Three instructors, a half-dozen support people, and sixty-five teachers, occupational and physical therapists, psychologists and MDs came together in Managua, Nicaragua, for four days in October 1993, to learn about children who have neurological problems related to their ability to coordinate and respond to sensory input. While the instructors brought materials in Spanish as well as their backgrounds as therapists and teachers, the Nicaraguans brought resourcefulness and adaptability to ever-changing working and living conditions. The course included equal parts lecture, experiential learning, eating, and conviviality. Even with the hardships within the country, the participants threw their minds and bodies into the program.
The project was a joint effort of Earth Links, Los Pipitos (the national association for people with all types of disabilities), the Danish development organization IBIS, and Sensory Integration International. Seeing a great need, Earth Links provided the bulk of the funding (participants’ transportation to Managua, housing, meals, and paid the cost of holding the conference). It was a multicultural, bilingual, international, interdisciplinary effort to provide training to professionals whose educational systems often lacked the resources necessary to mount courses without outside assistance. The seed for this course was planted in February 1993, when Earth Links’ Doolie Brown and Steve Leinau, and Danish special education teacher Birthe Juel met during the Colorado Friends of Los Pipitos trip.
The volunteer instructors were Erna Blanche, Lois Hickman, and Wanda Rosario, who are all occupational therapists with advanced degrees living in the United States. In Nicaragua, Aurora Zamora and Leigh Dix from Los Pipitos arranged for a school at which to meet, lodging, meals, and transportation for all the participants. Danish special education teacher Birthe Juel provided planning assistance and funding for costs within Nicaragua. Earth Links provided project planning, course materials, a portion of transportation costs and accommodations for instructors in Nicaragua.
The course presented special challenges due to time, distance, language (for some), as well as the economic and political situation in Nicaragua. The training took place as planned, despite fighting in the north and a national transportation strike in the weeks preceding the course.