Lessons I Learned On An Immersion Trip To Nicaragua

Lessons I Learned On An Immersion Trip To Nicaragua

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This January a group of 14 Students from the College of the Holy Cross, along with a Jesuit Priest and two members of International Partners in Mission, traveled to Nicaragua to spend ten days learning, reflecting, and living in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. From looking down into the depths of an active volcano to sitting in the dirt to play duck-duck-goose with children, we experienced beauty and poverty of a country very unlike the United States.

As a college junior who has had little experience traveling, this trip to Nicaragua was my first trip to a developing country. This trip was not a service trip-it was an Immersion Trip. This meant that we did not have a week-long project to complete or a general goal in mind. Instead, we were there to learn about and experience the culture of Nicaragua. This meant there was a lot of reflecting, and for me a lot of journaling. We visited several NGO's and organizations aimed at empowering women and youth in their communities. We saw countless inspiring people trying to make a difference in their communities.

At Mujer y Communidad, we listened to women trying to help legally and psychologically in domestic abuse situations. We met young adults who got to go to school because of their scholarship programs. At CEPROSI, we met women who make beautiful flowers out of corn husks to sell, and women who make soaps, cough syrup, and other medicines to sell in the community. We also got to see firsthand the way one woman was able to get a roof for her kitchen, and farm animals she could raise, sell, and get food from. The wonderful women of CEPROSI invited us into their homes where we stayed the night and experienced the way they live on a daily basis. Podcast for Peace showed us the children who learn more at their after school programs and told us about their original goal to get children out of gangs and back into the classroom. Esperanza en Accion showed us a commitment to fair trade and reminded us to be conscious about where our food and our belongings come from. Fe y Allegria showed us that education matters.

Throughout school, I have read books about other cultures, learned some basic world history and geography, and spent time trying to keep up with world news. However, there is a lot that I can learn from the rest of the world when I leave my own personal Massachusetts bubble. Traveling to Nicaragua, I learned three substantial things about myself and the world I live in.

The first is that I am rich. I do not mean this in a monetary sense-I am a college student with a lot of loans-but I mean this in a sense that I physically, mentally, and spiritually have a lot. I am never hungry, I have a roof over my head, and I have boundless opportunities that have been presented to me throughout my life because of education. I am also intelligent, having the opportunity to go to college and pursue a career of my choosing. Because of where I came from and the people I have interacted with, I have common sense and morals that are at the foundation of who I am. I am also a part of a Catholic community, where my faith helps me grow as a person.

Many people we met in Nicaragua are in poverty; 26.6% if you define that as less that $2/day and 54% if you define it as $4/day. Just surviving--having a place to sleep, eat, and be healthy is a struggle for many. Despite the sometimes desolate conditions, many of the people we encountered in Nicaragua were so full of life. They readily cooked elaborate meals for us, talked happily about the work they do or the cow they were able to buy with a small loan from an NGO. They were always smiling. The children ran around their dirt-covered backyard with only a soccer ball and each other, coming up with other games to play. An old radio blasted traditional music as the people danced together, taking in the night. One particular woman named Yamileth talked about the way her faith gives her motivation. She said that every person is a reflection of God-and because of that, she should treat everyone with the same dignity and respect. This is why she dedicates her life to helping those around her, thus cultivating her relationship with God. Yamileth is rich because she has faith and love. This was a reminder that it is not the possessions that make the person, or bring happiness to life; this reminded me that I am rich in love, and I have much to be thankful for.

The second lesson I felt was emphasized in my experience in Nicaragua is that differences should be celebrated. Growing up in a diverse city as I did, I got to experience different cultures, different foods, and different ideologies that made me appreciate my own culture and heritage. By learning about the differences within our student group as well as the differences of the country, I came to appreciate how much different people have to offer in a group in terms of experiences and viewpoints. It's always good to practice being able to see both sides of an argument, and being able to look at the world a little differently.

Traveling to Nicaragua showed me how one-sided both history and news sources in the United States can be. A lot of the recent history of Nicaragua has been strongly influenced by the United States. In the early 1900's, the United States provided political support to a candidate, eventually occupied the country, and aided the beginning of the Somoza Dynasty. After the Revolution and the winning of the Sandinista party, the Iran-Contra Scandal involved funding the Contras in the 80's to overthrow the Sandinistas. Even today, with the Nica Act in Congress currently, the United States threatens to pull out funding because of unfair elections. Learning about all of the history of Nicaragua, I learned that differences in viewpoints make for very different stories and in order to be an educated citizen of the world, it is important to learn every side of that.

The third lesson I learned in Nicaragua is that I want to do something impacting with my life. I want to make a difference in the lives of others just as the women we met along the way made a difference in their communities. I have always believed that serving others is the way to live a meaningful life, but seeing the people of Nicaragua and learning more about my place in the world has motivated me even more to do something to enact positive change in the world. I also know now that making a difference does not have to mean reaching every corner of the world; I can leave a lasting impact on a handful of people and understand that that in itself is making the world a better place.

The women we met across Nicaragua talked about seeing a problem in their community and acting to change it. In one case, that was seeing domestic abuse cases ignored and finding a way to help the victims seek psychological assistance or legal assistance. In another case, that was seeing the rise of gangs and violence in a neighborhood and creating after-school programs to get children off the streets and making smarter decisions. If these women, in positions of poverty or near-poverty, can make such a meaningful difference in their communities-why can't I?

Seeing the beauty of Nicaragua was amazing, but meeting the people who so hope to change the struggle of the country was awe-inspiring. It was certainly a journey I will never forget.

Cover Image Credit: Alyssa Bovell

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I'm A Woman And You Can't Convince Me Breastfeeding In Public Is OK In 2019

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Lately, I have seen so many people going off on social media about how people shouldn't be upset with mothers breastfeeding in public. You know what? I disagree.

There's a huge difference between being modest while breastfeeding and just being straight up careless, trashy and disrespectful to those around you. Why don't you try popping out a boob without a baby attached to it and see how long it takes for you to get arrested for public indecency? Strange how that works, right?

So many people talking about it bring up the point of how we shouldn't "sexualize" breastfeeding and seeing a woman's breasts while doing so. Actually, all of these people are missing the point. It's not sexual, it's just purely immodest and disrespectful.

If you see a girl in a shirt cut too low, you call her a slut. If you see a celebrity post a nude photo, you call them immodest and a terrible role model. What makes you think that pulling out a breast in the middle of public is different, regardless of what you're doing with it?

If I'm eating in a restaurant, I would be disgusted if the person at the table next to me had their bare feet out while they were eating. It's just not appropriate. Neither is pulling out your breast for the entire general public to see.

Nobody asked you to put a blanket over your kid's head to feed them. Nobody asked you to go feed them in a dirty bathroom. But you don't need to basically be topless to feed your kid. Growing up, I watched my mom feed my younger siblings in public. She never shied away from it, but the way she did it was always tasteful and never drew attention. She would cover herself up while doing it. She would make sure that nothing inappropriate could be seen. She was lowkey about it.

Mindblowing, right? Wait, you can actually breastfeed in public and not have to show everyone what you're doing? What a revolutionary idea!

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby. It's something you need to do, it's a part of life. But there is definitely something wrong with thinking it's fine to expose yourself to the entire world while doing it. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody cares if you're feeding your kid. Nobody cares if you're trying to make some sort of weird "feminist" statement by showing them your boobs.

Cover up. Be modest. Be mindful. Be respectful. Don't want to see my boobs? Good, I don't want to see yours either. Hard to believe, I know.

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My Hometown Just Experienced A Mass Shooting, If We Don't Do Something, Yours Could Be Next

You never think it will happen to you until it does.

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I was on my way out the door to work when I got a panicked call from my mother.

"Can you look at the news online?" she said quickly. "There is a mass shooting somewhere nearby."

My heart stopped. For me, Aurora, Illinois is home. I was born there, I grew up around the area and I attended high school there. My siblings go to school close by and my boyfriend works for a neighboring fire department.

How could my beloved hometown become the victim of the latest tragedy?

After calling my boyfriend, who was at the fire station getting ready to deploy ambulances to the scene, I discovered that it had taken place at a factory nearby. My anxiety hit an all-time high as I watched the updates on all of the local city Facebook pages and groups. Officers down. Gunman at large. Mass casualties.

Hours later, all of the facts came out. A former employee of Henry Pratt's Company, a local industrial warehouse, had recently been let go and decided to get revenge. He entered the warehouse with a gun and began to shoot at random, killing five people and wounding many others, including five police officers. He was killed by local SWAT forces.

I am the kind of person who is pro-gun and pro-gun rights because of the second amendment and all of the freedoms I believe we deserve. But that doesn't make what happened okay and it never will.

While this situation doesn't change my mind, it does change my view of the world.

Why would somebody decide that shooting former coworkers was the way to go? Why would anyone want to hurt others? These are the questions that flooded my mind in the hours after the mass shooting. I don't necessarily think we have a gun issue in America, but issues with mental health and valuing life.

We pass bills to kill unborn children. We repeal bills that take away healthcare from million. We devalue life in its most basic form and respect those around us to still have enough respect for each other's lives. We stigmatize those who need psychiatric care and expect things to still be alright.

This is not alright.

Our country, our system, our values, and morals, they are all broken and backward. We have let mass shootings become normal and violence becomes accepted. It needs to be stopped. There needs to be a change.

One of the people killed was an intern from a local college during his first day on the job. Being a college student applying to internships myself, this hit far too close to home. Nobody deserves to die, least of all in their place of work while trying to further their career.

Five people lost their lives due to someone's disrespect of them. Yes, a gun was the weapon, but a mind was the actor. I pray that someday, our country will return to valuing life and respecting others enough to help them instead of pushing them away. This is not the first mass shooting, but it can be the last. If, and only if, we make sure of it.

If you want to help the victim's families in any way, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with funeral expenses

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