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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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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Rick Ellis has made seven of Washburn’s eight trips to Nicaragua. But this year will stand out in his mind even if he makes dozens of trips in the future.

A professor and director of Washburn’s Learning in the Community, Rick originally was interested in Nicaragua because of personal experience as a student activist in the 1960s and 70s. He was connected to ProNica to develop the Washburn delegation partnership through one of his sons, who volunteered with ProNica while attending college in Florida.

He often told the group before we left Topeka that we would “leave as Kansans and return as Nicaraguans.” He was open about the challenges that would make us question what we thought we knew, things that would make us appreciate what we have and why we have them. And he told us about the friendships he’d made on his repeated visits. About how those friends showed some of the most genuine care and compassion he received during his treatment and recovery from colon cancer, for example. And how he was certain he would be welcomed with open arms, as we would be.

We saw those friendships in action when Rick and Philip Montalban met at Quaker House, when Carlos from Los Quinchos told us Rick was “more Nica than North American now,” and when “Dona Mina at the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs welcomed her friend with the hug of a family member.

And we saw the pain Rick felt when we arrived in El Limon to learn that the village leader, Don Philipe, is dying. Rick always stays at Don Philipe’s house. It’s a sign of respect for the professor to be invited to stay in the home of the village patriarch. But this year the 95-year-old man was bed ridden and receiving oxygen.

Rick said his farewell to Don Philipe in Spanish and walked away from the house knowing it would be the last time he would see his friend. It was a tough thing to stay in the house (Wyatt and Nathan stayed there, too) knowing Don Philipe was so ill. But seeing him one last time allowed Rick to pay his respects in person, an opportunity he treasured.

We all learned so much from Rick because he wasn’t afraid to share what he really felt. When he talked about the history of Nicaragua and U.S. involvement in the insurrection and then the Contra Wars, you could hear his frustration. When he talked about how caring and loving the Nicaraguan people are, you could hear his admiration. And when he challenged us to dig deep into ourselves and really understand what we were experiencing each day, you could hear his hope for each of us and for the future. Everything we did every day mattered to him and so did we.

“I always have an alterer motive for taking this trip,” he told us during our final reflection. “How can you look at the world and make a difference? The only way to do that is through action. If all you do is tell a friend: ‘You can’t believe what I learned in Nicaragua’ (and tell them just one thing) … I’ve done my job. I’m going to do it one person at a time if I have to.”

We will gather as a group a few more times on Washburn’s campus, to continue processing what we’ve learned and experienced. And most of the students will prepare presentations of some type to meet their Washburn Transformational Experience requirement. (More about that in the coming weeks.) And Rick will keep tabs on each of the students, what they do with their remaining time on campus and what they do with their lives.

He shared many stories of students from earlier delegations who are now married to a trip mate, working for nonprofits and government groups, working for justice and for change, with Nica in their hearts.

Man in cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy boots carries a 5 gallon bucket.

Rick hauls water to the community center in El Limon.

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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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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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Travis has served in the U.S. Army for the past 11 years. Prior to this trip, his only travel outside of the country was on deployment, in Iraq and Egypt. His unit maintains security for dignitaries visiting conflict zones.

Given his training, Travis has naturally fallen into role of protector for the group. Not only because his girlfriend, Suzie, is on the trip, but because it’s what comes naturally to him.

Each time we travel anywhere as a group — and we’ve done a lot of that — Travis brings up the rear. He walks with his head on a swivel and has quickly assessed every situation that seemed odd, unusually or potentially awkward or dangerous. These have included drunk men on the street making cat calls to a strange scene on the walk back to El Limon where a car was parked in the middle of the street and oddly surrounded by large plastic soda bottles filled with water.

The group, walking down the street, from the back.

Travis brings up the rear of the group on a walk in Granada.

Travis graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He is finishing a second degree in psychology now and plans to work in a rehabilitation capacity with juvenile offenders.

After our visit to the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs in Esteli, Travis reflected on the experience of Dona Mina and her son, who left to fight at age 14.

“As a person who joined at 17, I understand him wanting to go. But as a parent, I know how hard it must have been to let him go,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I feel like, we didn’t do it, but our government is who killed him. It makes me ashamed. It was the most emotional day I’ve had so far. It was so hard.” (Travis has a five-year-old son.)

His experience as a member of the U.S. armed forces has brought important and valuable perspective to the group during history lessons, as well. He has told us he joined when he was 17 to protect the ones he loves. He does what he does, he says, so others don’t have to not because he blindly supports the actions and decisions of the government.

“I don’t fight for a government. I fight for my family,” he said. He plans to remain on active duty until he is eligible for retirement.

We are grateful for his service and his willingness to share his experience with us, in the form of protection and information that has enriched our own understanding.

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We packed a lot in today. Too much to post tonight in detail, but here’s a quick preview:

  • Breakfast at a waffel house! With BACON!
  • A boat tour of the islands in Lake Nicaragua created by the erruption of Mombacho Volcano several thousand years ago. This included some amazing wildlife (MONKEYS!) and plants.
  • Lunch at a cafe focused on providing employment to Nicaraguans who are blind, deaf and hard of hearing. Many of the youth who work there make hammocks, while others work in the cafe.
  • And afternoon exploring the history of this colonial city, including museums and a church constructed in 1536.
  • Dinner at a cultural cafe, including a show by children who live in a group home that teaches them circus acts.

Tomorrow we climb Mombacho!

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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.

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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.

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