Author Archives: alyshiavankannel

I Never Thought I’d Ever… the postscript version

Wildly overdue, but here nonetheless. If you’ve followed my posts for the last three years, you may recall that I have concluded each teaching year with a post about the odd, interesting things that have occurred over the course of the year. This year got skipped.

I informed most of you that I was moving back to Canada. That decision was made in February, I believe, and was ridiculously challenging to make. Prior to that, I had no intention of coming back to Canada yet. But it was a good decision that I felt immense peace about. I had been compiling my interesting list of experiences for my final post. For example, I never thought I’d ever

  • wake up suddenly from a nap because parakeets are storming through your door and are two feet from attacking you (recall: my life in Nica needs no embellishment. The words storming and attacking are precisely accurate.)
  • become an FBI agent trying to catch a thief who visits your house on a weekly basis to fill his pockets with all of your nice things. Us two girls planted traps, rigged up a camera, were able to confront him, get most of it returned, and stop all future theft. No point going to the police in Nicaragua. And why would you need to when you’re as good as Sarah and I (with some instrumental help from our landlords)?!

However, the list of the “never thought I’d evers” felt a little trivial when my last month of Nicaraguan life proceeded as it did. And the reason this post is so overdue is because my feelings about it all still can’t be articulated. I could (and have) talked about it for hours and am no nearer a clear answer or feeling. So, just a few. I never thought I’d ever:

  • see people I know, and hear of neighbours or others, who are kidnapped, killed, or imprisoned for saying, “I am tired of dictatorship. I want change. You cannot kill innocent protesters.”
  • sit and watch the tv in the living room as media outlets and free speech are snuffed out one by one
  • stand facing a grocery store aisle emptied of food and an ATM emptied of money with unknown refill dates
  • have such anxiety about having a bonus month off of school!
  • be in the midst of the hysteria and panic that ensues when an entire country falls into civil unrest
  • see the police station down the street go up in flames
  • drive by the remnants of such conflict – torn up roads, barricades built of bricks and trash, shattered glass, torn cloth, damaged signs, shells of what was in the streets
  • see my home country spiral out of control so, so quickly
  • learn that the embassy won’t actually send a helicopter to rescue you. Or a car. They’ll send you an automated email message suggesting safety tips. They close their building and pull out their families.
  • have to prepare my family for potential lost contact
  • come to doubt the goodness of police and government so completely
  • hear at all hours hoards of people, shots, chanting, and cars in our sleepy, gentle area on the outskirts of the city
  • have to leave without saying so many goodbyes – my Nica family, my students, and so many others
  • be able to develop a “new normal” so quickly in the midst of unrest
  • have my own elementary students participate in anti-government marches
  • see so many people cling to peace. In response to the government’s cruelty, human rights abuses, and dictatorship, the vast majority of people have remained completely civil and peaceful. They march, they protest, they protect their local grocery stores, they cling to helping one another.

I never felt very unsafe. I was smart about where I went and when, but to be so immersed in the stories, the sights and sounds, the experiences of a country in such unrest produced feelings that I never would have imagined, every hour of every day.

The day I packed up my classroom I was told, “YOU can just leave. We can’t.” She meant well, and proceeded to shower me with hugs and blessings, but the guilt of being Canadian-born, as well as being so upset about a country’s heartache that isn’t even my own, was heavy.

Depending on who you ask and when, the situation is or is not any better. There seems to be more predictability to things and travel is easier. Things are pretty reliable. However, there are still many being threatened, killed, reported missing, and losing their jobs every day. Hundreds have been killed, thousands have been injured, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. In one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere already, this is a country that needs peace and justice. And they are certainly doing an admirable job of it, I think. But the government is not giving in easily. Human rights commissions are kicked out and power is not surrendered yet.

If you pray, I ask you to please, please keep Nicaragua in your prayers.

So, in my third year in Nicaragua, I didn’t think I would have many new “never thought I’d evers,” but I had too many more, most of which I would not have asked for. But as I saw the absolute worst of humanity, I also saw that people can be better than I ever would have thought possible, too. I am fundamentally changed by all three years in Nicaragua. And I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words everything I saw or felt or how I am changed. As I reread what I’ve written, I don’t feel I’ve conveyed anything I meant to. But I’ve spent long enough trying and wanted you to have a glimpse into the last months.

As a final note, for a bit of explanation, on April 19 school was cancelled for the day, on May 19, after having had school sporadically for a month, it was cancelled for the remainder of the year and May 21 (instead of the planned June 21) I flew back to Canada. Now I am teaching in a community in the Yukon. I plan to go back to Nicaragua to visit and hopefully say goodbye in March. I do not plan to blog anymore and appreciate all of your support these past few years. Please stay in touch and keep informed about Nicaragua and anything you might be able to do.


Posted by on September 8, 2018 in My Musical Learning Journey


Easter Worship Arts

I am not a singer. I think those who sit around me in church probably don’t choose to do IMG_4985so two weeks in a row to get a break from my less-than-pleasant but ever-joyful sound! Therefore, the idea of worship being so much more than music has always been very important to me. In the days before school let out for Easter, I enlisted the help of a couple of fellow teachers, a high school volunteer, and a parent, and we set out to do a morning of Easter worship arts sessions with the kids. I was only able to take a few pictures. There are also some beautiful pieces that I didn’t get pictures of (such as the dance and many visual art). One of my students has been emailing me over the break with several pieces that he has continued to make since being out of school! This teacher’s heart is very, very well reminded of the joy of worship, Easter, and teaching!! 

As a celebration of this season, enjoy this small selection of some of these amazing pieces that were created with the truest hearts of worship. 


Visual Arts


Literary Arts












Your grace is ocean wide

We barely float in faith.

We reach you in love, our hope

growing deep. You died for us.

And with your power you raised

again. You never fail O Lord you gave


Digital Arts

your only Son.


Your power beyond the grave

You create our world, our people in

a single breath. We praise the king

Our king who conquered death by

your hand


Your grace redeems the souls

of millions. You’ve changed us you’ve changed

me, you changed the world.



From the night of peace, the peace of night.

To the night of horror, the horror of the night.

The cry of the Savior echoes through the dark of the night.

His breath brings silence across the land.

The only sound is that of the temple curtain. Ashamed of what he had contained inside, thrashed until he split clean in two. 

All was quite for three days and nights. 

Then out of the darkness one last cry,

“Christ is Risen!”


Luke psalms 119_105

Digital Arts


I can’t get the video to upload for the Music Session. Sad.  You can see three girls sang and two boys played “drums.” 




Another Sort of Week

In talking to a friend from home this week I was told, “Wow. Your life is so cool.” At other times I’ve also heard, “You do such good work,” or “That’s so amazing.” Maybe. But mostly, not. I can tend towards the negative and so try to intentionally think through the positive when I write because I can force myself to slow down a bit and be grateful. But, maybe it’s time for the other side. Because it is part of the reality. The blog posts you don’t usually get. The pictures that nobody wants to see. Or the emails and messages that get deleted before I hit send. So, here is a look at a single week’s worth of the “uncool” or “not good work” or “less than amazing” stuff.

FiAA member of our church with three young children passes away in an immense amount of pain. He has been denied any care for more than 12 hours. They say it is due to the fact that no payment has been received, so it is agreed that they there will be full payment by 10 AM the following morning. However, the hospital doesn’t follow through on their end. He is not even given a pillow. No meds. No check-ins. He is ignored entirely. Then he is kicked out and sent home. Even after they pay by 10 AM. The family takes him back to the hospital several hours later, knowing he is dying. He doesn’t receive care for hours and dies later that day. His wife is told to wait outside the hospital when she goes to collect his death certificate.

On our Saturday morning run, an eight-year-old boy holding his mother’s hand whistles at us, his eyes travelling up and down our bodies, and says in English, “Good morning, hot stuff.” His mother does nothing. It’s normal. Another truck of men honk, whistle, call sexual names, and wave appraisingly.

On my walk home from my weekly grocery trip, there is a dead dog lying in the middle of the dirt path, as well as a dead frog. Last week it was a rolled car on the way home from church.Image result for dirt road  nicaragua

One of our staff members’ brothers is hit by a car while on his motorbike and is in a coma. The family is struggling financially in a huge way because of it.

My students are involved in a massive, heartbreaking issue.

A close friend here is in the midst of a destructive relationship.

My classroom loses 5/10 lights and will be replaced “mañana” (tomorrow). Every day this week I’ve taught in a partially dark room and mañana never comes.

The kids at the centre (for kids from drug & prostitution involved families) cannot think of a single kind thing to say about themselves or their friends when prompted. They degrade one another and themselves in response to my question, instead. They argue over which is a better career: thief or drug dealer.

My legs are scarred with mosquito bites and the ants invaded my cereal. I roll my ankle on the cobblestones trying to avoid the sewage.

ALL of this is has occurred in the last EIGHT days. No lie. No exaggeration.

So, yes, after looking at that list, maybe it’s been an abnormally awful week, but there are definitely more days that are not fun, when I feel that I do little good. And that’s another side of reality here that I try to hide.

Image result for moon night oceanNow, I do want you to hear about and celebrate in the goodness of this place and this life and work. It is wonderful. There are great days. But there are also way more days here than there were in Canada that are really, really hard and life is anything but glamorously adventurous. A normal week is bursting with pain, death, sickness, and challenges in a way that life in Canada never has been for me. It’s a reality here. And in this I grow. And in this I learn. But I also cry and struggle and fight. So please, just remember that this life isn’t something to envy based on the volcano hikes and beach days and cheap travel plans. Those aren’t enough. If you envy this life, envy it for the walk that I get to have with my God because of it. Because that’s the beautiful part. I get to trust, pray, and walk so closely with Him through all of this. So, don’t pity me either. In this mess is where I find the best parts of a week – an intimacy with my God unlike any other.


Two (or 29) Learners

When one teachesGood grief. I am exhausted at the end of a week. Every Friday night I sleep at least 11 hours. And I usually try to sneak in a good, long afternoon nap on Saturdays, too. And as teachers, we always try to suppose why. The heat? The language? The hours? I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, I think a big part is the LEARNING! My brain is tired! The quote to the left speaks volumes about how I feel about teaching.

On our planning day at the beginning of the new semester, I sat down and researched new strategies and current studies, resources, and suggestions to engage students in learning and support students who are struggling behaviourally, academically, or socially. I had a master plan, I tell you. And I thought it was bullet-proof. Even spit-ball-proof. Then the students arrived the following day. Apparently it wasn’t Grade 5-proof…. And I was partly disheartened, partly bemused, and partly entertained. I guess I have more to learn. I’ve said it before and I don’t think there will be a day where I retract the statement: these little souls teach me more about faith, life, and learning than any other job ever could. I teach because I love to learn. My highest goal for my students leaving my classroom is always that they have come to love learning and have become more aware of how to learn. There will be time to memorize facts later.

This week we went on our Grade 4-6 overnight retreat. The theme was The Amazing Race, so I got to spend time with them all outside of our four classroom walls and it was lovely. Here are some pictures:

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Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Nica Life


Merry Christmas from us to you!

We have been very busy the last weeks – a field trip to hike a volcano in a cloud forest. How cool! I certainly didn’t get to do that on MY Grade 5 field trip! We decorated the classroom, planned a Christmas party for two of our local staff members, and put together two gift baskets full of food and presents for them. The kids also treated me to a wonderful surprise birthday party.IMG_0113

My students wrote this Christmas letter.

We thank God for a great 2017 and wish you a joy-filled Christmas and 2018!

Top 22 Best Moments from Our Year:

         Field Trip to Mombacho 


Silly Family Christmas Photo


         Marshmallow & Spaghetti Tower Engineering Project

         Miss Van Kannel’s Surprise Birthday Party


         Culture Club

         Number the Stars novel

         Car ExperimentP1050395

         Dissecting the chickens

        Human Body Unit


Hiking the volcano


          Reading Buddies


         Christmas decorating


         #MissVanKannelFails (tossed markers, tripping over things, mistakes, etc)

         Spirit Week

         Special Programs

         Talent Show


At the talent show, Grade 5 represented themselves well! I danced, four kids won awards (including for Christian spirit), and we blew away the competition in “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.” Proud Teacher.


         Science Projects

         Eagles in Training

         First Day of School

         Small chapel groups


         MakerSpace (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math inquiry project time)

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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Nica Life


The Five Week Old Church

I’ve been looking for a Nicaraguan Spanish church to get more involved in since this summer when my Spanish picked up. However, transportation is difficult for me, so it wasn’t until this month that a church arose. Literally. It’s five weeks old. It doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have an altar. It doesn’t even have a door. It certainly doesn’t have a parking lot. Settle in, because it’s a long story, but I promise that it’s a good one.

A missionary couple was telling me a story about their summer. They are relatively new here and wanted to go to a market, but didn’t know enough to get there on their own, so they took a taxi. The taxi driver happened to be a gentleman who trains local pastors. Anyway, they got to be fast friends, and this summer when the couple had a mission’s team here, they took the group out to a local church that the taxi driver, P., was helping at. This community is close to Managua but very isolated without electricity or running water. While they were out there at that church P. said, “I heard there’s a single Christian over on that next ridge. Should we go check things out?” So, they wandered over. Sure enough, there was a 105-year-old pastor, but he can no longer get out of bed, hasn’t preached in a long while, and is alone in his faith there. So, P. and the two other men went to the next house. After some conversation with the incredibly grumpy, sick lady there, he said, “Jesus has told me you will be His today. Repeat after me,” and proceeded to say the salvation prayer. He did the same at the next house. Shocked, the men asked him what he was doing and were very uncomfortable with this seemingly forced approach to evangelism. P. responded, “I know! Doesn’t it seem terrible?! But Jesus spoke to me very clearly and gave me the exact words He wanted me to say. He says to come back in two weeks and these two households will be transformed by Him.”

The missionary couple and the taxi driver did return and both of those households had become followers of Jesus and, again, in both of those households, where there had been debilitating chronic physical illness and pain, it was replaced by health and joy and entirely, miraculously healed. And upon this visit, they said, “We don’t know anything about this powerful God, though. Please teach us. Will you do it?” In amazement, the missionary couple and the taxi driver obediently replied, “Yes.”

And then I enter the scene. After hearing this story, I asked, “Can I come see this?” This sounded like the early church to me. How exciting! The burning zeal that characterized the early church those many years ago sounded like it was present here, too. In that ancient world, where we must also note that most people were illiterate, it was asked that every new believer spend their first three years learning all of God’s word in community. This is how the book of Revelation can have “more than 500 allusions to words or phrases from the Old Testament” with not “a single direct quotation from the Old Testament,” and be fully understood by the early church believers. They had it infused into every fibre of their being. “The early church took seriously Jesus’s statement that people can’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Matt. 4:4). And when Jesus told His disciples to teach others “all that I command you,” they did it (Matt. 28:20).” Wow. How many of us can even say we remember the order of the books of the Bible?

This community is only about 20 km from Managua, but it takes us two hours. We can drive 19 of them (the pastor of that first church the couple had visited walks 18 kilometers to pastor her church each week). Talk about commitment and zeal. When the road gets worse, we stop and park. We walk the rest of the way. As we walk, we attract attention. Three white people out there draws a bit of notice. People say hi and give us a

Sunday School

Our Sunday school classroom. You can see some of the kids at the top.

questioning look. We say we’re going to church and they’re welcome to join us. Many do. Especially the kids. One teenaged girl hands us drawings that she’s done, along with a letter asking for new clothes. Eventually we arrive. The woman from that first house, remember her? She has opened up her “porch” to anyone wanting to learn more about God. So, there are 6 adults and 7 children gathered and ready to begin. Although we don’t have communion (the concept is still foreign), someone has brought pico (a bread filled with a sweet jelly) and Pepsi to share, and it reminds me of the communion and sacrifice that we reflect on during formal church communion in a deeper way than ever before. Next, us girls take the kids. Our Sunday school classroom is the path and our chairs are the logs that have been cut for firewood. We hear the adults joining in song, singing the choruses that they’ve learned since their first week of church. Both the kids and the adults learning the foundations of our faith for the very first time allows me to re-experience my faith like it’s the very first time again, too.

I think my praises and prayer requests for this month are pretty obvious! Help me lift up this house church and its people in prayer, and praise God for this miraculous work.

All quotes taken from Preston Sprinkle’s “4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church” (Relevant Magazine):

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Posted by on October 29, 2017 in Nica Life


Teachers Teaching Teachers

With my improved Spanish abilities (albeit, only moderately improved!), this has opened up many new opportunities for me to help in the area of education here in Nicaragua.

This summer I have started to explore how I can help other teachers and schools, especially local ones. Education here, while improved from what it had been, is still terrible.

Out of all the 15 Latin American countries, Nicaraguan students gained the least growth in their skill levels between 2006 and 2013. In Grade 3, 15% reached satisfactory levels in reading and comprehension and 12% in math. Only 20% of those taking a basic math requirement exam for university entrance will pass. 7,000 Nicaraguan primary teachers do not have a degree. A person can have 3 years of high school, 6 months of training, and no follow up, and be considered a teacher. A teacher’s salary does not cover his or her basic needs, there are not classrooms stocked for subjects such as physics, chemistry, or computers, textbooks are not always linked to content, can be 25 or more years old, and often a class only has one copy – for the teacher, from which she reads and the students copy onto paper.

This is a documentary done by a Nicaraguan film crew last year. I would highly recommend watching it if you can spare an hour. In it, the director of Escuela Montessori Jan Amos Comenius, Elba Rivera, says, “The teacher is key. We should invest much more in teacher training.” And that is precisely where I have focused my energy.

While I was in Esteli for language school, I had the opportunity to attend a public school for the afternoon (students only attend class for half a day – morning, afternoon, or evening). I sat in on Grade 9. One teacher was great and did her best with the limited resources she had. She mostly had control with classroom management, and asked good questions to engage the students. She even had a hook at the beginning of her lesson! One teacher was planning (and learning) the class content as she was teaching it. It was about synonyms and antonyms. Questions were very basic and there was one textbook, which she held and dictated from. There was no classroom management. The next teacher came in, plugged her cellphone in, sat down at the desk, waited 3 minutes to begin, dictated a paragraph from the textbook, told the students to think about what they just wrote, and then reached for her phone. 12 minutes went by (yes, I was timing and writing it down) with no changes. Students were chatting about everything but class while she played on her phone. Then, she pulled out a chocolate bar and ate it. 3 more minutes. She said, “You should be working,” from her desk, with barely a glance up from her phone. Then, 16 minutes later the bell rang. I still do not what subject that class was. Once teachers are hired here, they cannot be fired unless they’ve committed a crime, so even more so, teacher training is essential.Grade 9

The classroom was very bare. There was nothing on the walls except a photocopied alphabet (with a few upside down letters tossed in for good measure), a couple of old alphabet colouring sheets, and a peeling bulletin board of upcoming holidays (from two months prior). Two out of six fluorescent lights worked, the desk chairs were by far the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat in, and the chalkboard was so scratched up and plastered with mystery something that only one of the teachers bothered to write something on it.

While my experiences in public Nicaraguan education are more limited, I know that the day I had in Grade 9 is not uncommon across the country. And this is in a city. Rural schools often mean less, too.

So, this journey of mine in teacher training started out with me heading off to Jinotega (a city in northern Nicaragua) to spend a weekend working with a newly hired teacher and school which will open in January. There currently is no Christian school in Jinotega and options are lacking for quality education. So, I spent all day Saturday helping Ruth plan her first week of school, a daily schedule, list of procedures to teach the wee ones, ideas of class rules, and centre ideas. Then, on Sunday, I met with a group of students studying at the university to become English as a Second Language teachers. We talked generally about best practices, pedagogy, etc.

Upon returning to Managua before school started, I spent a week working with Tesoros de Dios (God’s Treasures). It is a centre for kids with disabilities with physical therapy, speech, horse therapy, and so much more. I observed each of the classroom teachers during their educational times, and especially focused in on the Grade 1 & 2 class. I was able to collect some observations and easy-to-implement strategies and activities to suggest to them. I also redesigned a poorly used spaced as a “secret” reading nook with a mosquito net tent, comfy pillows, books, and sparkly stars, with butcher paper on the three surrounding walls to allow for some child-inspired graffiti.  IMG_1326

When I presented my suggestions to one of the directors of Tesoros, she was so thrilled by the ideas, but said that the staff really needed a whole professional development session to be able to practice with some of these strategies. So, she asked myself and our Special Ed teacher at NCA to put together an afternoon PD session for them. We were able to host this at NCA, so the staff also got to see our classrooms and some of the tools and set-ups that we use.

Finally, this year I have been paired with a new teacher (who has my old job of teaching Grade 1) to be a mentor. I can’t say that I am doing a great job of this area, but enjoy being able to share some of the things that I have learned thus far.

I had some really great pictures to include for you, too, but my phone disappeared.


Prayer Requests:

  • Jinotega Christian Academy – that they would be granted their paperwork to be an official school (political reasons are saying that the current teachers are not acceptable)
  • NCA – that they would continue to be accessible to Nicaraguan families as a high-quality level of education, and raise up future leaders who can have an impact on this country’s education
  • Teachers – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges, wisdom
  • Students – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges
  • Government – wisdom to provide better for education (Nicaragua has one of the lowest percentages of their budget going towards education in Latin America)
  • Praise God for his work in these areas so far, with people and organizations who care deeply about education and are making a difference
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Nica Life