My Heart is in Nicaragua...That's how Jena Wight ends her reflection on her Winter Term (a shortened school term that takes place in the month of January) which took place in Nicaragua. For six years, groups of Graceland University students have been transformed by the Outreach International Site Visits to Nicaragua. We are going to be posting several powerful reflections from the students who ventured out of their comfort zones and learned from the people who deal with poverty on a day to day basis. Jana desribes how this experience impacted her. Check it out and reflect on your own understanding of poverty, development and different cultures. - Stephen Donahoe
"I can’t say that my trip to Nicaragua gave me an eye opening encounter to the conditions of poverty—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to research and understand poverty in the world, only ignorant people to ignore it and cause the problems we have today. So being fairly experienced and educated in the area, the conditions weren’t a shock. But what this trip did bring me was an invigoration of my passion, an introduction to a new culture, a deeper knowledge of Outreach International and its work, and a better understanding of the nature of humans and the relationships and love we can share with one another.
"The idea of the worth and value of every single human being is something I believe extremely strongly in. The Nicaragua site visit only convinced me of my convictions more. Talking to the people of the country, hearing of their hardships, looking into their eyes and seeing pain and helplessness, will influence the rest of my life. It’s hard to ignore the injustice of poverty when you’ve shaken its hand. I think of poverty and Outreach International in a different light now. Instead of my blank check going to an unknown community in an unknown country, it could be headed to someone I know…and even if it isn’t, I know the type of person or town it’s going to. The faces in the pictures in the OI Newsletter now have a name and a story instead of just an empty stomach. Nicaragua strengthened and intensified my values, forcing me to face the awful beast of poverty and overcome the feelings of helplessness to bring back ones of vigor and anxiety for action. Wherever my career path takes me, my daily choices will reflect the connection I feel to the people of Nicaragua.
"Since I was fairly aware of the history and economy of Nicaragua before the trip, my learning came more in the cultural facet. Being totally immersed in the company of native Nicaraguans, I spoke their language, ate their food, heard their stories, watched their sunsets, met their families, slept in their homes…lived their lives, even. I try to think what a trip to Nicaragua would be like if one were to stay solely at a resort. One could return and tell others that they’d visited a foreign country…but would they have any understanding at all of that country? I feel as if, though not fully, I now understand and can sympathize with the people of Nicaragua and even their neighboring countries. It’s funny, but I feel as if I’ve been made an honorary citizen of the country.
"Before the Winter Term, I knew what Outreach International practiced in respect to the idea of sustainable good, but I didn’t know of their Participatory Human Development process. The whole idea fascinates me and I am seriously impressed with the thought and work done to produce this. I wish we’d been given some form of handout so that I could have documentation of all of the steps. But although I don’t remember each of them specifically, I remember being impressed with the forethought and research that the system is built upon. I also recall hearing that Outreach has been traveling to different countries to share the PHD process with other NGOs. I cannot wait to see the results of this. I can only imagine the extreme success and improvement that the world will reap by employing this method.
"I didn’t learn about the PHD process solely in the classroom—the visits to the communities were as much a lesson as watching the PowerPoint presentations at Hotel Cailagua. I saw the trust and the camaraderie in the faces of the people as they interacted with the Alcance Staff. The staff has truly practiced the integration step of the PHD process and their relationships with the community members are evidence of this. Further evidence is the development of the communities. The results are undeniably positive—communities like El Llanito and La Prusia are so close to having a reliable and clean source of water! And the people of the communities are the reason for this—they have, with the help of Alcance, worked together to help themselves. Instead of a rich organization from some powerful country giving the communities what they need, PHD has taught the people a better way of life that will last long after Alcance moves on to new communities.
"Before I left for Nicaragua, I already had a desire to use my life for the bettering of others’. The trip just invigorated that desire. It also refreshed my eagerness to become fluent in Spanish. However, something I wasn’t expecting was the interaction with children that I encountered—it led me to think about my future goals a little bit more. I know that at some point in my life, I’d like to work for an NGO, like Outreach International. But before the trip, I never gave a thought to working with children specifically. My trip to Nicaragua showed me how much I really enjoy kids and opened my eyes to the possibility of someday working with young people in poverty.
"The trip didn’t just help me understand my future better, but also the present. Although I am already a member of Outreach International Club, I now know that the club must do more if we’re going to make any kind of a difference. I hope to pass along my new ideas and refreshed passion to the club and hopefully revitalize the enthusiasm that they all once had. In my daily life, I will use what I learned on my trip to remind myself to appreciate the people, not the things, that I have. I will strengthen and enhance my current relationships and make an effort to create new ones. I figure if I can meet new people with a language I barely speak, I can do it in the one I’m fluent in.
"The Winter Term to Nicaragua was, although it sounds cliché, a life changing experience and one I’ll never forget. I am so thankful for the opportunity and the things I learned from it. I will think about the people of Nicaragua every day. I won’t forget their stories, their faces, their tears, or their smiles. I look forward to when I can reunite with my friends and rejoice with them in their Christmas party successes, working wells, and lives made positive by the love and compassion of Outreach International. Until then, mi corazón está en Nicaragua."