College

More Than Just a Field Trip in Nicaragua

As a Caminos volunteer this past summer in Nicaragua, I had the privilege of sharing many wonderful experiences with the students in the learning program. We shared a wonderful celebration of International Children’s Day with a party that included “pin the heart on the student” and salsa lessons, we shared the joy and excitement of seeing a helicopter fly over the learning center one day as we were singing songs at recess, and we shared endless amounts of laughter as the students learned what it means to hit turbulence. What ended up being my favorite and most cherished shared experience was the field trip to Managua that we took the children on towards the end of the summer.

These students have been in this learning program for three years, so at this point they know how things work. They know when we will have a celebration instead of class, they somehow always know who the upcoming week’s volunteers will be, and they know that every summer they get to go on a field trip. So, in the weeks leading up to the trip, they were ecstatic. They could barely contain their excitement. They couldn’t stay in their seats or pay attention to the lessons we planned, and all they could talk about was the field trip. Two days before, one of the students said to me, “Teacher Lucy, I know what I am going to wear; my Outreach360 t-shirt, shorts, my tennis shoes, a hat and my sunglasses.”

As an upper middle class American who attended a small charter school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and was involved in many organizations apart from that, I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to field trips. Having been on countless field trips myself, and having taken the refugee children that I work with in the summer when I am home, I was sure that this one would be just like the rest of them. I was anticipating a quiet bus ride full of sleeping students, and a long day full of standing around listening to people talk while having to make sure bored kids don’t wander off. What I didn’t realize was that this was going to be a field trip unlike any I had experienced before, and one of the most rewarding days of my life.

We arrived at the learning center at 5 am, only to be greeted by the students in their very best attire waiting patiently, but excitedly, to get on the bus that they had been assigned to. The boys were fully equipped with mounds of gel holding their hair in just the right place, and the girls had all sorts of hair bows and clips, some even had their hair straightened. The bus rides did not include sleeping students, but students pretending that the two busses were racing, cheering for the bus drivers by saying “Si se puede!” or “Yes you can!”, and singing silly songs at the top of their lungs. This was all before 8 am.

What followed was a very long, very hot day of making our way around the city of Managua. We stopped at the airport, a retired airplane, walked through a historical plaza, went on a boat ride and finished the day with dinner at McDonald’s. The attitude the students had throughout the day was amazing to me. It was a smoldering day in the middle of July, and we were outside, many of the students were wearing long pants, but not once did I hear any of them complain. They never said a word about how hot they were or how hungry or how tired. They were all so excited and so happy to be there that they were content to just be, no matter the circumstances.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how long of a day this was. We started it at 5 am and it didn’t end until 9:30 pm. That being said, it was also one of the greatest days I’ve ever lived. Being able to be a part of such an exciting day in the students’ lives and seeing everything we taught them culminate in something as sensational as being able to experience the things they learned about was something I would have never dreamt would happen before this summer.

The students’ excitement and curiosity could be felt by everyone around them throughout the entire day, and honestly throughout the entire summer. The growth that I saw in the students this summer not only in their English skills but also as people was incredibly fulfilling, and the relationships I formed with them, as well as the other volunteers, are so special to me. I know that after this summer, I have a second family in Jinotega that will welcome me back whenever I get the chance to return. And believe me, I will be returning.

As my counterpart Jessica Mathias so eloquently put it, “Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.”

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I will choose to look differently at the world today.

The wonderful thing about Outreach360 is that it gives anyone the opportunity to invest in another person’s life.  As a typical American, I came to Nicaragua this summer with a whole bag of assumptions that my role would be a superhero to those less fortunate. Thankfully, I was quickly corrected in my thinking. The magic of Outreach360 is that it equips people to be on an equal playing field. As those that are born into wealth, it is hard to comprehend that others that are not are still as able, happy, and capable. It’s a shame that such an assumption is made without any true knowledge of the vast variety of nations and ethnic groups we have in our one small world.

As a Caminos volunteer this summer, the thing that struck me most was the repetition of this one small assumption that plagues the lives of each visitor that comes to our humble Volunteer House. They marveled each week at the electricity, cleanliness, and general joy that permeates the area. Each week we would grin, nod, and listen to their thoughts and say yes, it’s a great way to broaden your understanding, isn’t it? To me, this was the most crucial thing you could learn from a trip like this. These kids have rescued us from a life of believing that our one small piece of this planet contains all of life’s answers. We teach kids to dream, but they taught me to dream differently.

And so, that is reason enough for anyone to come and try this thing we call ‘stepping out of our comfort zones’. It’s a huge decision to say, I will choose to look differently at the world today. However it is an essential way to becoming a person who can love anyone. That is the beauty behind a wonderful program like Outreach360- besides the fact that it is well run, well done, and so easy to fall in love with. It teaches you what love looks like past your current understanding. I urge anyone that stumbles upon this blog to not hesitate on an experience like this. It doesn’t matter your credentials or your abilities, all you need is a heart and room to let it grow.

Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.

Nos vemos pronto,
(See you soon)

Jessica Mathias
Caminos Summer Intern 2015
Nashville, TN

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Reflections from an Outreach360 Adelante Volunteer…

​During my time with this program I have been experiencing the real meaning of sacrifice, service, and what it really takes to release the hero within.
The impact that every single volunteer who comes to Montecristi has in each student is amazing. The kids can feel the energy that their teachers bring to teach each class. For me it’s incredible to see how their knowledge increases which inspires me to keep volunteering here and loving it more every day.
I’m pretty sure that there is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others and that’s what OUTREACH 360 is doing in the lives of the children and the whole community.
The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.  Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.
Gordon B. Hinckley once said: ” The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: he or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”
Definitely my experience as an Adelante Volunteer has changed my life.
Aidil Acosta
(Adelante Volunteer)

Note: Aidil graduated from our English program in 2012 and began serving as an Adelante volunteer in 2013. Adelantes are graduates of our English program who volunteer at our Learning Centers after school and during their school breaks. Since 2013, Aidil has served more than 380 hours in our Learning Centers. As an Adelante she has served in many different leadership roles, including as a Spanish literacy teacher, co-English teacher, and co-camp director. Aidil is an incredible role model for our students and volunteers. She is very passionate about service and making a difference in her own community. Aidil is currently a freshman studying pre-medicine in Santo Domingo. During her breaks, she returns to Monte Cristi to volunteer with Outreach360. She aspires to one day use her medical degree to make a difference and serve under-resourced communities.

Sarah Edwards
Outreach360 Country Director
Dominican Republic

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Not Your Average Spring Break

Taylor Baker is currently a junior at Pepperdine University, where she is an international studies major – specializing in management.  Along with eight fellow Pepperdine students, she recently served with Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic through the university’s Project Serve initiative.  This is her story:

As I thought about my spring break plans this year, I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to give back and challenge me to some degree. Pepperdine University partners with Outreach360 every year, and when I was informed of the opportunity to serve for a week in the Dominican Republic and work directly with the community, I jumped at it. I spent my sophomore year of college studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and traveled extensively throughout South America, so I had this preconceived notion about what to expect. But I was wrong; the experience exceeded my expectations far more than I could have imagined. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like your traditional college spring break trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t want that because I knew I could always hang out with my friends whenever I wanted. I wanted to capitalize on my time as a young individual and spend this week doing something meaningful and give back.

Free Time

Being from the suburbs of Southern California, I never thought I would actually awake to the cluck of roosters until it happened this morning. After the lovely wakeup call, my fellow team member and I set out on a run at 6:30am – just before sunrise. We ran down to the pier surrounded by a gorgeous view, calm waters, wandering dogs, and the sun peeping through the clouds just above the palm trees. I don’t often like to run in the mornings, but with all those rice and bean dishes paired with nightly ice cream runs, I figured I might as well.

Outreach360 took care of us by providing three meals a day plus snacks, allowing for free time every day – all of which we spent at the beach, showing us two documentary films, instructing a cultural dance lesson, taking us to the international trade market between Haiti and the DR, which is monitored by the UN, and taking us on a hike/beach excursion. This was definitely a mutually beneficial experience for both the volunteers and the children, and I’m thankful I was able to play a role in the process.

Challenges

Upon meeting the rambunctious students, there was an apparent stark difference in the classroom cultures of the US and the DR. It definitely felt like the students had free reign of the classroom, particularly during the first day or two. However, as the week went by we realized how much potential they had and that, when their energy was channeled correctly, they thrived. As we built trust, respect, and rapport with them throughout the week, it was then that we were truly able to teach the students while learning from them at the same time. We may have also received a couple braids and flowers in our hair during recess. Love was our primary form of communication despite our differing first languages.

The hours passed by so slowly, but the days flew by. Being completely unplugged from technology for a week was very freeing. Not having to worry about staying in touch with people or making plans has been a nice change in pace. I always love a good change in pace, and I believe it’s something I need to seek more often. Periods of transition always allow room for adaptation and growth.

This trip was very enjoyable, and I am pleased to have worked with a fantastic staff. It has also been very challenging. These challenges, however, were both normal and necessary. They occurred because I was out of my comfort zone and therefore forced to grow. I have a newfound respect for teachers and this profession as this week was not easy. I also love the idea of a siesta and think the US should adapt this part of the Dominican culture (everyone needs a little nap once in a while).

It’s not about me

There’s a lot to be gained when you give a little. I quickly put into perspective my problems back at home. I realized that I was complaining about the papers I had to write and the tests I had to study for, when these kids were thankful for the mere opportunity to be in school. I also quickly learned that the “lesson plan” for the day really wasn’t the most important thing; interactions were more important. We created a space where they felt cared about, loved, and inspired. I was reminded that it wasn’t about me: how tired and hungry I was or how many mosquito bites I had. It was about serving the children and representing hope, trust, and faith. I encourage anyone who is able and willing to be challenged and give back to volunteer with Outreach360.

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Bright Shirts, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

Beth Anderson is a senior majoring in child and adolescent development psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She is also an alternative break trip coordinator for SNHU’s Center for Community Engaged Learning.  Together with 13 other women from SNHU, Beth recently served with Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic for two weeks.   -Photo by Jaimie Konowitz

It was the first day of camp, and I was shocked at how nervous I was. I had been preparing for this trip longer than the two hours spent lesson planning the night before, so I thought I was ready. But no amount of preparation could get rid of the mariposas in my stomach. What would camp be like? What would the students be like? How is our group going to do? Will they even like us? I had so many lingering questions as I walked the dirt road towards Escuela Básica John F. Kennedy on that first day. We arrived with plenty of time to spare. Station leaders and team leaders split up to get everything ready for the students’ arrival. It was nine o’ clock, the time camp is supposed to start and we had no one at camp; that was also the day we learned what “Dominican time” meant. We kept our hopes high and, sure enough, students started coming at about ten past nine. My nervousness started to fade once the first “repeat-after-me” song began.

After camp songs and opening, everyone went to their spots and my co-team leader, Alli, and I took our group to the recreation station to learn how to play volleyball. We had two girls in our group, and we could tell they were shy. They didn’t know us, and we didn’t know them, and here we all were trying to teach and learn together. And then something happened that changed everything: The girls started laughing and pointing at one of the drawings that the recreation station had made. At first we were all confused, and then I looked at the picture and realized the person in the drawing didn’t have eyes. I began to laugh at the hilarity of it all. It was completely unexpected but completely necessary in that moment. This was not where we thought the lesson was going to go, but it was so funny. Their laughter was contagious. Soon we were all laughing, and the tension all of us had been feeling faded away. In that moment we became the students. Here were these two little girls with five teachers, and they were the ones making us feel comfortable. They felt our nervousness; saw the eagerness in our eyes, and through their laughter they were telling us to relax and have fun with it. They broke down our barriers and allowed us to be just as silly and goofy as they were being. Their laughter was common ground for us; it was something we all understood and could grasp on to.

I realized in that moment that you can plan as much as you want, but the best moments are the unplanned ones. It’s the high fives when a student gets the sentence right. It’s explaining something you don’t even know. It’s singing the same camp song countless times because they love it. It’s them scrunching their nose when they don’t understand but then seeing their big smiles when they do. It’s all of that and more.

Watching the students’ growth in just two weeks was incredible. From mastering everything we gave them to becoming more comfortable with us, I thought the change in them would be subtler, but they proved me wrong. Many days I was even wondering if I was the teacher or the student. They challenged me in more ways than I can count. But what moved me the most about every single one of them was that they wanted to be there. They wanted to learn and interact with us as much as we wanted to learn and interact with them. That eagerness to learn and that desire to grow will last longer than our time in Monte Cristi, and that makes it all worth it.

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