Teresa Craig’s English classes do far more than provide language instruction – they provide the chance at a better way of life.

The 24-year-old from Redding, California is the English language instructor and program designer for Together Works Society. She teaches classes at a makeshift classroom built around a metal shipping container with an extended roof to shield the sun, near Monty’s Beach Lodge.

Joining Together Works Society in February 2016, she’s a one-person show, designing, planning and giving the lessons herself. And she loves it.

“I often leave class more energized and fulfilled just because of the energy and love my students bring to the classroom,” she said. “It’s the human connection…they have such a sense of community.”

She teaches four classes a day and each class is an hour long. Her classes range from advanced instruction to beginner for those wanting to say their first words.

Her students range from four-years-old to 26. The classes are totally free, and they attract as many as 40 students, but the average number is about 20.

“No one is forcing anyone to be there, so it’s really encouraging that they are here by choice and want to learn,” said Teresa. “They understand the benefit for their future. For kids specifically, it will be beneficial to them in response to the huge influx of tourism and potential job opportunities in the future.”

She has already seen that benefit first-hand, watching her students use their newfound English skills to create new ways of generating income.

One student, Ramon is 21-years-old. One of 12 kids, he began learning English five years ago and started coming to Teresa’s class for the past two years. (Prior to being with Together Works Society, Teresa taught classes in this community through a US-based international volunteer organization for three years.)

With Teresa’s help, his English improved so much, he now takes groups of tourists out in his boat on the nearby estuary and gives tours in English, earning an income that he never could before.

“He takes tourists to his house and cooks them lunch and gives them a genuine Nicaraguan experience,” said Teresa.  

Another student, Alvaro, 17, moved to Jiquillio two years ago to live with his sister.

“He’s such a flirt,” said Teresa smiling. “When I met him the only English he knew was cheesy romantic song lyrics and silly pick-up lines. The first thing he asked was what does ‘kiss me’ mean?”

He regularly comes to class and has turned that commitment into income, giving Spanish classes to tourists. He’s become so fluent, a neighbor recently asked him to give English lessons.

Felix, a friendly 16-year-old has been working with Teresa to improve his English in order to talk to tourists about his new bracelet business. Making colourful bracelets from nylon and string, his inability to connect with tourists was holding him back.

Under Teresa’s guidance, he’s becoming more and more confident talking to tourists, and that has translated into more business.  “English has given him more of a chance to interact,” said Teresa. “Tourists are more likely to trust you and be keen to buy your product when there isn’t a language barrier.”

One of her classes that she teaches at a nearby community centre attracts a group of young mothers eager to learn, with the potential of starting small home-based businesses for tourists.

“They are young and want another option, another form of education and way of bettering themselves,” said Teresa.

“Both education and female empowerment are ways to break the cycle of poverty so it’s been so inspiring to see that. If they can speak English, they can dream bigger and think bigger.”

Written by Sean McNeely, February 18, 2016, Jiquilillo, Nicaragua