Eight TCNJ Bonners and two staff members traveled to Nicaragua from January 9th through January 21st, to learn about the culture, meet leaders of non-profit organizations, and reflect on how U.S. foreign policies have affected countries like Nicaragua. As TCNJ Bonner Community Scholars grounded in the Bonner Foundation’s common commitments, this educational trip allowed Bonners to explore their role as global citizens and gain international perspective on today’s global world. This eighth annual Nicaragua trip is the culmination of a four-year sequence of community engaged trips, designed to provide a global perspective on service, community development, leadership, and culture.
Hosted by ProNica, the students visited five non-profit organizations and learned about their numerous programs, enjoyed the views of three volcano craters, and toured an organic farm. They encountered people whose emotional openness and rich stories left deep impressions on them. They travelled by plane, in a tour van, motor taxis and in the back of a pickup truck. Throughout their stay, they also sampled various typical cuisines and enjoyed traditional music.
The group’s first stop was to meet Mark Lester, a professor from the Center for Global Education and Experience from Augsburg College. Mark presented on Nicaragua’s history, including its revolution and the impacts globalization has had on contemporary Nicaragua. The U.S. government has played a significant role in that history and as Mark stated, “It is important to see the US from other perspectives and educate for social change to be an informed activist.” With that perspective, the students were able to contextualize what they experienced on the trip, knowing that the current status of the country was connected to a complex history of colonialism, dictatorship, and a traumatic revolution.
Readings and discussions exposed students to a critical view of service learning and international trips. One of the trip’s goals was to expand participants’ awareness of another culture and to help them reflect on their own growth and transformation as an individual and a citizen of the world. Melissa Sandoval, a TCNJ Bonner junior, mentioned Ralph Emerson Waldo’s quote: “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” And that is what the trip did for many of the students.
- To learn about the impact of service, globalization, and the interconnectedness of U.S. and Latin American politics and society, the Bonners visited five different organizations in Nicaragua:
- In Managua, Bonners visited The Centro de Mujeres Acahual, a non-profit women’s clinic started by 4 community members to address the increase in cancer among women and to organize around the neighborhood next to Managua’s City Dump (La Chureca). The group was able to do a walking tour of the neighborhood and visited a pre-school in the community.
- From Managua the students traveled to San Marco where they stayed with host families and shared time with the staff and children of Los Quinchos. At Los Quinchos, Bonners were able to share with the participants of the program by playing with them, planting citrus trees and other plants at their site, and by engaging in enriching and fun activities.
- In Granada, Tio Antonio opened shop on a day of rest so our students could enjoy lunch and learn about their initiatives . There, we learned about the organization’s initiative, Café de las Sonrisas, a hammock factory and other projects that employ people who are deaf or are affected by disabilities. Antonio Prieto Buñuel is the Director of the Center and in August 2016, he visited TCNJ to facilitate workshops for our program.
- At Casa Materna in Matagalpa the group heard a powerful presentation about the work of the organization in saving the lives of rural mothers and their babies over the last 25 years. They also toured the facilities and met several mothers staying at the Casa Materna.
- Also in Matagalpa, students visited Martin Vicente Padilla and his family at his farm, and learned about organic farming and permaculture. Vicente works with professors in Nicaragua much like TCNJ’s Community Engaged Learning programs. A farm to table lunch was cooked and served by Vicente’s wife and his daughter, and students bought coffee from the farm. Vicente spoke in length about the status of the earth and the need to restore the health of the earth.
- Our last stop was at Casa del Niño in San Ramon, where art and creativity has empowered youth and adults in their empowerment journey.
In the end, the group left grounded in appreciation for the experience and for everyone who made the trip possible. They met many people who shared their knowledge and love with them. When asked about which leader impressed them the most, Amani Pinnock, Junior Bonner Scholar, stated “It is difficult for me to pick one leader I met along the trip. They have all inspired me.”