In Nicaragua you get a diploma for any- and everything, and yesterday we attended the ceremony for Julio and his fellow kindergarten graduates. The government home in Denmark would love the Nicaraguan school system: by and large no one learns anything, but examples are happily made and kids measured, weighed, examined, rewarded, and punished in the most fantastic variety of ways. But the solemnity that Nicaraguans give to even a kindergarten graduation is, I must say, genuine.
We are thirty children, some parents and siblings (and us), the school principal, the kindergarten teacher, some starving dogs, and two photographers. This is an ordinary school in an ordinary barrio. The loudspeaker is a ghetto blaster, the speech is held without a microphone, the decorations are cheap, but effective: blue and white balloons and paper roses. There are exactly two cars in the parking lot: our jeep and an old, but fine, four wheel drive.
The barrio is the gravel-diggers barrio, and half of the residents work in the huge gravel pit. So a third vehicle also shows up: an enormous truck stops outside, and a very small girl and a very proud father get out. (The other half of the residents work in the textile factories in the Mateares Maquila, and the “last” half, if I may say so, are soldiers and policemen from the near by military camps and the police school.)
Everything at the graduation is done by the book.
The obligatory waiting time where children and grown-ups are organised in the right order, the sound system is checked out, and the last children and parents come rushing in.
The entry ceremony, where the girls are accompanied by their fathers or grandfathers, and the boys come by their mother, grandmother, or big sister. The procession is a little sociology study in itself: How many children are cared for by grandparents (a custom among single mothers and other poor people)? How many girls have no men in their family? The line keeps being stopped by photographers so that the families who have hired a photographer can have their pictures taken as they enter. The man with the four wheel drive owns (of course) a cellphone with a camera, like us he takes his own pictures.
Inside, the children are placed to the left, and the parents to the right (one per child). The rest of the spectators hang out outside or in the back of the room. We all stand up for the national hymn, and then the principal makes her speech. She interprets the motto for this year: “With your help we are the present, in order to make a better future”.
She gives an orientation about future improvements in the school, the town council has promised to build a complete fence next year, she expresses her appreciation of the effort made by parents to buy graduation uniforms for their children, and assures them that the uniform has been designed so that the shoes, the shirt, and trousers can be used during the coming school year. Only the hat and the tie are one-time expenses.
She warns that many children are still afraid to go to school, and stresses that it is the school’s responsibility is to teach, but the parents have the responsibility to motivate the children. She admits that in this neighbourhood, where many families don’t eat three times a day, sometimes not even twice, it is a heavy load to send a child to kindergarten at all.
Now the chairwoman for the parents’ association speaks, and prizes are given to the four best students (all girls of course). After the speeches comes the cultural part of the ceremony: a girl dances a folk dance, two teenage girls sing karaoke from a popular song about children as the future of the country, and about why children should be protected from violence and hunger, and be loved instead. A little girl of 7 or 8 presents the famous poem “Margarita”, by Ruben Dario, another tribute to the children.
At long last the children and their parent are called one by one, given their diploma, have their picture taken together with the teacher, and sit down again. As the hours pass the children are, of course, more and more restive, and we are all feeling a bit hungry – especially after seeing the waiting foam boxes with lunch, which are stacked in the first grade class room.
Finally it is done. Everybody competes to snag the photographers for the last pictures of child prodigy with the teacher, with the principal, with the classmates, Then we hurry to get our rations of lunch, and to go home. Few stay on for the party – the food has to be brought home and shared with the rest of the family. Julio and his mother, Bella, are first in line and are quick to take possession of three lunch boxes. We are lucky, it turns out: while we were in the kindergarten, thieves had been in the first grade class room, and had left with most of the food. “But I got my ration”, Bella says, satisfied with herself, in the car home.
So the principal has good reason to look forward to having school fenced all the way around next year…..
At home, aunt Nubia is waiting with the rest of the family. Julio, the little man, is celebrated with grill chicken, while Bella, who normally earns her living by making tortillas, has to tell her customers: ” Sorry, no tortillas today. My son graduated from kindergarten…”
Bella is 26 years old and a single mother of four. She lives on the charity of her grandfather and aunt and is normally a quiet, almost selv effacing woman, very conscious of having used a large part of her life on making mistakes, and of how little future she has left. I have rarely heard pride and joy in her voice. It warms the heart.
This last picture is of Esperanza Margarita, the apple of Bella´s eye.