Now that I am officially done with my 13 months of service abroad in Managua, Nicaragua with Manna Project International (MPI), I would love to reflect on and share my experience with others. This past year, my job entailed leading programs such as beginner and intermediate level English classes, a Child Sponsorship and Nutrition Program, adolescent girls’ health classes in two distinct public schools, and a class called Generation for Nicaraguan adolescents interested in a career in health or medicine. These programs took place in three different communities within the capital: Cedro Galán, Chiquilistagua, and Villa Guadalupe. Along with these programs, I held house and organizational roles such as House Manager, where I was in charge of the order and maintenance of the house where MPI volunteers live each year. I also served as English Coordinator, where I oversaw the five levels of English MPI teaches and led English tutoring sessions on Fridays.
In terms of my most significant accomplishments, I have personally accomplished leading English tutoring on Fridays and making it a popular event for students to come to. English tutoring was new to MPI last year, and less than five people would normally show up. Now, over 20 people come regularly. English tutoring aids our English program by providing extra, personal, and out-‐of-‐classroom help – something that is incredibly beneficial for anyone learning a second language. Along with this, I have learned to love teaching English as a second language. I never expected MPI’s English program to bring me the most enjoyment and sense of fulfillment and reward. Another significant accomplishment has been becoming more confident with my Spanish and getting closer to fluency than I was before coming to Nicaragua. Through my Spanish, I have been able to effectively teach others valuable information and lifelong skills, and I have been able to make friendships that will last well into my life.
In terms of MPI’s accomplishments, the organization hosted a 5k event and raised over $10,000 in the Spring of 2017. All of this money goes to our primary care clinic in the community of Cedro Galán. The money was raised through our own fundraising efforts, where I individually raised over $1,000 of the money through personal connections to family, friends, and small businesses.
In addition, MPI has officially ended the Child Sponsorship and Nutrition Program (CS), which I helped to lead in its last year. The program was very rewarding, however it relied heavily on hand-‐outs of milk and nutritional supplements. CS was one of MPI’s very first programs in the early 2000s and needed revamping. Towards the end of the year, we graduated children out of the program and began recruiting people for the new program, which is now called 1000 Days of Difference. 1000 Days of Difference is an evidence-‐based program that targets pregnant mothers and the child’s first one-‐thousand days of life. The program relies heavily on sustainability and education, rather than hand-‐outs. MPI is also a proud winner of the Spring 2017 KIND Causes grant of $10,000, which will be financing the start of this new program.
Finally, I helped MPI as they underwent their first community needs-‐assessment in the last four years. Program directors with high Spanish abilities, such as a few others and myself, spent months going around the community surveying hundreds of people. The ultimate goal was to evaluate the health needs of the family members of 500 homes in our community of Cedro Galán. The results, once finalized, will aid MPI in bettering its clinic and programs in Cedro Galán.
My high point throughout the past year has been getting closer to members of the community and learning about their culture and lifestyles. I have made such incredible friendships and I feel that I have fully immersed myself within the Nicaraguan culture. I have no regrets in terms of how much I have branched out in the community we work in and the friendships I have made.
With regard to challenges, I would say that I challenged myself by serving as the House Manager for a year. The House Manager role is a big time commitment and requires the ability to effectively communicate in Spanish in addition to the ability to maintain relationships with the various employees who come to the house. These people include Elena, the woman who cooks for us during the week, Eduardo who is the gardener, and Santos, the security guard who protects our house at night. Communicating with the guard was the biggest challenge for me, as we had many poorly equipped guards before we finally started working with Santos. The previous guards behaved in unprofessional manners. Dealing with these uncomfortable situations, which was not in my job description and which I was not necessarily equipped to handle, helped me to understand how I should face and manage challenges when they are presented to me.
As I finish this reflection in my new apartment in Boston, MA, I would love to share that I am beginning graduate school at William James College in Newton, MA. I will be pursuing a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in clinical psychology. I miss Nicaragua very much and hope to return in the near future. I want to thank the Live Like Ally Foundation for the generous grant they provided me with, which greatly supported me in my volunteer service abroad.