24 oktober 2013


Two years ago, I met this little girl while I was working at Nueva Esperanza primary school in Nicaragua. Her name was Lupe and she was about 5 years old. Every single day, she would come running to the front gates to jump into my arms andgive me a big hug. This morning I walked into the school, and guess who was waiting for me at the front gates ... Lupe ... She said to me: 'Hi, where have you been? Are you going to stay this time?' For some reason that made me extremely happy and very sad at the same time.

5 oktober 2013

To the dentist ...

These past two days were probably the most difficult, shocking, exciting and challenging days of my stay here in Nicaragua. It all started when Pauline asked me to be the interpreter for a cameraman from the States who was doing a documentary on a dental program in Granada this week. A group of dentists and dental surgeons organized an outreach program to give free dental treatment to as many people as possible. We would bring about a hundred kids from the school 'Pablo Antonio Cuadra' to see the dentist. For many of these kids this was probably their first time.

On Thursday morning I accompanied Donald and the cameraman to the school where the first fifty kids were already waiting for us. The other group of fifty would go on Friday. With me as an interpreter, the cameraman interviewed two of the teachers and filmed the kids on the bus ready to go to the dentist, not knowing what was about to happen to them. The bus drove us to the center of Granada, where the dental program was set up in a private high school next to Casa de los Tres Mundos, one of the most significant buildings in Granada.

As soon as we entered the school, we took the kids to an empty classroom. The sight was impressive. At the entrance there was a small desk with two assistants trying to keep track of all the people waiting for check-ups. Two classrooms had been transformed into operating rooms and dental surgeons were already performing what looked like very complex procedures. In the last room there was a dentist doing the basic check-ups before sending people to the right line to wait for further treatment.

If this sight was impressive and frightening to me, I can only imagine what it must have been like for the kids. There was no way the 'ayudantes' could handle this by themselves. Since Donald had to go back to the office, I ended up being in charge of the entire group.

We divided the children into two groups: the ones older than 9 had to go to the adult side, while the others went to the pediatric side of the 'dental clinic'. Two volunteers were in charge on either side and together with an ayudante they made sure three kids at a time were escorted to their initial check-up. I walked from one side to the other trying to keep an overview of how many kids had already seen a dentist, and accompanying those who needed more treatment. I ended up in the operating room with different kids who needed a tooth pulled, something so frightening to them that some of them started crying and screaming. One of the boys was so afraid that he made sure I was not going to let go of him by digging his nails into my back.

The whole afternoon our students went in and out of the operating rooms to get their teeth fixed. Some had such bad problems, the doctors couldn't do anything to help them. At about 5PM the last kid went in for treatment. The bus was already gone with the other kids who had waited so long that games or toys were not exciting anymore. We sent the last kids home by taxi with their parents or teachers. The end of a very, very long day.

On Friday morning, we had to go through this all over again. At 7.30 in the morning I was in front of the school, together with a group of new volunteers and ayudantes, waiting for the bus to arrive. Another fifty kids were about to go through the same experience as the others. Of course, some of them had already heard from the others how terrifying it all was, so you could feel the fear among them. This time though we were better prepared for this, so I gave the volunteers a short briefing of what was about to happen before entering the school. By the time they were all inside the classroom, different volunteers and ayudantes were on both sides of the clinic, ready to play their parts. I put one person in charge of either side, which helped me a lot because I was able to keep a better overview of what was happening. The day started alright, but as the hours passed it became clear that many more kids needed further treatment. Although these were older kids then yesterday, most of them were sent to the paediatric side. The volunteers tried to keep the other kids busy with games and activities, but after hours of waiting even the funnest games were not fun anymore.

One girl needed such extensive treatment that I ended up staying with her all afternoon. They started working on her a little before noon, pulling out one of her baby teeth. Although I explained to the teacher that she needed further treatment after this, he sent her to the classroom and forgot all about it. The fear in her eyes when I walked back into the room to come get her, was indescribably painful to see. The surgeon explained she needed a root canal treatment on two molars on either side of her mouth. They ended up working on her till 3 p.m. The surgeon explained to her that if they hadn't done this treatment, she would have lost both teeth within a month. Now she will be able to keep them.

We gave the kids toothbrushes and explained to them how important it was to brush their teeth every day, but it became clear that this was not the kind of problem we would be able to solve in one day. These kids can't even afford to buy food, why would they spend money on a toothbrush and toothpaste?

2 oktober 2013

Part of the funds goes to ... a new classroom

As some of you may already know, over the past few months - together with many friends and family - I raised more than €6000 for the NGO La Esperanza Granada. A couple of months later the moment has finally arrived for me to transfer the funds to the organization.

When I arrived to Granada about two months ago, with a huge amount of money in my bank account, it didn't take long to find a project this money could be used for. During the month of August, a group of British students worked on a new classroom for the school 'Madre Teresa de Calcuta'. As construction progressed, it became clear that there weren't enough funds to finish building the classroom. Just about that time I arrived to Granada. During my first week at the office, Pauline explained the situation to me and we decided to use some of the money to complete this project. At the end of August, I first took a picture of the classroom while construction was still underway, and I agreed that this would be a project worth spending part of the money on.

About a month later, the classroom is finished and just needs painting. The school finally has a classroom for the smallest kids. It is hard to describe the feeling when seeing these kids on the first day in their new classroom. The teacher seemed really happy and just couldn't stop talking about the walls, the roof and the cool breeze (38°C) entering through the window.

Soon the classroom will be painted and an official opening will follow. In the meantime, it was great to read the following message in this month's newsletter:

"Another new classroom complete!  Madre Teresa de Calcuta school now has an extra classroom for their kindergarten (preescolar) and also a kitchen for cooking the school food.  It was well underway by the end of August, and now we used funds raised by Anka Verhoeven to complete, including the roof.  The children are happy in their new classroom, only the painting and the official opening to go!  You can read some more about it here on Anka’s blog – in Dutch - http://www.ankanica.blogspot.be/ and English version: http://www.ankanica-english.blogspot.be/"

We also received an offical letter from La Esperanza to thank us for the support:

I often get the question why exactly I chose La Esperanza to give my support to. I hereby would like to answer in all honesty: La Esperanza is the first and only organization of which I know that we share a common goal: the children. The children are and will always be the focus of every project, and I can promise you this: the feeling of happiness when you see a smile on the face of one child here, is not even comparable to the 'happiness' of a life there.

Some pictures to round off: