About Michaela Saunders

2015: Seven Washburn students are sharing their experiences in Nicaragua, with light editing from Michaela Saunders, staff leader and web editor, university relations. 2014: Michaela Saunders, web editor at Washburn University, is traveling to Nicaragua with 14 Washburn students and a professor in order to chronicle the experience.

By Caiti Crooks
Major at Washburn Human Services
Hometown Edgerton, Kansas

Monkey Granada's old train depot
Young adult man making a hammock

Note: We had a guided tour of Granada on our final day in Nicaragua. Among the places we visited were the volcano-created islands in Lake Nicaragua, where we saw a spider monkey, the old train depot and Tio Antonio’s, where young people with disabilities run a restaurant and make hammocks (Learn more about last year’s visit there).

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By Shelby Ferguson
Major Exercise Physiology
Hometown Ottawa, Kansas

Wednesday morning, after eating breakfast at Quaker House, we headed on a three hour drive to San Juan Del Sur. A picturesque town nestled on the Pacific side of Nicaragua, it is a tourist hub with a small town feel. It has also gained attention this past year by being the home of the latest season of Survivor!

After eating lunch at a small café in the city, we had to travel a little further to reach our destination for the day: Playa el Coco Resort. It was a relaxing day for our delegation, as we had the opportunity to relax on the beach, which was much needed after our hard work in the days before. Unlike my experiences in the beaches that I have visited, we found that this beach housed millions of little hermit crabs underneath the sand, which you could feel under your feet as you walked (slightly scary).

screen shots of Yik Yak and Shelby with a turtleThat evening, we had the opportunity to watch the release of approximately 140 sea turtles into the ocean. These adorable little turtles had been hatched the night before, and had to be released to have a chance at survival. A lot of us struggled with emotions watching this beautiful part of nature: happy that they were going into their natural habitat but sad knowing that only about ten percent of the turtles would survive to adulthood. The rest of the evening we spent reflecting on the rest of our travels and watching the sunset on the beach!

Fun Fact: Nicaragua does in fact have a Yik Yak!

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By Samuel Olberding
Major at Washburn: Accounting and finance
Hometown: Centralia, Kansas

group standing on the road

Together, we filled in a dirt road that really needed the attention.

It’s noon as we head down a dusty road to El Limon. We are all excited and ready for an experience/opportunity that we have never had before. I took my first steps into my home stay house. No rush of feelings. No instantaneous shock. This is not what I expected. I was hoping to be blown away by the way these people live, by how they live there lives. Instead of feeling sorry for them and sorry for the way I live, I felt sorry for myself.

El Limon taught me a few things about what is truly important about my life and what people truly need in this world. God satisfied every aspect of their lives, even though none of them made more than a minimum wage worker in the United States. They showered outside with bowls of water and went to the bathroom outside without plumbing. My family had a dirt floor, a 20-year-old busted up bed, a few plastic chairs, and a concrete stove to occupy the tin roofed house.

The thing I enjoyed most about the experience is seeing how people that we would consider impoverished are happy, caring, and giving to one another; a love I had never seen before. If you give your life to God and just live the life he wants you to live, you will have peace. The people of El Limon understood this and reaped the rewards God had bestowed upon them.

The experience filled me with joy and peace. I didn’t find their life hard. I rather enjoy it. I had far less than what I was use to, but it was simpler and easier. We can all learn a valuable lesson from these people — that if you put the Lord at the helm of your life and give him the control, you will truly be satisfied.

I came here to serve the Lord and to help these people. What I realized instead is that they helped me.

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By Shelby Fehrenbacher
Major at Washburn : Psychology
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas
The Casa Materna logo, a baby held up in front of the sun with two doves flying above.

The Casa Materna logo, at the entrance to the center.

This morning we packed up our belongings since we will be leaving the Quaker House and will not return until the closing of our trip, We prepared for a few hour trip into the city of Matagalpa where we will see the Casa Materna most specifically but also be able to explore the mountain city.

Entering Matagalpa was in many ways a different experience than coming into Managua or Masaya. This city bustled with business men, vendors, children playing, and cars whistling in and out, just as the other cities. Yet, it felt different. I could feel more chaos but not necessarily in a negative way. Managua, in comparison to Matagalpa, was like Topeka to Kansas City. Matagalpa rang with passion, with hope, and with excitement.

Our first stop was to eat lunch at a buffet style restaurant within the city. Everyone was eager to get into the city and quickly gather after eating in order to get going. It was misting a bit as we walked down the road but we laughed about how rain wouldn’t stop us from experiencing this portion of Nicaragua.
We came across the center square where everyone was bustling about and the chapel stood front and center. Outside the chapel was much like chapels we see in the United States. Once we entered inside the chapel, however, it came alive unlike any chapel I’ve ever seen. The white walls, floors, and ceiling pieces glistened and made the whole place seem angelic. We learned that in Latin America saints and other holy figures are a bigger deal than many places in the states and this was really evident in the chapel.
I also took a side trip with a peer to the staircases of Matagalpa. These stairs were built into the sloped hills of the city and overlooked the city. It took a little energy to climb them and I kept wondering how the people who had houses up there were able to go up and down every day. At the top of the stairs, we looked down and watched over the city like birds contemplating flight. And I was. I searched within myself wondering where to go from here. It’s funny how adventures like this can change you. Being one with nature and myself, I began pondering my next step. Nicaragua is starting to find its way into my journey like quicksand molding into my toes; It’s channeling a new path inside of me and I’m excited to see where it leads.
The main event of the day was our orientation to Casa Materna. Here, we got to sit with the women and nurses of the house and speak with them about what they do. The women that were patients at the center were a bit soft-spoken at the meeting and though we yearned to hear their stories, it was evident that many of them did not feel comfortable sharing. The nurses gave us a lot of information about what Casa Maternna does and we learned of the distance the women had to travel to get to the casa and the nearest hospital from their homes. One woman had to travel 5 hours by bus, get on another bus for a few hours, and then travel another few hours by foot. One of the most important aspects of the Casa Materna is its ability to reduce the mother and infant morbidity and mortality rates and spread the concept of this late-term care to other municipalities.
I kept thinking back to the time I was pregnant and had a new nurse come into my midwife appointment and ask a million questions regarding how my pregnancy was going and how I felt about it. I remember wanting to tell her I felt miserably sick, was in pain all the time, really had to use the restroom, would much rather be sleeping, and many other not so happy parts of the pregnancy process. I remembered watching TV and how the women were all sunshine and roses saying how much they loved being pregnant and how joyous it was to introduce the baby to this world. And i remember thinking how unrealistic that was.
Sitting next to the women receiving care at Casa Materna and seeing them in all their not-so-glorious pregnancies but also hearing of all that the Casa had to offer them to help make the most of this beautiful yet hard time for them made me come to a few important conclusions. First, that we take so much for granted in our pregnancies in the U.S. For those in Nicaragua, conveniently placed hospitals, someone catering to needs, and the ability to have special rules or privileges during pregnancy are prescribed and suggested but not automatic. Second, that as the U.S. undergoes this struggle to create a place for more natural home-births, the women of Nicaragua are devastated by the challenges that come with births at home for them. And lastly, that despite the small differences, in many ways we are all really the same. Just as many women in the U.S. feel defeated, ashamed and unnerved at many points within their pregnancies so do the women of Nicaragua. But most importantly, many of the women in the U.S. feel hope, faith, and love throughout their pregnancies and thanks to the Casa Materna, the women of Nicaragua can rest easier and feel hope, faith, and love, too. It’s amazing how hope can blossom when you’re not consumed by worry.
NOTE: We visited Casa Materna last year as well. Read more about that visit. This visit was on Wednesday. Today, Friday, we head for El Limon and our family stays. We’ll be in touch again on Monday night.
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By Hayley Normandin
Major at Washburn: Psychology/Social Work
Hometown: Damar, Kansas
This morning marked our third day in Nicaragua and we were once again fed an incredible breakfast, prepared by Juliza and Jose Antonio. The food here is so fresh and well prepared I cannot help but smile when I eat it. Manuel (our bus driver) then arrived to take us to the girls and boys homes in San Marcos, Nicaragua.
Hayley and a boy from Los Quinchos

Hayley and a boy she befriended at the Los Quinchos farm.

First we visited Los Quincos, which is a farm where boys of various ages live. Many of these boys were rescued from the streets in Nicaragua and some were taken from unstable homes. Although a few have families that they are able to visit for holidays or other occasions, some boys are completely alone. Los Quincos provides them with the family and home that many of them lacked before. They also help some of the boys, who were living on the streets before, recover from addictions; a common addiction in Nicaragua is shoe glue snuffing, which gives someone an extreme momentary high, followed by a long, deep sleep, and is very harmful on the body.

As we pulled up in the van, a group of younger boys came running and hopping in excitement; many of them didn’t have shoes on and were wearing worn out clothing. We could barely open the van door before they were reaching for hugs and eager to show us their home. A young boy about 7 years old immediately latched on to me and pulled me through the trail to show me all of the farm animals, buildings, and even the plants. Although we couldn’t understand each other because of the language barrier, there was something so special in the way he was communicating. His smile couldn’t get any wider and his affection was priceless.
Then as we caught up with the rest of the group, the boys began to climb mandarin trees and throw oranges to us. They were so proud at this and made sure to share with everyone. We then made our way back to the court yard where the older boys played soccer with Samuel and Jose Antonio. The rest of us girls played with the other kids by coloring, swinging, picking flowers, and taking photos. I shared some jelly beans that I had in my bag and the kids were incredibly appreciative. The joy that came from these children was contagious and everyone seemed to be in complete bliss.
Saying goodbye to the boys was difficult, but some of us left things behind for them such as sunglasses or snacks. We all shared hugs and fair-wells like we had known each other our whole lives. Following our goodbye, we ate together at a local restaurant that was ran by Los Quincos and they prepared for us beautiful dishes of chicken, rice, steamed vegetables, and more!
After lunch we traveled down the road to the girls’ home, Yahoska. There were only nine girls here at this time and they were a little more reserved than the boys. However, after some warming up they began to play some organized games like Duck,  Duck, Goose or Cat and Mouse. A few girls were still shying away on the side so I offered to comb and braid their hair. Then one of the older girls returned the favor and braided my hair as well. By the end of the visit almost everyone’s (including us students) hair was braided! This was also a bittersweet goodbye as we hugged the girls and went on our way.
The experience today at Los Quinchos and Yahoska was a humbling memory I am confident I will never forget. I feel incredibly lucky that I have a supportive family to go home to and the circumstances I have been blessed with; especially when these children have so little but love so much. Someone once told me that stuff is meant to be used and people are meant to be loved, yet too often we love stuff and use people. The children I bonded with today reminded me of how irrelevant stuff is compared to people; and for this I am thankful.
Note: Last year’s group also visited Los Quinchos and Yahoska. Read about that experience. Tomorrow we leave Quaker House and Managua to begin the next part of or journey. Learn more about what’s ahead for us.
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light tree and Sandino silhouette

One of the new “Tree of Life” lighted trees and the iconic Sandino image.

By Carmela Remboldt
Major at Washburn: Business Finance
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas

We started off with a wonderful breakfast of beans and rice, tortillas, eggs and fruit at Quaker House where we are staying.

Around 10 a.m. we went to meet with Mark Lester at the The Center for Global Education, where he spoke with us about Nicaragua’s history. It was so interesting to hear about the different sides there are to Nicaragua as well as the on going Revolution that has caused so much struggle for the Nicaraguan people. We then went back to Quaker House for lunch were we reflected on Mark’s lecture and Cacao seeds.

Overall, it was a very empowering discussion. After lunch we went to a couple of historical sites in Managua. The first stop was the palace built by the Somoza dictatorship, which overlooks Tiscapa lagoon on one side and provides a 360 degree view of Managua. Next we went to the plaza, which includes the National Museum and the National Cathedral of Nicaragua. We were only able to view the beautiful church from the outside because back in 1972 it was destroyed in an earthquake, so the structure is not safe to enter anymore. The earthquake devastated Managua and many parts were never rebuilt.

We ended our day at a park along the shore of Lake Managua where we took in the views as well as tried some smoothies from a local store front.

Note: Today was similar to our historical overview day last year. For more overview, read “What does justice mean to you?” about our visit with Mark Lester and “Sandino: Learning about a national hero,” about our visit to the Augusto Sandino memorial and museum on the site of the Somoza family palace.

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By Jessica Rubio
Major at Washburn: Biology
Hometown: Tonganoxie, Kansas

Jessica works at the manual pottery wheel.

What a day! We visited several places. My favorite was the home and studio of a pottery artisan. It was a real learning experience as he explained the history of the artwork and the big role it has in his life.

He showed and explained to us how to form the clay on a spinning wheel. After this presentation he asked if we would like to try.
I had done some work in my high school with pottery and thought this would be a good opportunity to put my New Year’s resolution to become a bolder person to work. I volunteered and put my hands and feet to work.
I was trying to focus on what he just showed us and what I had already learned in a class.
He made it look so easy! It took so much longer to make some type of object out of this clay and was not near as good as he’s. After I washed off my hands, Hayley give it a try and also quickly learned how hard it was. After that, he showed us the last steps of pottery making and most of us bought pottery from him since it was that good. Hope the rest of this trip is as great as today!
Note: The artisan, Darwin, sells his work from his studio and through a fair trade organization called Esperanza en Accion. Through this organization he has received training on how to calculate a price for his work that is fair to both his family and his customers.
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2015 group

In the Houston airport. Back row: Sam, Shelby, Shelby and Carmela. Front row: Hayley, Jessica and Caiti.

By Jessica Rubio
Major at Washburn: Biology
Hometown: Tonganoxie, Kansas

Man, today was a long day!

Our group met at the Kansas City airport at 9 a.m. so we could make it on time to our flight to Houston, Texas. We had planned a long layover time in Houston in case of bad weather at home. About  five hours would be plenty of time to get lunch, look around, and grab anything else needed.

Turns out, we got six hours of layover time.

Since we got delayed two different times, my small group went out to get some more food in Terminal A. Our plane was departing from Terminal E. To get to Termanial A from Terminal E happened to be down the hall to the right, a train ride, down the stairs and to the left. Basically very far away. We felt like we were on the Amazing Race just trying to arrive on time for boarding! Just to find out we had been delayed again and had another 17 minutes.

Although the plan ride from KC to Houston was only one hour and half and the flight from Houston to Managua, Nicaragua was about three hours, it became an all day event that got our hearts racing for the adventure of a life time.

Note: We arrived more than an hour late and a meal still was waiting for us at Quaker House when we arrived! Thank you to the ProNica team for making our welcome as wonderful as possible after a nearly 20-hour day.

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Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

As a delegation of Washburn students prepares to travel to Nicaragua for the ninth time, many things are different. None of the students making the journey this year has gone before and beloved Professor Rick Ellis, who has lead seven previous groups and started the program, won’t be joining us.

Rick was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we returned from Nicaragua last year. Although he is in remission and back on campus full-time, his immune system is too suppressed to be able to safely join us. So, we’ll have his voice in our heads as we interact with the people he loves so dearly.

Rather than let the trip stop until he’s well enough to go back, Rick worked it out so Michaela could be Washburn’s staff leader while in Nicaragua. Rick and Michaela led group discussions prior to the trip to prepare the Ichabods for what they will see, hear, taste and experience while in Nicaragua. Along with Aldo and Cyndi, the ProNica guides, she will ensure the small group of students gets the most possible out of the experience.

This year seven students are making the trek. Between January 3 and January 16, 2015 you will hear directly from Caiti, Carmela, Jessica, Hayley, Shelby, Shelby and Samuel (with light editing by Michaela). The hope is each student will write twice. The group will visit many of the same places it did last year and we’ll do things that Washburn groups have never done.

We hope you will check back often throughout our journey. We will post at least daily as Internet access allows.

Learn more

By Tara Phillips

Michaela Saunders has worked in the University Relations office at Washburn since September 2011. She was raised in Grand Forks, N.D. and it is very noticeable. She was blessed with the “Dakota Accent,” as Wyatt called it. She is married to Jeremy Wangler (who also works at Washburn) and has an adorable almost 2-year-old son named Clark. We all had the pleasure of meeting them both when she would FaceTime them. You could tell that it was hard for her being away from her son. On one occasion she was telling Clark “take your fingers out of your mouth, Son.” However, this was very hard for her to enforce from all of the giggles in the background.

With her work in the University Relations office, she was informed by Dr. Rick Ellis about the trip he does every January to Nicaragua. He explained to her about all of the heart and dedication required for the trip and the community interactions. She decided she wanted to be a part of it and then remembers Rick saying “let’s figure it out!” The process worked out perfectly and plans where put in place.

A woman in a coral shirt taking pictures. Light shines on her shoulders but shadow covers the rest of her.

Michaela, taking pictures during dinner in Granada.

Michaela’s purpose on this trip was to be the blogger; however, it turned in to much more than that. I had the privilege of living with Michaela during our stay in El Limon and I am so glad to have had her by my side. Personally, she became my inspiration and a wonderful person to confide in. She helped me through many of my questions and troubles, as well as letting me help her along the way. Whether it was helping her up our hill or saving her from the dogs at our house, we stuck together.

As a group we all experienced many different emotions, both good and bad. It was always nice to have Michaela there with us. We all found comfort in being with Michaela because she was so outgoing and always open for discussion. We loved the fact that she was not just “the blogger,” she actually participated.

One of my most favorite and by far the most emotional memories was La Galleria de Heroes y Martires (Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs). It was amazing how much passion Doña Mina had and how all she wanted was to inform the people about what had happened in her country. As Doña Mina shared her story, Michaela not only captured that in writing but was clearly moved. It was then that the group embraced her and I believe became aware of how each and everyone one of us were in the same place. It was at that moment we all realized she was not she was not just another “chaperone,” she was one of the group.

This 2014 delegation had come so far in the last 5 months, we started out as strangers and now we all have become our own little family.

On behalf of the 2014 Washburn delegation to Nicaragua, we would like to give thanks to everyone that was a part of allowing Michaela to come. We would also like to give thanks to Michaela, for being so supportive of all of our adventures. We love you!

Wyatt Robinett and Rick Ellis collaborated with Tara on this post.

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