The trip has now concluded and we’ve all returned home. Since my last blog quite a lot has happened. We visited Omatepe to hike the volcano Maderas, hit San Juan Del Sur a second time for beach fun, and visited Granada to cap off the trip. All three were a great time.
The electric system is up and running and looks great. Only thing left now seems to be painting.
It was difficult saying goodbyes, especially to the Atraves staff, the children of the community, and my host mother, but all things must come to an end.
I think I will have to return to Nicaragua at some point, but I do not know when or for what. One thing I would definitely like to do is visit the northern parts of the country.
Since the last time I blogged I hiked and camped on a volcano, tried out the computers and vivero groups, and visited San Juan Del Sur. The hiking was pretty tough, especially since I had very little traction on my shoes and we all know that hiking is all about traction. It was pretty amazing being at the top of the volcano and honestly it was a little scary being so close that you could easily fall in to your death. Pretty cool for a first hiking experience I think.
The computers and vivero groups were both fun experiences. It was neat being able to work with different members of our group and to take a stab at the different work that we as a group are doing here. This week I have switched back to the medical group. This turned out to be good timing because we are now trained to give blood pressure and measure blood sugar levels so visiting patients with the promotoras is now more interactive instead of simple observation.
San Juan Del Sur was a nice beach town. We went to a beach called Maderas which was beautiful. One of the girls got stabbed by a stingray in her foot and had to leave early. There was concern over whether it could be venomous but thankfully it wasn’t. On the last day of the trip the boys and I went on a fishing trip. Turns out we only got one bite on the trip and we didn’t even reel that in successfully. Even so, being out on the water was a great experience and we got to check out this little private beach where there were tons of crabs and hermit crabs. We manage to capture one crab and played with him for a little while, before of course letting him free.
This week, Sophia and I switched project groups so she’s with the computer kids with I’m with the vivero crew.
Although Mondays are always rough, it felt so good getting to work in the dirt again and getting my hands dirty (literally), especially as a college student who is usually stuck inside studying all day errday. There’s this large, steep, grassy hill that is visible from the school which separates Camilo Ortega from another neighborhood, and ever since last year, I had always wanted to climb it. While taking a break from hoeing a new plot of land, which is located right at the bottom of the hill, I pointed to a tree that seemed to be the highest point and somehow, Don William (our pointman, comedian, storyteller…) knew what I wanted and he asked if I wanted to climb it. Incredulously, I asked “En serio??” and he just let Epifanio, a teenager from the community who often hangs out with us while we work, lead the way.
Using a machete, Epifanio and Don William cut a path up to my beloved tree as the rest of us scrambled our way up. The air was cool (a great relief from the hot sun) and the view was incredible. Not only could you see where Camilo Ortega begins and starts (width-wise), but you could really see how soil erosion caused by the torrential rains every summer (which led to some houses collapsing and death in 2010), is washing away the land, causing steeper and steeper hills. Standing in this tree (yes, I had to climb it), really put everything into perspective – a completely new perspective – and it reaffirmed why I returned to Nicaragua and that the work we were doing would really benefit the community. Although the daily work is difficult and we often question whether we’re really creating an impact, seeing the enormity of this problem and hearing how passionate Don William became while talking about his plans to help this community (he even moved from Jinotepe to Camilo Ortega) were the motivation I needed on that rough Monday morning to continue working hard alongside these dedicated community members and the ATRAVES staff. After a brief geography lesson on the different visible neighborhoods, a couple of photos (hopefully I can nab them from Corey soon), and appreciating that cool breeze, we made our way down and continued hoeing (possibly with greater vigor, which is difficult in the Nicaraguan heat) until lunch.
We’ve been here for over 10 days now. We had our first weekend trip which was pretty cool. We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, so frequent trips to the ocean were had. The food was pretty good! Transportation definitely proved to be challenging because our group is pretty big at 11.
Although I got sick for the first time last Thursday I was pleasantly surprised by how fast I recovered. By Friday night I was pretty much completely back to normal thanks to my host mother and Cory’s help with plenty of fluids and meds. Cory is the volunteer coordinator who’s a pretty cool guy. Currently in possession of his swim trunks since I so wisely didn’t bring any with me.
So far the work has consisted of electrical work, data entry, and visiting patients. The entry was finished pretty quickly but the electrical work is taking a very long time. It consists of hammering away at walls for a few hours with small breaks in between. Visiting patients has been cool so far but it is certainly difficult to understand what is being said. We start teaching tomorrow which should be interesting and probably pretty hard since it’s in a foreign language. I’m looking forward to seeing the agricultural work that is being done.
It has been 11 days since arriving and it feels like we have already done so much.
Seeing Corey, the volunteer coordinator from ATRAVES, waiting for me at the airport completely rejuvenated me even after a very long day of waiting and delayed flights. Like last year, we stayed in a hotel the first night to recuperate from all the traveling before meeting our homestay families. We met the volunteers from Cornell, had a relaxing evening in the hotel, and milked the air conditioner for all its worth.
I was completely estatic when I found out I got placed with the same homestay family – seeing my Nicaraguan mother and sister after a full year, whom I never expected to see again, was a blessing and I am so grateful to be home. The streets are just as I remember them, and the neighborhood welcomed me with again with open arms as I greeted familiar faces and caught up with everyone.
We had two days of orientation in barrio Camilo Ortega, and we’re working in the school and the health clinic again. There are four major projects that we’re working on. The first is a continuation of computer literacy classes that the Penn and Wake Forest chapters implemented last year. Corey had told us that he continued the computer classes since we had left, and we’re now creating a curriculm for high school students. Walking into the computer lab/multipurpose room furnished with desks that Brendan, an individual volunteer whom we worked with last year, had built and computers blew my mind – computer classes have come such a long way from last year when Randall and I scrambled to set-up laptops, tables, and chairs before every class. And they just got a router which means all the computers have internet!
The second project deals with health – we’re working with the promotores (health promoter) to create a comprehensive community health assessment as well as assisting them as they visit patients in the community, and we’re teaching health and sex education classes based off of lesson outlines created by previous ATRAVES volunteers.
The third project is the urban agricultural initative as we continue working in the vivero, which serves as an incubation center for seedlings before they are strategically planted throughout the community to prevent further erosion. Like the multipurpose room, it is mindblowing to see how much the vivero has changed and its progress since we left it last year. The ATRAVES staff and the residents of Camilo Ortega have done such a great job and all of their hard work is clearly evident. In addition, we’re working in a second plot of land in which we hope to grow vegetables and fruit plants that will be used at the school and dispersed throughout the community. I hope to talk with Corey in further expanding this idea and potentially growing enough produce to sell for profit to provide another souce of funding for the school and clinic.
The fourth project is the installation of an electrical system in the health clinic, which is a huge deal since in order for the clinic to be officially certified, it requires a proper electrical system. Camilo Ortega is one of the poorest neighboorhoods in Managua (it is home to displaced farmers who had no other place to go) and almost if not all of the houses are illegally hooked up to electricity since the monopolostic electrical company charges outrageous and unaffordable rates. We have been chipping away at the concrete walls with a hammer and chisel with the guidance of Don Fran and Don Luis.
Among the 11 of us, we have divided into the first three projects as our primary focus and eveyone works on the electrical system. Additionally, we all participate in Kid’s Club, an afterschool program at the school which provides the students a chance to be children as they are often burdened with jobs and responsibilities at a very young age to help support their families.
Returning to Camilo Ortega and surprising the ATRAVES staff and my old students was so great and their warm embrace reminded me why I decided to return to Nicaragua on my second international project. Everyone asked me, “Y Randall?” the other volunteer from Penn, since we were joined at the hip for the entire duration of the trip, and I unfortunately had to tell them that he couldn’t make it even though he really tried. (Te extranamos!) Although the first week was exhausting as we adjusted to the heat, humidity, and mosquitos, I can’t wait to continue working and seeing these projects progress!
I arrived at the airport early only to have my flight from Philadelphia to Atlanta delayed. Not once, not twice, but thrice resulting in an anxiety-ridden Jean as I worried whether I’d make my connecting flight to Managua. Not exactly the best start, but now that we have finally taken off, I’m officially on my way and I couldn’t be more excited to return to Nicaragua. We have partnered with the wonderful organization ATRAVES again, and I can’t wait to continue working on and expanding upon the projects we have implemented last year with the Wake Forest chapter in Barrio Camilo Ortega – working in the vivero for the urban agriculture initiative, teaching a health and hygiene class in the primary school, and teaching computer literacy skills.
This year, the Penn chapter has partnered with the Cornell chapter for a total of 11 volunteers – a project team almost three times in size from last year’s – for six weeks. With the increased manpower, time, and project budget, I am confident that these projects will grow beyond our expectations as we continue to work with community leaders and ATRAVES to address the community’s needs.
On a personal note, it feels like I’m returning home to see my mother and sister (my host-stay family), my children (the students at the school), and friends (everyone!). When I close my eyes, I can see all the streets that I had walked, all the people I had met, and all the places I had been. However, I fully intend on taking this second journey in this beautiful country to take advantage of all the opportunities that I had missed last year – whether due to hesitation or time constraints – and fully immersing myself in the culture from day one (it definitely took at least a week before I started feeling slightly less awkward speaking Spanish last summer…).
Cheers to seeing familiar and new faces, and brand new adventures!
Ok, it’s the night before departure. First blog post for me. I hope the flights go smoothly. -Brandon
Although it’s only the second day of classes, I already feel completely engulfed by school life. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been about 3 weeks since I left Nicaragua – it all seems like a dream…
The five weeks that I was lucky to have in Nicaragua have definitely been one of the most unforgettable and amazing times that I will ever get to experience. Because I lived with a homestay family in La Morazan and worked in Camilo Ortega, I felt that I was able to fully immerse myself in the Nicaraguan culture and daily life. I immediately saw the contrast in living situations between where I lived, which is one of the safest neighborhoods with solid, properly made homes, and where I worked, whose residents lived in small, shoddy houses with dirt floors. While we were at work, if I wanted to buy something at the pulperia or corner store a block away from the school, I needed to be accompanied by a resident, even if it was a child, so I wouldn’t be targeted for theft, but while we were home, I felt completely safe walking around. While Nicaragua is a very safe country with a low crime rate, it is also a very poor country and tourists are often targeted for pick-pocketing out of necessity. As more time had passed, the safer I had felt in both my home and work communities because I fell in love with the people, who appeared stoic but after showing a little bit of kindness, whether it’s a smile or saying “Buenas,” they immediately opened up and returned that kindness ten-fold. While they may not have many material possessions, they possess a great deal of respect for themselves and for others, and self-dignity, qualities that I extremely admired. We worked at the school Monday through Thursday and were given the opportunity to travel during the weekends which allowed us to visit the other large cities, like Leon and Granada, and experience the natural beauty and landscape of Nicaragua whether it was by hiking up active volcanoes or soaking up the sun in a surf town. I could go on and on about my time there but overall, it didn’t feel like I was a foreigner but someone who was living and working along side the community, and it was really difficult to have to say good-bye.
Being able to work alongside such selfless individuals who are dedicating their lives for the improvement of lives and the well-being of the residents was such a privilege and extremely rewarding. Our projects that we implemented will continue to expand, and Corey Blant, the volunteer coordinator who was our go-to person, has already begun planning to expand the after-school program so that it’s no longer just one day a week but four days a week with an English class, computer class, games and activities similar to the original Kid’s Club, and a Vivero club. Within 10 days, another group of 5th and 6th graders will be selected and taught the same computer lessons that Randall and I had done with the first group. Although we weren’t able to complete the retaining wall, William and Fran, who are in charge of any type of construction and with whom we worked closely with on the wall, painting, and planting, will continue to see through the project to completion. In addition, we will continued to be updated on the progress of the projects and the future purchases of the remaining budget ($3000 goes a long way in Nicaragua). It is such a satisfying and reassuring feeling to know that the work we all did over the last five weeks will continue to have a lasting impact in the community and that we were able to provide tools and resources that will help improve their lives.
As I said my goodbyes to my wonderful homestay family, the students who would scream my name and hug me, William and Fran, the neighbors that I got to know through late-night conversations on the stoop, and everyone else that made my experience unforgettable, they all asked, “¿Cuándo volverás?” to which I replied, “No sé pero espero que pueda volver muy pronto.” Although it’s rather unlikely that I’ll have the time or money to return within a year or so, I definitely plan on returning so I can see how much my students have grown and how much the community has changed, eat the amazing food cooked by Don Eugenio, and dance with my Nicaraguan mother and sister.
As promised, here is a quick post of some of the pictures we have taken thus far:
Paz y amor,
July 31, 2012:
Primero, PICTURES/VIDEO ARE TO COME SOON! Stay posted!
Segundo, I can’t believe today is the last day of July. I still feel like we just got here, every thing still feels new. We’ve been here for two going on three weeks and we still have so much to do and accomplish. Thus far everything has been going pretty well. After the first week we were able to get into our routine and get a feel for what we are really doing here. Here is a basic breakdown of how our weekdays are here. The first things to note is that Atraves has broken down each weekday into two activities and within that our group is divided into two, Jean and I are one group while Brittany and Anna Grace are the other group. So, on any given weekday, our group here is actively working on four projects.
On Mondays, from 8-12 Jean and I are working to build a retaining wall out of tires in the Vivero. Then for the rest of the afternoon Jean and I try to teach 5th and 6th grade on environmental issues such as recycling and composting. We aim to do this through small lessons but mainly through activities with the students. For example, the first Monday that we were here, we took a group of students to help plant trees for the community garden/plant nursery that we are all working on building. The Monday after that, we took two other groups of students to go and pick up trash on the hill outside of the school. I tried making it fun by using a knife to widdle sticks so that the kids don’t have to use their hands. It worked very well for the older students, but for the younger students it was a little crazy. They were all distracted and were hitting each other with the sticks. In order to ensure that the next time goes smoothly, I think we are going to try and make it a competition of who can pick up the most trash in order to keep the students attention.
On Tuesdays, Jean and I’s morning consists of teaching to back-to-back computer classes that we usually prepare for on the night before. We basically break the computer classes into a few different units such as Microsoft Word, all that Google has to offer, and even safety on Facebook. For the afternoon, all four of us run what is known as the “Kids Club” here. Since it is an afternoon activity, we try to focus less on the educational aspect of it and more on creating fun activities for the kids that have hints of learning thrown in. For instance, for the last kids club we had a memory game of different environmental words, such as erosion and deforestation and we broke the kids up into teams to see who could get the most pairs. While that took up the first half an hour of kids club, the second consisted of an obstacle course that was created solely by yours truly. I first had the kids walk over “little islands,” then jump over a hill, go over a log, and walk through a forest. The obstacle course ended up being a huge success as we made it even more difficult by blindfolding one of the students and having another student guide them through the maze. Furthermore, as if all that teaching wasn’t enough, we usually end our Tuesdays with some more work in the clinic. Every Tuesday afternoon the school holds an exercise/dance class for the local adults. Most of the people that participate in this class also participate in a weight loss program where after they exercise, they walk down to the clinic and we weight them. We collect all of this data onto an excel document that notes how much weight they have already lost, how much they should loose, and it breaks this down into smaller goals to help keep them motivated. This entire project is based off of each person’s BMI number. So our job is for two of us, which appears to be Anna Grace and I, to weigh each person, enter the data into a simple excel document, and give them their current progress. One of our goals with this aspect of our project is to create a simplified excel document so that this weight loss program can continue even without any volunteers around. In order to this, I also am trying to put together a small course on excel to teach the “promatoras (Spanish for the group of individuals that run the clinic).”
Wednesdays are similar to Mondays in that we have a lot of physical work. The mornings are usually spent building the community garden, the Vivero – including the massive retaining wall. On the other hand the afternoons are slightly different. For Wednesday afternoons, we work on fixing up the clinic. Thus far, this mainly consists of painting the different rooms with great detail.
For Thursdays, we start our mornings in the same way that we do our Tuesdays. We teach two classes on computers. Diving a little deeper into this, I would consider this one of the hardest jobs I have here. Not only are we trying to overcome a language barrier of trying to instruct in Spanish, there are also several other factors that make this job particularly difficult. To start, Jean and I are trying to teach around 8 or 9 students on five computers, three of which are our own. In addition, the laptops are very old, slow, and require a constant power supply so cords are usually flying everywhere. The room itself is very tiny and often incredibly hard to navigate, as it is filled with many things in storage, to go around and help the students. The computers themselves have different versions of the programs we are trying to teach the students in which makes a standardized demonstration nearly impossible. Furthermore, we have two separate classes that we are responsible for teaching. The first class is a group of scholarship kids, chosen by the school, that seem to have had less experience with using computers than the regular students which are in the following class. In addition, within each class there are clearly a variety of experience levels even within each class. We have been finding it incredibly difficult to keep the advanced kids entertained while still keeping the kids with less experience motivated to learn more, even with a steeper learning curve. Even with all of these minor roadblocks, I really feel that the classes have been going well. I’ve come to notice that I’m not the type of person that gets frustrated or upset with how things went. I’d rather be happy with what we did accomplish and find a way to improve in the future. Regardless of anything though, the students have been amazing and really attach to you. There is honestly no way to describe how great it feels when a student sees you coming from far away, screams your name, hugs you, and is honestly excited for the what he is going to learn in the next class despite how bad you thought the last class went. It really is incredible how intelligent and enthusiastic the students here are. They couldn’t be happier just to simply have access to computers, even when the situation seems less than perfect to us. Anyway, only one day left to babblewrite (shout out to you, Anthony Ciacci) about.
Fridays, so far, seem to be a big combination of whatever needs done. We have been using Fridays to plan for our classes, prepare activites for Kids club, to do a little work in the vivero/ the clinic, discuss ideas, and even to leave early for weekend travels! That’s about all I have for now!
Paz y amor,