NicaNotes: Honduran Children Along the Coco River Are Educated in Nicaraguan Schools

By Marcel Osorto

[This article was published on the web page of the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo on June 1, 2023. It was translated by Katherine Hoyt.]

In Honduras there is limited educational and health coverage for the people living along the Coco River. So, it is common for Nicaragua to provide those services. Photo: Emilio Flores

-Good morning, children!

-Good morning, Mr. Director.

-This day we have a special visitor from our sister country of Honduras, so I ask you to give him a round of applause.

-Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap!

-He has a question for you, answer him truthfully.

-Good morning, children, which of you are Hondurans?

The classroom fell silent, the little ones began to look at each other with knowing smiles, while others ducked their faces between the desks a little embarrassed.

In the background a small hand was raised.

-One hand is up,” said the school director [principal].

Then another hand in the front, two more on the sides, one who was reported by his classmates until there were eight or nine Honduran children in the second-grade classroom with their hands raised.

The Investigative Unit of El Heraldo Plus had toured the basin of the Coco River – the largest in Central America – on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, where it became evident that dozens of Honduran children who live along the river are being educated by the neighboring country in the absence of attention from the Honduran government.

Surprise visit

The journalists found the second-grade students of the San Andrés de Wiwilí de Jinotega school in the Coco River basin, on the Nicaraguan side, practicing a song for Mother’s Day.

The voices of the children sounded in harmony; they had to have everything ready for May 30, when Mother’s Day is celebrated in Nicaragua, unlike in Honduras, when it is the second Sunday of May.

Before arriving at the classroom where the songs were being sung, we were able to tour the school that has a student population of 644 and was remodeled in 2018. The remodeling was done under the mandate of Daniel Ortega’s government according to the information on a huge sign explaining that 37.7 million Nicaraguan córdobas (25.3 million Honduran lempiras at the current exchange rate) [US$1.03 million] were spent.

For a school located on the banks of a river in the middle of nowhere, it could easily compete with any private school in Tegucigalpa and stand out from most public schools in Honduras. The school has tiled floors in the classrooms, blackboards, desks and furniture, soccer and basketball courts, beautiful gardens, surrounded by hurricane fences, a kitchen for school meals, and offices for teachers.

The San Andres School was remodeled in 2018 by the Sandinista Government at a cost of US$1.3 million. Photo: JinoTV

Not only that, it offers both primary and secondary school and special programs for children who can only attend on weekends, making the school a true jewel of education in a border area.

There are five teachers for preschool alone, nine more for elementary school and the same number for high school, in contrast to what is seen in schools in difficult-to-reach areas of Honduras, where one teacher teaches all grades.

On the tour of the school, the Investigative Unit of El Heraldo Plus was accompanied by the school’s director Luis Gomez, who explained that most of the other schools along the Coco River (that runs 750 kilometers) have the same conditions as their school.

In the case of Honduras for the Departments of Choluteca, El Paraíso, Olancho and Gracias a Dios and all along the Honduran side of the river, there is no accredited school for the thousands of Honduran nationals.

This young educator, who is not only responsible for this educational center, but also for six others, was asked about the presence of Honduran children studying in Nicaraguan schools and he was quick to point out that this is a reality that is experienced daily throughout the length and breadth of the Coco River.

The problem is simple: in Honduras there is no educational and health coverage for the people living along the river. So, it is common for Nicaragua to provide this care.

For that matter, there are two San Andres communities, one on the Honduran side and the other on the Nicaraguan side of the river, but only on the Nicaraguan side are there schools; the same happens in the community of Pueblo Nuevo, Plis and Yapankanani, to mention a few.

“So, these children don’t know anything about Honduras?” asked the journalist.

The director explained that Francisco Morazán, the most transcendent and important hero for Honduras, means nothing to them. Nor do they study Honduran rivers or lakes, songs and customs. Nothing, because the curriculum is Nicaraguan.

“They are our heroes, our territorial extension, departments, municipalities, rivers, the same as in Honduras, but from Nicaragua. For example, today they practice for Mother’s Day, which is May 30 in Nicaragua; I do not know when they celebrate it in Honduras, but that is how education is,” he said.

Before we met with the first class, the director told us that the enrollment of Honduran children has decreased considerably, but that this is not due to the construction of a school on the Honduran side, but to the distance the children have to travel. He explained that in previous years between 15 and 20 percent of the students came from across the river in Honduras, but he has learned that one teacher there now teaches all grades in her home.

The Investigative Unit met this teacher in a boat on one of our trips on the Coco and she explained that she teaches 20 children from first to fourth grade in a single classroom, so she divides the students into groups in each corner. Unfortunately, the school dropout rate has been great and many times students only attend classes twice a week due to the work they do and the long distances they have to travel to get to her, one of the few teachers in this area of Honduras.

Another important thing is that many of these Honduran children are seen as Nicaraguan, because their mothers gave birth in Nicaragua. They have a Nicaraguan birth certificate and, with the idea of protecting them with health and education coverage, they are registered as Nicaraguan in Jinotega, a municipality bordering Honduras. The problem is, when these children finish high school on the Nicaraguan side of the border and migrate to the cities of Honduras, their high school diplomas are not recognized.

When we entered the first of the three classrooms visited, the children were asked to raise their hands and little by little they did so with a little embarrassment, as it was perceived that they prefer to be considered with the nationality of the Nicaraguan birth certificate and not by the nationality of their parents.

The director explained that there is no distinction of any kind between the students and many times the minors have family on both sides of the river. However, education and health care have been the responsibility of the Nicaraguan authorities.

We left behind the second-grade classrooms and visited the kindergarten and high school classrooms, but no questions were asked of the kindergartners about nationality because the children were very young, although the teachers told us that there were children with dual nationality.

It was time to leave the school just as the afternoon children were entering. Many were wearing clothes of different colors since it is not obligatory for parents to spend money on uniforms. One by one they entered; there was no distinction and no way of knowing which were the Nicaraguans and which the Hondurans. They all came in together to learn about Nicaragua–in terms of their formal education they will not learn anything about Honduras.

By Nan McCurdy

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