Smiles, tears and everything in between

It took two weeks. Two weeks, and I was a different person. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I experienced. And if someone would’ve told me what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have believed it. The children are responsible for this. Here’s what happened:

At the beginning of my time in Nicaragua, I was all business. I was there to take pictures and gather news content. I said to myself that I didn’t have time to go outside to play with the children because I might miss something important inside. But the truth is that I was only trying to not get emotionally attached. I found that that became more difficult to do with each passing day.

Finally, I gave in. It was difficult to ignore their faces. The children gazed inside through the windows, waiting for someone to give them a few moments of their time. The first week I was cautious. I spent time with children but I still didn’t want the emotional connection, although that was inevitable. They were all so sweet.

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Luis David and I quickly became friends.

The second week at Nicaragua we went to a different community. During the home visits I met Brandon (pictured above) and Luis David. I spent some time with them and was really looking forward to seeing them at the clinic. I was extremely happy when they showed up. They rode their bikes to the clinic and were showing me the tricks they could do when Luis David’s mom asked him if he wanted to accompany her somewhere else. He said, “No, yo aqui estoy con mi gringuita.” (No, I’m with my American right now.) That’s when I knew that it was going to be very difficult to say bye when the time came.

The next day, I sat at the doorsteps with Mary, Maggie and the children that were there. We were making conversation and then one of the kids asked, “En donde esta Kevin?” (Where’s Kevin?) We asked for the name again to make sure we’d heard correctly. Yes, they were wondering where Kevin was. Mary, Maggie and I looked at each other in confusion because there was no Kevin traveling with us. Then another kid said that Kevin had been there last year. I felt like I couldn’t breathe when I realized that they were expecting their friends from previous years to come back, and that they would probably expect us to come back too. At that moment I wanted to leave to not give them false expectations, but I couldn’t do that. They wanted to spend time with us and I knew that the right thing to do was to stay. I played tag, kickball and ran around the building just to chase the children. It was hot and I was sweating in my scrubs but it was worth it to see them smiling and laughing.

Too soon, it was our last day at the community. I thought of all the children that I’d see there and I was tearing up before we even arrived. It was tough to say goodbye. The kids would come up to me and hug me tightly. I felt like crying every time. I thought of the good memories that I’d made with them and that’s something that I’ll never forget.

There’s no exact words to describe it, but it’s like they warmed my soul. For a long time I didn’t like to form relationships too quickly, not even with people my age. It made me feel vulnerable. But the friendships I formed with the children were special. The children helped me find a piece of me that I didn’t know I was missing and they will always have a place in my heart.

Alicia

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Nelson is an energetic boy who dreams of being an artist when he’s older.
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Learning How To Listen

Being a journalist or storyteller is a gift in itself. It is a career that is often overlooked or taken for granted. We have to truly understand to be able to translate a message to many. When we began to work at the clinic I came across so many unique characters with stories to tell: patients, teachers and even a doctor. One thing I had in common with all of them was a language barrier.

I had never done interviews through a translator before and until put on the spot, I hadn’t noticed the importance. How can I fully understand the message when I can not understand the speaker?

I have never liked the feeling of not understanding. Hearing my source engage in conversation with the translators is like watching tv on mute. You can see so much emotion in a person’s eyes or hear it in the inflection and tone of voice. For a while, having to wait to hear the source end and the translator begin was a long monotonous process. It easily turned a 15 minute interview into 30. Not to mention repeats. What if they don’t understand the question asked? Does my translator understand me enough to elaborate? Do I trust my translator to give me direct quotes without changing the context? So many worries went through my head upon the first interview that I found myself stuck. It was a teenage girl in the community that I had grown to love, Jennifer. The two days prior I had hung out with her at the school. She taught me Spanish while I taught her English. I didn’t realize it until the following day, but what she really taught me was how to listen.

I ended the first interview early on Friday because I was at a loss. For a character that I knew personally to be so captivating, something was missing. It was Saturday that I came back with a list of questions for her that I had translated into Spanish. I wanted to do it myself. She was patient with me and my broken Spanish. With help from my Spanish dictionary, gestures and a few drawings I was able to understand her replies. But it was her emotion that taught me to listen.

Later that day I completed three additional interviews, two with a translator. This time I anticipated the translation, because I could see the emotion in my sources eyes. I could feel the transition in the context of conversations. I began to fully engage in the conversation and they began to follow, speaking directly to me, looking me in my eyes so I could experience every moment.

My recordings have never been so valuable, because I can go back and hear the inflection of their voices now that I know what they are saying, and understand the meaning. I had gotten used to hearing someone speak and turning scribbles on a notepad into a story, but I now can rely on listening to truly understand.

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My Impromptu Social Justice Adventure

Leaving the country for the first time and heading to Nicaragua, I was ready for an adventure. Then I got here, and I realized that there wasn’t much room for spontaneity and adventure in our jam-packed itinerary.

So the days went on as we found small adventures in our pre-planned activities like visiting communities, meeting the kind-hearted locals, and seeing the natural beauty this country has to offer.

On Wednesday, an unexpected visit from International Service Learning’s country Coordinator, Pavel Guevara, came to see Texas State’s team in action. He mentioned to our professor about another team from Baker University in Kansas City also working in Managua with ISL. On Thursday they were participating in a police campaign against drugs, alcohol and domestic violence in Managua.

Thanks to the negotiation skills of our professor Holly Wise, two of us got to break from our team’s schedule and tag along with the social justice team for a day and grab a new story.

Breaking Off From the Group

I was thrilled to be able to go with my fellow student, Magdalena Avila, deep into Managua and see the social issues this country deals with first hand. In particular, I was excited to see the differences between Nicaragua’s take on crime because of my background in nonprofits and telling the stories of organizations that aim to help the community.

We arrived to a basketball court, that had been turned into a soccer field and around fifty boys lined the fence to listen to police speak and play a game of soccer in the name of bettering crime in Nicaragua.

I found out that the police had an agreement with the people of the community to host a soccer game for the children in the community to encourage them to stay out of trouble. Their goal was to build a positive relationship with these kids, not a relationship based on fear.

The police mingled with the children on the sidelines as more boys played an intense game of soccer. When watching the police officer move from boy to boy, talking with them and asking them questions, I noticed he did not carry a weapon.

When I asked him why, he said that he didn’t want to intimidate the people into abiding the law, he wanted to gain their trust so that they would abide the law because of respect for the law.

This approach to law in the most impoverished part of Managua struck me for two main reasons. First, because of the obvious fact that I don’t think I have ever known a police officer in Texas to go anywhere without their weapon and second because I then realized we were in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Managua with an unarmed police officer. However, as the day went on the second part didn’t concern me as much as I noticed how friendly the relationship was between the police and the people of the communities we were visiting.

Officer Ramirez would walk right up to a group of kids, who probably haven’t been the most model of citizens, and they would have a conversation with zero tension. They would laugh together, make jokes and talk about their goals for each other and their community.

Upon my arrival back to the United States, I look forward to doing more research on the crime rates and how this approach to law enforcement works from a statistical standpoint because seemingly it serves its purpose from walking around with the police for an unplanned day with a social justice team from Kansas.

Everyone has a story.

IMG_0180I didn’t know what to expect when I got the chance to come to Nicaragua. This would be the first time a group of mass communication students would join the Texas State nursing students in Nicaragua. We were rookies. Newbies. New kids on the block.

We have been building relationships with Nicaraguans, or Nicas as they call themselves, left and right since we got here. The communities we have visited have all been so welcoming. Our days have been long. The food has been great. The views have been breathtaking.

But the most touching part of this experience has caused me to leave a piece of my heart here and it has only been one week. On Sunday, we went to Hermanas Siervas del Divino Rostro orphanage. Our goal was to paint an outside wall, the dining area and of course play with the kids.

There was a young boy off to the side just observing from afar. I walked over and started chatting with him. He told me his name was Carlos Leiva. He is 13 years old and has been at the orphanage since he was two. He said his sister lives there too. She is 15 and has been there since she was 18 months old. He told me he would be leaving soon because the orphanage would soon be a girls-only-facility. He is going to be sent to a place in Chinandega, Nicaragua which is about 3 hours away from where he’s at now. This means he will be separated from the only family he has … his sister. I asked if he would get the chance to see her again. He slowly looked away, putting his head down, and said, “I don’t know.” My heart ached for him. At that moment I thought, “I have three sisters, my parents and friends who support me. I can’t imagine what my life would be without them.” I stopped taking notes. I stepped away. And the tears rolled down. It felt like a load of bricks on my chest and all I wanted was to hear my sister’s voice. He was so quiet and timid … but his pain was louder than anything I have ever heard. It has been a few days and I still get a knot in my throat. I get chills every time I think about Carlos and his sister.

Like most, I too forget how blessed I am. I thought I would be here to leave my grain of sand in Nicaragua, but in the matter of minutes and at the age of 13, Carlos put my whole life into perspective.

Teen Pregnancies in Nicaragua

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A young patient gets her pregnancy checked on at the free clinic.           Photo By: Elisha Colip

 

By: Elisha Colip

Being in my early 20s, I feel nowhere prepared to take care of children or to start a family. In Nicaragua there are a lot of young girls who are getting pregnant, having kids and possibly having multiple kids during the age frame of 13 and up. I have personally seen multiple girls that are younger than me with kids already and no job. In Nicaragua, a country where birth control is free for everyone with or without insurance, it is also the country in Central America that has the highest rate of teen pregnancies according to Dr.Quezada, a doctor at the free clinic in San Francisco de Nindri, Nicaragua set up by nursing students from Texas State.

Nicaragua schools also teach sex education to inform teens about the dangers of having unprotected sex. Speaking to Dr. Quezada, I was informed that rape happens a lot here so that has some to do with the pregnancy rate. On top of that, there are a lot more girls getting married in their teens to start families early on in life. In Colorado they made birth control free and the teen pregnancy rate dropped a 40 percent  according to an article on New York Times. So why isn’t this the case In Nicaragua? Culture has a lot to do with why it might not be so effective in Nicaragua. It is a lot more socially acceptable for teens to get pregnant in Nicaragua than in the states because of the way their culture functions, they don’t shame a teen for getting pregnant, they just accept that it happens. Of course there are a million other reasons like transportation or lack of education about birth control. Dr.Quezada says teen pregnancy is something they are  continually working on and campaigning about to lower the rate of teen pregnancy.

Greetings from Nicaragua!

I had no idea what I was coming into when I signed up for this study abroad trip, but I’ve loved every second of it. The end of the first week is rapidly approaching and I’m so thankful for every experience I’ve had.

We’ve been going out to visit communities and it’s so humbling to be interacting with the Nicaraguan people. The first day going to the community the nursing students were taking a health census. We walked on a dirt road for about 10 minutes before we reached the first house. This came completely unexpected, and it was surprising for me to think about the fact that the people have to walk there everyday. The interactions with the people were very humbling. Most of the people would offer us all of their chairs or whatever they had for us to sit down and be comfortable. The adults were friendly and the kids seemed happy to have visitors.

Seeing the living conditions here has made many of us realize how fortunate we are to have everything we do. Simple things that we take for granted, like hot water to shower, seem like a luxury. I’ve felt the team atmosphere change from the day we arrived until now. I think all of us have learned to look at the bright side of our situation instead of focusing on things that lack.

I’ve been forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone and I think it’s going well so far. I’m looking forward to sharing all of the great stories that the team is gathering here. In this way, we are making our small difference in the world.

Alicia

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An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication