For some, the thought of tetirement brings to mind thoughts of sleepy countryside havens or bungalows by the sea, surrounded by flowers, trees or endless coastline. Horsham Artists Open Studios (HAOS) member, Carolyn Gibbs, has recently shared an awe inspiring, eye opening and humbling insight into her life as a retiree:”I have enjoyed travelling for some years and on my first trip to Peru in 2007 I returned determined to learn Spanish. This has prompted me to visit many Spanish speaking countries, particularly South and Central America. Also since my retirement and losing my husband to prostate cancer, I have combined my hobbies of art and embroidery to raise funds for charity; I was involved in the Creatives shop in Billingshurst, both as an artist and a member of the Community Partnership.
During the last two winters, I have taken extended trips to include attendance at Spanish schools in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, travelling through Central America. This has enabled me to get to know local people and learn about their countries and culture.
I have now developed an ongoing friendship with one of my guides, Jose Antonio Ruiz Hernandez, who lives on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Central America, after Haiti, and many children complete very few years of schooling. Those who do, have, to commit time and effort outside of the normal school day and endure many hardships to pursue their aspirations.
Jose experienced these challenges and has gone on to learn two languages and is a local guide. In his early thirties, he is now setting up his own kayak business to provide employment to his local community, Urbaite and offer tourist services. He also teaches local students languages. His story inspired me and his enthusiasm for life and learning was so positive, yet he described how he had been unable to attend his graduations, as his parents could not afford new clothes. I decided to help him move his plans forward and he wanted me to return to see his progress. He has named one of the kayaks after me! We are also trying to organise for him to visit England some time.
I have arranged to return to Ometepe Island in January 2018 for nearly five weeks; Jose has organised for me to visit and volunteer in the schools so I can support the children with learning English and help in other local community facilities. I have been collecting small items of stationery and school clothing for families in need. I have been accumulating funds that will help them purchase computer equipment and sports clothing and items locally as these items are lower cost there and purchases would help the local economy.
My travels there have made me feel embarrassed by the luxuries we have available on a daily basis here, and as a responsible traveller I want to improve the life opportunities of some very aspirational young people. The children in the Rafael Herrera Primary school have to borrow a football and have no kit to play against other schools. The headteacher handwrote a letter, which Jose photographed in order to send a communication to me.
There is no equipment and only basic buildings. I have spent forty years working in our education system, as a teacher, headteacher and as an adviser in West Sussex, and realise what a disadvantage these children have.
I have begun my arts and crafts sales to support this activity (my work can be seen on my blog https://2newhorizonsinart2.blogspot.co.uk/
), I am saving funds that I gain from money saving vouchers, my pension and savings, and kind donations from friends, family and any other organisations.
I will be exhibiting later this year at the Association of Sussex Artists and in October, with the HAOS group at their Autumn Fayre in Horsham, and any sales will contribute towards this work.
The project is involving me in more new learning too. I am taking a TEFL online course to support me in any teaching opportunities and have started to take motorcycle lessons to enable me to have transportation on the island!