One of the things that the PC staff here in Nicaragua is very proud of (and apparently well known for throughout the PC worldwide) is what they call CBT – community based training. We don’t live together in Managua for training. We disperse through nearby towns, live with host families, and integrate into the communities. We are also immediately thrown into local schools to teach classes and lead youth groups, in Spanish.
We are working with the home and careers teacher in a local private school (they don’t call it home and careers, but that is the American equivalent). He is allowing us to co-teach a few classes on entrepreneurship with him, and about 30 of his students have voluntarily joined an extra-curricular youth group we have started. In the youth group we are helping them develop and sell a new product in the community.
I am teaching his 10th grade students (high school in Nicaragua goes to 11th grade). I taught my first lesson last Thursday morning on the importance of creativity in product development. I felt this was very important, because the ideas that the kids were coming up with in the youth group were far from creative. We were getting great ideas like gallo pinto, lemonade, sandwiches, and maracas. Gallo pinto is pretty much the national Nicaraguan dish of rice and beans. They eat it at least once a day. No one is going to come flocking to a bunch of kids selling it on the street. Nor is Nicaragua lacking in street vendors of lemonade, sandwiches, or maracas.
I was very pleased that after the creativity lessons a number of the kids were able to adapt their ideas in much more creative, and most importantly more profit-driving, products. For instance, my 10th graders in the group came up with the idea for a candy that can be rattled by a maraca until it is eaten. Nicaraguans love noise. I am sure they would have been a big hit with the kids. A group of 7th grade girls came up with the idea for little cakes with different flavored centers, which I also thought was a good idea. However, when the kids voted on the product that we are going to develop, they chose batidos (fruit milkshakes) made healthy, such as without sugar, or with soy milk instead of regular cows’ milk. I’m pleased with their choice. At the very least I am going to be able to try a ton of different fruits and milkshake flavors!
I’ve heard that some of the youth groups in the other towns are making Chinese food, peanut butter, some sort of pebble-art, and frappuchinos. They are all pretty good ideas in my opinion. At the end of our training we will bring the youth groups together for a business plan competition. I hear my town did fairly poorly last year with a microwavable taco pizza, so hopefully we can kick it up a notch this year with our healthy milkshakes.
Over the next few weeks we are going to work with the kids to come up with a business plan, secure financing, mass produce the product, market it, and sell it in the community. Any money they make they will be allowed to keep, and they are more than welcome to keep going with the enterprise after we leave the community. In addition to the product development and commercialization in the youth group, I am going to be teaching basic accounting and pricing in their class. This Thursday I am also co-teaching a lesson on SWOT analysis. Also, in the youth group we are also delivering to them formal “charlas” (Spanish for chats, or conversations) on personal budgeting and public speaking (I’ve noticed that they are all very timid when it comes to presenting their ideas).
Classes in Nicaragua are a bit different from what I was used to in America. For the most part we sat in straight lines and listened to the teachers, and if we carried on too many side conversations they would snap at us. Here, side conversations are more frequent and the teachers are less likely to stop them. I find it really hard to teach without knowing that I have attention, but for now I am trying to cope and captivate the students. Raising hands is basically a foreign concept here as well. I do like the kids a lot though. When they are engaged they can come up with good ideas, learn a lot, and they can be pretty funny.
I’ve got a small list of people I want to get in touch with and send e-mails to on how I am doing. It ranges from former co-workers, to Shohola people, to family members. I will get around to writing everyone e-mails eventually. However, feel free to get in touch with me however you’d like if you have anything to share or just want to hear more about how I am doing.