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Nicaragua Experience

This experience piece was submitted by Kristy Herman from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

In 2009 I was a Junior at St. Thomas Aquinas College, still coming to grips with what my future career would be. I was majoring in Biology and had hopes of becoming a veterinarian but still wasn’t sure that would be the most fulfilling path for me. I enrolled in a course that focused on the history and culture of Nicaragua, an honors course that included 10 days service trip to help build houses with Bridges to Community. Choosing this class was one of the best experiences of my life.

My classmates and I met once a week to learn about the geography and history of Nicaragua and discuss our travel plans and itinerary for our alternative Spring Break. We would be spending 10 days helping to build houses in impoverished communities, teaching children English and basic math (and playing soccer and baseball!), while connecting with students from Hobart and William Smith College. As much as we prepared for the trip, I was not aware of just how much of an impact Nicaragua would have on me.

My classmates and I were housed in a small church in Nindiri, within the larger department of Masaya and home to 48,000 people. The area we were staying in was incredibly rural, complete with dirt roads and fields that seemed to go on forever. Modest huts were composed of corrugated metal and families of 5-6 would fit in one room. Even at the church, toilet paper was considered a luxury in the outhouses and showers were limited to cold water that was on the warmer side due to the hot and humid climate. Cots were setup with mosquito netting to help reduce the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases from insects.

It was in Nicaragua that I learned to love coffee. Even to this day, there is nothing that can compare to the strong, invigorating, delicious taste of the café that was brewed fresh daily. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day in order to provide everyone with the strength and energy to help build houses out of cinderblock or work with the children on their language and math classes. Fresh fruit, eggs and bread were served by smiling members of the community. Mornings started around 6 am but the roosters started to crow closer to 5 am. For those that were scheduled to help build in the first half of the day, everyone loaded into the old but well-maintained pick-up truck to head over to the construction site around 7 am. Water and sunblock were imperative for reducing the risk of heatstroke and sunburn; those that felt tired were encouraged to rest until they felt well enough to continue working. I am happy to say there were no injuries while we were there! By 11:30, it was time to head back to base camp to eat lunch, relax, and prepare for the second portion of the day.

While I enjoyed the fulfilling experience of helping to build houses, working with the children gave me the most joy. They seemed to have more energy after lunch rather than after breakfast and loved to play soccer. I was amazed at their knowledge of pop culture, particularly when it came to Disney characters and musical celebrities. They might not have known where New York is on a map, but they could sing every word from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”. They were well behaved and aimed to please, visibly proud whenever they answered a question correctly. We encouraged them all to work hard, focus on their studies, and never give up on their dreams.

While the majority of the service trip revolved around supporting the community, there was also opportunity to explore Managua on the weekends. Half a day was spent at the Laguna de Apoyo in Managua and a jungle hike that ended with jumping into the cool water after working up a sweat. These were welcome treats that made me hope to return in the future. There was also a visit to El Coyotepe Fortress where I learned about the Sandinistas and political tension throughout the late 1800’s into most of the 20th century. It was sobering to imagine being imprisoned in this fortress and the horrible conditions the inmates must have endured. This made me feel privileged to live in a country where we are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the opportunity to be bailed out of jail in most conditions.

While this class and service trip did not stir me to change my major to social science, it did make me consider what was important to me and how I would like to help support my community. Volunteering and giving back to my community have always been an important component of my identity and I hope to continue to find time and energy to give back even when I feel burned out from the rigmarole of daily life. I continue to love the Spanish language and will continue to practice reading, listening and speaking when the opportunities arise. I also hope to return to Central America to volunteer as a veterinarian when the time is right. I thank St. Thomas Aquinas College and Bridges to Community for making this memory possible.

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