Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

31 March, 2011

La Mariposa: Spanish School, Community Projects & Activities

Spanish School
La Mariposa Escuela de Espanol has been operating since the beginning of the eco-hotel. During this time, they have established a great group of experienced, well-trained and professional teachers. All of them live in the local community. Bergman, the head of the school, uses a unique blend of language teaching skills, enthusiasm and humor to teach people of all levels and ages. Several of the teachers speak English, which helps people who have no previous Spanish skills. The teachers are happy to tailor classes around what each individual wants to learn about, whether it be exploring Nicaraguan recipe books, discussing current events, or strolling through La Mariposa’s beautiful grounds learning about medicinal plants. The teaching method that they have developed combines openness, humor and friendliness with professional Spanish language instruction. “The vast majority of Mariposa students leave the school not only much more fluent in Spanish but also having made good friends with their teachers here”, according to owner Paulette Goudge. Generally the classes are one on one; this approach is great for getting special attention and providing assistance with individual interests and learning styles. The teachers know that some students need serious grammar study but by mixing exciting conversational teaching with a range of activities, the results are much more successfully and enjoyable! Kids and adults are all invited to participate in classes. La Mariposa is much more than just a Spanish school though.  Yhey use their profits to support a number of projects within the community. This directly benefits the Spanish school because the students are able to get involved with the local community and every activity or outing provides an opportunity to practice speaking Spanish.

Community Projects
Paulette describes the community projects as being organic in nature, as they are not based on a set blueprint.  Rather, they grow and evolve according to the inputs of all people involved. Paulette and her interns undertake a large range of projects, using donations from students and visitors to assist with requests from the community. Though there innumerable such projects, I would like to describe the one that three of our group members volunteered at. The Santiago "Story Corner" after-school program began in 2007 by the international organization Save the Children, in conjunction with the private nonprofit organization Libros Para Niños (Books for Kids). A building was constructed for a small library in the barrio (neighborhood) of Santiago, which is part of La Concha. The "Story Corner" provides an after-school activity for children, and the building has become a social meeting place for the kids. In March of 2010, representatives from Save the Children told Paulette that they would be cutting funding and could no longer afford to pay the teacher. Paulette agreed to continue paying the teacher and Libros Para Niños agreed to continue sending books. The guests at La Mariposa also contribute to the success of this project by donating additional books, clothing, school supplies, and toys. Guest can volunteer to read with the kids, or just spend time with the kids. Three of the participants from our group; Tait, Jeanne and Joan; spent the afternoon reading with the kids. It took a little while for the kids to warm up to them but they eventually opened up enough to participate in an impromptu yoga class taught by Jeanne. This picture show them beginning in a circle and ending in a relaxing position on the ground. 

Reforestation Projects
Another community project of La Mariposa is focused on reforestation. Deforestation in Nicaragua is due to domestic and commercial wood consumption and is compounded by the fact that Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. La Mariposa strives to actively participate in reforestation projects and other actions that will directly benefit the environment. Paulette explained to us during a tour of the grounds that when a tree sapling appears in the garden, they don’t just pull it out; they let it grow because she knows that it will provide many benefits. Recently, Paulette initiated a program in the local secondary school educating the students on conservation and protection of the environment. Educating local youth helps shape the next generation of environmental stewards. La Mariposa also works closely with the Ministry of the Environment on reforestation projects whenever they can. On the Mariposa grounds a small plant nursery is maintained and saplings and ornamental plants are then donated to various projects and people in the community. These plants now grow in schools and public space in and around La Concha. For example, in November 2010 they undertook a project that involved planting about 20 large trees around the sports field in San Juan to provide shade. During our visit, Erica (another participant) and I helped Santos, one of the grounds-keepers, fill bags with soil that will eventually become the home to different plants that will be used to help with reforestation.

Employment Project
“La Mariposa Eco-Hotel and Spanish School is a project in and of itself . . .” Several jobs have been created to employee the local community. Their policy is to employ people exclusively from La Concha, and the only people they accept from outside the community are interns or volunteers who are not getting paid for their work. Close to 40 people and their families benefit from this project. Most are employees at the hotel (teachers, maintenance workers, kitchen staff, etc.) other people also benefit from the various projects, such as salaries paid to teachers in the local schools, community organizers, and farm workers. There are also locally made goods for sale at the eco-hotel. One aspect of the project that is really exciting is the homestay opportunity that La Mariposa offers. This program not only provides income to local families in exchange for taking guests into their homes, but also gives visitors a chance to become a part of a Nicaraguan family. La Mariposa’s primary goal is to provide wages that are above average. This employment project also has a ripple effect: Most of the income provided to individuals or families remains in the local community, and they also hire people who might otherwise have difficulties finding work. In fact, the work environment at La Mariposa seems more like a family household in which the workers support and help each other. Paulette explains her own philosophy behind the idea of employing locals: “First and foremost the Mariposa believes in trying to repay a tiny bit of the debt the "First World" owes to the "Third World" by using the income from students and visitors to employ people from the local community - there is no better way to empower someone than exchange a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”

La Mariposa offers a variety of activities that guests can enjoy during their stay, including afternoon activities and Saturday trips scheduled on a monthly cycle. Sunday horseback riding and guided garden tours are offered on La Mariposa grounds, and are more than willing to assist in whatever way they can with organizing travel plans to other destinations on request.    All of the activities are designed to provide enjoyable ways to practice speaking Spanish and learning more about Nicaragua. La Mariposa incorporates a unique mixture of discussions, local outings by foot or horseback, and visits places further away using their microbus or public transport. The eco-hotel is centrally located – less than an hour from the capital city of Managua, Laguna de Apoyo, the town of Masaya, Masaya volcano, San Juan del Oriente, and Catarina. Other nearby destinations are places such as Granada, León, Playa la Coquito, and Volcán Mombacho. Although we didn’t go explore any of these places with La Mariposa, our group did get to visit picturesque Granada, a quaint colonial town not to far away. Included are some pictures from our excursion. We all wish we had more time to spend in colorful Granada, as it is rich culturally and historically and full of exciting things to see and do.  For more in-depth information about La Mariposa and their projects, visit:

Author: Amanda Gates