I think we all wish we could have spent more time with the children being supported by Los Quinchos.

Our last activity of the trip was both heavy and light. Learning about the circumstances that got each child into a Los Quinchos program was heartbreaking. It made us hurt and angry and frustrated that we couldn’t make it stop. But spending time with them made an impression that won’t soon fade.

As Los Quinchos in-country director Carlos Vidal explained, nearly all of the boys at the Finca San Marcos site we visited were at one time addicted to sniffing glue. They either had no homes and lived on the streets or were sent by their families to beg for money and turned to the streets later on. Nearly all of the girls staying at Yahoska, also in San Marcos, were sexually abused and suffering in silence until a brother receiving help from Los Quinchos — or the Ministry of Family — told someone to help them.

Los Quinchos was started 23 years ago by Nicaraguans and an Italian woman to help children of the streets get clean and learn the skills for a productive life. Former Quinchos have become painters, doctors and employees of Los Quinchos. ProNica is one supporter of the organization.

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

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

We brought a pinata filled with candy to Yahoska. It was a great idea and courtesy of Kasia and Meghan. The girls loved it. So much laughter, joy and love! At Finca San Marcos, the little boys held our hands, gave us hugs, shared fruit from the trees and wanted to play. There were circus-style stunts, backflips into the pool and futbol with us.

Some were shy. Many looked tired, even haggard. In some cases we were surprised at 10-year-olds who could pass for six or seven because malnutrition had stunted their growth. In other cases, it was surprising that a boy of just 10 could have the face of a much older man, because of the effects of the shoe repair glue he used to dull his hunger and escape his reality. That glue is made for shoe repair by American adhesive company H.B. Fuller. By law, it is not sold in the U.S.

Los Quinchos programs are voluntary. The program’s first step — Filter House in Managua — is open to children who want to give up glue. As with any addiction recovery process, it is difficult. There are setbacks. And the reality is some children do not escape that life. But the staff of Los Quinchos — about 15 people after substantial budget cuts in 2012 — stay focused on their motto, which translates to “Never again a child on the street.”

The children we saw had finished the Filter House phase and were now in school and learning skills while receiving intensive therapy. During holiday break (summer vacation), most children are placed with Nicaraguan families so some Los Quinchos staff can have some time off. The children we met were not placed with families.

Our minds raced during the day we spent with those children. Now in our own homes, their faces, laughs and hugs are part of our memories, part of what will nudge us to make positive changes in our own lives.

Posted in Go!

We’ve seen Mombacho from a distance for days. On Tuesday we stood on it.

The biology majors — especially Katy — took the time slowly after we got off of the safari-style truck. There were so many things to see and hear in the Mombacho Cloud Forest.

Light and shadow danced on lush green leaves. Neon green moss clung to trees. Howler Monkeys howled. Exotic birds sang. A sloth eluded everyone but Travis. And the flowers! Orchids of many colors and sizes, tiny buds reaching for light, poinsettias, bogenvelia, hibiscus and more welcomed us at different heights in the forest.

Some of us were continuously amazed that we were WALKING IN A RAINFOREST, only to be speechless again at the next lookout point. At the top of what was actually a volcanic crater now covered with plant life we could see many of the places we’ve been:

The view was truly breathtaking. We all enjoyed the opportunity. Nicaragua’s natural beauty is so rich. The country may be impoverished but this nation is rich in so many ways. Imagine if the U.S. government had invested in its potential rather than making the decisions it did in the 1980s.

Las Isletas from Volcan Mombacho

Las Isletas from Volcan Mombacho

Posted in Go!

We had the opportunity to have dinner on Tuesday night at the Cafe de los Mimos, a project of the School of Comedy and Mime (website in Spanish). The school provides opportunity to homeless children in the Granada area, teaching them acting and circus-style performance.

The performance we saw was similar in style to Cirque du Solei with beginning skill. There was contortion, juggling, stilts, tricks of strength and wonderful acting with facial expression.

After the play, we heard a band perform. There was a lot of dancing. Music and dance are a big part of the culture here. As we saw in El Limon, even young children learn the basic steps and moves of several dances. There were very few wallflowers at the cafe. And there were professional dancers from Costa Rica who had come from a performance still wearing face makeup.

The show was a great end to a day exploring an amazing city. Our guides, Lucy and Aldo, have gone out of their way to make sure we learn about the country by visiting service groups as often as possible. For many of us, that way of exploring communities may become standard practice.

The band at Cafe de los Mimos.

The band at Cafe de los Mimos.

Posted in Go!

We spent lunchtime yesterday at an amazing place. In 2012 a Spanish man named Antonio decided to invest in Nicaraguan youth who are differently able.

Originally, he imagined supporting an already existing effort. But he discovered there weren’t such groups that provided job kills to blind, deaf, hard of hearing and young people otherwise unable to communicate. So he started one.

Centro Social Tio Anonio, a hammock workshop, and Cafe de las Sonrisas in Granada, are that place. While there, several students were able to help make hammocks. We met a young blind man who made a hammock for Pope Francis. We met another who is fluent in English, Spanish and Nicaraguan sign language. The language has a lot in common with American Sign Language (ASL) but is its own unique language.

And we tested our communication skills yet again during lunch. Our waiter and waitress were both deaf. Signs on the wall of the cafe and a laminated placard with useful signs were available to help.

Several group members purchased hammocks, available in several sizes, to support the Tio Antonio’s. Others marveled at two efforts underway at the center. One: An ongoing fundraising drive to support hurricane relief in the Philippines. The other: turning discarded plastic bags into an “endless hammock.” The bags are tied together and woven to create a hammock that will continue to grow. No end date has been set for the effort that is cleaning up plastic by repurposing it.

Yet another lesson about Nicaraguans: We may think generally about how they have little themselves, but so many selfless acts we have seen show their concern as global citizens. May we remember this lesson always.

Learn more:

The endless hammock, multicolored.

The endless hammock in progress.

Posted in Go!

It is widely known here that there are 365 isletas (little islands) near Granada, created when Volcan Mombacho erupted thousands of years ago, spewing lava into Lake Nicaragua. On Monday, Jan. 13, we saw a few dozen of them.

There are islands with public restaurants and homes to rent. Islands with palm trees. Islands with monkeys. Islands with some of the fanciest homes in the entire country. Islands for sale. And islands with some flora species only found here.

Seeing it from a boat with an experienced isletas guide — and Aldo, who is always happy to share what he knows about local plant species — was more than a treat. Michaela took 250 photos of the incredible, ocean-like views, monkeys, bats, birds and the contrast of homes from Rum magnates and subsistence fishermen.

We were able to see Mombacho from a different point of view, and visualize the power of the eruption that created the islands. We saw historic Granada’s cathedral — a landmark that identifies the central square from anywhere in the central city. One particular flower made an impression: it reminded us all of a firecracker. It had a sheath that made it look almost banana-like, but when slid down a striking flower with fuschia tips on each of dozens of fingers.

Volcan Mombacho from the boat on Lake Nicaragua.

Volcan Mombacho from the boat on Lake Nicaragua.

Posted in Go!

A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet on a wrist

A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet.

Many of us left El Limon with hand-made jewelry crafted especially for us by the children who were our siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews during our time in their community.

The necklaces, bracelets and rings were meticulously strung with Lagrima de San Pedro. Known in English as Tears of St. Peter, the Lagrima de San Pedro seeds were gathered near the river by the hundreds.

After measuring our necks, wrists and fingers, the children worked quickly to clear the seeds of their internal fibrous material and string them onto plastic line or thread. In one case, painting each seed in a different design with nail polish was a special group activity.

Today — and for the days and weeks to come — we wear our Lagrima de San Pedro and remember the connections we made and the resourcefulness and ingenuity we saw in action for each of our days in El Limon. I suspect the seeds will be a reminder that we can do what we put our minds to as long as we’re willing to put in the effort.

Posted in Go!

So much of our trip would not happen without Lucy.

Lucy

Lucy Dale stands with the Cayotepe tour guide just before the tour begins.

Lucy Dale’s earliest memories are of life in El Salvador in the 1980s. Her parents were missionaries there when she and her sister were young. She moved back to Chicago during elementary school and “was the only white girl in ESL.”

Her connection to and passion for Latin America did not waver. She studied Latin studies and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin and worked as a member of the Peace Corps in Honduras (Nicaragua’s northern neighbor) before getting a job in Nicaragua.

Now, at 27 years old she runs a cultural center and club called Cultura Quilombo with two partners and works with North American delegations. We are her first delegation with ProNica and all though she knows the history of this country much better than we do, she has been open about how much she is learning, too.

Lucy describes herself as bicultural, feeling as comfortable here as she does at home in the United States. Her story has been an inspiration to some in the group, who have asked her dozens of questions about the Peace Corps and how they can make service to others a life’s work as she has.

“It is important to me to be that cultural bridge,” she told us on one of our first days in Nicaragua. She’s not only an interpreter but a trusted friend who is there when we have questions about manners, what would be acceptable to wear, how to politely refuse food and so much more.

Thank you, Lucy, for always having our backs.

Posted in Go!

We’ve arrived in Granada. We’ll be off exploring this beautiful colonial city soon.

I think it’s safe to say that after our stay in El Limon several members of the group are disappointed by the accommodations of the hostel. The lesson: It’s all about perspective.

The running water, indoor showers and toilets are luxury compared to what many of us experienced in El Limon. But they are nothing like the facilities at home in Kansas that many were clearly hoping for.

The drive from El Limon to Esteli, where we picked up some items we left at the hostel for safe keeping, to Masaya where we stopped to eat at a gas station cafe to Granada took about four hours.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery and an incredible amount of plastic waste littering the highway. In the cities, plastic is collected and sold to recycling operations. But apparently in the countryside there is no program or system for collecting garbage. I guess we should appreciate the adopt-a-highway program back home, and be conscious of the amount of plastic we consume because it does not quickly biodegrade.

Plastic on the roadside.

Plastic on the roadside.

More from Granada soon.

Posted in Go!

Work went quickly today. The group painted a second coat on each window and prepared the trim on both buildings — the preschool and community hall — for tomorrow.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

While the students and Lucy worked with community leaders at the center, Rick, Michaela and Aldo walked to Esteli to meet with Lillian Hall and her husband, Ricardo Esquivia. Lillian was the in-country director for ProNica when Rick first began Washburn’s partnership with the organization.

Lillian and Ricardo live in Columbia, where Ricardo works as a human rights attorney and activist. Together they operate a non-governmental organization called Sembrandopaz, which translates to Planting Peace. (The information on its website is available in Spanish.)

Ricardo, with Lillian as interpreter, told us about the ongoing conflict in Columbia and what he knows from press reports about private peace talks currently underway.

When we get back to Washburn, Rick plans to discuss the possibility of a partnership in Columbia. He plans to reach out to Washburn’s women’s studies program, the School of Law and others with the possibility of an exploratory trip to develop a program — or programs — similar to our journey in Nicaragua.

By the time we returned to El Limon the day’s work had finished and students were preparing to have lunch with their families. In the afternoon, many students walked to the river for a bath. Others took naps or visited with their families.

We’re getting more and more comfortable with our families and the reality of life here. There is one house in El Limon that is vastly more modern than the others, with a running over-head indoor shower and indoor bathroom. Most of us are using outhouses and showering by filling buckets with water and using a bowl to wet and rinse ourselves. Very different than we are accustomed to at home, but extremely refreshing.

Posted in Go!

We arrived in El Limon this morning and settled in with our families over lunch. Then, we headed for El Slato Cascada — a waterfall in a national protected area. Some of us walked the 3.5 miles from El Limon to the waterfall. The road was incredibly rocky and hilly, but the scenery was worth it. Others took the bus.

Nearly everyone got in the water, and absolutely everyone enjoyed the incredible beauty of the place. This is the dry season so the waterfall is not as powerful as it can be. But the consensus was being underneath it was incredibly refreshing and worth the walk.

A waterfall

La Cascada — The Waterfall

Along the way we saw a few cows, including one on the road with two people who were transporting it. We saw dozens types of flowers, beautiful scenery of the mountains and the transition from palm trees to oak and evergreens. There is so much variety and so much natural beauty here. It is breathtaking.

In El Limon we are split in groups of two or three per home. Six of us — all women — are staying two each with families who live in a compound of sorts, All five families who live there are related. The family’s compound is near the river and near the entrance to El Limon, down a long, rocky road. In addition to the families, there are pigs, chickens, dairy cows, bulls, dogs and cats here. It’s not uncommon for a chicken to walk into the house, but they are shooed quickly.

The accommodations are a bit different in each house. Some of us have running water, some don’t. Some have indoor plumbing, others use a “latrina” or outhouse. Everyone has filtered water for drinking and electricity.

A few things we are learning about Nicaraguans: They bathe every day without exception — more than once if it’s hot; they go to sleep early and wake up even earlier; they value family and are proud of their country’s beauty. For example, the 7-year-old girl Michaela and Tara are staying with knows the names of several flowers in her family’s compound and the fruit from every tree.

Cows walking up the path, past an elderly woman on their right.

Abuela (Grandma) welcomes the cows back home for the night.

Posted in Go!