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!
Everyday from 5am until 6pm the tropical sun of Nicaragua beats down with full force. The face melting humidity and constant looming threat of torrential down pours make even a (daily) ice cream run an adventure in Managua. Compounded with the hours of gardening in the vivero (nursery) and electrical construction in the Atraves office, the group has unanimously grown to love cold showers, even despite our growing fondness of that eternal sticky feeling.
Other than my new found romance with brisk morning reprieves from my sweat induced body, I have been working as a part of the Agriculture group working 4 days a week in the vivero and 4 days a week teaching environmental educational, nutrition and kid’s club. Lesson planning is coming a bit easier and we’re all practicing our Spanish to make communicating with our students more feasible.
This weekend I learned more about Nicaraguan history and explored historical sites throughout Managua. We also spent a night at a beach hotel on the pacific coast and truly got to enjoy the beauty of the Nicaraguan coastline.
Gearing up for our second work week at Atraves, I have grown to appreciate more and more about this amazing country. Seeing and traveling the country definitely makes me feel as if I have a better understanding of Nicaragua. But developing relationships with the families of Morazan, the children and community members of Camilo, and each other has been the most satisfying part of our adventure, even more than a cold rinse.
HOW COOL! or “Cho Cho” is a phrase we have been hearing (and thinking) a lot lately, mostly from our amazing and dedicated Volunteer Coordinator, Corey.
The last few days have been occupied by Orientation and general accommodation to our new and exciting surroundings.
Meeting the dedicated staff and community members of ATRAVES (Asociación Transatlantico de Voluntarios en Solidaridad) has been truly inspiring and gives us greater confidence and determination as volunteers.
Now that orientation is over and the groups (Computers, Health and Sustainable Gardening) have been settled, planning for the upcoming week has been a new challenge for most of us. Lesson planning, Spanish speaking and teaching are all new but welcome obstacles on the journey to attaining our goal. Tomorrow, the real work begins and we will begin teaching, growing, learning and hopefully making a lasting impact.
Additionally, the entire group got to explore a bit more of our community, Managua, and Nicaragua as a whole this weekend while travelling to; UniArte, a local artisan cooperative in Los Pueblos Blancos, La Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake, the local mall and to see Despicable Me 2 in Spanish!
Can’t wait to start our first week of work with the community!
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!
Hello Diligent Followers,
Cornell and UPenn have joined forces in Managua! After Corey and Sonja’s tireless efforts to collect their ducklings from the airport and some delicious eats, they reside for the night in Hotel D’Lido!
Tomorrow, the real games begin! Orientation and meeting our homestay families! Everyone is so excited and pumped already, can’t wait to see what lies ahead!
‘Til next time,
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,