Byron Acuña is only 15 but his ideas and thoughts are very mature for his age. Byron has excelled in his education since primary school. Not only that, Byron has always had very strong personal ethics – on several occasions he has defended students who were being mistreated by the teachers. “It made me angry to see how they mistreated the kids and I used to complain about it,” he recalls.
Byron’s school performance led him to participate in activities implemented by the Educational Services in Health and the Environment Centre (CESESMA), a Save the Children partner organisation in Nicaragua. CESESMA works with children and young people in the coffee-growing area of northern Nicaragua, where dependence on coffee production leads to a high incidence of child labour and the associated social problems. The organization seeks to prevent school dropout, training families and educators and enforce the rights of children in the region. That was how they reached Byron and his family.
“Two educators came to our school and invited us to participate in a research study,” he explains. “Because they needed students with good grades, I was eventually chosen. The research was to find out the reasons why children weren’t attending classes. We discovered that some weren’t attending due to poverty, others because they were working to support their families financially and some of the girls were staying home looking after their younger siblings. You see, most children in my community work to support their families.”
With CESEMA, he began participating in training sessions, understanding child rights – when violations happen and what to do to report them. Byron also received trainings in gender equality, in which he learned that men and women have the same rights thus expanding his horizons even more.
That was when Byron’s life began to change. He realised that he has been right in his action throughout – reporting teachers when he saw them mistreat his fellow students. “I’ve improved my self-esteem, now I’m more confident and more responsible in what I do. I’ve realised that education is fundamental and if you want to have a career and a life in the future”, explains Byron. He has also became an active person in his community and family life. Among his activities, he read children’s stories to the little kids to motivate them with their studies.
Byron feels that the work done by CESESMA to train teachers has made a huge difference at school. “Our teachers don’t get violent with students anymore, and if they do, we are more aware of our rights to stand up for them” he states. “We also participate more. They no longer decide for us, as previously happened when the students did not know anything. The classes are more dynamic and have more strategies, as they’re no longer like the ones in which the teachers were just dictating.”
Byron continue to be fully involved in activities organised by CESESMA and divides the rest of his time between school and work, both in the field - reaping and cleaning coffee, corn, beans - and at home - collecting water, sweeping up and grinding corn. Despite his support with work at home and fields, the priority for both him and his family is now education. But it was not always like that. “When I was in primary school, I had less time to study because my dad sent me to work in the farm before going to school,” Byron explains. “I missed classes and didn’t play because my dad thought that life was all about working and earning money from a young age, and with respect to education he thought it was enough for me to learn how to write my name.”
His father left home a while ago and because his mother, who participated in training sessions held by Save the Children, supported his education, Byron goes to school regularly. Despite the hardships he has to endure to get to school – it is a half an hour walk through unsafe areas – Byron hasn’t given up and his family’s encouragement is helpful.
The goal now is to get his 16-year-old brother, Daniel, to study full time. Daniel, who took up the household responsibilities since their father left, has agreed to go to school part-time. The family knows that education is the only way to change their future and fulfil their potential.