San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

School Helps Integrate Special Needs Students

After spending several years perched precariously on the rickety porch of a dilapidated building on the corner of Granada’s Calle Corrales, the Association of Handicapped Artisans of Nicaragua (AMAN) officially unveiled its new and more dignified home this week on the corner of Calles Atravesado and Immaculado, in front of the Parque de los Poetas.

Like the new building itself, the association has worked to make the lives of 60 special needs students less precarious and more stable by helping to teach them basic education and life skills, including how to make and market handicrafts.

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Bill and Penny Ashman, of Seattle and the Netherlands, respectively, the school has become a second home to many young people living with various disabilities, ranging from Down Syndrome and autism to physical injuries.

With an annual operating budget of $30,000 provided by the Ashmans and local Granada businesses sponsors, the association fills a real void by providing education and job skills to a population that is oftentimes neglected. Most of the students are high-school age, and all of them are outside of the formal education system.

AMAN, therefore, provides an invaluable service by helping to give the students verbal, math, reading and writing skills, as well as an opportunity to try their hands at crafts, such as painting, making piñatas and candles, and silk-screening T-shirts. In that same spirit of empowerment and ownership, the new school – known locally as “Armonia” – was painted and fixed up by the students themselves, to make it a space that is truly their own.

One of the students, Roberto Antonio Ocampo, 19, ran a tight ship as the head of the student union, requiring his fellow classmates to work on the weekends to make sure the school got done according to their liking.

“We got everything done,” he said proudly.

Ocampo, who has been with the program since it started in the original building, said he is thankful for the school for the skills he has learned here, and for the life opportunities it has provided him with.

“I keep learning and they are giving me opportunities,” he said. “I thank don Bill for the opportunity that he gave me and my compañeros.”

The families of the students and the rest of Granada also had a chance to express their gratitude during the Feb. 27 inauguration of the new building. Families of the students, members of the police and firefighters, business leaders, expatriates and the mayor of Granada were on hand to celebrate the grand opening, purchase crafts and recognize all that the students have accomplished.

The students, too, expressed their gratitude by performing a well rehearsed traditional folkloric dance, followed by a freeform reggaeton dance party that got the new school off to a rockin’ start.

For more information about AMAN, or to find out how to help, contact Bill Ashman at


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