Just over a week ago Cornell and U Penn completed our summer project with ATRAVES in Barrio San William Galeano, Managua, Nicaragua.
During our five weeks in the community, three focus groups made incredible impact and progress with their respective projects. The Health group taught sex education and health classes, walked with community health workers to patient homes, and further developed an existing community health assessment. The Computers group taught classes in computer literacy to students of all ages and worked with community and staff members in developing excel skills. Additionally, the Vivero group taught nutrition and environmental education classes along with creating multiple areas in the community for gardening and agricultural development. All together we taught almost 30 classes, planted over 100 seedlings and sprouts, and helped install an electrical system for the Casa de Salud, ATRAVES’ home base.
One of our group reflections during our time with ATRAVES was based on values, forcing participants to narrow down our most important values and choose what was most important to us. One of my top three was “Building Relationships”. During the five weeks that I spent in Nicaragua, I got to know a lot of amazing people. The students, families, and community members that I had the privilege of working with in the community made this project so meaningful to me. Don Fran and Don William, brothers from the community that are so dedicated to the work that ATRAVES is doing and hold so many talents to make every project possible. Yami and Griselda, the conductors of the prometoras (community health advisors) who found passion in their work and shared with us the secrets of maintaining that same happiness and passion. Leticia, one of the fearless leaders of ATRAVES that inspired us all with her brilliant orations and told us that we would forever be members of the ATRAVES family.
I will never forget the relationships I forged during my summer in Nicaragua, nor will I forget the love and openness our project team was received with. On our last day inthe community so many of our new friends and students would not tell us goodbye, only hasta luego, “see you later”. The appreciation that the community showed to us everyday along with the immense gratitude that I have towards the community for such kindness,truly represents the relationship that Nourish has formed with San William Galeano. A relationship that I hope to foster in the coming years through work with Nourish or on my own.
The Vivero team with their fearless leader Don William
Christina, Olivia, Jaime and Jean with their Nutrition students.
The whole ATRAVES family and students.
Christina with jack of all trades, Don Fran, and his children, Franklin and Diana.
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.
Moving in on week 3 of Cornell-UPenn in Nicaragua and our third work week is in full swing. No one can believe how fast time has been passing and 2 students from the University of Southern Florida have been added to the adventure!
Our partner organization, ATRAVES, has a strong foundation in the importance of solidarity as a community value. Your problems are my problems. The problems of the world are each of our problems. Etc.
Our volunteer coordinator and site cheerleader, Corey, based our last reflection off of the idea of solidarity. How we see it in our daily lives, how it applies to the work we are doing in Camilo, and most importantly how it can change and empower communities for the better.
I have been thinking about how closely this aligns to the work that Nourish accomplishes all over the world and really valuing the sense of solidarity I feel amongst our student group as well as within the community. Everyday we work in small teams in daily tasks such as electrical construction, gardening, teaching and planning. But behind all of this execution is a whole lot of team effort and sacrifice, whether that manifests in terms of time, work, sleep or personal preference, it is a sacrifice nonetheless. And it is valued by everyone involved because it allows us to contribute more to the community as a strong united front.
Reflecting on how solidarity has helped our group become closer and stronger, we set off to trek a volcano this past weekend. And let me tell you, solidarity has amazing effects. Especially when my loyal compadre, Jaime, refused to leave my side as I held up the back of the pack on our 4-5 hour hike up the volcano. Although the trek was difficult and some struggled along the way (i.e. me) everyone was incredibly encouraging and positive with one another. When we finally reached our campsite and climbed to the crater, we could not have been more proud of each other and it definitely made the long journey more than worth it.
Jean, UPenn Chapter Leader, and I the morning after camping on the volcano.
Olivia and I (Cornell) very excited to be watching the sunrise
Cornell-UPenn-USF is stronger and better than ever, ready to show the power of solidarity this week as we continue executing our plans!
The whole shibang (+ one of our amazing Sonati tour guides) before leaving our beloved volcano and beginning the journey down.
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!
Two days. Two days until Andrew and I leave for somewhere totally new, somewhere wholly unexplored. Mention Nicaragua to the average American and, depending on their age, they may hold a passing knowledge of that country’s revolutionary civil war. More than likely they know little to nothing at all about this impoverished Central American country, let alone its geographic location. To that point, after telling a few friends about my voyage, they would later ask me, “So when are you going to South America again?” Before I signed up for this project, I at least I knew where Nicaragua was. What I didn’t know was that it is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere and that the majority of the population over 30 years of age has seen the brutality of a dictatorial regime and a violent civil war. Now, in preparation for this immanent journey, it’s not the fear of the unknown that haunts me, nor the inherent doubt and anxiety that accompanies a novel venture. I find myself confronted by my own luxurious American life like the leering reflection of an unfamiliar face upon my body. In preparing a welcome gift for my host family I began to look through pictures from my life that I thought would represent me well. Looking through these pictures, and mentally comparing the photographic evidence of my existence with the conceptualization I have of Nicaraguan life, I realized how lucky I am to have been born in America, how comfortable my life is, and how extraordinarily fortunate and successful this American life may be compared to the lives of impoverished Nicaraguans. Forced to stare at the magnitude of my fortune, the conceived discrepancy is alarming, if not slightly revolting. I can’t possibly imagine what I will face when my feet are on Nicaraguan soil, but I will try to give as much of myself as I can to the experience. I hope I can take something meaningful back.
As it is only two days before our departure, Bobby and I are both very excited to begin our expedition. Neither of us know exactly what to expect but in the communication we have had with ATRAVES, the service group we are working with in Nicaragua, it seems that the project will be both efficient and organized. One aspect of the trip that I am interested in is the homestay experience. We will each be staying with a Nicaraguan family, thus completely immersing ourselves in Nicaraguan life and culture. From the look of our daily work schedule, it appears we will be exhausted come evening time. The work aspect of the trip is also exciting, however, as we will have a chance to work with and assist the most unfortunate members of Nicaraguan society. I am also very excited about the length of time of this trip (5 weeks) because it gives us time to explore different locations across the country in our free time. Had the trip only been a week or 2, we would not be able to see as much of the beautiful landscape that this Central American nation has to offer. I can honestly say that I feel extremely fortunate and lucky to have such a unique opportunity. Needless to say, I am anxious for our departure!
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!