshops, each of which included a week of lessons in seven communities. Grace Church on Bainbridge Island provided part of the funding, and money also came through a grant that a Dutch non-governmental organization gave to the Nicaraguan Sign Language Project, a Maine organization founded by James and Judy Kegl. She is a professor of linguistics at the University of Southern Maine who first went to Nicaragua in 1986 at the request of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education to help develop programs based on Nicaraguan Sign Language, or ISN (Idioma de Señas Nicaragüense).
Recently, a school for the deaf has opened on Ometepe, in San Jose del Sur, and we are now investigating how we might support its programs or enable more students from Ometepe to attend.
Programs for blind students
Several years ago, we purchased two computers and equipped them with a program that reads out loud whatever is on the computer screen. Blind students come to our office nearly every day to use these computers to explore the Internet, communicate via e-mail, and write and print school assignments. Blind students in Altagracia have become a tight-knit group and have communicated with blind students in other communities in Nicaragua, which has led to some enriching experiences. For example, the Sister Islands Association responded when Jader Guillen, one of the leaders, asked for funding to bring a Managua team to Ometepe for a goalball tournament. Goalball, invented in 1946 as a way of rehabilitating blind war veterans, uses a ball that makes noise when it is in motion. Players wear blindfolds, eliminating any advantage for those who have some ability to see.
How to get involved
Dale Spoor heads the Special Needs Committee. If you would like to become involved in its work, please phone him at (206) 842-5171 or email using this form.
If you live on Bainbridge, please remember the Sister Islands Association when you respond to One Call for All. We use our share to support delegate travel to and from Ometepe.