by Jennie Acklin
Aneen Barrera has been traveling to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, for many years, along with her friend Lucie Olson of Bradford, Pa., and anyone else she can encourage to accompany them. And not just for a lovely seaside vacation — but to work hard to help the local townspeople, especially the children.
Although the area is a popular tourist town known for fishing and surfing, the local economy is actually quite poor. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America.
Barrera, Olson and others have been helping the poverty-stricken schoolchildren who live in this picturesque coastal town in southwest Nicaragua by providing needed books, supplies, tuition and school uniforms.
Several years ago, when Barrera was on a trip visiting her friend Pat Brania, she witnessed firsthand the poverty that kept many children out of school. As a retired Allegany-Limestone Spanish teacher, Barrera decided to volunteer her time in the classroom. She then decided she could provide more aid if she could raise money to help send more children to school.
Barrera and Olson, a retired Allegany-Limestone physical education teacher, have recruited a lot of their friends since those early days. Brania, who has worked in the American Embassy in Managua and has lived there for almost 20 years, has worked with Barrera and Olson distributing and administering their fundraising efforts.
Another friend of Barrera, Etta Walker, a retired Allegany/Limestone administrator, has also traveled to San Juan del Sur and helped Barrera organize the distributions on computerized spreadsheets.
Several professionals and organizations were also recruited along the way, including the Gillette (Wyo.) Rotary Club and the Hodgdon Library Foundation in Colorado. These organizations, along with the newly formed San Juan Rotary Club, will take over the fundraising efforts next year, as this will be PAL’s (Pat, Aneen, Lucie) last fundraiser in Ellicottville.
PALs members are proud of the work they’ve done so far and hope the efforts will continue.
“Nine college graduates and two students currently in tech school make us proud, but we’re always looking for more volunteers to help,” said Barrera. “We need help with translating services at the medical offices in San Juan del Sur. Our volunteer doctors and dentists see how much need there is, and they see the conditions of this poor area. They want to keep coming back.”
This last fundraiser will be held on Sept. 18 at Ellicottville’s Birdwalk Restaurant, located on Route 242 just east of the village, from 6–8:30 p.m. A Chinese auction will help boost the fundraising efforts. Those who come will enjoy the Birdwalk’s famously delicious pizza and the Clinton Restaurant’s wings, along with a cash bar and music, all covered by the $5 admission.
For more information about the fundraiser or volunteer opportunities, write to PAL at P.O. Box 7, Ellicottville, NY 14731. Donations are graciously accepted as well.