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The Long Hike: Javier Rocha’s Weekly Trip to Ocotal

Javier Rocha, a 20-year old university student, English-language teacher, and Juventud Sandinista member, displays an unparalleled amount of effort and care in his everyday life. Despite his young age, Javier has excelled in the advanced New York English School classroom, and began assisting the first-level English class this past April. The following month, Javier became the teacher of a new English class in the mountains of Ocotal for members of the Enlace-supported tourism, coffee, and basket-weaving cooperatives and their family members.

For those who have had the pleasure to visit Los Altos de Ocotal, the rural community about 15 kilometers from the center of El Sauce, the first thing that most will notice is the lack of a paved road. Most Enlace Project-sponsored trips to Ocotal consist of travel in the back of a pickup truck—complete with bumpy roads, breathtaking views, and the occasional addition of a fellow traveler or two during the journey. Others will travel by horse, or even by foot, for up to a four hour walk.

Every Sunday, Javier spends about two hours in the morning walking up the mountain, until he reaches a familiar house that provides him with a horse for the second half of the journey. Once at the top, members of community enthusiastically welcome him with food and friendly conversation.

The English class itself takes place Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings, and Javier often spends the night with a family. Students gather around the one-classroom school as early as an hour before class and start practicing their English. During the class, students receive grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation lessons, accompanied by games and activities to practice previous the previous week’s themes. While the class is scheduled for three hours both days, it often carries on because the students are enjoying themselves.

Currently, there are 17 students enrolled in the class, and the students’ ages vary from less than 10-years old to over-40 years old, with many in their teens and twenties. When asked why they want to learn English, many replied that it would help them to communicate with visitors and that they believed learning languages was interesting and important for everyone.

Javier and Enlace Project’s efforts are not alone—the Ocotal English Classes are supported by long-time Enlace Project friend and founding board member, Kris Dreessen. Kris, who visited El Sauce for the first time in 2009, says that “(the) residents’ devotion to improving their community and their resourcefulness was a real inspiration to me.” Her grassroots effort, known as The Friends Project, was founded in 2006 with the idea that everyone, especially working together, can make real differences and changes.

Through donations and charity events, Kris has provided assistance to a wide range of Enlace Project’s programs, including funding for Fuente de Pino artisan training, a coffee bean toaster and bag sealer for the coffee cooperative, and scholarships for 6 students in El Sauce and Las Minitas teens to attend high school. As a professional photographer and journalist, Kris also launched The Friends Photo Project in 2011 with the mission of “sharing the language of photography” with residents of El Sauce.

Most recently, Kris has been preparing for her upcoming photo exhibit about life in El Sauce and remote Amazonian communities. The event, which will take place Wednesday, August 21, from 6-9 PM and Friday, August 23, 6-9 PM, will include photography from Kris and the students from The Friends Photo Project. On August 21, the New York State English School will be joining the exhibition, including Javier Rocha. Proceeds of the photos from the Las Minitas teens will support scholarships for students Lester, Yercenia, and Sergio to be able to attend college!

"I think the most important aspect of The Friends Project for me is the idea — and realization — that you don’t have to be rich, powerful or a big entity to make a difference. We are just “normal” people who believe that we can collaborate with families in other communities and share our talents and resources to empower them to fulfill their goals.

In the states, $50 will get you a dinner for two. Not even a movie anymore. In many places, like El Sauce, $50 is the difference of attending a year of school, or the start-up to create your own business to make a living.” -Kris Dreessen

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