I joked with Sam during the trip that she was combatting the stereotypes of what it means to be a “sorority girl” more and more each day. It is true.

Sam, who is from the Kansas City area, came to Nicaragua with two fellow sorority sisters. The members of Zeta Tau Alpha spent time together but also got to know the entire group.

Sam has just one semester left of nursing school. Her priorities and interests aren’t about appearance or a social calendar. (She is covered in bug bites because she didn’t think about using her repellant.) She wants to help people, to make a difference. And through this experience she has discovered new ways to do that.

“I should register to vote. When I get back, that will be my goal,” she said during our last reflection.

She said she feels like she knows more about Nicaraguan history than she does U.S. history and she plans to pay more attention to what is going on in the world.

“It has been an eye-opening experience.”

Jenna, center, and Sam, right, watch geckos on the ceiling at Mona Lisa Pizza in Granada.

Jenna, center, and Sam, right, watch geckos on the ceiling at Mona Lisa Pizza in Granada.

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Our work is done. When the center’s windows, doors, gate and trims were painted by about 11 a.m. today.

While several students spent time raking the front yard and sweeping the community room, three students helped Teo and Ishmalle, two community leaders, construct a concrete structure around the community water pipes.

The concrete will protect the pipes from erosion-related collapse and ensure access to the shut-off valve for years to come. In the coming days, a lid the two men will construct a lid to ensure animals — or children — don’t fall in the whole.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

After the work was completely finished, several of us walked to Esteli to purchase thank you gifts for our families. Most of us chose treats such as cake, pastries and cookies.

In the evening, the community gathered at the communal for a dance and chance to share our mutual appreciation for the work and hospitality. For some of us trying to express our gratitude was emotionally difficult. For Suzie, the third-time visitor, it was especially difficult. “I have a second family here in El Limon,” she told them. And as she wiped the tears from her cheeks we knew she meant it.

The dance lasted for about three hours and everyone had a great time. It was fun to see the good dancers in the group get down — including Aldo, Lucy and Ashonte especially.

Three rows of people, outside in front of a window.

We did it! The group, after the work at the community center is finished.

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Today we visited the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs of Esteli. The local memorial museum honors those from Esteli district who died fighting the oppression of the Somoza regime in the 1970s.

We had the opportunity to hear the personal story of Dona Mina, whose only son was gruesomely executed by Somaza’s U.S.-trained special forces. He was 14 years old when he left to fight with the Sandonistas. After he was killed, Dona Mina picked up a gun and fought in his place.

Portraits of fallen fighters

Dona Mina’s son, Juan, has red behind his name. He was 14 when he left to fight with the Sandonistas.

No official records were kept, but it is believed that thousands died in the Esteli area alone. When the Sandonistas took Esteli — the day known as The Triumph, July 19, 1979 — the Somoza family fled the country. (They tried to go to the United States, but President Carter refused them entry. They went to Paraguay, where Somoza was later assassinated.)

After the war, Dona Mina was one of four mothers who began working to create a memorial to the lost loved ones — the heroes and martyrs. Those four mothers knocked on doors and grew to 3,000 mothers, each who shared a photo or memento of their son or daughter who was killed. Today, more than 400 mothers remain active in the association that runs the museum. The center receives no government support and nearly all visitors are foreign tourists.

The center focuses on the insurrection, rather than the contra war period. Dona Mina said a few other communities began similar projects but most did not result in a permanent memorial. She believes preserving the memory of those who died is crucial for several reasons. The most important: Education.

Between 1990 and 2006 Nicaraguan public schools were not allowed to teach or discuss the insurrection, the triumph or the contra wars. When the Sandonista FSLN party was re-elected in 2006 those laws were changed.

It was clear that this conflict touched every family in Nicaragua. Our guide, Aldo, who grew up in Esteli, had an uncle who fought and died in the Sandonista army. We were able to see his picture, too. He was the brother of Aldo’s mother and we were all struck by how much he looks like our friend.

A picture of Oscar Olivas Jarquin under a glass case.

Oscar Olivas Jarquin, the uncle of our guide, Aldo Marcell, was killed in December 1978 while fighting against the Somoza regime. He was 32 years old.

Although each of us is processing what we learned in our own ways, we were all touched by the personal stories shared by Dona Mina and Aldo. It made what we have read and heard feel more real, more important and more heartbreaking.

Nathan immediately saw connections to his studies at Washburn.

“I learned more today than in any history class I’ve ever taken. I’m a history major. I didn’t know any of that stuff,” he said. “I was actually kind of ashamed.”

Many in the group felt a sense of shame or guilt at the role of the United States in supporting the Somoza regime. When presenting Dona Mina with a small Ichabod sun catcher, Meghan told her we would “like to apologize for the role of our government.”

Dona Mina told us all not to feel responsible because what a government does is not the responsibility of individual citizens. She encouraged us to learn and question, but not to carry guilt or shame.

Later, Sam said what many of us were thinking: “It’s strange that the people of the country don’t seem as interested. And it blows my mind that those weren’t even all of the people who were killed.”

Dona Mina said it has been a struggle to get the young people of the community interested in the history of the insurrection and revolution. She works to preserve the memory of what happened and the memory of her son and all the others.

Tonight, as we reflected as a group, we were left with some important questions: What is our role in preventing something like the Somoza dictatorship and decades long civil wars in Nicaragua from happening again? What difference can we make and what responsibility do we have related to our government and its actions? What other injustice is occurring that government — in any country — is trying to hide, downplay or ignore? Would we be willing to sacrifice everything for what we believe in?

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How many cities in the world can you visit where there are more than 2.4 million people but you will wake up to the sound of a rooster’s crow?

I’m sure Managua isn’t the only such place, but it is just one example of the beautiful contrast of this place.

Laura, Sam and Jenna ready for breakfast

Laura, Sam and Jenna ready for breakfast

We are heading for the volcano and market in Masaya soon, but first — breakfast. Coffee, juice, eggs, rice and beans, tortillas, watermelon, white pineapple, avocado and cheese. The tortillas here are made of corn but are much thicker than you would find in an American grocery store, similar to pita bread.

We are learning and experiencing so much about this place. It may be weeks after we return home before we can process it all.

Conversations are becoming more common among the group about what will happen during our family stays, the work we’ll do and what it will be like to live in their homes. We’re getting to know each other better, too.

More after today’s adventure.

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painting of Augusto Sandino

This painting of Augusto Sandino fills an entire wall at the memorial museum.

After a few hours of rest time — for napping or going to the nearby grocery store — we headed out for the rest of our history adventure.

First stop — a lookout point and Augusto Sandino memorial museum on the site once occupied by the personal palace and home of the Somoza family. (Three different Somozas, the father and two sons, ran Nicaragua as dictators until the Revolution.) Somoza family members fled and the palace and all of their land and businesses were claimed by the country.

The employee at the Viva Sandino museum explained the gallery of photos and information to us, with the help of our guide, Lucy, who interpreted for us.

Sandino was killed by Somoza supporters in the 1930s after agreeing to a truce in the guerrilla revolution he led. Sandino and his supported fought against policies that oppressed the poor and against the government’s reliance on the United States. (“North Americans,” as we were told at the museum. Everyone we have met is carful not to saddle us with any blame.)

The Sandinistas in the 1980s took the name to honor the spirit of Augusto Sandino. The national hero is memorialized in many ways, including images of his silhouette and straw hats.

light tree and Sandino silhouette

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

Next, our bus took us to the central plaza to see the National Museum — filled with artifacts, painting, sculpture and parakeets chirping in a courtyard.

The city’s center was badly damaged and basically abandoned after an earthquake in the 1970s. Recently, work has been done to reclaim the space as an attraction.

group

The group in front of the National Museum.

On the way back to Quaker House, children tried to climb on to the ladder of our bus. Rolando, the driver, got out of the bus and put on his dad face.

The group is staring to experience some mild culture shock. There was a lot of talk of pizza, fried chicken or some other sort of “American food.” But most of us are enjoying the traditional food prepared for us while at Quaker House.

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Congratulations to the following Washburn students who are traveling abroad during winter or spring 2014:

Semester and short-term programs

Belgium

Michaela Lazzo and Ashley Russell will spend the semester at PXL University College, Hasselt. They are studying fine arts.

Finland

Caitlin Beckman, Sara Burton, Kelli Gramlich and Sarah Hayden will spend four weeks at Mikkeli University of Applied Studies in Savonlinna. They will also complete a clinical nursing experience.

France

Paul LaCount will spend the semester at University of Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand. He will study French language.

Ireland

Danae Nelson will spend the semester at National University of Ireland in Maynooth studying general education.

Netherlands

Rachel Catlett will spend the semester studying law at Maastricht University in Maastricht.

Faculty-Led Programs

Belize

Judith McConnell-Farmer, professor of education, is leading Brooke Brennan, Garrett Fenley, Chandler Hillebert, Natalie Jones, Lauren Journot, Courtney Kesselring, Jacob Lewis, Erin Macaronas, Ashley Murrell, Brittany Schuman, Rachel Seuell, Lon Talbert, Ryann Vobach, Mary Webb and Tasha Whittington.

During two weeks in and around Belize City, Belize, students will volunteer at orphanages and the Caye Caulker Island School. They also will attend the Belizean International Symposium on Education.

Belize1

Members of the delegation to Belize at the study abroad awards ceremony in November.

Costa Rica

Randy Pembrook, vice president for academic affairs at Washburn, is leading Joanna Becker, Ty Buschbom, Edith Jimenez, Rachel Klaus and Taylor Moore.

During their time in and around San Jose, Costa Rica, students will volunteer at a retreat camp, local orphanages and in dental clinics.

India

Andy Vogel, international student recruitment and retention, will lead Robert Florence, Kristen Hearrell and Jordan Mills as well as a number of community members.

During nearly three weeks in and around Pune, Maharashtra, India, the group will explore Indian culture and history through general study of ancient and contemporary traditions at Simbiosis International University.

Nicaragua

Rick EllisĀ  will lead Rachel Beiker, Travis Bussen, Kathryn Davis, Suzie Fields, Samantha Finley, Jenna Frick, Deanna Goracke, Laura Highland, Meghan McGuire, Tara Phillips, Katarzyna Potocka, Nathan Robertson, Wyatt Robinett and Ashonte Tell.

During just over two weeks in Nicaragua, students will explore the history and culture while engaged in service both in Managua and rural communities. Explore this blog to learn more about the students involved in this particular trip and their experiences in Nicaragua from Jan. 1-16, 2014.

members of the group

Meghan, Tara, Katy, Nathan, Deanna, Travis and Suzie at the awards ceremony in November

Rick Ellis

Rick Ellis talking about the upcoming trip at the ceremony in November