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.

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