Until next time Nicaragua

Ishrat

It has been more than a week since I returned to the United States.

The last two days in Nicaragua was a bit hard for me. I couldn’t grasp that we only had 48 hours left in the country. Within the time frame of two weeks, 11 strangers became close friends who shared many personal stories and laughter. The group truly made the entire trip a memorable one.

As I reflect on the last two weeks, I see personal growth and more confidence in myself. Through the experiences I had in Nicaragua from carrying on a conversation in Spanish to navigating the streets in Leon, I have more faith in myself and in the abilities that I can travel by myself in the future.

I have returned with a completely different perspective of Nicaragua. This country has such beautiful people and culture but I cannot disregard the amount of struggles people face every day because of high level of poverty in the country. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the number of actual jobs are very low. People make income on a day to day basis by doing jobs like selling mangoes on the streets and washing car’s windows.

Poverty has to be one of the major issue in the country along with several other issues. Visiting Juanita Urbina, a transgender woman, allowed me to hear a perceptive from a different side. The United States and Nicaragua have many similar issues and one them has to be discrimination against LGBTQ and the transgender community. Both societies have a stigma against these communities and are quick to mistreat them or push them aside. In cases as such, people need to inform themselves and realize humans are humans. Everyone deserves respect and dignity regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

Studying abroad enhanced my educational experience to levels unimagined. Instead of sitting through a lecture, each day I was given the opportunity to visit a new environment and learn about a different topic. What best way is there to learn about a culture than by living in it?

In a few words, I have been exposed to so much of Nicaragua in such a short time and I am so thankful for the opportunity. I plan to use the knowledge I gained to further my studies in the International Relations field. I plan to continue learning about Nicaragua and find ways to help people facing the different social and human rights issues. I have expanded my horizon by visiting a different part of the world and I hope to continue my travels. Until next time Nicaragua! #BuckeyesAbroad

Our host mom, Gloria :)

Our host mom, Gloria 🙂

UNAN!!

UNAN!!

Visit to an elementary school, cutest kids ever!!

Visit to an elementary school, cutest kids ever!!

Our LAST group photo together, bitter sweet moment :,)

Our LAST group photo together, bitter sweet moment :,)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley

More than a week has passed since our return to the States. It feels as though so much more time and like no time at all since we were in Nicaragua. I miss it, and being back in the U.S. is jarring. I miss it all- the country, the culture, the organizations we met with, and the revolutionaries who allowed 11 Americans whose government has reaked havoc on their own into their homes, stories, places of work, life, and hearts. They are brave people who allow a group of strangers from one of the most powerful countries in the world into their own- the second most impoverished country in Latin America. The people who have given so much to me made themselves vulnerable to so much in order to share their lives. There are those who shared their houses, rooms and made sacrifices so we could have dinner, those who spent their time and voices, and those who spent their time driving a group of students whose opportunities, lives, and reflections are different than there own. We were welcomed and loved. I’m not so sure that many here in the U.S. would greet them the same way.

As I write, I am sitting on my couch in my air-conditioned apartment drinking hot chocolate from a mug I bought in Nicaragua. I can taste and feel the privilege I have and it does not taste sweet or feel so comfortable as one might think. To be honest, it would probably be easier to wash over in my memory many of my experiences in the country. But being back here makes me uncomfortable, and it should. I grieve for those who suffer because of lack of access, opportunity, and adequacy. I am made better, wisened, and strengthened by these experiences. My learning does not make their struggle worth it. They do not exist for me to gain. So many times those of us from the U.S. travel to less developed countries with this savior complex and think we have the solutions to all their “problems.” Other times, our experiences unsettle us once we return to our soft lives and we decide to wrap the memory up neatly and put it aside. But these are the lives of people, and they cannot be made into an easy phrase about how out of everything bad comes something good. Sometimes, we must simply sit with the weight that some have been given much and some have been given very little. And always, we must make a choice to determine whether or not we will do something about this inequality and its innate injustices.

Reconciling my experiences in the U.S. and in Nicaragua has been difficult. Once we arrived back in the U.S., I had a day to adjust and then I began work again, an additional job I did not have prior to leaving for our trip, and an internship. One day to separate my beautiful, heart wrenching, enlightening, challenging time in Nicaragua and then it was back to the “real world.” I find myself thinking of the trip and our experiences often. I find myself thinking of the different world that Nicaragua feels like in comparison to the U.S., the poverty that both have in different and similar ways, the people we have spoke with and listened to, and the ways I have learned and been impacted deeply. I think of all the people I have intimate experiences with through the sharing of stories and experiences and I am at a loss for the gravity and weight of what has been shared. I have been shaken by this trip and forever changed.

Group photo at CGE, which we visited several times.

Group photo at CGE, which we visited several times.

Casa Materna

Casa Materna

Shops in Granada!

Shops in Granada!

Saying Goodbye to Nicaragua

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I expected this trip to impose a lasting change on me, but now I feel that this trip to Nicaragua has changed me in ways I never could have imagined. Experiencing the poverty first hand during the home stay and having my perception of the United States change dramatically have been very transformational experiences.

Something that I really liked during this trip, which did not really happen when I studied abroad in Argentina, was that we got to interact with kids a lot in Nicaragua. I feel that this truly humanizes the experience and helps motivate one to want to make a difference in a country like Nicaragua. From the kids I met during the home stay, to the school in the Nueva Vida community and the kids in the school on the coffee farm, it was hopeful to see so many happy kids. A lot of times these experiences came as surprises as many of us did not realize that we would be meeting kids on a given day. It was a lot of fun getting to know the kids during the home stay, and I hope that I can one day possibly be reunited with them. I particularly liked meeting the kids on the coffee farm, because they prepared something to sing for us and then asked us to sing for them. We were not expecting this and so we all felt scrambled for a moment but then we decided to sing Carmen Ohio for the kids. This was honestly one of my favorite moments from the trip because I have found that a lot of times on study abroad trips, it is easy to separate the experience from your college experience in the moment. This is because what you’re doing during study abroad is so different even when there is a class element to it. Also because a lot of the time you are meeting the people on your trip for the first time and so you do not always have it in mind that you all go to the same college. However, singing Carmen for the kids made me feel like I was back at Ohio State and really helped connect the two experiences for me because I felt that this was a unique Ohio State experience in that moment.

Interacting with all this kids and seeing kids in more extreme scenarios such as in hospitals made me realize that many of the kids in Nicaragua have to deal with things in their country that adults in the United States may never have to experience. It is scary to think about how different that reality is. We had a few talks the last couple of days on what we would take with us when we got back to the United States. I feel that a big thing for me is to constantly keep in mind what I saw and the actual state of the world. It is easy to get lost in your own country’s reality and feel that it is the only reality. The truth, however, is that much of the world lives in the conditions that Nicaraguans do or in even worse conditions. I do not understand how a country like the United States which has so much “power” and so many resources can allow these things to go on and even allow them in its own country. I realize that solutions to these problems are not easy, but what I have really learned on this trip is that the culture in the United States is to want more and more and at many times at the expense of other peoples’ rights; especially people who do not live in the United States. So I understand that solutions will take time and a lot of effort, but it has to begin with the realization that greed will not take us to a good place and that we honestly do not need everything that we actually just want. This experience will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life and it makes me so grateful that I decided to study abroad a second time and that I chose this program. I hope that I can one day return to Nicaragua and that when I do, I return to a Nicaragua that has had more of its needs met.

 

 

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Hasta Luego Nicaragua!

Hey everyone! Its Katelyn and Alex, back at it again with our final blog post about our study abroad trip in Nicaragua. After about 2 weeks in Nicaragua, we have safely made it back to our homes in the United States. FullSizeRender.jpgFor our final blog, we each just want to explain how much we’ve learned from our time in Nicaragua and reflect upon how this trip has impacted us in so many ways.

Katelyn’s Reflection:

Considering this was my first study abroad trip, and out of the country “on my own”, I was feeling tons of emotions leading up to the departure to Nicaragua. Doing something like this was outside of my comfort zone, but it only has helped me grow as an individual. I am a social work major and a future social worker so I knew I wanted to get hand on/visual experiences that relates to my passion. This trip was suite best for me in many ways only to find out it was a better experience than I could have ever imagined!

Knowing that there are people/students in another country, even underdeveloped than the U.S., with the same goals as I in improving society is a feeling like no other. While meeting with other students and discussing interests on various human rights and social issues, you learn a lot about individuals, systems, and even yourself. It was an honor to meet all of the organizations, and their strength and courage to continue fighting for their rights as a community is truly beautiful and inspiring.

The number one highlight of the trip for me personally was the home stay. Although it was what I was most nervous about, it is IMG_2316what I will miss the most. Who knew a six-year-old girl, in a country thousands of miles away, could have an impact on my life as much as she did. Also, the family I stayed with was amazing. Growing up in a Spanish environment, gave me an advantage so that I never felt uncomfortable, and for that I am blessed. Although I am not fluent in the Spanish language, I tried my best to communicate. Communication was the biggest challenge, but out of it came the most growth. I hope this program never stops doing home stays, and I hope others after me have the same great time that I had.

IMG_2569.JPGI made friends for life on this trip, had the opportunity to do things I never imagined I would be able to do, and tackled personal challenges all in the matter of two weeks.

Going to central America is a completely different and complex reality than going east to Europe for example. The Eiffel Tower might be an amazing thing to visit, but I’d pick my trip on social issues and human rights over that any day. Opportunities are endless and if you really want to make things happen, you CAN! Take control, live, and learn – its the beauty of passion, determination, and happiness!IMG_1381

Alex’s Reflections:

Traveling to Nicaragua was my first time ever going out of the country and I had no idea what to expect on this trip. When I applied to studying aboard, I actually applied to a program that would be visiting China. Due to low interest, the trip was cancelled and I ended up transferring my application to this program – Social Issues and Human Rights in Nicaragua. At the time, I had no knowledge on Nicaragua; I also knew nothing about social work. My plan was to go on the trip with an open mind and learn as much as I could. I wasn’t sure what I would take away from this program or how I could use what would learn in my life and engineering classes – but YOLO (you only live once)! IMG_0221Everything happens for a reason and after spending 2 weeks in this program, I’ve learned and gained so much, both personally and academically.

IMG_3657My time in Nicaragua was eye opening. I’ve had the opportunity to be educated about so many issues that are occurring there, as it pertains to social and human rights. I am grateful for all the organizations that I have been exposed to, that are trying to make a difference in the communities in Nicaragua. After learning about the issues faced in Nicaragua, I realized that they were the same issues faced here in America. It’s amazing to think that the 2nd poorest country in Central America has the same issues has one of the most economically powerful countries in the world. Going to college has put me in sort of a bubble – sometimes I forget what is going on in the world. Ironically, this trip has also made me aware of what is happening in my own country. I have come back to the states, with a task of spreading the message about what is happening both in Nicaragua and in the United States.

Aside from learning about the social and human rights issues in Nicaragua, I also was inspired by all the speakers from the organizations that we visited. Each person we spoke with had a very go-getting, determined, and optimistic personality. One of my favorite visits was to Café de las Sonrisas, which is a restaurant and hammock shop that provides employment to people with disabilities. The founder of this restaurant created so much from nothing. He had no money when he opened the restaurant, just a dream and a vision. He was very clear in one of his messages – if you want to do something, do it, and let no excuses get in the way of accomplishing your dreams. The “North American” mind set, is how he framed it. I find myself always making excuses for why I haven’t done something. Lately, I’ve even found myself too scared to go after what I really want in life. I can say that I left Nicaragua, ready to start a new journey of getting into medical school.
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Overall, I cannot put into words how much this trip has changed my perspective on life. I had such an amazing experience with so many amazing people.
This study abroad trip was a once in lifetime opportunity and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it!

 

 

 

 

Until we meet again Nicaragua!

Hasta Luego,

Catalina y Alejandria

 

 

Final Farewell

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Well, our trip to Nicaragua has come to an end. As we are sitting in the Houston airport waiting for our next flight to Columbus, all of us can’t help but relax and reflect on the past 2 weeks we have endured. Everyone on the trip is exhausted (and rightfully so). We had our final group session last night in Managua at the San Agustin Hostel, our home away from home during our time abroad. We found ourselves getting emotional, and despite that there was so much to reflect upon, it was difficult to find the words to describe everything we were feeling. 

Our extraordinary tour guide, Cesar, posed the question, “what will you be leaving behind in Managua and what will you be taking back with you?” Perhaps, a simple question on the surface, it was so much more complicated than we realized. A reoccurring theme was leaving behind the notion that the “American way” is the right way. We came to a consensus after our home stay that we wished the families and citizens of Nicaragua should have/certainly deserved all of the luxuries we had in the United States (the luxuries we consider necessities and even take for granted on a regular basis… air conditioning, for example). But, we had to put ourselves in their shoes and understand that maybe that isn’t what they want. Just because Americans think certain things define happiness, does not mean that other people, countries, or cultures agree. We realized that simplicity in an individual’s lifestyle or culture goes an incredibly long way. With a focus on community, family support, hope, and commitment, almost anything can be accomplished.

As a group, we also discussed how each of us would try to make a conscious effort to be aware of the consumer we were exuding. For instance, instead of shopping at our typical stores or buying a Starbucks coffee everyday, we would intentionally purchase fair trade products in the U.S. We have seen the harm that can be present when a middle man is (or multiple middle men are) involved in the production of a specific product. Meeting and interacting with coffee farmers or jewelry makers has impacted our mentality of consumption greatly, as a $10 difference can go a long way for a family living in Nicaragua. 

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Each of us reflected on the idea that we left behind hope and encouragement to the organizations we had the honor of meeting. They gave us their time in order for us to become more aware of the struggles/efforts taking place in the community. We promised to advocate on behalf of their mission and to also keep a look out for the same social justice issues occurring in our own country. We discovered a new/altered perception of the United States through these meetings and interactions. Beginning with our first speaker, Mark Lester, many of us were not only learning new things about Nicaragua, but about the United States too. Unfortunately, the information that was being presented was not brag-worthy. A country as developed and economically sound as we are, we have so much work to do considering how many resources we have available to us. We left being aware of how much power and control the U.S. really has – whether that be through consumption, imports/exports, war, trade, etc. Foreign relations are crucial and should be a two-way relationship, but sadly that is not always the case. 

While we made an effort to leave a lasting effect on the Nicaraguan people as American citizens, we also hope that we left an impact on them as college students from The Ohio State University. It was important for us to be attentive and show genuine interest in the topic being presented. All of us acknowledged how proud we were of the group’s efforts to stay involved and ask questions to learn as much as possible in our short time abroad. This eagerness to learn really showed as the speakers were so thankful for our travels and effort given. 

A few of our personal answers included: continuously pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones (in anything we do in life, especially during a program or stay abroad), to immerse ourselves in every culture we encounter, and to make a conscious effort to enjoy the differences that a country has from our own. For example, in the U.S., it is very uncommon to have anyone selling their products to you during a meal or outside of a bus. However, in Nicaragua it was an everyday norm. At times we had to evaluate our patience, as it was easy to get frustrated or feel as though our space was being invaded. We frequently reminded ourselves that many of these individuals are getting their sole income from the money they received on the streets or as a result of selling items to tourists. A simple “no gracias” sufficed if we were not interested, because in our opinion, being rude was not the appropriate route to take in such a situation.

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Another thing we were going to bring back with us was the abundance of support given to each other from coworkers, neighbors, family members, and other organizations. In order to be the most successful, people realized that they must have a strong network of support. Nicaraguan society puts an emphasis on utilizing collective efforts to be successful, versus the individualistic mentality that often describes Americans. We truly feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to have observed a country with so much love for one another (they even welcomed us foreigners with an overwhelming amount of gratitude)! 

We will forever have a new perspective on poverty. As many of us have said, spending two short weeks here gave us a chance to put a face to a country that previously felt distant and unknown. It is difficult to understand the gravity of a situation or fully sympathize with the impoverished as there is no direct correlation for many people. Coming on this trip helped us humanize people in developing countries and make connections that will stay with us for many years to come. While we walked and greeted several communities who had so little, they had such big hearts. Not only were these families and individuals lacking economic wealth, they were also facing issues such as violence, labor disputes, or lack of government assistance. So on behalf of them, we hope to always be aware of the poverty around us and to take action whenever an opportunity presents itself.

As a group, we mentioned bringing back with us a newfound/stronger passions for human rights. The two of us talked about how there is a “high” or significantly strong feeling for a cause immediately after an experience like this. Since both of us have been on a trip centered around social issues before, we know the feeling that comes post-study abroad. However, we hope to continuously feel a tug on our hearts and heads in our daily lives when it comes to fighting for what every individual deserves. 

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This trip has offered each of us so much knowledge, as well as lasting friendships. Although it may be obvious, study abroad trips can be really tricky due to the dynamics of strangers working together. Our group had a significant amount of achievements and lasting memories that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. We worked as a team, allowing our passions for human rights to lead us on an unforgettable journey. 

In conclusion, we want to thank The Ohio State University and the organization of CGE for conducting such an impactful trip. Dr. Davis and Professor Beth Ann were remarkable additions to this student program, as they offered unique perspectives and encouraged the independence of each student (but also a motherly hand when it was sought for). We will forever be grateful for the above and beyond efforts that were put in to making this experience such a success!

Lauren Jesch: Political Science, Nonprofit Management, and Middle East Studies Student going in to my third year!

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Abby Wocher: Third Year Student in the John Glenn School, majoring in Nonprofit Management with a minor in Leadership Studies… and also now considering a Masters in Social Work :~) 

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There is a special place in our hearts now and forever for the men, women and children of Nicaragua.

“Mucho gusto Nica, y adios por ahora” 

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Hammocks and Innovation

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On Friday we visited a place in Granada called Café de las Sonrisas; or the cafe of smiles. While there we met an extremely innovative and compassionate man from Spain who started the project Café Sonrisa. He moved to Nicaragua from Spain eleven years ago and I had a feeling that he was from Spain because he was the first person in Nicaragua that I heard use the vosotros form in his Spanish. Café Sonrisa has helped blind and deaf individuals through job creation. The types of jobs that become available to them are restaurant related and methods of hammock making.

I was amazed by the man who created this project because when first entering the café I imaged that he was just going to teach us about how his project has helped people and how they make the hammocks. However, he began by saying that he was cook when he was in Spain. He then talked to us about economies and how we as consumers have a huge responsibility to helping countries around the world maintain their economies. This included how buying shirts and other goods made in other countries promoted slave labor and sweat shops. He talked about other economic dynamics between the United States and Nicaragua and how most of the Nicaraguans who become doctors, lawyers and professors move to the United States to obtain these jobs. The problem then is that these fields are not capable of progress within Nicaragua. He also tied this into immigration and how people have to understand that people in countries like Nicaragua have no choice but to try and immigrate so that they can find jobs and make money for their families. It already amazed me how much he knew about what was happening in the world and it was very humbling of him to keep going back to the fact that he was just a cook.

Just when I thought he couldn’t become anymore multi-faceted, he began talking about the things he created. He showed us tools he created to help with things related to the project and how they were essentially just made out of commonly used items, such as how they made hammocks out of plastic bags and used these plastic bags as a form of currency for people. I now began to view him in an engineering light, and I realized just how innovative he was. He talked about many of the problems he encountered in Nicaragua on his road to helping people, and how he would enter a problem-solving state of mind for days an end to figure out a solution. What truly humbled me about all of this is that I was amazed at how smart and how motivated this man was, but a part of me wondered why he was not doing something more esteemed such as engineering. What I realized was that he could be whoever he wanted to be or do whatever he wanted to do, but he chose to come to Nicaragua instead of living grandly and focus on helping people. I find that people too often are interested in their own wants and let other people’s rights suffer so that they can have more. However, what I realized while listening to this man talk, is that he was very similar to many of the people that I have met and listened to while in Nicaragua. These people have been strong, motivated and innovative but have seen the struggles of this country and realize that there are more important things than building up yourself and your material desires. They are also not doing it for any form of fame or image, they are simply doing it to make a difference. The thing that really got to me while he was talking was when he told us “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something and don’t let yourself believe that you can’t do something because we started from nothing and we have made all of this possible.” I’m paraphrasing a bit but he was stating this from the fact that they had little to no resources and were able to create so many things. I now feel that he believes this as well because he has seen amazing things happen in Nicaragua as far as efforts for helping the people in the country. This is not something that I will forget especially after he showed us what he was capable of doing. With enough will, and enough motivation for the right cause, anything is possible.

Our Fav Five

Hola amigos! Its Katelyn and Alex and we are back at it again, reporting live from Nicaragua! We enjoyed the city of Managua so much, we decided to dedicate this blog post to our time there and fill you in on all the amazing activities we completed and a few organizations that we visited. image

The LGBTQ community here in Nicaragua is small and those who choose to associate with it tend to not be accepted by society. Often times, when an individual identifies with the LGBTQ community, a community that has a very negative stigma within society, they often face a large amount of discrimination. They can also be subjected to violence, exiled from their families, or even forced to hide their true identities. While in Managua, we had the opportunity to meet with Juanita, a person who identifies as a transgendered woman, but presents a masculine physical appearance for reasons of safety. Juanita came out to her family at the early age of 11. She had a quinceañera, went to prom, and graduated high school, all with a feminine physical appearance. Over the years, she learned that her safety was at risk due to the heavy stigma surrounding the transgendered community that she is a part of. We appereciate her meeting with us and being so open while telling her story. By doing so, she has become an inspiration to us and those in her community.

imageAnother speaker we had the opportunity to hear while in Managua, was Julio Cesar Mena. Julio was infected with HIV at the age of 17, while fighting in the revolutionary war by blood transfusion. He did not discover he was infected until over a decide later. He was also very open with us and shared his trials and tribulations. Julio gave perspective on what life is like living with HIV/AID, in a country that stigmatizes and discriminates against individuals who have the disease. For example, he told us how the people in the community will come by the organization and yell various slurs and throw trash at the building. Despite those incidents he continues to be proactive in the community and educating people on HIV/AIDS.

imageWhile in Managua, we also paid a visit to Casa Alianza, an organization that focuses on the well-being of homeless adolescents and young adults ranging from ages 13-25, that have faced violence, sexual assault, or other troubles within their family. The unique aspect of Casa Alianza is that they specifically work with teenagers that have a drug addiction. The organization provides a 3 phase program that focuses on treating the drug addiction of the teens and helping families work through tough issues. The organization accomplishes this by providing many forms of therapy, dorms for living, physical education and many other things for the teens accepted into the program. Each teenager accepted into the program works with the staff to develop a treatment plan and to discuss future goals and aspirations. This program has really helped give people another perspective on life and helped many teens unlock their full potential.

imageWe had the chance to visit a Christian based school located in the Nueva Vida community, which is right outside of Managua. Nueva Vida is proverb shed and located next to the garbage dump. The community was developed by giving homes to individuals who were living on the dump. The school was both an elementary and high school, hosting younger students in the mornings and older students in the afternoon. Something special about this school is that they actually had a class teaching the students about the Bible, which is something that we had not seen before here in Nicaragua. While we were receiving a tour of the school, we got to participate in some unexpected service for the kids. We had the opportunity to help serve the students lunch which was an honor and so humbling!
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Closing out our time in Managua, we met with Gonzalo, a general human rights activist in Nicaragua. He and his organization, CENIDH, are highly respected in the community. Often times people will report any issues to CENIDH, before reporting them to the police or other government authorities. People in Managua feel more comfortable working with CENIDH because of the amount of trust they have in the organization and how well they do their jobs. The government on the other hand, despises CENIDH. Overall, Gonzalo was a great speaker – he was funny, open, honest, and genuinely cared about or visit with his organization. He was able to paint an extraordinary picture for us about the way the government functions and explained the deeply rooted corruption that is experienced within the Nicaraguran government. Even though the government does not approve of CENIDH, they fight for the rights of so many Nicaraguran citizens. In our opinion it was a perfect way to end our time in Managua.

 

Stick around for blog #3 coming soon!

Hasta Luego,

Catalina y Alejandria

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NicaHOPE & Casa Alianza

This week in Managua, we had the opportunity to visit more organizations revolving around issues of poverty and adolescents. Kids in this community are living in more extreme poverty compared to other areas of Managua. Their families’ source of income often came from selling drugs or digging for recyclable materials in the dump to sell to a processing plant. The average income for these families was around $2 a day and most kids were lucky to get one full meal every day.

The first organization we visited was called NicaHOPE. This was an organization that offered before and after school programs and vocational and skills training. Younger students from pre-school age to 6th grade attended regular school in the morning and went to the NicaHOPE location for the afternoon. For the younger kids, NicaHOPE offered a place to continue learning, reading, a place to relax or get help with homework, a place to play, dance, and practice other skills, as well as receive other meal. Kids in middle and high school went to NicaHOPE in the mornings to learn computer skills or how to make jewelry then attended formal school in the afternoon.

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Additionally, NicaHOPE offered a co-op with single mothers to create jewelry in order to help them provide for themselves and their children. The co-op often sold their jewelry, ornaments, and bracelets to American groups like us and other delegates.

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The overarching purpose for NicaHOPE was to take young kids off the streets and prevent them from getting stuck in a cycle of selling drugs or picking garbage and recyclables. This organization provided a safe place for these kids and mothers to grow and learn skills, or even graduate from high school, in order to break the cycle and achieve better lives for themselves.

Similarly, the second organization, Casa Alianza, was a transitional home for abused, homeless, or drug addicted youth aged 13-17. The home provided therapeutic services and a safe place to live in order to overcome their experiences, break cycles of violence, and become productive members of their community. Through three stages involving adaptation, recovery, and reintegration, with the help and support of the families if possible, the residents were able to develop the skills necessary to have more success than they would have without the program. The first 30 days required the kids to stay at the home 24/7 and had to follow a strict schedule of planned activities. After that time period, they were able to attend school while they continued their scheduled activities. Therapeutic activities included things like yoga, sports, massages, crafts, etc. Other sources of rehabilitation involved natural medicines for mental health, group sessions, and eating lunch with a family member once a week. Additionslly, the kids were not allowed access to cell phones or internet in order to protect themselves from their abusers and to fully commit to an environment focused on recovery.

The organization only worked when each resident truly wanted to be there and knew they needed that kind of help. One example of a successful story was of a former resident who had always dreamed of being a chef. While at Casa Alianza, he learned the skills necessary to get a job as a chef in a nationally recognized hotel in Managua.

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In general, both of these organizations provided us with insight to the lives and resources available to young kids living in especially underprivileged areas in Managua.

Thanks for reading our blog as we adventured through Nicaragua these past 2 weeks. Before we go back home, we wanted to share a little about ourselves for you to take with you.

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Anna –
Nicaragua has been such a unique experience for me. Choosing this program as my first study abroad trip, as well as my first time going out of the country, has truly opened my eyes more than I could have imagined. The most shocking thing to me about coming here is that the longer I stay, the more I realize we aren’t that different. The same groups face discrimination and danger when stepping outside their homes, women are a force to be reckoned with if given the right opportunity, poverty comes in all shapes and sizes, and the corruption and greed is endless. But so is hope and the willingness that people have to put efforts in for justice and human rights. And seeing the commitment here by so many different organizations and different kinds of people, all hoping to acheive the same thing one day, has shown me that we can never give up in our fight for equal rights and fair treatment. My favorite site we visited was Volcano Masaya. Standing on top of such an unpredictable part of nature made me feel the power and beauty our world holds. My favorite organizations we visited were the HIV/AIDS prevention group and Juanita, a transgender woman who told us her story and her battle with her identity in this kind of society.
I plan to graduate from OSU this December with a degree in Psychology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. I hope to either receive a Masters in social work to work with youth in the Huntington’s Disease community who plan to test young or start my own business that connects rehabilitated pets in the shelter system with survivors of violence. We will just have to see what the future holds!

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Emma – Unlike Anna, this was not my first study abroad experience nor was it my first time leaving the country. All of my experiences abroad have been very unique and immensely impactful and this trip was no different. I learned so much from the people and the culture of Nicaragua and I feel as though my world view has expanded accordingly. One of the most important things I will take away from this experience is the importance of community in making positive and lasting change. Whether it is through human rights advocacy or forming co-ops to receive fair wages, the importance of community can be seen in the everyday lives of the Nicaraguan people and I was so thankful to become a part of this community through our home stay with a family in Leon. Our family taught us so much and every conversation I had with them in my broken Spanish made me feel like I truly belonged. I have never had an experience like that in my life and I have never fallen in love with anyone that quickly. My time in Leon is something I will never forget because the bonds I formed with Xiomara, Victor, Ivan, Alexa, and Brittany are unlike anything I have ever known. I miss them so much and hope to see them again.
I have so many great memories in Nicaragua, although my time with my host family stands out, I will also hold onto my experience at the volcano and the market in Masaya, salsa dancing at the club in Leon, and all of the stories and testimonies I have heard in my time here. I will never forget the lessons I learned in Nicaragua and I will always cherish my community and be grateful for the things that I have.
Going forward, I will be traveling to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela where I hope to use my Spanish and meet some more incredible people. Then, I will be graduating in August with degrees in political science and international affairs before taking a gap year and applying to law school.

Mucho amor de Nicaraguita!
Emma Timan and Anna Lunsford
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Home Stay Experience

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Hola! My name is Chris Matteo and I am about to be a third year. I am pursuing a double major in math and psychology and a minor in Spanish. I had an interest in this trip because I am interested in potentially doing social work and since I am doing a Spanish minor I felt that a social work program in a Spanish speaking country would be a good way to intertwine two of my fields of interest. I also studied abroad in Argentina for about three weeks last May and had an amazing experience that made me want to study abroad again.

The idea of participating in a home stay was beginning to make me nervous as we arrived in Leon and got to the University there to meet the families. However, as with most things, my nervousness turned out to be a precursor for something great. My host father, Jorge, was very friendly and funny from the beginning. We went back to his home on his motorcycle which was the perfect way for my nervousness to transition into excitement. I was participating in this home stay experience with a social worker named Dylan, who is originally from the United States but after college lived in Argentina for a year and a half and then had been living in Nicaragua for three months. This was very helpful because although I am fairly confident in my Spanish abilities, it was a significant challenge to understand everything that Jorge and his family would say and so having Dylan there was a very helpful crutch linguistically and culturally. Jorge lived with his sister, her five kids, and his mother. They also had chickens, birds, a rooster and a dog. I was very humbled when I first saw his home. The bathroom was by itself outside, most of the house seemed constructed from metal you may find in a scrapyard, and there was no air conditioning. Considering that it was actually hotter inside the house than outside, they were essentially living outside; and Leon is one of the hottest places in Nicaragua. None of this seemed to phase the family though. The kids were full of vitality and I remember Jorge talking to me while looking out from his second floor and telling me that Nicaragua is so beautiful because everything is natural in the country. His house was natural, and he and everyone else in the house found natural ways to be happy.

I will admit that enduring the heat for those few days was certainly a struggle. However, being around the family greatly helped distract me from the heat. Everyday Dylan and I would play soccer, baseball or some form of catch with the kids. The food that my host family offered to me was incredible. I was amazed by Jorge’s sister, who was a single mother of five kids of varying ages. She was able to take care of all of them and find the time to give Dylan and I what we needed as well all while having a smile on her face. I was very happy to have the opportunity to practice my Spanish, however at times I wished that there were no language barrier. Sometimes I would just sit and try to understand everything being said which proved to be a mentally draining experience; especially in the morning. All in all, I feel that the exhaustion from heat and language were both things that helped me grow.

My biggest takeaways from the home stay are:

  1. Never look down on someone because they have less than you. I feel that this is something people get caught up in in American society too often as our individualistic and competitive society is a breeding ground for our egos to thrive.
  2. Community is one of the most important things we can have. People in this community depending on one another for things like food and were happy to help one another.
  3. You can’t always choose your situation but you can choose how to react to your situation. My host family did not live is as developed of a house as people in the United States, nor did they have the same resources or opportunities. However, they were arguably happier than most people I have met in the United States who are very well off.

Community Development

We have been in Nicaragua for a little over a week now, and as a group we have certainly been able to develop a small understanding of the culture that Nicaraguans live on a daily basis. Individually, these days abroad have given way to a variety of emotions. We find ourselves reflecting upon each agency, speaker, community member, client, or child, after every encounter. In this blog, we would like to emphasize the importance of community development, which was found to be central in the majority of the organizations we visited.

This idea of community development or family support, as some of the agencies called it, is crucial when it comes to seeing success in the programs that are implemented. Below we chose four organizations that not only impressed us, but also functioned very well due to the focus on community.

NicaHOPE, is an organization where community development was very prevalent. This organization offered a variety of programs and services to individuals who lived in the community of La Chureca. La Chureca is also known as the Managua city dump. This program was very inspiring in that its educational programs helped to motivate teenagers living in the impoverished neighborhoods to stay in school and learn techniques that would enable them to create an income for themselves, as well as their family. Since many of them are living in very poor conditions, they face the reality of drugs, prostitution, and domestic violence. This program allows for their clients to learn technical skills in their computer lab, be fed a hot meal provided by the foundation, and even learn how to craft jewelry of their own. Our group was able to interact with a woman who was previously on the streets and now serves as a teacher at the organization providing other young teens with skills that could alleviate the cycle of poverty. We even had the opportunity to purchase some of the jewelry that they created.

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Casa Alianza is an organization that was founded on the premise of housing, feeding, rehabilitating, and reintegrating teenage victims of abuse, addiction, homelessness, or often all of the above back into society. The shelter thrives under individualized, long-term programs to not only protect at-risk youth, but aid in the process of their recovery for years to come. Casa Alianza is a branch of The Covenant House that promotes community development in more ways than one. Counseling services between the child and family are a large factor in to successfully transitioning the victim back in to everyday life after their program has completed. Various staff members go out in to the neighborhoods to rescue endangered children and give information to those in the community.

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Los Pipitos is an organization made up of parents, relatives, and friends of children with disabilities. They work in solidarity in order to help improve the lives of the disabled and to protect their rights and dignity. They strive to integrate these children into the community and to be self-sustaining. In Nicaragua, there are a limited number of organizations that focus solely on aiding citizens whom have a physical handicap (the government itself provides very little support/funding to these programs as well). Los Pipitos emphasized how providing services to a child with disabilities was not just a responsibility for them, but mainly for the family or guardian. The organization would first assess the child and then begin immediately working with the family on ways to provide for their child. They offered the client support group sessions where they could grieve and also celebrate together as they did not want these families to feel like taking care of their child was always such hard work. If a child was also capable of functioning independently, they would teach them how to cook, how to clean, how to cooperate with others, and even would help them not only get a job but maintain it.

Community development at La Casona is a key factor in to the success of the societal reintegration process for the inmates at this facility. The stigma associated with men or women that have been incarcerated is an incredibly difficult obstacle to overcome emotionally and in the workplace. Social work students at UNAN in León along with the coordination of the Juvenile Issues Office of the Police Department partner with La Casona to work with people that are going through the program to help them transition back in to everyday life without falling victim to former criminal activities. The inmates have long days involving various therapeutic/stress-relief sessions and even interact with the young children at the educational program the facility offers. It is important to recognize that this type of arrangement is only offered to men or women that have prison sentences of less than 5 years, as anything more would probably not be possible. This organization promotes the art of theatre as a means of expression and a way to help the inmates feel as though they are doing something positive. The theatre group goes out into the community and performs for various groups. This not only benefits the incarcerated men or women, but helps alleviate the negative connotation often tied to those in prison.

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Although the infrastructure of these organizations differ between Nicaragua and the United States, the same principles prevail. Human rights and community development are necessary sectors in today’s society. It is disheartening to see social workers or social justice advocates in this country have such a passion for change, but simply do not have the resources to reach the scope that they desire. When returning back home to Ohio, we can only hope that we can further advocate on behalf of these organizations’ missions to promote social justice.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Theresa

Until next time, adios!
– Lauren and Abby

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La Casa del Sandra

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As students at The Ohio State University, we are so honored to be apart of this life changing study abroad trip. We, Katelyn Gonzalez, a senior social work student and Alex Pickett, a graduating senior chemical engineering student, participated in the home stay portion of the trip together. While studying abroad in Nicaragua, we were presented with the opportunity to live with a social work student and their family for 3 days. This was a unique experience as it allowed us to truly dive in, absorb the culture and to learn first hand about the way of life here in Nicaragua. To be honest, everyone was a little anxious and nervous for the home stays, as we didn’t have any idea what to expect. It turns out that we all had eye-opening experiences that would impact us for the rest of our lives.

The home stay took place in the city of León, which is the second largest city in Nicaragua and about 56 miles (or 90 kilometers) away from Managua, the city in which our hotel is located. When we first arrived at the university in León, we were introduced to our host mother Sandra, who is a recent graduate of the social work program at the university. From the first moment we met her, she greeted us with open arms! Before we traveled home with Sandra, we also had the opportunity to interact with students studying social work. It was amazing to learn about how much we had in common with students – they all wanted to make an impact on their respective communities. Also, they are facing some of the same issues in regards to human rights and social work here in Nicaragua. It was amazing experience as we were able to bond over many things, including “selfies” and Facebook!

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Once we were finished at the university, we walked back to Sandra’s house for lunch and met her family. Sandra lives with her 3 daughters, 3 grandchildren, son-in-law, and her husband. While staying with the family, there was not one time where we felt as if we didn’t belong; Sandra and her family went out of their way to make sure we felt as comfortable as possible – she accepted us into her family. The three things that we found most intriguing during our home stay, are listed below. image

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  1. The Language Barrier – One of the biggest challenges we faced was communicating with Sandra and her family, who spoke a completely different language than us. It was just as difficult for them to communicate with us as well. When we first met Sandra, she told us that we could only speak to her in Spanish – no English allowed! We were a bit nervous about this at first, but by the end of the stay we realized that Sandra only wanted us to get the most out the situation. There were many times when we found ourselves thinking back to our Spanish 2 classes we took in high school, hoping to remember some basic phrases to help us communicate! With lots of patience, hand movements, and asking lots of “comó se dice….”, we managed to accomplish so much, in so little time, including anything from getting basic needs met, to making friends for life.
  2. Relationship Building – The biggest impact on our lives during the home stay was Sandra’s granddaughter, Britany, who is only 6 years old. When we first met her, she was coming home from school around 11:00am. Sandra told her to give us hugs and greetings, welcoming us into their home. From that point on, we instantly clicked with her and started having so much fun. Britany is really a 6 year old, going on 16. She is super patient, very intelligent, and takes on a lot of responsibility by helping her mother care for her twin brothers. Her outgoing personality allowed us to feel more comfortable. She always included us in games, shared her snacks and even made us some beautiful pictures. She also helped us with our Spanish as much as she could and in return we helped her learn some English. We plan on following up on Britany’s life and witnessing the many things she has yet to accomplish. All of the qualities that Brittany displayed, have the ability to take her so far in life. We hope Nicaraga continues to move forward and provides an opportunity to make their youth’s dreams a possibly. image
  3.  Sense of Community – During our home stay we were able to see how important community is here in Nicaragua. Sandra’s community worked together, looked out for one another, and truly cared for everyone. We witnessed first hand how every person who walked by the house greeted us with “Buenas!” or how when Sandra needed eggs for breakfast, a neighbor was willing to lend her some. Nobody hesitated to stop by the house and talk to Sandra and in return Sandra always was willing to pull out a chair so they could sit down and relax. The community acted as one big family – it is a wonderful thing to see and a beautiful culture to follow.

This home stay was truly a great addition to the trip. It allowed us to take our learning farther than meetings and a hotel. This is really an experience that we will never forget.

P.S – Gallo Pinto is EVERYWHERE!!

Hasta luego,

Catalina y Alejandria

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