Open Hearts and Open Minds: A Nicaragua Spring Break Trip Recap

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Mary Kratz, Sarah Path and thirteen 7th and 8th grade girls traveled to Nicaragua over spring break and have some incredible stories to share!

We traveled with a company called Global Works who organized a custom trip for us focused on cultural exchange and service learning.  We enjoyed a bit of sight-seeing, but spent most of our time interacting and learning from Nicaraguans about their country and culture-we had to use a lot of Spanish!  In Managua, the capital city, we toured the chureca and learned from a community organizer, named Yamileth Perez, about the struggle to move families off of the city landfill where families had been living, scrounging scraps of metal to sell and scraps of food to eat.  We toured the neighborhood with Yamileth, heard lots of stories of resilience and grassroots organizing and visited their community center called Podcasts for Peace.  At the community center, we learned about the programs they offer in healthcare, youth programming and the arts.  In addition, they make podcasts to tell and share the stories of members of their community and other marginalized groups in Managua.  While at the community center we got to meet a lot of the volunteers, hear some of their podcasts and videos and play games and read books with neighborhood children.

Next, we traveled northeast to San Ramon, a rural mountainous region of Nicaragua, where we met and worked with four women’s collectives who make and sell artisan crafts.  One group made jewelry from seeds, one made beads and jewelry from recycled rolled paper, one made stationary items like journals and cards from recycled paper, and the other group were weavers who used a loom and traditional weaving techniques.  With each of the women’s groups that we worked with, we got to learn about their artistic process and work alongside the women in their workshops making arts and crafts.  We also conducted interviews to learn more about how their groups started, what their goals are and the challenges they have faced.  We are currently working to turn our interviews into biographies about all of the women’s collectives in Spanish and English.  These will be posted on a tourism website for the region to try and help publicize the women’s work and bring them more business.

In addition, we had a lot of other incredible experiences including a bread making workshop, a visit to a cacao factory, a boat ride through the isletas of Lake Nicaragua, a tour of Granada and we swam in a volcanic crater!  Hard to believe all of this happened in a week!  The students brought to Nicaragua their curiosity, their full attention, respect, maturity, fun, open hearts and open minds.  On the last night, we reflected about what the students had taken and learned from Nicaragua.  The two biggest takeaways were 1) an awarenessand gratitude about our privilege, such as educational opportunities and access to clean water and healthy food and 2) the notion that money does not equal happiness, since we met many people in Nicaragua who told us and showed us that though they may be poor in money, they are rich in love and happiness.