Tuesday, March 29, 2011

WSU Spring Break in Nicaragua

A team of 12 visited Nicaragua from Worcester State University.  Here, Amanda Sturchio describes her experience:

Many seniors want to spend their last spring break of college doing something memorable. Whether that is a trip to Florida, a Caribbean cruise, or even a trip to Nicaragua, I suggest you get up and do it. This year I decided to step out of my comfort zone and travel to another dimension. With a group of ten students from Worcester State University, I traveled to Central America. This turned out to be a rewarding decision. It was a week that changed my perspective of the world, and allowed me to leave the country of Nicaragua with new experiences, fresh outlooks, and a group of friends.

When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by friendly Americans.  They were as excited to see us, and we were thrilled to begin our journey.  At the Manna House, we were introduced to what we would call home for the next week. On the first night, I must admit, it was slightly overwhelming. I was in a foreign environment with (what I considered) peculiar rules, such as not flushing toilet paper and having no hot water. I barely knew the people I was traveling with and the distance between us intensified the feeling. These perceptions quickly disappeared as of day one, when I opened my mind and indulged myself in the Nicaraguan culture.

The Manna Project has done so much for the communities in Nicaragua. It was an awesome experience to observe classes led by the PDs, but it was even more fun when we were given the opportunity to participate in the classroom. The English classes ranged from beginner to advanced, but no matter what the level, students were engaged in what they were learning. Manna Project encourages children in Cedro Galgan and throughout cities in Nicaragua to value education. I could see the passion involved and it really made me appreciate the education I receive here in the United States. It is easy for us to take it for granted because schooling is so easily obtained. For most children here in the States, it is just one step after the next to go from elementary to middle to high school, and oftentimes college, but in Nicaragua it is a path less traveled by.

Participating in the advanced class was one of my favorite classroom experiences on the trip. I worked with a student named Elena who I found it very easy to connect with. Because I don’t speak Spanish, I struggled a bit with fully participating in beginner classrooms, but because language wasn’t a barrier between us, we were able to easily communicate. It is awesome to see the opportunities she, and others like her, have been given by organizations such as Manna. They help to develop an important skill such as learning a foreign language.  Her life goals of traveling and helping others in the world was very eye opening and I’m glad I was able to hear her story.

La Chureca was one of the most difficult things I have seen in my life. When driving in the entrance of the city dump the smell and vision of smoke was overwhelming. Trash surrounded the homes and workplace of many Nicaraguans. From what we were told, the physical standing of the dump had dramatically improved within the last couple of years, as they vigorously work day to day, hoping to improve the conditions of the environment where these people reside. Before discussing and being educated on La Chureca, I thought that people just occasional lived in the dump if times were difficult. However, I learned that it is a community.

People are born, raised, and die in this community as in any other city or town. This is where they call home, even if it a small dimension of space made by tin and other goods found by digging through trash. The health clinic which Manna helps to fund in this community creates a lot of positivity for the adults and children here. I feel as though health is a huge concern for the people living in La Chureca because of all the harmful chemicals released in the air. Although it was sad to see how hundreds of people live with nothing of value, who struggle to survive every day, it was uplifting to see the hope and potential that could possibly come out of this fight. The Spanish government is funding a new housing complex in this community which include homes, education, and recreational facilities.

Over the course of the week in Nicaragua, I was able to experience new language, culture, food, and people. I looked at everything this week as an experience and was willing to try it all. I let my guard down and hoped for the best. While reflecting on my voyage this week, I found that I was successful in sticking to this goal. Although I faced a language barrier, it was fun to interact with all the natives. To just sit and play with the children made me happy. During our science experiments of building and racing toy cars, it was entertaining to watch how they interacted with the task, even if I could only understand body language and facial expressions. I find that kids have a universal language and that no matter what ethnicity, color, country, or social class they are classified as, they are all simply kids.

The freedom of being a child only comes once in our lives. This week, I really saw that this is universal. Even though some of these kids came from families who possess nothing of monetary value, they were still free, happy, and enjoying themselves. It taught me to be appreciative of what I have and to enjoy the simple joys in life.

It was great to experience two very different aspects of Nicaraguan culture. First, we saw aspects of life that were unfamiliar and shocking. Some of what we saw in the first part of the week was sad, while some was uplifting. However, the second part of our week was full of beauty. As a team, we explored Matagalpa and other areas of rural Nicaragua. First, we visited a volcanic lake which was surreal. It was THE most beautiful scenery with a breathtaking site overlooking mountains. The warm water and shining sun overtook any melancholy feelings from previous experiences and created a peaceful state of mind. Although this resort was for upper class tourists and natives, it was exactly what we all needed. It was a getaway in a serene and beautiful location. It was a great opportunity.

Overall, my week in Nicaragua was an even better experience than I could have imagined. The people that I met while doing volunteer work have transformed the way I look at my own life. To see families who live humbly, but never lose that smile on their face made me appreciate everything I do have. The opportunities I am fortunate to have as an American citizen is something I took for granted before this trip. It’s the little lessons I learned on this trip such as to conserve water, food, and electricity that make me stop and think. It’s also the larger themes I learned such as to value family and education. This trip has encouraged me to follow my dreams of traveling and see the world! This trip made me see a world completely different than my own and I would like to thank Joanna, Luke, and all of Manna Project International for making this trip not only possible but remarkable. I would love to see a summer or year in Nicaragua in my future!

Amanda Sturchio helps a girl with the car project.

Amanda Sturchio and Lorena Flores at the community dinner.

girls in Matagalpa!

At NicaHope.

The WSU spring break group.

At Laguna de Apoyo
Community Dinner in El Farito.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vanderbilt University Spring Break Group

Last week, our first group of spring break volunteers arrived from Vanderbilt University to work with Nicayuda painting a pre-school and to help out in all Manna’s programs. On Saturday, after a long day of traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, the 11 Vanderbilt girls were ready to take on Nicaragua. Group leaders Amanda and Zac met up with them at the airport and brought them back to the Manna house to settle in.
To truly understand the girls’ experience in Nicaragua from their own perspective, we asked them to write a reflection on the week.  The following is a guest blog from spring break volunteers Lexi Kaminer, Alyssa Cohen and Liza Warshaver, with pictures by Leslie Dawson.

When we first showed up, we weren’t sure what to expect from Nicaragua and the Manna community. After hearing our schedule we were so excited to see we would have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture and help the local people. The first day we went to the pre-school in the Altagracia area. We were interested to learn that the government does not provide very much help for Nicaraguan pre-schools and for that reason we were glad to help repaint the entire school. After two days of hard work we were excited to have completed our painting, and it was such a rewarding experience to see the children’s reaction to their brand new school.

Vandy girls hard at work.

Some of the finished product.
Pre-school students in their freshly-painted school.

Another moving experience was our trip to La Chureca where we were able to walk around with the mothers in Manna’s Child Sponsorship program. During this visit we saw a different way of life and the power of strong bonds within a community.  We also saw the clinic that Manna sponsors and we were moved by how much it positively aids the children and their families.
Throughout the week we also had the chance to attend English classes, exercise classes, baseball practice, drumming, and the Feeding Program, all led by the talented and dedicated Manna Program Directors. We were so happy to see how much Manna does for the communities and how much the children appreciate their involvement.
To conclude our trip we had an amazing weekend excursion. During this trip we got to relax by Laguna de Apoyo, canopy through the trees near the Mombacho Volcano, and experience Granada, the oldest city in North America.
We in the Manna house thank the Vanderbilt team for their hard work, and we know Nicayuda and the pre-school in Altagracia share our gratitude.  Today, we'll be saying goodbye to the Vanderbilt girls and hello to a group from Worchester State University.  Look for an update about their work next week.  What a busy time of year!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Help Casa Base!

Casa Base

As many of you already know every week Manna travels to La Chureca to run its weekly programs;  Megan and Matt to teach the beginner's English class, Zach and Amanda to teach the intermediate English class, and Joanna, Katie, Dane, Luke, and Will to run the Child Sponsorship Program.  Located in La Chureca as well is the health clinic, Casa Base, in which the  child sponsorship team works with to help host its weekly 'charlas' on various health-related topics.  Casa Base is one of the only clinics in the area and provides assistance to the nearly 200 families that live in La Chureca.  Unfortunately, because of the lack of funding,  the clinic is closed as of right now and is going to continue to be closed for the month of March until sufficient funds can be raised. 

The situation: 
    • Since 2006, MPI and another non-profit, Austin Samaritans have financially supported the clinic.
    • As we wait to hear if Austin Samaritans will be able to provide its half of the budget, MPI is seeking the remaining funds needed for 2011 or seeking another funding source to help. (we will know by the end of March).
    • The total operating cost is $48,000/year which provides for all medicine and treatments the clinic offers as well as salaries for the Nica health staff of 2 doctor, 1 pharmacist, 1 nurse and 1 health promoter. 
    • As of right now, MPI only has enough funding through February, which has already ended, and is seeking the remaining $4,000 in monthly support for operating expenses in 2011

The people living in La Chureca are extremely poor, many living off less than one dollar a day, which is what the World Bank classifies as a level of "extreme poverty".  Many of the residents make a living by digging through the mounds of trash in search of some sort of collectible scrap, such as glass bottles, metal, or cans, to turn in for money.  For most this money is necessary to provide them with an evening meal.  Because of the proximity to the trash, the daily fires burning the trash, and the overall lack of sanitation, this environment is a breeding ground for disease.  Needless to say, these people rely upon the free assistance that they receive from Casa Base, and to think that this clinic is not going to be available to them is unsettling.  Below are two links that will take you to sites where you can read more about the clinic and the specific work it does.  The second is a video that is a couple of years dated but none the less paints a picture of the clinic's significance and work in the community.

It is always uncomfortable asking people for money, at least for me, but thinking about the people of La Chureca living without the clinic and their ability to get access to healthcare for them and their children is even more unsettling.  So if you would like to donate money towards keeping open the health clinic of Casa Base please visit fundraising site at www.razoo.com/story/Support-Health-Clinic-In-La-Chureca-Managua-S-City-Dump or mail a check to MPI, PO Box 121052, Nashville, TN 37212.  Be sure and designate “Chureca clinic” online or in the memo space of a check.  And please help spread the word.  Your help is greatly appreciated!

La Chureca

Another photo of La Chureca