Nicaragua: The Magnificent Irma

On this occasion, we are going to meet one of La Bastilla School’s academic teachers, Doña Irma Blandón Rivera. She teaches Chemistry, Biology, Philosophy, and Sociology at the school and provides counselling sessions to 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students. She may well be an “influencer”; one of the roles to aspire to at the school and if so, this will definitely be down to her discipline, listening, understanding and patience, among other skills.

Hers is a story of falling in love, of re-discovering and, why not, of destiny. It was December 2012 and she was working as a volunteer for the “Gabinete de Turismo Rural” (Rural Tourism Office) a local NGO in Pantasma, her home town.  She was looking for a paid position job within the education sector and had sent her CV to La Bastilla; one of many places she’d applied for. NO news. Then, by coincidence (destiny?), she attended an environmental work session in Jinotega, where she met Margarita Baca, the current La Bastilla Head Teacher. Listening to Margarita speak, she learnt more about the educational project here and its characteristic approach. Impressed, the following day she asked Margarita if they were looking for staff and coincidentally, they were missing a biologist (Doña  Irma’s main profession). So soon after, she went to La Bastilla…and there is where the falling in love part starts. First, the nature. The stunning Datanlí-El Diablo Nature Reserve where La Bastilla is based left her breathless (as did the near five kilometres that she had to walk to reach the school!). Then, there were the students. And last but not least, the chemistry laboratory. She had never seen such a well-equipped laboratory before. Thus, from that day on, this became the place where she has come to spend most of her time, sharing new techniques with the students, whilst also learning herself about the instruments, as in Nicaragua, there is very little opportunity to carry out practical experiments when studying and even when you have become a professional.

What is her opinion of this education model? She fell in love with La Bastilla because she applauds the fact that students are learning from their experiences. According to her the “Learning by doing” model develops a unique set of skills that it’s not that easy to find here in the country and she thinks other schools would dream to have a centre like this. She has also learnt how to live with the students, as La Bastilla serves as a boarding school. She welcomes the values and practices promoted at the school giving as an example, the praying that is recited before every meal in the school dining room. The communal spirit, the availability of technology (such as computers, projector, and the equipment in the productive areas), the environmental ethics taught and followed, the challenges faced, even the vocabulary used by student - everything is practiced at La Bastilla; it’s not just words or theory.

And what she values the most is the holistic educational experience provided to the students as this is a hands-on experience. This is especially important considering the students’ backgrounds and current status of the education in Nicaragua (although free secondary education is provided by the state it is often inaccessible to marginalised communities because of distance or cost of travel. In Jinotega, where La Bastilla is located only 20% of young people of secondary school age attend school).

She is a unique character. A role model. A recognised teacher with some awards under her belt (though she won’t mention them unless asked). She has been awarded “Best Teacher” on several occasions and by different educational institutions.  She has also been recognised for her discipline in the workplace as well as her care of the environment.  Furthermore, she has worked and volunteered at the Children and Youth Commission, to name but a few institutions. And she teaches the students the art of folk-dancing, helping to ensure that this tradition gets passed on to the next generation.

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