Beca Scholarship Students gather to discuss their studies and build community with one another. Beca translates to scholarship in Spanish.
It’s late afternoon in Managua. Nicaraguan heat lessens as the sun lowers. A group of teenage students join at their local CANTERA Youth Center. Some students have traveled an hour and a half, on two busses for this two hour workshop; others walked from a few blocks over. Thanks to their scholarship, these young adults are not forced to find a full-time job at 16 or 18. Though their scholarship only covers a portion of their academic expenses, it gives them enough economic flexibility to grow as academics and professionals in high school or university and dedicate time to their communities’ development as CANTERA Youth Leaders.
In addition to working together in their communities, these young adults periodically attend workshops to share their experiences as scholarship students. Some are long-time friends; others are recent acquaintances. The activity kicks off with an icebreaker so everyone gets to know each other.
During the icebreaker we pair up and take turns speaking about different questions such as “How am I coming into this space? How do I feel right now?” “What is my dream for myself?” and “How do I want to impact my community?”
This check-in allows students to dive right into serious topics with each other rather than just share small talk. A university student comments, “Although we come from different communities or are studying different things, we have common dreams and we all want to transform our communities…. We all want a better quality of life not just for ourselves, but also for our families and neighbors.” Another shares, “For me, it is so important to feel heard, and it is really special to be present to someone else by listening to them.”
As the icebreaker closes, we start to reflect using the artistic metaphor of “A Tree of Support.” Each student receives different paper cutouts – roots, trunk, leaves, and fruit. On the root, they write a difficulty they face as students; on the trunk, their accomplishments; on the leaves, who they receive support from; on the fruits, the hopes and dreams they have for the group of Beca Scholarship Students.
Beca Scholarship Students artistically represent their scholastic experience. The roots represent the difficulties they face; the trunk, their accomplishments; the leaves, the support they receive from others; the fruits, the hopes and dreams they have for the group of Beca Students.
First, they share the roots, or difficulties. Many share that they struggle with how far they have to travel to get to school; some from the rural communities have to travel the day before, spending the night in Managua so they can be in class by 8 am on Saturdays. Others find it difficult to work to support their family on top of classes and schoolwork. One student says, “I am so tired by the time I get to class that it is hard to comprehend my lessons.” One university student from a rural community shares, “Without a computer or tablet or even steady internet access, I find it hard to meet my professors’ expectations. More and more of my assignments require access to technology.”
Despite the challenges, many share that their accomplishments motivate them to continue studying. A high school student mentions that this year she has improved her grades. A young man shares that his family now recognizes how important his studies are to him. While previously they wanted him to look for a job rather than pursue a higher education, now–to the best of their ability–they support his studies. Another student says, “My biggest accomplishment so far was helping to organize a student fair at my university. The skills I have learned at CANTERA have helped me be a leader at university.”
On the trunk, the students share what they study: Spanish, History, Journalism, Computer Technologies, Medicine, and Education. By sharing what they are learning, they begin to identify similarities; those who are studying similar things can reach out to each other for support.
By this point, the tree is starting to take shape. Each student has added roots and trunks; only leaves and fruits are missing. On their leaves, students share the different types of support they currently have that help them continue their studies. Everyone shares the importance of the scholarship; though it does not cover all their school expenses, without it they would not be able to afford their books, materials, uniforms, or other needs. Some identify their families as sources of support. A few of the younger students say that had it not been for for the CANTERA Staff’s motivation and encouragement, they would never have thought they could stay in school or university. While for most it is hard, each student can recognize at least one support system that helps them to continue pursuing their dream of higher education.
Lastly, students write on the fruit what kind of support they hope this group can bring them. Many share that they hope to receive solidarity–learning about others’ similar challenges, receiving emotional and academic support. A university student shares that he hopes for access to technology or internet. Others say they hope for a space for self-care. One young woman asks for workshops to process family problems, while another asks for a workshop to help improve study skills.
It’s amazing to watch how this space helps revitalize the Beca Scholars, reminding them why they work hard every single day to keep going to school. I am constantly amazed at the obstacles they overcome. Creating this tree of support with them with them reminded me of my own dreams and goals for myself: I too will work every single day to keep growing and learning from the world around me.
High School and University Scholarship Students pose for the camera after the workshop!
Blog written by Camille Vaughn, past CANTERA Development Coordinator. Learn more about Friends of Cantera’s Beca Scholarship Program here.