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Nourish International

driving home from work

September 13, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Mozambique, UPenn | By

Driving home from the worksite at the AgriTec in Dondo

Summary of our work in Moçambique!

September 13, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Mozambique, UPenn | By

Our Experience in Mozambique

 

When we arrived at Young Africa’s Beira campus, we were immediately struck by the beautifully painted buildings and the serene atmosphere of students working and socializing. Though we were not scheduled to begin our work until Monday, we were eager to get started and so we set about pairing wooden boards to make benches and desks for a primary school in Dondo. The wood had been discarded by Chinese industrialists and was purchased for very cheap. Young Africa wanted to show the locals of Dondo that they could make something useful and practical without much money; also, the classrooms were just cement floors and the students were in the habit of sitting on the floor for class. We stripped the bark off the wood and matched boards together to make desks. The first week, we went to the site of the primary school where a group of men waited to work with us. Joe, an Irish volunteer trained in construction, showed the men how to nail the wood into the benches and use concrete to affix them to the ground of the empty classrooms. For the first week, we worked alongside the local men, sawing and pairing boards and carrying wood between the three classrooms in which we were working.

In the second week, we went for the first time to the site of the AgriTech, Young Africa’s new agriculture school right down the street from the primary school. There we were shown how to make cement blocks, mix concrete, and lay bricks in the foundation of the first building of the school. We also went back to the primary school and painted the classrooms with bright green and white paint.

In our third and final full work week, we conducted a survey with the young people of Dondo about the new AgriTech school. We drove to Dondo and stopped in a few markets and along the road to talk to people between the ages of 15 and 25. We asked them about their current employment and daily occupations, education experience, goals for the future, and interest in AgriTech. We prepared a lengthy report for the directors of Young Africa with the information gathered. We also took time during this week to interview various department heads, administrators and students of Young Africa for YA newsletters. We talked with them about how they came to get involved with the organization and what in particular they liked about working here.

In addition to the general tasks mentioned above, we spent about a day each week working at the Young Africa crèche. On the weekends we visited a local orphanage, the House of Blessings, and also a state-run orphanage in the city of Beira. Carolina, the volunteer film student in our group, also filmed and edited a Young Africa promotional video. She also worked on a project of her own, allowing young people to film short videos portraying the cultural identity of their community and then projecting the footage to them. She wants to show how, through film, a community can further understand the unique aspects of who they are. Our entire group visited the village of Mafambisse to project the video for villagers and witness their response to seeing themselves on film for the first time. We also spent some evenings discussing various elements of development (HIV/AIDS, aid and development, gender) in a roundtable setting with long-term volunteers.

In our free time, we enjoyed dance parties, playing games, and doing aerobics classes with the long-term volunteers and with the girls who live in the hostel on campus. Lastly, we enjoyed visiting local markets to try exotic new fruits and purchase jewelry and fabric for family and friends at home.

 

Final Post: Reflections

August 31, 2011 | Posted in 2011, OSU, Peru | By

Our trip to Peru was an enormous experience for all of us and it’s difficult to break down all of those memories into a coherent conclusion.  However, since we arrived back in the United States four weeks ago, the most important and valuable parts of that journey have floated to the surface in a way that makes it easier to write about them.

Our project was in collaboration with a comprehensive health initiative that MOCHE Inc, an archeological non-profit in coastal Peru, undertook so that community development could be leveraged for community support for academic interest in their dig sites.  By providing for the health needs of those in the villages of Bello Horizonte, Ciudad de Dios, and Manocucho, MOCHE could rely on their respect and support to protect the fragile archeological property of Peru’s rich cultural history.

The health project consisted of two main components.  First, the construction of a primary health clinic, which in its first phase would specialize in pre- and post-natal care for a population of 10,000 villagers in the Moche Valley area.  Second, the planning and execution for three health fairs to facilitate education for hygienic health practices and offer free consultation services from doctors, dentists, and other health specialists.

Recap: The last few days of work were emotional for all.  We poured concrete for the roof of our clinic (it’s finally a building!) and had another short ceremony/community party to celebrate.  A few of us also helped out by painting a large mural on the gazebo structure in the central Plaza de Armas of Bello Horizonte.  The children were very eager to help out because it’s a place of their own.  We enjoyed the opportunity to allow them to contribute to their own space.  The feeling that our days of work were limited and ending so soon hung over us in a way that was sadder than we could have anticipated at the beginning of the trip.  Our last day was spent frantically packing and writing thank-you cards for all of the hostel and MOCHE Inc. staff that made our experience so unforgettable.

Our group’s impacts in Peru are both concrete and gratifying. There is a physical structure, a huge concrete building, that stands today in the small mountain village of Bello Horizonte where just six weeks prior to our departure there was nothing but unleveled terrain.  That building will be furnished and staffed so that it is fully equipped to deliver the care that the locals need to keep their children alive and healthy.  In addition, many families have altered the trajectories of their health with the new practices they learned about at our health fairs: hand washing, teeth brushing, appropriate response to illness, and awareness about chronic diseases and their diagnosis/prevention.

Conversely, some of the impacts that this experience made on us were most evident in a few situations after returning home.  For many of us, it felt strange to enjoy everyday luxuries like air conditioning on a daily basis, after witnessing so much poverty in Peru.  Driving everywhere rather than walking seemed unnatural.  Having all of our peers speak the same language as us was another big change to get used to.  The adaptation back to our native environments was quick, but at times clunky and revealing of the magnitude of our cultural experience abroad.

We’ve taken the relationships that we formed with each other to Facebook by creating a group for ourselves to share pictures, things that we miss about Peru, and plans to get together again and taste this summer’s adventure in reflection and reminiscence.  There’s a general consensus among these nine buckeyes that the feeling that Peru left us with was awesome, important, and something that we’d like to stick with us.  Doing that may mean future international travel, dedicating our careers to development projects like this one, or even simply reconnecting as often as we can with the people that characterized this thrilling experience.

Back Home

August 17, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Nicaragua, UNM | By

Ah yes, the last blog post about Nicaragua. It is bittersweet.

We arrived back in the United States last Tuesday evening. Sam H and Ashton headed to their respective homes in California and Texas that evening and Sam W, Brie and I stayed in Miami for the night. Our flights did not leave till the next morning.

Last week Ashton did not tell you about our last excursion, the Volcan Masaya Night Tour, because I wished to tell about it. So here goes.

About 3 o’clock Friday afternoon Sam W, Brie, Ashton, and I drove with Andres and Memo to the Masaya Volcano. Sam H did not come because he was sick. Brie, however, took lots and lots of pictures for Sam so that it was like he came with us. :)

We started off our afternoon at the Volcano Museum and then drove up to the Saint Santiago Volcano. It is still active and is spewing sulfur. Parakeets live in the caves in the walls of the Santiago crater. The sulfur keeps their predators at bay. I could hear the Parakeets, but I never saw one. Next we walked up the sides of 2 more craters. I don’t remember their names, but they were named after saints. The walk to the very top was super steep and the path was slippery. We had fun coming down too. We “surfed” down the mountain. The trek, though, was well worth it. The views were amazing. I think the coolest part was seeing the Santiago Crater right next to a lush green mountain. The contrast was extreme.

(Crater Santiago)

                                                                                                                 (Lake Masaya)

My favorite part came next. We walked into a giant bat cave. We could see the bats flying out of it. There were so many of them. The cave was large and we kept walking further and further back. Near the end we saw some baby bats hanging on a branch

                                                                                                 (Walking to the bat caves)

                                                                                                               (Inside a cave)

The final destination was Volcan Masaya. Some nights viewers can see the lava, other nights they’re not so lucky. We were unable to see the lava but we could hear the volcano rumbling. It was like constant thunder. Andres likened the rumbling to the snorting of a pig.

Right now I am sitting at the dining room table at my parent’s house drinking hot tea and writing this on my laptop. It couldn’t be more different than the 5 weeks I spent in Nicaragua. Nicaragua was great though, and I had a blast and learned a bunch.

I am happy to be back; I had no idea I liked New Mexico so much until I was gone. With that said, I enjoyed my time in Nicaragua, I think we all did. It was an experience none of us will forget and which may influence our lives back here in the States. It was, honestly, a shock to go to such poverty stricken areas. La Solidaridad, for example, was a large former squatter community that is now permanent. We were simply providing the materials for a roof and some labor and the people there were so happy. They were so happy to have a roof that would keep the rain out. I found this very humbling and truly realized how good we have it here.

The people I met there were very nice, both in Granada and in the communities we worked in. I loved how in the evening the people in Granada would bring their chairs out to the side walk and chat with each other. It was a small city but it had a sense of community. The food was different but very good. My host family was amazing and my host mother an excellent cook. I don’t speak the greatest Spanish, but my family worked with me and we were able to communicate effectively most of the time. The people at Casa Xalteva were great too. They were friendly and all for helping us improve our Spanish. Same goes for the people at Viva Nicaragua. They were all very nice and helpful. Viva Nicaragua is actually the group that set up which communities we would be working in and they were a pleasure to work with.

I would like to thank everyone who was involved and who made this experience possible. I want to thank our generous donors, without you we would not have been able to provide the materials used in each community. Thank you very very much.

Nicaragua was great and I would do it again. It was amazing. The culture, the food, the cause we were helping, the people; everything was good. I enjoyed it all and learned a lot, about all sorts of things.

Until next time,

Kyanne

Some random pictures:

                                                                                                         San Juan del Sur

                                                                                         Walking to the zip-lining platforms

                                                                                                      View of Lake Granada

                                                                                                              Los Cocos

                                                                                                   Giant wood eating bee

PB&J for our last lunches in Los Cocos

Fin

August 9, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Nicaragua, UNM | By

Dear Readers – the end is near and it’s time for the final chapter! But stay with us — the epilogue has yet to unfold.

Last Sunday, Brie caught everyone up to speed, but this Sunday (and Monday) I will purposely leave some holes in the story for our reflections post to cover simply because Kyanne is the heroine, so it’s best to hear it all from the horse’s mouth.

Last week’s excursion took us to Volcán Mombacho, the volcano shadowing Granada. Instead of traipsing around the forest, we went in style – taking the “zipline canopy tour” in harnesses, gloves, and hardhats. Our guides led us to platforms built in various levels of the tree tops.  We climbed the first one, but most of the others were connected via cables – so we were clipped on and went flying through the forest. Each ride on the line was a little different, especially when the guides had us try new things.

We learned the “Superman” is just as the name entails – arms out and legs behind you (practically free fall position). The guide helped hold us straight while we all zipped through like the man of steel.

Next, we were set upside down like trapeze artists…

And finally we were bounced along the crest and trough of a wave in the line. (My favorite – imagine a bungee cord)

All in all, it was an exciting morning… but since we finished early we ate out and went to the pool until dinner.

The next morning, we were refreshed and recharged for the start of our last project, a school improvement project in a community outside of Granada and towards the lake– called Los Cocos. This public school lacked government funding to repair the building, so it has been hindered by inconsistent classes.

Our main objective was to replace the rotted wooden beams supporting the roof and to remove and reinstall the zinc panels. Luckily, the leaking problem came from improper installation, so the panels were in great condition. We just needed to redo the roof.

Our second goal was to build a room for the kids’ toilet. When we started, it was completely open and unused due to lack of privacy.

We had seen pictures of the damage before-hand (see the first post), so we were all ready to tackle the logistics, but the implications behind these seemingly straightforward projects always manage to surprise us. When we started, we learned that holding class in this building was sporadic at best. When it rains, class is cancelled. When there is no water, class is cancelled. Even if it’s just too cloudy, class is cancelled (the rooms are too dark –leaky roofs at any time make electricity impossible). Some parents kept kids at home simply because the inadequate toilet. Many of the desks and books were ruined.

For this project, we received help from contractors outside of the local community. Every day, we rode together to the site and worked together to solve problems (i.e. power tools without electricity, laying support beams from the ground, upside-down ladders, pests and lunch!)

Through it all, we progressed slowly but surely. This Thursday was also Brie’s birthday. We had planned to celebrate after work, but Sam H got sick so we moved it to Saturday.

Saturday we made time to buy souvenirs in Masaya, a city known for its huge market. Overall, we had a good time, but we had a change of plans when Kyanne got sick. So Brie’s birthday was cancelled.

Sunday was a national holiday involving bull runs, but other than that – I can’t remember the significance of the event. Bulls are released in the cities and people watch and/or run with them.

Monday was our last day at the project site, and we ate lunch on site (like we did on Friday) to finish everything up. The sun was setting as we returned to Granada.

The thought of going home tomorrow is thrilling. Now that we have successfully finished our projects, we have to go back to our lives. After 5 weeks of day laboring in the sun, our air-conditioned classrooms will be a dream. I will miss the calm after work, waking up before the sunrise and considering sleep once the sun sets, but I will trade it back for the crazy long nights and frantic mornings of your average college student. Still, although our comfort is tempting, I can forever appreciate the simple thrift of rice, beans, fans and buses. All and all, I can say it was a great five weeks – I learned so much and still helped make a difference.

Tonight we will all finish our last minute packing and tomorrow we leave~ Here’s to a safe flight!

-Ash

Final words

August 6, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Honduras, UNC | By

The fourth Nourish-FIPAH partnership project wrapped up at the end of July quite busily and quite well. The last days in each location (Yorito, Yoro and Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá) were spent finishing the final classes and workshops, preparing resources to leave behind for future English classes (see below!), making diplomas for students who participated, and saying teary goodbyes to friends in the community, FIPAH staff, and the youth we worked with all summer.

 

A lot of the busy final moments were spent making sure that after we left, the infamously difficult English classes could continue at least a little more smoothly than before. The two main problems with English classes in the education centers (at least as we saw them) are that the teachers speak at most only a little more English than the students (making pronunciation a real bear), and that the books provided come with very little explanation or translation and generally make no sense. So, the Otoro team set to work recording a pronunciation CD to leave behind with the facilitators (education center teachers), including the songs that were a real hit in all their classes. Meanwhile Ms. Asia Morris, our Postcards for Progress ally in Yorito, logged many an hour with a laptop on the table and Hi, Honduras (the aforementioned textbook) on her lap, translating the entire 7th and 8th grade editions (six books in all!) We hope that these resources can be useful to students facilitators, and that in the future we can build upon them more to make the English classes more sustainably successful.

 

Two days before the group’s departure from Honduras, the nine of us said goodbye to our respective lovely host towns and met up on a bus to La Ceiba, the city where we started our trip and where FIPAH’s national administrative offices are. Although Ceiba has a lot to offer in beautiful beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and zip-lining, the team, being the Diligent Dilcias they are, spent all of Thursday in the FIPAH office with the general administrator, Fredy Sierra, for a series of very fruitful conversations about the project, where it was successful, what we learned, and how we can improve it next year.

 

The definite consensus was that what was most important and fun for us as team members were the relationships we developed over the course of two months – with the students, with our host families, with the FIPAH staff, with the kids we played soccer with. Fredy made the point that one of the greatest impacts of the project is having a group that comes back each summer to support the youth programs and participate in the exchange of ideas and worldviews. Solidarity between the Nourish students and the FIPAH youth, more so than the English classes, computer workshops, and agricultural work, is what this project is about. This makes for what on the surface looks like somewhat of a contradictory position on the continuation of the project. On the one hand, one of Nourish’s core values is sustainability, so there’s something a little discomforting about a project whose success is to an extent contingent upon its repetition each summer. But on the other hand, coming back is fundamental to what has made this project so successful. It’s in the Nourish team’s return each summer that the relationships are made stronger and the solidarity that is the greatest strength of the project is demonstrated and reinforced. I guess another way of looking at it is that the fact that there are always students interested in returning, and that FIPAH always eagerly invites us back, is in itself evidence that the project is sustainable.

 

So, a huge thank you to all of Nourish’s coordinators, members, and supporters for making the project happen; to the 2011 Nourish team for the work and the fun; to FIPAH for being so welcoming and supportive; and most of all to the FIPAH youth for sharing with us their communities, their work, and these two months of their time.

Week 4 ··· The Road and the Well

August 1, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Nicaragua, UNM | By

Hola readers,

This is our 28th day in Granada, Nicaragua and we’ve already experienced  so much! We finished the La Solidaridad roofing project on Monday and moved on to improving the well in Santa Ana and filling in a flooded road, also in La Solidaridad. Last weekend, we went to San Juan del Sur.

There´s nothing like spending the halfway point of our time in Nicaragua on the beach. When we first arrived we ate lunch at a restaurant right on the beach. The sun was out and the water was refreshing, except that some little unidentified creatures in the water were stinging us! We asked Andrés what caused the stinging and he replied, ¨sharks!¨

On top of a cliff overhanging the beach was a giant stone figure of Jesus. The walk to the top was beautiful and we got some nice pictures along the way.

Tuesday was the start of our new project. We worked in Santa Ana, a rural community which is only about 17 km from Granada but takes about 30 minutes to drive to due to the terrible road. When it rains, it can be nearly impossible to get to and from Santa Ana but luckily it didn’t rain much those days. Because the people have so much trouble getting out, they work mostly as day laborers on the nearby peanut and plantain fields.

The town well is their main source of fresh water. Horses and other animals were able to wander as close to the well as they liked and contaminate the ground. Since the well was so close to the ground, rain would wash the contamination (fecal matter) into the water supply. When people in the community drink this water, they often get sick.

We provided the supplies for and helped the community to build a barbed wire fence around the well and then started to raise the level of the pump to prevent further contamination. These simple measures should significantly improve the quality of their water.

The area was extremely muddy and it was hard to find places to step where your feet didn’t get completely submerged in mud. Some of us got more muddy than others, and some of us even fell in… some of us being myself.

The Sams carried the barbed wire coil around the perimeter of the fence while trying to avoid stepping in the mud and getting stabbed by the wire as much as possible. Kyanne, Ashton and I, along with the women of the community, gathered rocks to reinforce the wooden posts. Once everything was in place we hammered on the wire. The fence took us two days to finish and was a good looking fence.

Gustavo


The third and final day we worked on raising the well. We loaded and unloaded cement bricks on a horse drawn cart as they were shuttled from a local house to the work site. Once all the concrete bricks had arrived we worked at filling in the building that housed the pump with dirt. Kyanne, a local, and I shoveled the dirt into buckets, Ashton carried the buckets to Sam H, and Sam H dumped the buckets (Sam W was sick that day). We didn’t finish, but the locals will pour the concrete, use the bricks to raise the roof, and finally raise the pump. We have to move on to our next project but hopefully we´ll get to see the finished product before we leave.

Santa Ana well house

The second project we started this week was fixing the road in La Solidaridad. The road basically has a lake in the middle of it. Fixing it will allow vehicles to get through and, more importantly, fix the health risks associated with such a large body of standing water. The work was similar to raising the floor of the well. Two of us shoveled the big pile of dirt into buckets and the locals placed the dirt where it was most needed, on the east side where the water would drain into the neighboring house during heavy rain. Since there were only two shovels, we would take turns. We didn’t have nearly enough dirt to fill in the whole road, but I hope we´ll be back to finish.

working hard

Adios!!

···Brie  =)

 

 

It’s Our Last Blog Post from Peru!

July 31, 2011 | Posted in 2011, OSU, Peru | By

We spent Peru’s Independence Day on the beach, relaxing and enjoying our day off.  Flags could be seen flapping above every building in town, and we ended the day by watching a nighttime surfing competition in Huanchaco!

The last few days of work were emotional for all; we poured concrete for the roof of our clinic (it’s finally a building!) and had another short ceremony/community party to celebrate.  A few of us also helped out by painting a large mural on the gazebo structure in the central Plaza de Armas of Bello Horizonte.  The children were very eager to help out because it’s a place of their own.  We enjoyed the opportunity to allow them to contribute to their own space. Additionally, we were able to give Celeste, a nine-year-old girl with a paralyzed mother, the opportunity to take a weekend off and be a kid, despite the problems at home. We took her to the beach, and watched her play in the waves for the first time in her life.

Today, our last full day in this beautiful country, a few of us went north for a visit to the isolated surfing town of Chicama, which features the longest left-flowing waves in the world. Hopping around on the beach and in the tide pools was a great time, and we loved this opportunity to have a last adventure in a new place.  We ended the evening with a huge group dinner in Huanchaco, and now we are frantically packing and writing thank-you cards for all of the hostel and MOCHE Inc. staff that made our experience so unforgettable.

We aren’t ready to fully reflect on this trip yet.  It’ll take some time to readjust to our normal lives and to start absorbing the magnitude of what this experience means to us.  Which is okay, because we have videos, future blog posts and Nourish meetings this year to share all sorts of great thoughts we’ve had about Peru.

Thank you so much for your support and for being a great audience.  Writing this blog has been a lot of fun for all of us, and we hope you enjoyed it.  We know you are excited to have us home (we’re just as anxious!) and hear all of our stories first-hand.  Until then, we’ll stay safe in travel and make the most of our last few hours in South America! Adios!

Post-Cameroon: “Come What May”

July 29, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Cameroon, UF, UT Austin | By

Last Day at the Farm

Hello there again!

Wow, it feels strange to be blogging away from Cameroon. Already three weeks have past since I’ve returned, and I’m still making small day-to-day adjustments. I think I can speak for the other volunteers when I say that there is definitely some counter-culture shock going on. It’s not so abrupt and huge as the term may suggest, but there is definitely some realizations you make once you return and are able to distance yourself from that foreign place in which you spent half of your summer. One of the most obvious outcomes is becoming more appreciative for every little thing we may take for granted sometimes when living in a place like the US. Everyday life in Cameroon was at or below the poverty level, but the people there were nonetheless happy to have what little they owned. Families were just grateful if they could bring food to the table, and sending children to school was sometimes nothing but a dream.

I learned from the community much more than I can put to words. They were a friendly group of people who more than welcomed us into their country, but also greeted us, invited us to their homes and churches, fed us, gave us gifts, and never failed to kindly say ‘hello’ and wave at us. Yes, we didn’t exactly blend into their society, but I had never felt so welcomed as I did in Cameroon. Perhaps sometimes people were a little too welcoming, if you know what I mean, but I never felt completely offended or uncomfortable. That’s just how their culture is.

Before I go on about my last thoughts on cultural differences, I would like to talk about the project. The last two weeks of the project found the other volunteers and me working on the Njinikom farm, which was, to and from, an hour and a half long hike each day. It was quite the challenge trekking up those steep, rocky mud roads each day but I always felt really accomplished at the end of a day’s work. There are about ten different groups of widows that will be benefiting from the money we brought for each of their plots of land, but we only worked alongside one group. This group was the arts and crafts group of Njinikom. Like all of the widows we have met across different groups, these women were really kind and giving. Throughout the last two weeks, our main focus was preparing the land for cultivation. Our main work consisted of clearing and hoeing the land, as well as building a propagator.

Along with the hard labor, the other volunteers and I interviewed key community members, like the president of the Njinikom arts and crafts widow group, in addition to the coordinator of the widows groups. This documentation and video recording will prove very useful and will be added to the wide variety of photos we have taken for the purpose of this project. We hope that these records will contribute to a successful project report and follow-up during the course of the months and even years to come.

The post-project part is in some ways just as or even more important than the project itself. Every volunteer doesn’t expect any sort of project completion during their stay, just project progress. Something as complex as a sustainable development project implies difficulty and lots of dedication. Sometimes that’s not enough because other factors play in, and as the other volunteers and I learned, culture is a BIG one. There’s not much you can do to influence change easily in a system that works differently from yours. It’s hard work and nothing seems to happen as planned. It’s not easy to get the results you want in the time frame you want them, but as a volunteer working for a good cause I was never expecting it to run smoothly. I was just happy to learn from my mistakes, learn from the community, and use those to help me move on and progress for the sake of the project. It took a lot of late night conversations and additional meetings to finalize some project details, and by the time we were leaving the other volunteers and I wished we could have completed more tangible work.

In the end, despite all the twists and turns, we were very content in our choice to come to Cameroon. We understood that although we didn’t accomplish much tangible work on the fields, we made a pretty good intangible impact on the people we worked closely with. I know that many of them could tell how much we cared to sort the issues out so that we can help them as much as we can. We were able to sit with Anna, the coordinator of the widows groups, and the project financial advisor, on two separate occasions before we left Cameroon to conclude the direction of the project once we were out of the picture. We feel much more secure now that we are close to establishing business workshops to be held for the leaders of widows groups. After all, teaching them a method of sustainable development is what Nourish International is all about. We hope that they will use those business skills to not only run their fruit and vegetation businesses, but to also grow and flourish these businesses. I would love to return back 20 years from now to see a Cameroon that is no longer suffering and limited as it is now.

There are few things I know I will not miss about Cameroon. Cold showers everyday, for one. Going many nights and even days at a time without electricity was sometimes unbearable, but the other volunteers and I found fun ways to occupy ourselves. The electricity was out most of the times because it rained literally everyday there, and although I do miss it sometimes especially since Texas hasn’t seen any rain since I’ve arrived, the rain made the mud roads the worst to trudge through. There is no possible way to walk through that untouched by blotches and squirts of red, thick mud over your shoes and pant legs. And it also made slipping on your bottom very likely! Add that to steep roads and long hikes, you got one big workout! Although they were good workouts, I will never grow accustomed to steep anything! I don’t mind the walking so much, but steep hills will never be my friend. It also would’ve been nice to have more connection to the world. The internet connection was extremely slow and we only averaged once a week at the lab. It was quite difficult to handle at first, but in the end, it was a challenge I’m glad I endured. It’s good to distance yourself from a little technology sometimes. Making sure to bleach or use a UV light to clean your water isn’t exactly something I’ll miss doing either. Oh, the stomachaches! I will never miss those.

But enough of the negative, there was way more positive! They are much more general but also much more meaningful. I will miss most of all the friends I made there. This includes the women we worked with, the kids I met on the street, our lovely cook, and so many, many more! They made our stay worthwhile and I thank them for welcoming us with such open arms. Trying new food was fantastic, and no matter what it looked like or what the content, I always jumped eagerly into the dishes. I loved trying the exotic food and all of it was delicious. Thanks to our cook, Zita, Emily and I have some of her homemade recipes that we can cook on our own. We want to cook our favorite dish puff puffs first! I’ll dearly miss the beautiful landscape of Cameroon. From the beaches in the South, to the bustling cities in the center, and to the mountains in the Northwest region where we stayed, every view was beautiful. And I felt like I could see almost every star at night – it was breathtaking. I’ll also miss the excitement around soccer matches there. I felt privileged to be a part of something that was so special to the people of Cameroon. That was one thing that brought all of them together, and it was a sight to see. And although French was not so prevalent in my village as it was in other parts of Cameroon, I will miss the presence of French the times I was able to practice it in the southern cities and in Limbe in our final days.

I would definitely say that Cameroon was an amazing experience. An unforgettable one that I will only grow to appreciate more in the year to come. I know that our work there and after the project will make an impact in some way for the lives of those good women. So many people we met there hope we return soon, but all I could tell them was that hopefully one day I would. I really hope to visit them again but for now I must settle for emails and occasional phone calls and care packages as our only ways to stay in touch. And finally, I want to thank all of you who stuck by me on my journey and followed my blogs. I really appreciated the support away from home. And of course, thanks for supporting a cause that’s extremely important to me. :)

Another Look Back: Learning from Nicaragua

July 28, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Nicaragua, UNM | By

It’s hard to really know how much you take for granted until you see true poverty with your own eyes and experience it with all your senses.  People told me over and over again how much of a life changing experience going to Nicaragua was going to be.  I believed them.  But now, as I sit in my air-conditioned home with my laptop up and running, I find that my life is changed in more ways than I can comprehend yet.

When I think that just over a week ago I was in a foreign country, putting new roofs on houses in La Solidaridad, an odd wave of nostalgia sweeps over me.   It already seems so long ago that I had the privilege to help people in a community where something as simple as a metal roof could make all the difference.  The giant smiles on the faces of the families we helped will stay forever in my mind and in my heart.  The gratitude they expressed in their eyes and in their actions will stay with me too.   And yet everyday that we worked, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty that I would get to go back to my homestay and take a nice, refreshing shower and eat a nice, big meal while this community was just happy to have a sturdy roof overhead to keep the afternoon’s inevitable rain out.

Coming back to the US, my guilt increased a little bit more.  Not only was I enjoying hot showers and iced coffee now, but I wasn’t even remotely helping people in need.  Then I started going through my pictures from my five weeks in Nicaragua.  While a small feeling of guilt still remains, I know that I can use it to drive myself to continue the work that I’ve started.  While I do have the opportunity to take Starbucks and Google for granted, I also have the opportunity to go to places like Nicaragua and start working on ways to improve conditions so that one day the people we helped may be able to take hot, running water for granted, too.

After spending 3 and a half weeks learning about Nicaragua, and then another 2 weeks just replacing roofs, I know that there is a lot that must be done before before anything can be taken for granted in that country.   But for now, I feel very good about the work that we have done and the work that my 5 fellow Nourish members are continuing to do.

-Nicole