Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Ippel Zoo

It summer vacation!  And that means that most of the NCA/missionary community in Nicaragua packs their bags and heads off to the US for 4-6 weeks.  Normally, we are a part of this mass exodus, but this year for a variety of reasons, we are sticking around.  

As the "stayers," there are a few perks... each person we say goodbye to leaves us their unused food, so our cupboards are full.  The other thing our friends are leaving behind are their pets.  And we, as the stayers, end up caring for them. So, we are hosting a dog, a cat, a bunny, and a monkey in addition to the monkey we already have!  Henry will also be getting a bird this weekend.

Today is Day 3, and our kids are still thrilled to have these animals around, and motivated to fulfill the duties that are required to care for them.  They have each adopted an animal or two to feed and care for:

Charlotte and Buddie
Charlotte and Buddie (again)

Henry and Dexter (our monkey)

Mae and Sky

Micah (our nephew) and Oliver

Mae and Snow White

Soon-to-be home to Chocolotito, Henry's new bird

We are considering charging admission to our zoo to supplement our missionary support... if you are in the area, stop by and we will give you the friends and family rate!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Teaching TOTS by Henry

During my field trip, I went to a preschool called "Mis Pequenos Traviesos" or My Little Rascals. It was a small building with a bunch of kids. 

We had split in groups and practiced bible stories beforehand but this was totally different. First, we tried to get our group of kids but the kids in my group were crying like crazy. The teacher had to come over and literally drag the kids to our spot. Next, we acted out our Bible story--Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Our first question was what was what was your favorite part. Sadly, they all said nada or nothing but I feel like they did learn something. 

Then the children had a piñata they were super good at smacking that piñata with a stick. Donuts and juice boxes were the snack that followed. It was a great field trip!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The dreaded, wonderful school program

Nicaragua Christian Academy loves programs. Fiestas Patrias (our independence day celebration in September), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Family Day are four annual events which require the elementary students to dance, sing, or otherwise perform on the big stage while sweaty parents try to pacify younger siblings, elbow their way up front to take the best videos, and generally feel proud of their children.

As a parent, I really enjoy school programs. However, as an NCA preschool teacher (2013-2015), my level of love for school programs dropped drastically. Herding 20 four-year olds onto the big stage (careful that they don't fall! and don't let them touch the $500 mics!). . .half of them terrified and the other half trying to get as much attention as possible. I appreciated that the preschool students would perform first--but then, it was our job as teachers to keep them in their seats and quiet for the duration of the 60-90 minute program. This task was always made more difficult by the fact that the children had just seen their mommies and daddies in the audience, and wanted nothing more than to be with them and not us, their teachers.

Now, I'm the SOAAR coordinator at NCA--facilitating inclusion for students with a diverse range of needs. And programs terrify me. I walk into our performance center without a class. My incredible assistants are seated by a few students that need a higher level of support. I have no direct responsibilities, and yet, my palms are sweaty and my heart is racing. Will Dylan get up on stage? If he does, will he have a meltdown? Robert has refused to practice at all. . .but yesterday, he decided to jump up on stage during the dress rehearsal. Will he go up on stage today? Will he act "appropriately"? Will Semira be a distraction to the audience? Will Josh remember to put on the wheelchair break before she rolls off of the stage? Will Sylvia, who used to HATE to dance to the point that she would cry and fall down, dance? When will I get the parent letter I have nightmares about?

"Dear Mr. Ippel, I noticed that a student involved in the SOAAR program would not stand still on the stage. In fact, he blocked my own child and I couldn't get a decent photo shot. He didn't even sing; should he be included in the next program? It just doesn't seem fair for the other students--to MY child."

Programs give me anxiety. . .thus, I can't imagine the level of anxiety experienced by a few of my "anxious" students that I'm blessed to work with. Hundreds of eyes--many strangers--watching them on stage. Cameras, flashes, loud and sudden noises, blasting music and bursts of applause, bright and colorful stage lights, dangling decorations, birds flying in and out of the auditorium, sweaty peers bumping into you. Absolute sensory overload. Is mom watching? Did dad come? Meltdowns just waiting to happen. In public. On a stage. And I'm so, so far away.

I now have to remind myself to watch my own children when they come up on the stage--it shouldn't be hard to miss the tallest kids in each of the classrooms--but yet, my mind is elsewhere. On Dylan, Robert, Semira, Sylvia. I'm glad Ruth takes pictures of Henry, Mae, and Charlotte!

"Fidgets" always on standby!

Programs terrify and exhaust me. An audience ready to judge. Ready to reaffirm disability stereotypes with one hand flap, one sudden yell, one unexpected stage exit. And me, someone who loves to control the entire "sensory" environment, standing alone in the back of the room, waiting. Praying. Praying that no one will "notice" "SOAAR" students, yet praying that these students get the recognition they deserve just for making it up on the stage. The sound guy came up to me today right before the program and said, "You look tired."  "I was praying," I told him. It was true. When I have no control. . . well, it is up to Him now.

School programs also challenge me. They challenge me to trust in a school community that is able to include students with disabilities, when it is beautifully executed, and when it is messy, too. They challenge me to trust in a group of parents, who I know look deeper than the two-minute picture they get of a classroom when in the spotlight. These programs challenge me to trust in our incredible students, who don't mind getting bumped, or pushed behind a student unaware that he is taking up too much stage space, or who doesn't quite know all of the moves. Students who know Who they are performing for. They challenge me to trust in my own abilities as a teacher, not to worry about perceived judgement, imaginary letters that haven't yet come (and likely never will!), and for me to trust in my firm belief that inclusion is a GOOD thing, even when it is hard and nonsynchronous, even when it is on stage front and center for what it is.

Today, Dylan stood with his class like a champ, calm, cool, and collected. I tried to go up on stage with him yesterday for the dress rehearsal, and he turned with hands pushing me away and said, "No. Me go alone." And sure enough, he went up on the stage alone today as well. And stayed for the entire song. Robert ended up getting up on stage, somehow with a costume and a prop and danced and smiled the whole time. A perfect Mother's Day present to his mom, who was pretty convinced he would never get over his anxiety enough to stand on stage. . .ever. Semira got a round of applause for her "part," rolling across the stage in style. The wheelchair brake was not forgotten, and no one tumbled off of the stage. Sylvia felt very sick ahead of the performance and she was dripping with sweat, but you wouldn't have guessed it later. I bought a bottle of cold water for her from the school cafeteria, and she ended up nailing every move. She doesn't really mind dancing, she's told me before, if it is for Jesus.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Elementary Musical!

During February and March, Ruth and I were able to join forces to lead a group of 30 elementary students in 2nd-6th grade from NCA in a musical production! (Yes, this is an "old news" post; sorry for the delay!) The logical thing to do when you feel too busy with life is to add another commitment, right? The high school had recently performed "Beauty and the Beast," and many younger kids were lamenting the fact that they couldn't participate in that musical (including Henry and Mae). . .so we created an opportunity for younger students to get up on the stage. We decided that we could only manage about 30 kids in total, which in hindsight was a very good decision. The 30 spaces were full within 24 hours of the announcement of the musical, which was an affirmation that we were meeting a "need" in our school community.

We spent 7 after-school afternoons preparing for a short, 20-minute musical based on the "Three Trees" folktale. The story, also in book form, is very appropriate for the Easter season (Christmas, too), and we were able to perform it at a special chapel for our elementary Spiritual Emphasis Day--the day before our Easter break. The kids did a fantastic job. . .I was VERY impressed with the quality (and strength!) of their voices, their ability to memorize the words (many for whom English is a second language) and choreography, and the way they took their roles so seriously. 

It was also great working with Ruth--we often have very different "work lives," so it was nice to have a project together (yes, we did have some differences in opinions every so often, but it only served to bring us closer together:)).

Some pictures of our practices:

And of the performance:

I think this will become a yearly tradition at NCA; we are thankful to see the love of music and the stage so present at our school, even at a young age. It was awesome to see our own children glorifying God through the telling of His story. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Privilege of Peeing in a Cup

I usually think of peeing in a cup (at the doctor’s office, of course!) as a necessity, or as a shameful task (who wants to put a cup full of pee with your name on it on a counter where everyone can see it?), or as a risky challenge (will it really all go in the cup?  what else might get in the line of fire?), but today for the first time, I realized that peeing in a cup is also a privilege. 

After my regular Wednesday Pregnancy Support Group and Childbirth Class, 16-year-old Maria pulled me aside.  She explained to me that while she was almost 5 months pregnant, she still had not gone to see a doctor.  I could tell she was a little ashamed to admit this, because every week, no matter what the topic, I reinforce the importance of regular prenatal care.  She wanted to know what she had to do to start receiving prenatal care at the clinic where our group meets.  I very naively told her “Oh, you just have to schedule an appointment with the receptionist,” thinking that I had fully answered her question and taken care of her needs. 

“But what do I need to bring?” I didn’t understand her question at first… Yourself? Your baby in your womb? A full bladder? Then I noticed she was looking at the prices listed in the clinic, and I realized what she was really asking was “How much is this going to cost me?”

I brought her over to Dra. Sonia to better answer her question.  She first told her the price of each doctor’s visit--$5.  Then she listed the prices of each lab test that needs to be done throughout pregnancy, a list of about 10 exams, ranging in price from $2-$10 each.  And then on top of that the price of an ultrasound.  With each number stated, I saw in Maria’s face the likelihood of her actually receiving prenatal care go down.  She took the list of prices with her, but I did not see her going to the receptionist to set up an appointment like I had originally suggested. 

After she left, Dra. Sonia and I chatted for a while about this conundrum—we acknowledged the extreme importance of these women receiving prenatal care, but we also acknowledged the barrier of the high price tag associated with it.  It may not seem like a lot to you and me, but the cost of a regular visit and a routine urine exam (about $7.50 total) is what many Nicaraguans make in a full day of work.  Dra. Sonia said that she always gives the women the order for the $2.50 urine exam but many end up leaving without doing it because they can’t afford the added expense.

I left the clinic today feeling guilty (I’ve never had to worry about how I’m going to pay for a routine medical exam), disgusted at the injustice of our world (why should Maria have to worry about the cost when so many others don’t have to?), sad (thinking about how many problems past and future could have been or would be avoided if women had access to the care they needed), and motivated (I see the need for change and want so badly to do something about it).

I don’t know what will come of it, but Dra. Sonia and I ended our conversation dreaming about a sponsorship program that would allow donors to sponsor a pregnant woman in my group, providing them with the medical care they need throughout their pregnancy.  My hope is that in time, I will be writing another blog post asking you to consider sponsoring one of these women who are so dear to me. Stay tuned!

Last year's group picture

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Koinonia Groups

One of my "extra" involvements at Nicaragua Christian Academy outside of the SOAAR classroom is assisting with the preschool chapel (which is actually for children in PreK1-2nd grade). I've been involved mostly because of my love for music and worship and singing. . .singing with a big group of enthusiastic kids is one way I truly experience God's power!

This year, a few of us created a small-group model to be used on occasion during our Wednesday chapel times called "Koinonia Groups," referring to the greek word referring to Christian fellowship (also the name of the Project Neighborhood house that Ruth lived in during her sophomore year at Calvin). Our chapel theme this year is the Book of Acts, which lends itself perfectly to the idea of meeting together, sharing together, praying together, studying the word together--all in community, together! Our theme verses for the groups come from Acts 2 regarding the early Christians:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

The students come into the Eagle Center wearing colored head bands, and after we sing together and do a short lesson, students divide into multi-aged groups of 5-7 students, led by teachers and assistants holding a group flag of matching fabric (yes, if you have done Group VBS, you know where we borrowed this idea from!).

Each group is named after one of the early churches--Corinth, Rome, Galatia, etc. We spend about 15-20 minutes in these group--praying together, completing a hands-on activity related to the theme, eating a snack together, etc. The topics of the group time has ranged from today's persecuted church, identifying idolatry, and "going" to tell share the Gospel.

I'm thankful for the growing opportunity this is giving our youngest students at NCA--to realize that they are indeed part of a larger community of believers!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

This last weekend, I had the privilege to play piano for the NCA drama department's production of Beauty of the Beast. Beauty and the Beast was my very first Disney "cassette tape," and my 5th grade-self had every song memorized once upon a time. . .so it was fun to relive some of my earliest musical memories now as an adult!

I had envisioned that the music wouldn't be TOO difficult, being from a kid's movie and all, but it was. And it was long. I began practicing in December, and met with the student performers once a week during January and then about 3 times a week in February, many days until 5:00pm. The show was about 2 and 1/2 hours long, and I had to play 337 pages of music for each of the three performances. This, for me, was all about focus and mental energy. . .no matter how much I practiced, I never felt totally prepared for the marathons of playing for so long without a mental break. It was also a challenge to keep my back from seizing up from the stress of it all!

I was so thankful to have another keyboard player by my side each night. Jackie Sjoberg, the one-and-only NCA library volunteer, played all of the "extra" orchestral parts on a second keyboard, which added a lot to the music AND made me feel a little better about life in general. She had the show down to a science. I also enlisted three different page-turners, one for each night, which really saved me!

This was my fourth year as the pianist for the annual show, and this, by far, was the best (though the most work)! I'm thankful for the opportunity to use my piano skills in this way each year at NCA. I'm also excited for life-beyond-the-musical, and I know Ruth is, too! We're already doing things, now, like organizing the house and jigsaw puzzles again!