In the first of two first-
person accounts, campus news editor Bethany Dionne reports on her alternative spring break experience in Nicaragua; staff writer David Hutter’s account is also available online.
Stepping off the airplane in Managua, Nicaragua, no one knew what to expect. Thirty members of the Quinnipiac community, myself included, were about to embark on an adventure together with no idea where it would lead and how it would vastly change our lives. Although some had been there before and others had traveled to developing countries in the past, nothing could have prepared us for the intense poverty we were about to witness.
Every year for spring break Quinnipiac sends students to areas in need of help due to poverty or natural disaster. This past break The Albert Schweitzer Institute sponsored its third trip to Leon, Nicaragua, and it also sent Occupational Therapy students to work with mentally disabled children in Barbados. Career Services and Student Affairs sponsored a trip to New Orleans where 12 students gutted a home that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and also worked at a youth center in Baton Rouge. Habitat for Humanity and the Student Government Association sent 20 students to frame a house and do various other tasks in South Carolina.
Regardless of where these students spent their time, they dedicated themselves to the people they worked with and the incredible cause for being there.
“I hoped that students would emotionally connect to the people and problems they saw around them and want to do something about it,” said David Ives, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and leader of the trip to Nicaragua.
The student delegates chosen to travel to Leon lived with host families in La Villa and worked in two schools in Leon: la Goyena and Rafael Herrera. At the schools, they dug ditches to create irrigation systems so the school children could grow fruits and vegetables. Barbed wire fences were also put up around the wells to keep the children away.
Students left La Villa around 7 a.m. every day and headed to the schools to work and play with the school children. Although it was scorching hot, and the dirt they dug blew all over them from the strong winds, no one had anything to complain about. Every single student had a smile on his or her face while working in the fields with the children. These children may have no material possessions, but they have the most beautiful, genuine smiles and the most loving hearts in the world. It is an indescribable feeling to have a child who truly appreciates you hug you and say “te quiero.”
“When I was digging the fields, I looked to the right of me and saw a child with holes in his shirt and dirt on his face,” said Keri-Lynn McHale, junior journalism major. “It was about 95 degrees, he was no older than seven and he was digging harder than I was. Children should not be worried about survival and digging to plant food in order to live. They should be playing baseball, smiling or having ice cream on a hot day with their friends.”
Five students from the Masters of Art teaching program created a workshop for teachers in Leon under the direction of Cheryl Kerison, assistant professor of Education. They created lesson plans and worked with the teachers, teaching them successful techniques, ideas and experiments. Lessons included geography, math, geology and Spanish. Each teacher from Leon also received a Quinnipiac laptop-style bag filled with school supplies.
“I was so proud to see the students sharing what they knew to an obviously appreciative group of colleagues,” said Sean Duffy, Associate Professor of Political Science and chaperone for the trip. “I took delight in seeing the faces of the Quinnipiac students who were presenting, and their delight at realizing that they had something to share – and that it mattered.”
Along with working with the children in the fields and completing the conference, the group saw and experienced a variety of both heart-warming and heart-wrenching activities. The excitement of climbing up and “skiing” down Cerro Negro, an active volcano, was an adventure for all. There are no words to describe the beauty and splendor of watching the sunset at Poneloya, a Pacific coast beach. Although joyful, there were still many moments of helplessness and despair as the group dealt with poverty at its worst.
Three students had tears streaming down their faces after meeting Pilar, a single mother of three who is slowly dying of ovarian cancer, while struggling to feed her children in her one room shack. Another student struggled to fight back tears while listening to three men who are dying of kidney failure due to excessive use of pesticides in the sugar cane fields tell of their experiences. Another student had a difficult time on the drive back to La Villa from the discotoque after she noticed so many children sleeping in doorways and park benches. The bus was silent when one student told about seeing a young boy in worn, tattered clothing chewing on a barbed wire fence because he was so hungry. Regardless of the levels of poverty, these images will be forever etched in our hearts and minds.
“My most difficult thing was to see Habel [one of the children at Goyena] wear the same shirt a couple days in a row with holes in the back from climbing through barbed wire, and then not showing up to the fiesta,” said Chris Lloyd, senior biology major.
On the last day in the schools, each child had an ear to ear grin when given soda, snacks and bags full of school supplies at the fiesta. They danced to reggatone, took Polaroids with the Quinnipiac students and broke open two pi