Making a difference on Little Corn Island

Published 12:25 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Under the direction of Dana Eddings and Fred Scales, the skeleton of a new learning center begins to take shape on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua. (Contributed Photo)

It’s not very often that six people are able to make a difference in the lives of 1,200. When Dana Eddings and Fred Scales went with four other men to Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, they had that rare opportunity. Eddings has been leading trips like this for about 20 years and Scales has joined him for the last six.

This trip had its roots in the last one, where Eddings’ team closed out the trip with a visit to Little Corn Island for some welcome rest and relaxation before the flight home. While there, they ended up talking to locals who presented them with a plan they had come up with for a new school.

“When we met with them, they gave us a business plan. It wasn’t a Harvard business plan, but you could see where it had organization and initiative,” Scales said with a smile.

The locals had been discussing and planning this for a while. They had recorded meeting minutes and had even sketched a rough design for the building. What they were waiting on was funding and logistics.

That’s where Eddings and Scales came in.

Eddings is a veteran of trips like this and has developed a network of contacts over the years. Scales has a construction background and served as foreman for the project.

When they got home, Scales did some research and found a company called Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners. The organization was a perfect fit from the very beginning. Scales’ first contact was with a woman whose mother had passed away a couple of weeks before. Her mother had expressed an interest in establishing a library on Little Corn Island, so when Scales contacted her to propose building a school/library there, the volunteer was overjoyed.

Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners has over 70 learning centers across Nicaragua. These learning centers teach basic education as well as vocational courses.

Nicaragua provides six years of public education, but the schools are such that many students graduate illiterate. The people of Little Corn Island were frustrated with this and wanted to make a change in their community. They needed a place to continue schooling the kids on their own, as well as a place to teach illiterate adults how to read.

Eddings and his team, with some instrumental help from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, collected money for the project and set everything up.

They had to find a buyer in Nicaragua to get all the building materials for them on the west coast. Then they were transported across the country to the east coast, loaded on a freighter, and shipped to the island.

The team actually built the learning center in two trips. They laid the concrete foundation on the first trip, and came back a month later to put up the walls and roof. They worked from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a break for lunch. Scales was up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to get a head start and plan the day’s work. It was hard work done in intense heat. According to Scales, it was so hot that “by 2:30, you’re just pretty much spent.”

“You have to be careful working on a construction site. Working when you’re tired – that’s when accidents happen.”

The team worked on the building for five days and got the bulk of the building done. Five locals with carpentry experience are finishing up the building and will be staying in touch with Scales to keep him updated and let him know if any problems arise.

Eddings is planning to lead another trip sometime in the beginning of next year. Scales will be joining him. Although it will have a different destination, they will check in on the islanders to make sure the learning center is ready.

The people of Little Corn Island were very appreciative. They have the same concerns as anyone. They want their kids to stay out of trouble and have a future. When completed, this new building will be run by locals trained by Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners.

“Of all the trips I’ve been on, this was the most meaningful,” said Scales. “I’ve made some friendships I hope last the rest of my life.”