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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I remember thinking during a group meeting before we left for Nicaragua that Tara might have a tough time “roughing it” here.

“I can’t do that,” I heard her say several times. She doesn’t like certain things, is apprehensive about some unknowns and downright scared of others.

But she knows what those things are and she did what it took to minimize the influence of those things on her experience here. I’ve been throughly impressed at her adaptability.

I had the privilege of staying with the same family as Tara in El Limon. As roommates for four days I got to know her well. We ended up together at her request — a great example of her finding solutions to her anxieties.

I’m vegan (eating no animal products). She was uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat that she didn’t prepare herself. Her solution: Stay with the vegan lady so she didn’t have to make a big deal of things.

Once she felt comfortable, she dove in to experience new things. She tried every vegetable, and liked many of them. She ate beets on a salad the other day, even though she swore off beets as a child. She shaved her legs standing up, even though she’d badly cut herself years before. (She cut herself this time, too, and said it could be years before she tries it again. But she did it.)

“I didn’t feel comfortable there the first few nights,” she said of El Limon. But that changed. “Our family loved each other so much.”

Tara could have chosen to complain and take a negative view of the dozens of things here that were out of her comfort zone. Instead, her true colors shined and Tara has relished the opportunity to explore a new country, get to know some of its people and learn its history. Tara has been a positive force for many in the group and already is talking about returning to Nicaragua next year.

Tara is from Lancaster, Kan. She is majoring in elementary education and special education. She works as a tutor at a school in Topeka and was especially touched by her interactions with Nicaraguan children.

Tara, standing in a window, holds the bars with her left hand and scrubs a bar with sandpaper with her right.

Tara scrapes rust on a window.

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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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Work has begun. We’re making improvements at the preschool and community center buildings. The windows — metal bars in rows and columns — were rusting and in need of paint. So, today we sanded them and painted the first coat.

The second coat, and painting the trim, comes tomorrow. We’ll have more time, so we’ll work on the community’s water system. We’ll get the details of that when the time comes.

While we worked on the center’s windows, community members worked on building a more formal entryway to the community center and preschool facility. They built a frame for a gate and mixed concrete for its posts. They mixed the concrete on the sidewalk that Washburn students built last year, without measuring as far as we could tell.

While we’re here the plan is to work in the morning — from about 8 a.m. until noon — and spend the afternoons with our families.

Today, several from the group walked in to Esteli, less than three miles away. Others rested, showered, visited the river or learned to wash clothes by hand. Tomorrow, some are thinking of going back to the waterfall.

We’re all getting more comfortable with our families, and learning to communicate in spite of the language barrier. The Spanish-English dictionary is priceless. Some of us are getting dance lessons, helping in the kitchen or playing dolls with children in our host families, too.

We can’t wait to see with our remaining days in El Limon have in store for us.

Tara, standing in a window, holds the bars with her left hand and scrubs a bar with sandpaper with her right.

Tara scrapes rust on a window.

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Coyotepe prison, dark with a narrow strip of window with bars

Inside the first level of Coyotepe prison.

This afternoon we visited a former political prison — El Coyotepe. Some of us fought back tears. Some of us felt shame at the new-found knowledge that the United States government supported the dictatorship that tortured an unknown number of Nicaraguans right where we stood. All of us were moved.

Today, Coyotepe is preserved and operated by Nicaraguan Boy Scouts. Our guide, who works as a volunteer for tips, (again, with Lucy as our interpreter) took us through the two levels of dark cells, explaining what is known about what happened in the place unknown to even most Nicaraguans for many years.

Coyotepe, which means “coyote caves” in a local indigenous language, was originally built originally as a fortress to protect the community of Masaya.

In 1944, the Somoza government began using it as a political prison. That continued until the Revolution in 1979, when the Sandonista prisoners were liberated and the guards and other Somoza supporters were jailed there.

The Sandonista government improved conditions in the prison, adding bathroom facilities and electricity. But they continued to use it as a prison until 1983.

During the Somoza dictatorship, three levels of prison cells were used at Coyotepe. The bottom level collapsed in the 1970s. Our guide said there are theories that Somoza had it destroyed to hide an unknown number of dead prisoners. Another theory suggests dead prisoners were dumped into the nearby Masaya Volcano. Many believe the place in haunted.

It is believed that more than 600 people were held at Coyotepe at a time, 90 percent of them men.

In one of the cells on the second level, used for more “serious suspects” — likely suspected to assassination plots or other efforts to overthrow the government — we could see markings on the wall likely made by the prisoners.

“Mi quiera morir!!!” or “I want to die” is scrawled into the wall in one place. In another, the Spanish for “only Christ saves” is scratched with the date 1978.

“Aldo was my best friend because he held my hand the whole time,” Tara said. “I hung on to my St. Christopher (medal) the whole time.”

It was hard to be there, to know what happened so recently, and to confront the reality that it may be happening somewhere else in the world right now.

Reflecting as a group later on, Deanna said: “People talk about what Hitler did. This is kinda the same. I’d never even heard about all of this until now. This affected their entire country.”

Kata reminded us of the prison we learned of yesterday, in the lower levels of the Somoza palace.

Wyatt spoke of how “Medieval” it all was, but occurring as recently as 34 years ago.

“I’m glad we know that history,” Meghan said. “I can’t believe it was this recent.”

And the questions poured from us. What did the tour guide think of us? What else does our government not want us to know? How can we get the information we deserve as concerned global citizens?

Coyotepe fortress

Coyotepe was originally a fort built to protect Masaya. It was later used as a political prison by both the Somoza regime and the Sandonistas.

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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 Ellis  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

 


nicaragua-map

We will visit the highlighted communities including the capital city of Managua, Estelí, the third-largest city, Matagalpa, home of Universidad del Norte de Nicaragua, and Granada, one of the oldest cities in Central America. During our visit we will also stay in El Limón, not from from Estelí.

By this time in 26 days, a small group of Ichabods will be en route to Managua, Nicaragua. Just in time for the spring semester here in Topeka, we will return “as Nicaraguans,” says Professor Rick Ellis, who oversees Washburn’s Learning in the Community and established the partnership that allows the trip.

“We leave as Kansans. We come back as Nicaraguans,” he has told the group. Washburn partners with the non-governmental organization ProNica, which was established to build “sustainable cross-cultural relationships between the people of Nicaragua and North America using Quaker values.”

The delegation from Washburn will spend time in five cities. We will study the country’s history and the impact of the United States upon that history. We will work with residents of each community we visit, helping them to complete tasks that already are underway. We will live with families in the rural community of El Limón, learn about their lives and culture and, since most of us aren’t Spanish speakers, we’ll learn a lot about non-verbal communication.

iPhone with countdown app

Tara’s countdown app.

“I’m so excited! It’s going by so fast,” said Tara Phillips, who is a sophomore majoring in elementary special education from Lancaster, Kan. Tara has an app on her phone that counts down to our departure time by the second. “I’ve been ready for this since before I came to Washburn.”

About Nicaragua

  • The Republic of Nicaragua sits between Honduras (north) and Costa Rica (south).
  • In 2012 the country’s population was estimated by the World Bank at 5.992 million people.
  • President Daniel Ortega has lead the country since 2007. He also served as the country’s leader from 1979 to 1990.
  • Nicaragua’s currency is the Nicaraguan córdoba. As of Dec. 6, 2013 one córdoba oro was worth $0.04 in US dollars.
  • The weather in Topeka is frightful this time of year. While we’re gone, the high temperatures in western Nicaragua, where we are staying, are expected to be in the 80s. Overnight lows in the 60s are common. (Check for today’s detailed forecast.)
  • Learn more about Nicaragua from Lonely Planet
Nicaragua's flag

Nicaragua’s flag