In January 2016, I embarked on my second journey to Granada, Nicaragua, with the goal of making a positive impact for the students in the village of Nueva Esperanza. Within two short weeks, my class of sixteen Westfield State students would prove to be the most hard-working and caring individuals I have had the privilege of knowing.
Studying abroad as a student leader on my return trip to Nicaragua, I was challenged with multiple areas of leadership among my peers. Prior to our departure, and with the help of a generous donation from a local school district, I developed multi-level math and English literacy lesson plans to teach our students. We donated these math supplies to the program we were volunteering with, called La Esperanza Granada, a non-profit which works to support and improve public education in developing villages near Granada. 110 pounds of supplies split into four filled with foam shapes, rulers, clocks, and snap cubes boxes followed us onto the plane. Each afternoon, our class was able to work with and teach the students in Nueva Esperanza, providing hands-on activities to practice math and problem-solving skills. When I am not in Nicaragua, I hold the children I met firmly in my heart, remembering their positivity, smiles and immense joy.
In addition to teaching, our Westfield class was faced with the task of building an insulated classroom, providing students a cool environment in which to learn during the hot summer months. This new kindergarten classroom would allow La Esperanza Granada to expand their education program to the youngest learners of Nueva Esperanza. After raising over $8,000, our group purchased the supplies necessary to build this class-room. Daunting physical tasks faced us each day on the work site, including relocating over 1,500 cinderblocks, shoveling and hauling dirt, and mixing cement. In Nicaragua, especially in small villages like Nueva Esperanza, construction machinery is non-existent. Our hands and muscles, therefore, became our most useful tools. As a student leader, I developed skills to encourage and motivate my peers to work hard and approach new tasks with a positive attitude. I also developed my Spanish and communication skills while working with the Nicaraguan construction workers. They were incredibly patient and welcoming of the help our group was ready to provide. While we did not see the final completion of the kindergarten classroom, the money we raised would provide these men with an additional month of work and pay, helping them support their families.
My experience in Nicaragua has demonstrated the amazing ability of individuals to come together around a common goal to help others. For me as a student at Westfield State, this experience has proven that the knowledge I am gaining while at college is not meant to be kept within. I have experienced the amazing outcomes that stem from being open to receiving knowledge from people and cultures around the world. I am blessed to have had such an amazing experience with at Westfield State.
Want to learn more? Check out these student blogs about their experience studying abroad.