What I Took With Me Stayed Behind

I am now nearing the beginning of a new academic year and by now I have had he whole summer to reflect on our groups journey in Nicaragua.  One aspect of this in particular has been two questions we asked ourselves on the last evening in the country.  What will we take with us and what will we leave behind?  As the summer went on after returning home the best answer to that question came to me.  I became friends on facebook with some of the students from a university in Leon.  One of these students, who will remain anonymous for now, started a conversation with me and to this day it has yet to end.  We talk about where we live, what we do for fun, social issues, the news, school and anything else you will find two friends chatting about.


 This conversion is perhaps the most precious thing I have taken with me and left behind.  It is a two way street for giving the intangible gifts human contact provides.  In a broader sense it is one small part of the new and massive transmission of ideas our increasingly interconnected world has.  This is also something that should provide people with optimism concerning Nicaragua and other parts of the world with struggling democracies.  A free flow of ideas, an open conversation like the one I have with my new friend is something incredibly difficult to stop.  The internet has become even in the most censored of places a small cafe for a freethinker to carry with them and to find this gift we take and leave behind; a voice, a conversation and a friend.

Experiences and thoughts.

So if you haven’t read our first blog, it is with Steph and Kelley so go check it out!

The second week of Nicaragua was great. I got more accustomed to the lifestyle and the heat and the culture shock was starting to fade.

The highlights of the second week would have to be visiting the Laguna de apoyyo which is a lake inside of an inactive volcano, I unfortunately did not get to swim because I don’t know how but the view was nice and I got some awesome pictures to take home.

We also visited Matagalpa where we saw the coffee farms, and I was quite surprised to see all the hard work that goes into harvesting coffee, I also learned of a new term; “the middle man”. The middle man is the guy that acts as the link between the farmers and corporate, he goes around the farms and buys all the coffee beans for below minimum price and goes and sells it to corporate or consumers for 100 times the price. I was heartened to learn that there is change happening where the middle man is losing his power, for example farmers now have smart phones and they use those smart phones to check the stocks and nasdaq and to see how much coffee is selling for these days so they can agree upon a fair price.


All in all it was great and I learned a lot. I am very thankful for this opportunity and I cannot wait until next summers trip!

The Harsh Reality of HIV/AIDS in Nicaragua

In our time abroad, we received many presentations by those making waves of change for human rights in Nicaragua. One of these remarkable folks was Julio Cesar Mena, an organizer working with HIV and AIDS efforts (ANICP + SIDA). Julio contracted AIDS during a blood transfusion while in the army in 1989. Unfortunately he did not realize he was positive until 1993. He shared a powerfully emotional and vulnerable story of also infecting his girlfriend and his daughter, who passed of AIDS at the age of 8 years old. When he discovered he was positive, medications weren’t yet available in the country of Nicaragua. He had to travel to Guatemala and took 90 pills a day for three years… an astounding 30 pills a meal.

Cesar translating for Julio as he demonstates the 5 pills he takes a day now in comparison to 90.  "I want to continue to struggle. I want to continue to live."

Cesar translating for Julio as he demonstates the 5 pills he takes a day now in comparison to 90.
“I want to continue to struggle. I want to continue to live.”

He was given until 1998 to live but has persevered and works every day to focus on the human rights of those that are HIV positive or are living with AIDS, prevention, education, and to alleviate stigma. Six years ago, he weighed 60 pounds and his meds were $800 a month but are now free. Surprisingly, the current Nicaraguan administration is the first to acknowledge the problem and buys 20% of the medications while the rest are supplied by a global fund (Bill Gates is a larger donor). The movement towards greater inclusion on issues of the virus is greatly rejected by the Catholic and Evangelical churches. The stigma is so great that if one enters the hospital and claims to be HIV positive, they will be systematically served last. One can also be fired for being HIV positive, and commonly are. Julio shared that in Nicaragua, 9/10 families would reject those that are positive. On the Atlantic coast, people believe that just looking at or hugging someone can give them AIDS. As you can see, there is a lot of work to be done.

According to the Ministry of Health, 2 people get infected with HIV in Nicaragua every day. The Ministry also claims that about 10,000 people are HIV positive in Nicaragua but Julio estimates the number are closer to 30 or 40,000. He shared, “Three people died of AIDS last week…mostly because of lack of attention and medicine and sometimes people just give up.” The Ministry of Education refuses to take on the task of AIDS education and prevention measures. Historically 90% of those infected with HIV were men but now a change has swept through and those that are positive are predominantly women (those taking care of the home). Julio claims that like the States, gay males and sex worker populations are at a higher risk of contracting HIV. However, I was surprised to learn that most living positive in Nicaragua are heterosexuals. He shared that most straight people were afraid to come out and the gay community falsely keeps the majority of the stigmatization. The main mode of transmission is via intercourse and there isn’t a lot of maternal transmission to child. I also found it interesting to note that an increase in tourism has added transmission to the sex workers.

The organization that Mr. Mena works for is located in Managua with 320 active members. There are 11 people working in the office that go to the hospitals and provide home visits to those that are ill. They also facilitate workshops and support groups every Thursday. There are 6 satellite offices throughout Nicaragua with 1,120 HIV positive members total. Their program also does outreach to hospitals with pamphlets so that people know where to find them and what services are available. They also work closely with sex workers to teach proper condom use and techniques for negotiations to use them during sexual activity. They also try to work to get youth involved in prevention, a task they’re struggling with. A great inspiration, Julio Cesar Menas has been trying to facilitate greater change by requesting to meet with the government for at least 5 years. His goals are to make the government more inclusive of those that are living with HIV and AIDS in the workforce and to allow participation in production of the country.

Nicaragua’s Second Flag; The FSLN

Nicaragua is a truly diverse country.  One moment you may be in the middle of an over crowded city and the next moment on top of an active volcano.  You can go to the biggest lake in central America or look over a ridge to see a parched landscape.  There are people of many different ethnic groups and family backgrounds.  There are some of the wealthiest and most humble places you will ever see.  In Nicaragua there many different sights to see and people to meet but there is one thing that is the same in almost every location: the FSLN.    The FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) or the National Sandinista Liberation Front is the dominant political party in Nicaragua.


You can find its signature red and black flag outside every public building, hospital, national monument, telephone pole and even on rocks if they are flat enough to paint on.  It is almost always flying right next to the actual flag of Nicaragua.  Quite often it is flying at the same height.  To our group of American students this was shocking to see.  Imagine right now if when you went outside everyday the Democrat Donkey or Republican Elephant was flying boldly outside every police station in town.  It is also important to note that buildings with the FSLN flag tended to look nicer that those without.  This is consistent with the fact not being a party member makes it more difficult to access resources.

This says something about the state of politics in Nicaragua.  Here it is extremely difficult to get the word out about your own political movement because the FSLN controls all the advertising space.  It is the only party you will see your entire time in Nicaragua.  There are other parties and movements in the country but seeing as how the leader of the party, President Daniel Ortega, owns most of the TV outlets you will be hard pressed to find them.  We met one representative from the Sandinista Renovation Movement, an opposition party to the FSLN, at the end of our trip but that was it.  And She came to meet us at our hotel!  Even though Nicaragua is officially a democratic country it never really stopped reminding me of what a stereotypical 1960’s communist dictatorship looked like.  Lots of pictures of the Presidents face everywhere and the party’s flag waving proudly outside all the public buildings.  The FSLN dominates not just the government but most of what you see as well.  It is a party that is in control and it will not let you forget that while you are in Nicaragua.

We hope that in the future Nicaragua becomes more democratic but for now it is a very undemocratic country with a long way to go.

Meeting with el Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista


MRS flag, the hat of Sandino

Our final meeting in Nicaragua was with Silvia Nadine, a representative from the Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (Sandinista Renovation Movement), one of the current political parties. The party was founded in 1995 and the creators included some members of the original FSLN. Many of the members joined the MRS due to dissatisfaction with the contemporary FSLN party and their actions. This frustration stemmed from the disconnect between the implementations of the FSLN and their initial platform. Nadine told us that many of the FSLN members were unwilling to accept that the party was not functioning in the way it had been intended to and that a new party was necessary to push for governmental reform.

In 2006, the MRS had decided to support a presidential candidate, Herty Lewites. Lewites was well-known and thought of as having a serious shot at the presidency, however the candidate mysteriously died three months before the election. Nadine told us that the media projected the story as if he had died of natural causes, but the MRS was fairly certain that there was more to the story. Lewites had captivated the young population and had the possibility of winning and therefore challenged the FSLN status quo in Nicaragua.

In 2008 the MRS’s status as a political party was taken away by the FSLN, which was clearly not ideal, but Nadine told us that this allowed the party to see who was on their side and who was willing to fight this injustice. During one such demonstration a government official’s car was set on fire and the police would not investigate the burning of the car. She even told us of a liberal family that was assassinated by the FSLN and how their murders were never investigated either. Clearly the party has been met with a lot of retaliation.

Nadine told us that one of the biggest obstacles they face as a party is the lack of trust in the system. People do not feel motivated to vote because of the many voting frauds that have happened in the past. In addition, many people are fearful of the violence that has been shown to come with challenging the status quo in Nicaragua.

Additionally she told us of a barrier to the involvement of young people; because the FSLN controls public universities and the scholarships awarded for those universities, students have been manipulated by this power of capital. Public demonstrations do not occur on college campuses because of this control. Many students want to express their opinions and discontent, but they cannot for fear of losing their access to education. As a current college student who has participated in various politically motivated demonstrations on Ohio State’s campus I find this restriction of public space quite devastating and disempowering. I worry for the safety and sanity of the students feeling the weight of this limitation.

I enjoyed ending the trip with this talk. Hearing from a smaller party trying to navigate and change the current political climate in Nicaragua was inspiring. Despite the limitations they face, Nadine made it clear that the MRS will continue organizing communities of people and fighting for the rights and opportunities of every Nicaraguan.


homestay reflection- Jules and Ariana

It’s incredible to think that we lived in a place we knew nothing about with people who used to be strangers for 3 whole days. When we first arrived, we were apprehensive to say the least. They lived in a house that was entirely too small for the four of them, yet their home seemed to light up with the brightness of their spirits. Despite this, they expressed their economic concerns on a regular basis–constantly apologizing for what they could not afford. They explained that they worked very hard and held prestigious positions in the workplace, but continued to struggle financially. As we continued our stay, we realized that their situation represented that of many other Nicaraguan families. For example, they appeared to be slightly more financially stable than their neighbors even though they struggled. This is indicative of the lack of adequate employment in Leon and the rest of Nicaragua. In other words, these individuals have been well educated for their careers, yet they experience difficulty when looking for reasonable employment options. There is a lack of job opportunities altogether, and those that are available do not seem financially sufficient. For many employees, this leads to an inability to obtain basic needs such adequate living conditions, food, etc. As humans, these individuals are endowed with rights to these living necessities. Thus, the lack of adequate employment leads to a lack in basic human rights for these hard-working individuals. This was evident when our host mother and father expressed their exhaustion at the end of each workday. Although it was difficult to see this lack of human rights first-hand, we still felt very welcome in their home. They went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and feeling as if we were in our own home. We are especially grateful for this experience and all that it taught us about the importance of family in the midst of a lack of human rights.

A Necessary Perspective of Recent Nicaraguan History

After all of the awe-inspiring and exponentially educational involvements I’ve already experienced in my time here in Nicaragua, our first meeting with journalist María López Vigil remains dominant. Maria eloquently outlined the recent history of the Sandinista Revolution that really gave important perspective to my interactions and outlook in this country.

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The university classroom where we received our lecture


The Samoza family withheld one of the longest dictatorships in American history (remember, we’re still in America down here!) for more than four decades. The Somoza Dynasty came into power in 1937 backed by a strong alliance with the United States. With comprehensive control of the National Guard (created by the US Marines), alternative political affiliations were violently banned, sometimes by torture and mass executions. In the 1960’s, an opposition military movement was building by the name of the Sandinista Liberation Front. General Augusto Sandino, a national hero who fought with an army of working class farmers led against the United States military efforts before his death in 1934. He is used as a symbol for the revolution. In July of 1979, Nicaragua became the first country to defeat placed military by organized guerilla efforts despite lack of equal technology and resources. Unfortunately in the 1980’s, civil war broke out once again by La Contra. After 1979, the National Guard fled to neighboring countries and received underhanded funds from the United States Government. Maria quoted 50,00 were killed, 100,000 were misplaced, and thousands were orphaned by this civil war. In 1990 during multiple party elections, the Sandinista Party surprisingly lost although it afforded Nicaragua so many new opportunities (such as a focus on a health care system and literacy). “The same generation that overthrew a dictatorship with guns overthrew another with votes… There is a strong collective memory and trauma from civil war here; fighting your brothers, sisters, and neighbors,” expressed Ms. López Vigil.

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Sandino as a symbol for La Revolucion


Maria also spoke candidly about the current state of the government by President Daniel Ortega. Nicaragua has moved on to a more neoliberal government where the focus is dominantly focused on the economy rather than the people that make up this beautiful country. There are also strong issues with freedom of the press. The Samoza Family utilized heavy censorship but Maria put it elegantly when describing the Ortega take on information, “They don’t censor, they buy.” The Ortega family has instead bought most of the TV channels, radio stations, and local newspapers. Nicaraguans are also fighting to keep the internet public with great opposition from corporate enterprise that would be directly affected. I asked Maria how people in Nicaragua feel about voting and its effects. Due to election fraud, people are apathetic to voting and therefore don’t bother. “It’s either weapons or votes and votes don’t do anything. Many people in Nicaragua know how to use weapons but that doesn’t get us anywhere. People are afraid war will come back so they are passive.” There is also a huge political struggle against the possible building of a canal via the San Juan River in the south up to Lake Nicaragua, a massive effort that would mark the largest infrastructure in Central America. A Chinese business claims they can complete the canal in just 5 years time and will pay $10 million to the Nica government for 100 years for the business offer. Lake Nicaragua shares the border with Costa Rica and holds the largest biodiversity on this continent. Many international scientists have weighed in on the environmental effects and there have been at least 45 marches and protests in opposition to the building of this canal.

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Another Sandino statue with fresh cut flowers seen later that day near the Managua Old Cathedral


When first setting sights on the Nicaraguan landscape of the city, I was alarmed by the amount of gates, fences, and walls I saw creating so many borders. I didn’t understand the use of armed guards in front of buildings and armed men hanging out of jeeps that I couldn’t differentiate between police and military. Without this background of recent Nicaraguan politics, I wouldn’t have had the proper perspective that is imperative for a non-native and especially one from the United States. Maria López Vigil told my classmates and myself that “with your privilege comes more responsibility.” We aren’t coming into Nicaragua to try to help, we are here to transform the country we come from. In this culture there is a great admiration of blanco skin and hair (expressed not only by the residents but by their lack of people of color in their advertisements), denoting extreme cultural power. This has been a message of many of our acquaintances in our time here, to keep the story of Nicaragua with us and to take it home. Hearing these stories sat very heavy on my heart but again, Maria López Vigil laid it out luminously.


Maria López Vigil


“Optimism is optimism because it is lacking information. Pessimism in your mind, optimism in your heart.”

Exploring Ciudad Sandino

This past week, we visited and spoke with a representative of the Center for Development of Central America’s (CDCA). This center and community is located seven miles outside of Managua, as a flood years ago had originally forced these families out of the city. People who became homeless from the 1972 earthquake as well as Hurricane Mitch in 1988 moved to this community for a new beginning. The government offered assistance…but mostly to the extent of providing trucks to move these newly homeless families out of the flooded city, as well as a plot of land and plastic supplies to build a new “home.” These families were separated from their beloved neighbors, extended family, and lost most of their belongings except for what they could carry with them on the trucks (very little.) In this new plot of land, rival gangs could be placed next to each other or families divided by acres. This representative made it clear that these natural disasters brought about incredibly grueling challenges for this community of families in many aspects of their lives.

After this discussion with Becca, we took a bus tour around the community of Ciudad Sandino and were able to see the homes and living conditions of these families. With 180,000 individuals currently living in this community, there are MANY health conditions that require attention with scarce funding from donations and little resources. We concluded our trip with a visit to their clinic where they offer a large amount of healthcare services such as dentistry, general care, a pharmacy, sex education for at risk adolescents among others. Becca expressed to us the importance of this clinic and the great opportunity that these healthcare resources provide for this community. It is important to note that this clinic has made a great effort to provide easy to read and informative posters that communicate significant healthcare resources and awareness of issues that affect this population. For instance, Becca showed us a poster about condom use with a relatable model with whom patients of this clinic could identify with, as opposed to a Caucasian individual who does not look them or anyone who lives in this community. A poster displaying healthy meal choices for individuals with diabetes used a small amount of words to account for the large illiterate population, and pictures that were captivating and easy to make themselves since these choices included local, Nicaraguan cuisine.

It was empowering to meet Becca, who was an American woman living in Nicaragua and identifying with these resilient individuals and working along side them to better their community together for the last 15 years. The work that is being done in Cuidad Sandino is greatly impacting the lives of those who live there, but a lack of funds continues to limit the positive efforts and change that can be done. Future construction looks to provide a gynecology clinic, a kitchen for healthy cooking classes for those affected by diabetes, as well as a better space to hold meetings and support groups for these families! We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to have been introduced to the growth and change that is taking place within this community, as well as to have met with some of the faces that are making it all possible.


Un fuerte abrazo de,

Steph, Kelly, Ariana

Graham and Cory’s Most Excellent Adventure

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In Nicaragua there are many differences in human rights compared to the United States. Por ejemplo, pedestrians do not have the right of way in Nicaragua.  This example is among the most obvious but least significant differences.

In Nicaragua, women don’t have a right to financial independence. They have no avenues through which they could gain financial independence. It appears that women are largely expected to keep the home, take care of the children, and not have careers. This socialization makes it virtually impossible for women to pursue a different life, make their own money, and stop being dependent on someone else. This financial dependence means that many people (generally men) are able to abuse the women that depend on them without any repercussions. The legal system in Nicaragua doesn’t enfranchise the women of the country, making justice an elusive and nigh-unobtainable goddess. Because of the perpetual dependence on men and the machismo culture in Nicaragua, many women in Nicaragua don’t have the right to reproductive self-determination. Many of the community leaders that we’ve met with have told us that many young women here feel that their only chance for moving out of their parent’s household is to become pregnant with someone’s child, thus ensuring that they will be taken care of, but also ensuring perpetual independence. Many women are becoming pregnant at a very young age because of these notions.

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Cory and Graham’s Homestay Reflection

Ok, here’s the deal: I, Graham, took one Spanish class like five years ago.  And I, Cory, also have only taken 101.01, and I took it a year ago.  After being in Nicaragua for four days we went on a homestay.

It started out rough.  When we first met Anielka (our host mother), neither of us could remember (or understand ) her name.  The first time we met, none of us talked very much.  This awkward first encounter inspired Graham and I to come up with some things to talk about with Anielka before our homestay officially began.  We prepared some questions but we never ended up using them.  This apparently-unnecessary preparation was kind of an indicator of the mood of our homestay experience. We both started the homestay with some amount of preconceived ideas lodged in our brains, thoughts about what we’d eat, how we’d act, how they’d act, what we’d do, etc.  We were nervous but ready to get through the experience, ready to have our so-college rich gringo life-changing adventure. In many ways, this is what we had. We got to live with and share experiences with people that changed our lives. We were living in a poorer area in a developing country. We got to ride the public transit bus (really actually some dude who owned a bus and drove where he thought people would be, usually at a breakneck pace through impossibly crowded and narrow streets) through a city we didn’t understand and couldn’t navigate on our own. We laughed and cried and took photos and fell in love with people and a city and a country while speaking a language we didn’t know and learning about ourselves. Our homestay mas o menos fulfilled most of the clichés we had heard about and were anticipating.

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