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 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, ┬áDuck, 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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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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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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So much of our trip would not happen without 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.

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