Summer 2009 SST Unit in Nicaragua

Follow along on our journey! You can click on any square picture to see a larger image.

Wed, 8 Apr 2009

Nica Leader Arrival

We, Lisa and Gwen, arrived in Jinotepe on Friday after a restful sleep in Managua. That afternoon the unit furniture arrived in a couple of pickup truck loads, and then we walked down the street for a few groceries.

So far our funniest embarrassing moment was not being able to light the propane stove. So the landlord called a technician, and it turns out we had put the burners together wrong. We all had a good laugh about it. This week we can venture into some cooking, although we’re not complaining about the fresh mangoes we gather from our back yard each morning or the incredible avocados we’ve been buying at the outdoor market.

This morning we began the home visits for the student housing and encountered the friendliest welcoming families. It makes us a little jealous about living in a house by ourselves.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a 5-7 day holiday here (listen up over- worked North Americans), and tonight there is a great deal of laughter and noise coming through the slated windows. Apparently the next several days will be devoted to parties, family time and church. We’ll be planning and preparing for the arrival of the students in three short weeks, but we’ll take some time to relax and celebrate Easter as well.

Wed, 29 Apr 2009

The scuffle of the three saints and two visitors

While busily preparing for the group's arrival, we took a brief break on Friday afternoon and went with our Nicaragua friend Silvia to El Tope de los Santos. This event is part of the celebration of the patron saint of nearby San Marcos. It begins with a mass in the church on the town square in the morning, after which a giant statue of Saint Mark is hoisted up on a bunch of shoulders and carried down the road towards Jinotepe. At the same time, the patron saint of Jinotepe (Santiago, or James the Great) starts towards San Marcos, and neighboring town Diriamba sends their patron saint San Sebastian towards San Marcos as well. Following each saint is a throng of people from the town, accompanied by small brass and string bands, costumed dancers of all ages, craft and food vendors, men on horseback, bicycle taxis, horse-drawn carts, and a variety of other non-automotive means of transport.

All three processionals converge on the road somewhere between the three towns and are joined by a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus. When the saints meet, fireworks go off and everyone cheers and waves their hands or handkerchiefs in the air. Tope means "collision" or "bump" (even "scuffle" in some dictionaries), but in this case it seems to be a friendly encounter. On the days when Diriamba's and Jinotepe's patron saints are celebrated, they extend the same invitation to the other two towns.

When we got home El Gecko was waiting in the sink for us.

Hi Mom and Dad

They are all here and doing great. The plane was on time, customs a breeze and everyone in good spirits. We had a light supper and they are sitting in rocking chairs and chatting and slowly wandering off to bed. We are staying at Kairos Center in Managua for tonight and tomorrow. Orientation will be all day Thursday and then we head to Jinotepe on Friday for more orientation and a walking tour. Then late afternoon the host families will come to pick up their new daughters and sons.

Sat, 2 May 2009

Orientation Weekend

After a very busy orientation weekend, Friday at 5 finally arrived! Families came with full car loads to meet their host daughters, sons and siblings. I am going to apologize for many of the BAD pictures, but for those interested in seeing what is going on, they are better than nothing. There was so much action I could not get every one to stand still for a picture. Jonna left with another host family since hers was moving to a new house that day, so she is tucked behind Bethany.

Some other activities of the weekend were tree climbing, packing 26 people in a 15 passenger microbus for a trip to Diriamba and then stopping to pick up two local passengers, chilling in hammocks and a walking tour of Jinotepe.

Sun, 3 May 2009

Nica Mailing Address
We got a post box yesterday, so if you want to send letters (No parcels please, they usually get held up at customs) to any of the students (or Lisa or gwen) here is the address.

P.O. Box 5
Jinotepe, Carazo

Sat, 9 May 2009

Student's first week

The student's first full week in Jinotepe ushered in the rainy season, which we were hoping would cool things down a bit. No such luck, at least not so far. We’ve all been drinking lots of water and learning to move more slowly.

On Monday we met our Spanish teachers, Don Ramon, Doña Mirna, and Don Rene. Students (and leaders) jumped right into Spanish-only instruction, and by Tuesday some of us were already in front of the class summarizing articles from La Prensa, one of Nicaragua’s daily newspapers.

Our first lecturer, Frances Kinloch Tijerino, literally “wrote the book” on Nicaraguan history. Using maps, archival documents and photos, Professor Kinloch highlighted the seminal events and peoples in Nicaragua from pre-Colombian times to the early 20th century. Next we welcomed Aynn Setright, long-time resident and expert on Nicaragua’s turbulent political history. Aynn’s high-energy presentations focused on the Somoza family dictatorship, the 1979 triumph of the Sandinistas, and recent political, economic and social developments.

On Wednesday afternoon we had our first weekly reunión at Casa Verde, enjoying “Nicaraguan pizza” with a side of fresh avocados from the local mercado. After a brief devotional on the themes of control (we may not feel we have much) and comfort (we may need to ask for a little more), we reflected on North American sayings and proverbs and what those say about our culture(s). One of the many ways we hope to learn more about Nicaragua is through the dichos, (sayings) we hear from our families, teachers, lecturers and new friends.

We ended our first week with a visit from Vicente Padilla, an organic coffee farmer from the town of San Ramon, north of Matagalpa. Not to be confused with the baseball player of the same name, this Padilla has lived through an eight-year struggle involving wealthy coffee plantation owners who have repeatedly attempted to take his small plot of land away from him. Despite intimidation, harassment, corruption and outright violence against him and his family, Padilla has remained staunchly nonviolent throughout the ordeal. You can read about his story and the complicated history of land ownership in Nicaragua in Revista Envío, which published an excellent article on Padilla’s case in 2006 (English language version at

Now we’ll all go home and rest a bit, so that we can be ready for our first field trip this Sunday – Volcán Mombacho and a tour of the islands around colonial Granada!

Wed, 13 May 2009

Volcán Mombacho

Our first field trip this semester was to a dormant volcano. We left Casa Verde at 7 a.m. for the one-hour drive to the base of Mombacho National Reserve. There we loaded into the back of a large truck and zigzagged up the side of the volcano.

We slowly ascended 4000 feet, in low gear all the way, and then found ourselves literally in the clouds. The reserve is a cloud forest: trees laden with orchids (including both the smallest and the second-to-largest orchid species in the world), moss covered rocks, and 5000 wet steps cut out of tree stumps. We divided into groups and spent the next 2-3 hours hiking through the woods with expert guides. About 11 a.m. the wind started up, blew away the clouds, and revealed Lake Nicaragua, the island of Ometepe, and the city of Granada below us.

After a delicious lunch of grilled chicken, rice, fried plantains, salad and gaseoses (soft drinks), we got back in the truck and headed down the mountain. Halfway down we stopped at a coffee farm to transfer onto another truck. Free cups of coffee awaited us – a a great sales tactic for farm fresh beans available for a whopping $6 (US) per pound. In Nicaragua this is considered very expensive, but many of us thought it was a great deal.

Next we drove to Lake Nicaragua for a boat tour of the isletas around the colonial city of Granada. There are 365 islands, one for every day of the year. We didn’t see all of them, but most of the ones we did see are owned by wealthy Nicaraguans and people from the U.S. The highlight was the stop at the island “owned” by four or five monkeys. Our boat driver knew them by name and coaxed Lola onto the boat. As you can see, she took an immediate liking to Jesse!

On the way home we stopped in Granada to see the Cathedral, meander through the Parque Central and browse the crafts for sale on the square.

Tue, 19 May 2009

Field trip to Estelí - Part 1

Mid-morning on Friday May 15 we headed for Estelí, a city of about 120,000 residents located in the dryer northern region known as Las Segovias. Often referred to as a “cowboy town” in travel guides, Estelí sits more than 2600 feet above sea level and is surrounded by mountain peaks, forests, cattle ranches, coffee farms and tobacco plantations.

First on our itinerary was a stop in Sébaco Valley, located about halfway between Jinotepe and Estelí. There we talked with Felix Miranda of ACORDAR, the Alliance to Create Opportunities for Rural Development through Agro-Enterprise Relationships. Funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Aid. ACORDAR helps small and medium farmers by providing technical assistance, technology and infrastructure to improve competitiveness and increase sales in local, regional and international markets.

The project focuses on fruits, vegetables, coffee, beans, cocoa and other high value crops. It is expected to help 5400 poor families directly and to generate over 23,000 full time jobs over the 2.5 years of funding. Included in the plans is a new commercialization center in Sébaco.

Several agricultural engineers then took us out to one of the 85 small farming cooperatives that are benefiting from ACORDAR. (Interestingly, we learned that most of the papayas grown at this cooperative are sold to Wal-Mart Corporation.) For more information about ACORDAR, see

The next morning in Estelí we met with a group of women at the Galería de los Heroes and Martires. These were some of the hundreds of women in the region with sons or daughters who died either during the revolution of the late 1970s or the counterrevolution of the 1980s. Some of the women themselves also fought as members of the military or the civil militia.

Estelí was bombed several times by Somoza during the final months of his dictatorship, and it later became a frequent target of attacks from the contras (which included many members of Somoza’s former National Guard). We heard stories of courage, pride, desperation and tragic loss, and we witnessed first-hand the long-term effects of war on those who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

Mon, 25 May 2009

Field trip to Estelí - Part 2

After lunch we visited Mujeres Ambientalistas (Environmental Women), a paper-making cooperative in Barrio Boris Vega. The cooperative began 14 years ago when 16 women decided to clean up an area that had become a neighborhood dumping ground. They separated out the organic material and used it to start a composting business, but after awhile neighbors complained about the smell. The women then turned to paper-making, using discarded pulp products mixed with organic materials such as onion skins, banana peels, beats and tobacco leaves.

Doña Augustina showed us the paper-making process and answered questions. Before leaving we shopped for gifts and souvenirs among the wide array of items produced by these resourceful and creative women. More information about the cooperative (in Spanish) is available at

Later that afternoon some of us went to La Casita, an open-air organic coffeehouse with pathways through wooded areas, a playground, and even a family of ducks. We relaxed and enjoyed yogurt smoothies, café con leche and homemade bread.

The next morning we headed to Tisey, a nature reserve south of Estelí that boasts over 100 species of flora and fauna. According to, the reserve is one of the few areas in Nicaragua where natural resources are co-managed by local residents and the government. We hiked down to Estanzuela, a 15 meter waterfall where we waded, skipped stones and enjoyed the scenery.

Some of us then took a more strenuous hike to La Galería Esculturas en Piedras, the outdoor “studio” of Alberto Gutierrez. Don Alberto has been living in the mountains high above Estelí for almost half a century, having had a dream at age 11 in which God told him he should spend his life making carvings on rocks. Volcanoes, Nicaraguan heroes, animals, and even a manger scene adorn the mountainside above Estelí. Don Alberto's guided tour included stories, poems and fascinating anecdotes about his life and work.

Our trip back “home” after a late lunch was interrupted briefly by a flat tire, which Jairo and Gerardo (our friendly and expert bus drivers) had it changed in less than five minutes. Very impressive!

Thu, 28 May 2009

Education in Nicaragua

During the past several weeks we have visited a local school and also met with Fanny Salmerón, one of our host mothers who is a former teacher and currently subdirectora (vice principal) at a secondary school here in Jinotepe. Having heard about the 1980-81 Literacy Crusade in previous lectures, we wanted to know not only what has happened to the literacy rate since that time but also what the current educational system is like.

Public education in Nicaragua starts at age three (preescolar) and goes through the 10th grade. The school calendar is approximately 10 months, with all of December and most of January off. School days are scheduled in shifts: half of the students attend from 7:00 am to noon, and the other half from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Even so, many classes have between 40 and 50 students in them. That was the case in the classes we visited at Escuela Luis Leon Espinoza, a primary school in Jinotepe.

Doña Fanny reported that although all Nicaraguan children get through the 2nd grade, in 2005 the high school graduation rate was only 39%. (This is an improvement over 29% in 2000.) Girls graduate at a higher rate than boys (45% versus 33%), and the high schools in Carazo, the department in which Jinotepe is located, boast a 50% graduation rate, significantly higher than the national average.

The primary and secondary school curriculum in Nicaragua is similar to that of the U.S., with core classes in language and literature, mathematics and science. Recent reauthorization and "transformation" legislation also added courses in "cultural and artistic expression" and technical and vocational education.

One aspect of the curriculum of particular interest to our group is Convivencia y Civismo, which translates as "living together" and "community spirit" (or patriotism). These classes seem to be a combination of what we in the U.S. might call "civics" and "life skills." Doña Fanny described these courses as covering the values we need in order to live in society: tolerance, respect, cooperation, democracy, love of family, patriotism, nationalism, love for and protection of the environment, leadership, and non-discrimination against those with disabilities and chronic illness.

Also of interest is the fact that schools are not allowed to expel children. As principal Flor Maria Medrano told us when we visited Escuela Luis Leon Espinoza, expelling a student turns the child out onto the street, where gang activity is likely -- and what good does that do for the child or for society? During our visit to Escuela Luis Leon Espinoza, the sense of responsibility Medrano and her staff feel for the students’ personal and social development was obvious.

The lecture on education also confirmed an unfortunate fact that one of the SSTers had read in the newspaper recently: the average pay of a Nicaraguan teacher earns between $200 and $250 per month in U.S. dollars. (The average wage in Nicaragua is $290-$295 U.S. per month.) Other challenges faced by Nicaraguan schools are lack of textbooks and other teaching materials and the cycle of poverty that forces many children to drop out of school in order to help earn money for the family. Although school is compulsory in Nicaragua, Doña Fanny said that child labor laws are not strictly enforced.

Regarding the literacy rate, Doña Fanny presented statistics showing that literacy declined in the decade after the 1980-81 literacy crusade but since 1993 has been improving once again. According to a 2005 Envio article, conservative estimates set the illiteracy rate at around 20% twenty five years after the literacy crusade, while more pessimistic estimates were around 30% overall (and higher than 40% in rural areas). For more information, see http:/ Interestingly, just a few weeks ago the Nicaraguan Minister of Education announced that the national illiteracy rate is lower than it has ever been before, at 6%, in part due to a recent "educación popular" campaign focusing on primary education for illiterate adults.

Fri, 29 May 2009

La Chureca or The Managua Garbage Dump

A few facts about La Chureca

* 214 families live inside the Managua city dump. Almost all of these households are headed by women.

* 1200 more families in the surrounding neighborhood go to the dump on a daily basis in order to find food to eat and items to recycle or sell.

* A "good day" at the dump yields 60 cordobas' worth of recyclable bottles -- about $3.00 US -- just enough to buy supper.

Fri, 5 Jun 2009


Enough with lectures and classes and field trips – it’s time to loosen up! Last Wednesday we decided to work out some of our culture shock issues on the dance floor. Expert instructors Frank and Elizabeth taught us the basics, and then students from Universidad Central de Nicaragua (where we have our daily lectures) graciously helped fill out our dance cards.

We don’t know who had more fun – our group or the university staff watching us!

Jubilee House Community/CDCA

During our last field trip to Managua, we visited Jubilee House Community, a non-profit organization located in Ciudad Sandino, seven miles west of the city. With 7000 people per square mile, this is the most densely-populated area in Nicaragua (like Detroit but without any high-rise buildings).

Over the last 50 years Ciudad Sandino has served as a permanent site for relocated refugees after natural disasters, including a massive flood in 1968, the 1972 earthquake, and two major hurricanes in the 1990s. People fleeing the violence of the contra war also ended up there in the 1980s.

Jubilee House Community began in 1994 when three adults and three children came to Nicaragua from North Carolina in order to work with the poor. After Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, they decided to stay and work with the Center for Development in Central America (CDCA) to help fund, plan and implement “self-sufficient, sustainable and democratic” community projects in Nicaragua. The CDCA believes that sustainable economic development means helping people move out of poverty rather than simply cope with it, and that this is the only way workers can have control over the decisions that affect them.

Recent and ongoing projects of the CDCA include worker-owned organic farming cooperatives (sesame, coffee, peanuts, cashews and cotton), low-fee health and dental clinics, potable water, and the production of recycled biodiesel fuel. CDCA also has helped establish cooperatives for the ginning, baling, spinning and sewing of organic cotton products.

During our visit we watched and talked to members of the cotton spinning cooperative (Genesis), which is building its own factory. Each member has put in over 1000 hours of “sweat equity” (work without pay) over the past two years, and when the plant is finished they will own it free and clear. The members of the cooperative range in age from 21 to 68, and almost all of them are women.

The majority of Jubilee House Community’s funding comes from individual and small group donations in the United States. For more information on Jubilee House and the CDCA, visit

Thu, 11 Jun 2009

A week of lasts

The academic portion of the Nicaragua ended today with impressive Spanish presentations. Wednesday was the last Reunion and a time to celebrate Elena's birthday with miniature lemon tarts and cinnamon rolls. (We celebrated Stephanie's several weeks ago and did not get the picture up, so here it is.) During the Reunion we also practiced a few songs for the host family party.

Tuesday was the last lecture with an overview of how Nicaragua compares to other Central American countries.

Tonight is the party for the host families and others that have helped the Nica SST be a great success these last six weeks. Stay tuned for pictures of that event in the next few days.

Tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. the first group heads out for their service locations and the rest will be leaving at 9 a.m. They all seem ready for their next adventure.

Sat, 13 Jun 2009

Farewell Party

The final party was a lot of fun! We had a Folklore Dance Group from University of Central Nicaragua, where we held our classes, perform three dances. Each of the Spanish classes did something: a song, a poem and a play in Spanish ("Caperucita Roja," a/k/a Little Red Ridinghood). Michelle Kaufman performed a belly dance, and a guitar duo played while a woman from the dance group presented a traditional dance. Several host families had taught dances to the students and even rented them attire for the occasion. Dalena, our country coordinator sang, and of course the grand finale was 606 from the red Mennonite hymnal, followed by "Ay Nicaragua, Nicaragüita," which everyone in the audience knew by heart and sang with us. Several of the host moms baked 900 pastries for the refreshments. It was a good time.

And they are off!

The first group left Friday at 7 a.m. and headed north. Rachel, Michelle and Emma to Esteli where Rachel and Michelle will work with AMLAE, a women's organization, and Emma will work at a paper-making cooperative. Gina, Jon W, Liz and Ali G are going to Candelaria, a remote village in the Department of Boaco. Mennonite Central Committee partners with a program there called ASOFENIX to create solar powered generators. (Read about this in the May-June issue of A Common Place.)

Chelsea and Casey went to Matagalpa to work at a nutrition center, and Steph and Naomi are in Managua working at a school for the deaf. Elena and Jonna went to Masaya to work at an orphanage called Hogar Belen. MCC also partners with this organization. Jesse and Ashley went to Jinotega to work at Los Pipitos, a center for children with special needs. Allie K and Bethany have a service assignment with Niños del Fortín, an organization in León that helps transition children and teens from the life of scavenging on the streets and in the garbage dump to living and working in the city.

At 9 a.m. we put Kurt and Jon S in a taxi headed for the biological research station on Laguna do Apoyo. Alicia and Vanessa caught a bus for their work with AMLAE in Rivas, and Jacki and Valerie (who surprised me with a visit already today because they needed to buy scrubs) are working at a health clinic in La Concepción.

And an apology that I did not get pics of sending the last group off. We took separate taxis to the bus terminal. Unfortunately unknown to us there are two terminals in Jinotepe, and I went to one and Lisa to the other. By the time we found each other, the microbus driver was not about to wait for me to take a photo.

As soon as we begin our service visits we will post more blogs. Meanwhile we will be writing reports and orientating next year's leader, Jeanne Liechty.

Sun, 5 Jul 2009

Service Visit -- Centro de Salud (Jacki Moser & Valerie Solano)

We began service visits this week, starting with Jacki and Valerie at Centro de Salud in La Concepción (a/k/a La Concha), which is between Jinotepe and Managua. The area is more rural than Jinotepe, and the clinic is often “packed with patients.” In addition to examining rooms, there is an emergency room, a laboratory, a pharmacy and even dental services.

By far their favorite job is accompanying nurses on visitas del campo, or home visits in the community. These excursions seem to be a combination of health census and educational opportunity, wherein the nurses update family vaccination records, inspect living conditions, and even treat standing water for mosquito larvae. Jacki and Valerie both report that they love their jobs and think the staff at the clinic are “dedicated” and “amazing.”

Service Visit -- Hogar Belen (Jonna Buller & Elena Histand)

Second on our visit list was Hogar Belen in San Antonio del Sur, a community on the outskirts of Managua where Jonna and Elena work. Hogar Belen is an orphanage serving 19 children with severe developmental disabilities. Jonna and Elena describe their work assignment as “really great…and really difficult.” It includes helping the physical therapist work with the children, monitoring children during meals and snacks, playing and interacting informally with the children, and accompanying them on walks and excursions. Staff members have a daily devotional at 10:00 a.m. in the chapel at the orphanage, just in case Jonna and Elena are missing chapel and convo back on campus!

Although it requires a lot of patience -- Elena says she is “making good use of the command form” [imperative verb tense] -- both Elena and Jonna report that they enjoy the work, especially one-on-one interaction with the children.

Mon, 13 Jul 2009

Service Visit to Escuela Cristiana de Sordos
A taxi ride down a long and bumpy dirt road on the outskirts of Managua brought us to the deaf school where Naomi and Stephanie are working for their service assignment. In the mornings Naomi does crowd control in a grade one class and Stephanie helps in the high school classes. At 10:30 there is a snack... gallo pinto (beans and rice), at 12 there is lunch... gallo pinto...

In the afternoon they mostly help in the office area or do various non classroom work for the teachers. Then they go home with the director, Dina, for supper.... gallo pinto!... and to relax for a bit before bed.

On Saturday they are back at the school for a Nicaragua Sign Language lesson.

Unfortunately, the day we were there was a school holiday and so we could not get pictures of Naomi and Steph in action with the students.

Ninos del Fortin and Los Chavaladas in Leon

Allison and Bethany have been spending their service weeks in Leon, a northern city that seems to attract numerous European volunteers and tourists. Ninos del Fortin is an organization that helps educate and house street kids. There are two locations: Ninos del Fortin and Los Chavaladas. Bethany is at Ninos del Fortin which is a day school and helps in a math class and gives craft lessons and does general playground supervision. Allison is at Chavaladas where some of the boys have school and room and board. Allison does health related activities and also plays soccer and any other game the boys fancy at the moment.

Bethany is spending the last two weeks at a health clinic near Jinotepe in order to get a feel for what nursing is like in Nicaragua.

Los Pipitos in Jinotega

Ashely and Jesse work in a school for Down's Syndrome children and teens. So far they have been helping with dance lessons, craft time and creating a brochure for the school. There are also a number of deaf children at the school so they are being taught some Nicaraguan sign language. They are both enjoying the cooler mountain air and their host families.

Centro de Recuperación Nutricional

Chelsea and Casey work at a nutrition center in Matagalpa where under-nourished children are cared for. Their days are spent feeding, diapering and playing with the children.

Casey's mom is a baker and so we were treated to a wonderful desert when we visited his house.

Tue, 14 Jul 2009

Esteli: AMNLAE and Paper-making Cooperative

Esteli is a lovely town in northern Nicaragua. Emma "found" her service assignment on the field trip the group took to Esteli in May and it has turned out to be a great experience. The cooperative is built on the site of an old garbage dump and is largely funded by a Dutch organization. The women collect paper from the new, nearby dump and are also beginning to have businesses deliver office papers for them to recycle for the paper-making process.

To make the paper unique they incorporate various organic fiber, such as the corn husk in the photo. Emma's job was to help them come up with new design ideas. And as you can see, she was quite prolific.

Rachel and Michelle worked at AMNLAE which is a organization that works to promote women's concerns: in health, education and legal issues. Unfortunately it is struggling with funding right now so there was not as much to do as Michelle and Rachel would have liked. They finally came up with a research assignment for them, to go into the barrios (neighborhoods) and interview women about health practices, sanitization and family planning.

Wed, 15 Jul 2009

Service visit to Candelaria, Boaco

[] -- Although not the most distant of the service locations, Candelaria is certainly the most remotely-located in terms of access. Ali Gotwals, Liz Gunden, Gina Richards and John Williamson live in the campo (country), and getting to their community involves a bumpy 2-hour ride into the mountains northeast of Managua followed by a 20-minute walk when the river is too high to get across in a vehicle (as it was the day we visited).

The 300-member community of Candelaria has been the site of several renewable energy projects coordinated by AsoFenix, a Nicaraguan NGO whose focus is sustainable rural development. The day we visited, the students had just begun collecting "raw materials" for a biodigester, which uses the methane produced by decomposing animal manure to provide gas for cooking. The Nicas got a chuckle out of watching four cheerful norteamericanos head down to the pasture with shovels and buckets!

Most of the students´ work is physically demanding, the living conditions are rustic, and daily activities center around meeting basic needs such as food, water and shelter. On the other hand, Ali, Liz, Gina and Jonathan report that they have lots of time to think, chat with family and community members, enjoy the natural beauty around them, and play with the many children who follow them around all day.

Sat, 18 Jul 2009

Service visit to AMNLAE in Rivas

Vanessa Hershberger and Alicia Schwartzentruber are doing their service work at AMNLAE in Rivas, a southern city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Named in part for the first female member of the FSLN (Sandinista party) to die fighting against the Somoza dictatorship, the Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to improving women's lives through education, advocacy and direct assistance.

Vanessa works mainly in the legal office, assisting with transcription and client intake. Alicia spends most of her day helping with administrative tasks in the clinic. Additionally, they have accompanied Director Martha Bonilla on field trips to remote locations in the campo, where Bonilla gives workshops on domestic violence and family issues.

Each AMNLAE office is funded locally, and like the Estelí office (where Rachel and Michelle work), Rivas is struggling financially. Without money for new programs, supplies or training, it's difficult to keep short-term volunteers busy. Consequently Vanessa and Alicia have had lots of time to explore the city of Rivas, which they really enjoy. They also have visited the nearby dual-volcano island of Ometepe.

Service visit to Laguna de Apoyo

[] -- Kurt Neufeld and Jonathan Stuckey are spending their days (and some nights) helping with reforestation and fauna monitoring projects at nearby Laguna de Apoyo, a nature reserve in the crater of an extinct volcano.

Each day begins very early with a 45-minute hike from their host families' houses down to the Estación Biológica inside the crater. From there Kurt and Jonathan are likely to be sent on another hike into the forest to plant baby mango trees, monitor bat traps, or even catch butterflies.

Midway through the day they usually take a break to swim in one of the cleanest, deepest and warmest lakes in Nicaragua if not all of Central America. After lunch they head back into the forest for more planting, catching and/or monitoring. Before dinner they might jump back into the laguna if it's not raining (which it does often these days), and then they climb up´the side of the crater again to their host families and an early bedtime.

Because the research station also hosts a Spanish language school, Kurt and Jonathan regularly meet travelers from all over the U.S. and Europe. In addition to the international cameraderie, they get to eavesdrop on Spanish lessons while hanging out at the station.

Fri, 31 Jul 2009

Final Retreat and farewell to Nicaragua, Nicaragüita

On Saturday July 25 everyone made their way back to Casa Verde in Jinotepe, where we loaded up and headed for our final retreat at beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, just up the road from where Kurt and Jonathan S. did their service.

After supper we had our final "quiz" (consisting of questions such as "Who has the best sandal tan?" and "What is the funniest verbal gaffe you've made in Spanish?") and then celebrated three birthdays that happened during service: Michelle, country coordinator Dalena, and fearless co-leader Gwen. Although we didn't have music for the piñata -- it's Nica custom to dance while taking whacks at the piñata -- we did have some lively swingers in the group.

Sunday consisted mainly of final project presentations and relaxation/swimming breaks. Most of the group went on a night hike in the caves of nearby Vólcan Masaya, and by the end of the day we were worn out.

We finished up presentations on Monday afternoon, which left us time for a final wrap-up session that evening. We reflected on about what we will miss about Nicaragua, what we view differently about our lives back in the U.S. as a result of the past 12 weeks, how we will handle "reverse culture shock," and how to respond to the inevitable question, "How was SST?" Interspersed with insights and anxieties were personal anecdotes and moments of humor, such as the "Top 10 things I learned on SST in Nicaragua."

We were off to the airport before dawn on Tuesday morning, and before we knew it the group was boarding the plane. In Nicaragua, adios is often used not just as a farewell but also as an informal greeting when approaching others on the street. As we not only look back but also look ahead to the changes brought on by this experience, we will say adios rather than goodbye. And thank you for coming along with us (virtually) on summer 2009 Nicaragua study-service term!

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346