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,
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,
Now to talk a little about the places we visited. The first city we ventured to was Masaya. Masaya is really just known for their shopping but while we were there we got to check out a few museums and historical places, but most importantly we stopped at this amazing smoothie/juice place where we all had incredibly fresh and rare fruit smoothies. Also, I got to buy a huge painting for my dorm in the fall of a lake/volcano scene in Nicaragua. It was kind of one of the those spur-of-the-moment buys but it was totally worth every cord (the clever local abbreviation for Cordobas) The next day (Saturday) we were able to travel to Leon. There we were dumped from a bus in the middle of nowhere in hopes of finding this old prison that had become a historical landmark for Nicaragua. While I was there, to my surprise, I learned that the government of Nicaragua Scouts of Nicaragua have agreed to maintain and perverse the fort because. As a fellow Eagle Scout, I was mighty jealous. Well that’s about it for now!
Paz y amor,
Since this blog is oh-so-long and is going to include way more than anyone cares to hear, I plan on jumping around a bit when talking about my experiences here. So, backtracking a bit, this past weekend we were able to go traveling around the country a bit, and last Thursday we were lucky enough to be able to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event: the anniversary of the day of the Sandinista Revolution in the plaza. We were able to go to a few of the main cities and truly experience the culture here. For these visits we have been going with either Corey or Lara to get a feel of how to get around the country and I’d say we have really learned a lot. For instance, taxis are way different here than they are at home. They don’t all look the same and are often on the verge of collapsing and are running on empty. A few rules that I have come to take note of are 1. The taxi has to have a red and white license plate number that matches the number painted on the side 2. The older the driver the better and 3. Never get in a taxi without an inside light after dark. When the taxi approaches it isn’t quite as straightforward as they are in America. Instead of a running meter, you negotiate with the driver for a set price to the destination. Also, because I’m obviously foreign, drivers tend to charge exuberant prices so we always make sure to ask our home stay families what normal prices would be. However, if you survive that process, the fun continues. You usually take a taxi to the microbus station, which is basically just another name for sketchy-van station. Once you get out of the taxi, the sketchy-van drivers come at you like a raging pack of wild boar screaming “Venga, Venga, Venga!” or “Granada-Masaya, Granada-Masaya, Granada-Masaya!” From there you swim past the wild boars and find your way to a van with your destination on it. They payment is also kind of odd because you don’t pay before you get on, but rather about 20 minutes into the ride once they have you trapped at high speeds.
Peace and Love,
Ahhhh It has been a bit crazy here, but in the best way possible. This whole internet thing is rather hard to come across but when I do find it, I use it for all its worth. Haha. So, in order to make up for our delay in getting a steady internet source I plan to combine a few blogs into one grandeee blog. We’ve been here for about a weak and I couldn’t even begin to describe everything I’ve seen, done, and experienced. On Monday (July 16) we got to go to the school in William Galeano on the outskirts of Managua. The school is truly an amazing place to be. The surrounding community has a lot of poverty, yet with the help of a few donors and the passion of the rest of the community, the school has become very developed. The layout of the land is kind of hard to visualize from a written description, but here is my best attempt. When you first arrive at the gate of the school, the ground appears a little bumpy and unpaved but as soon as you venture a few feet past the gate it all drastically steepens. The clinic that was built a lot more recently than the school is at most 50 feet down the hill but it is definitely a bit of a trek. The entire land has been completely altered from erosion. There are many holes and natural trenches that have to be avoided. Additionally, since we have been here, our initial plans have changed a bit. Originally we wanted to put a lot of emphasis on the construction of a computer lab for the health clinic but in order to truly and sustainably help the community we had to sit down and revise a bit. One of the main issues that is causing us to revise our original plans was a combination of not having enough space in the school and not having an adequate electrical system in the clinic. In addition, the main private donor that keeps the school running has run into some financial problems and no longer thinks that he can continue to fund the school so ATRAVES in a major transitional stage. After sitting down and talking with Lara, the administrator, we tweaked the project details. Originally, we had planned on constructing a community garden from which various plants would be grown and then handed out to the community, I don’t think we realized how much of a task this would be because of the major erosion problem. The entire community is on the side of a steep hill, as previously mentioned, and the erosion is truly withering away at the little bit of land that is left. Little by little the banks are becoming steeper which takes away a lot of the farmable land and possibly even threatens a few local resident’s houses. To combat this, our team along with a few other volunteers are going to build a huge retaining wall on the side of community garden with recycled tires. Since we have been here for almost a week, we have been able to start this project and I’d say we have done a lot of it already, to our surprise. We started off with nothing more than a slightly eroded hill covered in plants, trees, and way too many unknown creatures. As soon as we talked with Fran and William, who are the brothers of Leticia, the founder of the school, and also the handymen and bodyguards, to guide us through our project we were able to really dive into the work grabbing shovels and pick axes. Shovel load after shovel load, we ended up getting way more done than I think even they expected. Digging in itself sounds like it would be a fairly straightforward task, right? Wrong. I, being the overly ambitious person that I am, quickly jumped up on the hill to loosen the dirt with my shovel only to find myself feeling rather itchy. After a few minutes of this, I finally decided to stop and investigate the matter only to find a colony of red ants coming to visit me. It definitely stings a little at first but after about twenty minutes you don’t feel a thing, literally. Nonetheless we continued on and dug more. After a few hours of ant bites, startling encounters with blue lizards, and battles with tarantulas we finally made visible progress. The wall itself is going to be about 30-40 feet long , about 5 feet high, and containing roughly 350 recycled tires. It is definitely by no means a minor project but definitely a necessary one. I guess what I have really come to learn here is that I am really more of a hands-on person. I get much more satisfaction from digging in the dirt rather than sitting down and doing more office-like work. I think I get that from my dad. After all of the stings, bites, sweat, and inflammation, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and am really helping the community. It feels great to just see something come from nothing.
Peace and Love,
Hablas Espanol? No? Good, me neither. It’s day one here and this has been a very eventful uneventful day. As soon as we cleared customs we were greeted by two of the administrators of Atraves who did not speak any English. Haha The first thing they handed us was a subway sandwich! Talk about assimilating into the culture…. Once we got with them, they drove us through the streets of Managua to our hotel around 1pm where we entertained ourselves until 4pm when Lara came to give us the full orientation.
Peace and Love,