Seated on a plastic kindergartener’s chair, I must have looked ridiculous. My long legs barely fit under the chair and the 103-degree heat was becoming uncomfortable. In contrast to my inelegance, my companions seemed completely poised. Meet Mira and Anna, two 16-year-old preschool teachers in Goyena, Nicaragua.
Four hundred Nicaraguans inhabit this sleepy village, nestled in the hot farmland of the northwest. The community was displaced here following the devastating Hurricane Mitch of 1979, which explains the weak, hastily built infrastructure. The church is a small lean-to, and the doctor’s office is without running water and electricity (making it impossible to see patients after dark). Most of the men in Goyena work the soil, collecting sugarcane for the San Antonio
, Nicaragua’s largest sugar company. The women and young adults complete communal chores and work as preschool teachers, nurses and members of the church clergy.
I was traveling in Goyena with seven other Yale students as part of a delegation from the New Haven-León Sister City Project. Founded in 1984, the grassroots organization helps promote sustainable economic projects in Goyena and educates the New Haven community of the social and political problems many Nicaraguans face. To better understand these struggles, our group spoke with the people of Goyena. My time with Mira and Anna was one of many conversations I had in Goyena, but their incredible story and confident manner particularly affected me.
Both Mira and Anna were balancing their preschool teaching jobs with an ambitious academic program. The girls teach Goyena’s schoolchildren every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday and Friday, they endure the bumpy 1.5-hour bus ride to their high school in León. To make up for their days leading preschool, Mira and Anna also attend supplemental Saturday classes; however, an unreliable weekend bus schedule requires a 3 a.m. wakeup. While most people in Goyena rest on Sundays, the girls spend the day finishing homework and cleaning the preschool classrooms. They are among Goyena’s first generation to attend high school.
The girls nonchalantly described this routine. To them, a 3 a.m. alarm signified opportunity. It promised a future unreachable to most in their community. As the girls spoke, I evaluated my customary morning. To me, my 8 a.m. alarm launched a day of fatigue and disenchantment. I generally cursed my professor for scheduling class so early and grudgingly walked 15 minutes up Science Hill. A rigorous year of organic chemistry had exhausted me. Distracted by a violent cycle of midterms and papers, I stopped appreciating the beauty — and ease — of my education.
Had I met with Mira and Anna two years ago, I would have been less shocked by our contrasts. Unpacking my car during Camp Yale, I was wide-eyed and exuberant, eager to attend Master’s Teas, play club sports and begin the pre-med track. Most of all, I was genuinely excited about my education. Today, as the class of 2016 buzzes around campus, freshmen spout similar excitement and energy. However, during their four years here, the current freshmen will doubtlessly find themselves exhausted and, like me, sometimes apathetic toward their education.
To the class of 2016: The disillusionment is normal, but it should not be persistent. Yes, there will be times where you’ll have to battle exhaustion and simply survive a class. Yet in these moments, seek an experience that might shock you out of your malaise. It could be a summer trip to Nicaragua; it could be a change in major. For me, it’s revisiting my memories of Goyena while writing about them. Whatever your solution, always seek to regain — or, if you’re lucky, keep — the excitement you currently feel for education. Don’t let the midterms, homework or 3 a.m. bus rides distract you; an education of any kind is something to be excited about.