USNS Comfort arrives in Nicaragua

The COMFORT anchored within a 10-minute boat ride to the Port of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. Immediately, we noticed a stark difference from Tumaco. San Juan Del Sur is a resident beach town that receives many tourists each year, several who visit to surf its shores. There were several small fishing boats docked inside the harbor. We could see the beautiful cliffs overlooking the water from our hospitality boats.


The weather was perfect. We only experienced a little rain in the morning. I was thrilled to have wonderful weather after experiencing the storms that affected the backpacks.


Coordination Challenge


There is no Rotary Club in San Juan Del Sur. After working through the District Governor for Rotary and our main contact in Managua, we were put in touch with the Rotary Club of Granada. Granada is a city located only 1 hour from San Juan Del Sur. The Rotarians in Granada were wonderful and referred us to work with their partner, who is also a school teacher in San Juan Del Sur. He recommended schools for us to visit for the backpack project. One of the schools proved to be too rural for us to visit. Our bus could not make it through the narrow roads and thick mud to the site. After investigating the schools, we decided to visit 2 schools for the backpack project and organize a new program for the 2 other schools.


COMFORT Partnership


Our educational coalition has offered many opportunities for members of the COMFORT to participate in community projects inside schools through the shoe and backpack programs. In Nicaragua, we collaborated with the USNS COMFORT band and Dental Department to develop a new education and music program for two of the schools.


New Program Development


Since two of the schools that the teacher recommended were not possible for distributions, I started to look for additional opportunities to visit schools or orphanages. I discovered that the band was scheduled to play a concert at a school on June 22. I went to visit the school, Escuela Intregada de Cultura, with the Civil Affairs team and learned that the school offered an after-school program

through a free community center that provided art, music, and English courses for the surrounding community. I talked with the directors to assess their needs and see if there was anything that we could provide them. I explained that I had some donations that had been affected by temperate weather and asked if they might find these supplies useful. They were enthusiastic to take anything, but we encouraged them to focus their requests due to the timeframe of our visit. We helped

organize a visit on the 22nd for multiple programs and donations.


1st day June 22nd


Donations


I helped facilitate the day’s events by coordinating with the directors the time and logistics for the different programs. The directors conveyed to me that they were trying to push an incentive

program for those children who achieve high attendance in the school. We focused our donations to best serve their programs. While the dental volunteers and band members set up their equipment, our partnership donated items directly to the school for their incentive program. We provided 40 backpacks filled with supplies, stuffed animal, and soap, 20 dictionaries, 37 pairs of shoes, 11 teacher bags, 40 stuffed animals; additional supplies- 61 notebooks and 20 school supply kits. They have 80 children in their top attendance list that will receive the shoes, backpacks, or stuffed animals based on their attendance and age range. The teacher bag donations will be given to their volunteer teachers at an upcoming training workshop and the English dictionaries will be utilized during their evening adult English classes. The other school supplies will be applied to their art program or poetry program depending on the quality of the materials. The directors also requested that we collect large cans, for a recycled-object music program since they could not obtain

similar cans in town. We collected two large bags full of recycled cans from the ship’s galley and donated them for their program.


Escuela San Francisco


The second school that we visited was across from the main medical site at the Civic Center in San Juan Del Sur. Many patients waiting in line to receive services watched as we piled out of the bus with instruments, boxes, and bags. There were 233 children at the school waiting for our visit.


The band and puppet show set up outside under awnings near the classrooms, since this school was mostly open. We had a slight setback with the power at the school going out; however, the band

adjusted wonderfully. Instead of their being a full rock concert, the band organized their brass section to finish out the musical program. Soon many of the children were dancing with the military and NGO volunteers.


We closed out the day by giving each child and teacher a toothbrush and toothpaste before they headed out for the afternoon. We also provided each of the teachers with a teacher bag to say thank you and gave the school a donation of soccer balls.


2nd day June 23rd


Escuela Sauda Bikerland


Backpacks and Music


Our Rotarian partners from Granada joined us at the school and were wonderful at helping engage the children. We collaborated to visit each classroom and provided health and hygiene education while distributing the backpacks to the children. The COMFORT brass band set up a concert outside the preschool classroom for the children. After we finished the educational component, the band played a fantastic set for the children.


“La Cuesta” Escuela HNOS. Mendoza


Mendoza was a small school of 51 children with only two classrooms. Since the school was so small, we spent more time inside the classrooms with the children and teachers. Due to scheduling logistics

with the military, it has been challenging to spend a great deal of time at the schools which made Mendoza unique. Each class performed a song, which was a special treat for the volunteers.


Backpack Donation


We donated an allocation of 224 backpacks and 15 teacher bags to the Rotary Club of Granada. The Rotarians will be visiting 4-5 schools in the more rural communities surrounding Granada to distribute the backpacks. We also donated 80 refurbished backpacks filled with supplies to a Nicaraguan NGO-Tengo un Sueño for an afternoon project called the Imagination Federation Inc. at Hermandad Maryknoll high school in Chacraseca, Nicaragua.


Nicaragua was a beautiful and unique experience.


Thank you Partners!


Rotary Club of Granada, Rotary District 6980, Give a Kid a Backpack, Loving Hugs Inc., The Dictionary Project, Samaritan’s Feet International, Clean the World, the College of Education at the

University of Central Florida, and Orange County Public Schools.


Thank you for your support!

Kari Williams

Education Coalition, CP11