~by Martha Morris, stateside volunteer
Why lead delegation after delegation of college students or other visitors to Nicaragua?
“In a nutshell”, explains ProNica stateside director Melissa Ajabshir, “rather than a model of bringing people from the global north to serve people of the global south… we work to facilitate transformation, where students encounter marginalized people but also learn about our intertwined histories and meet the inspiring people who are changing lives and improving conditions in their communities.”
Rick Ellis became acquainted with ProNica and its aspirations when his son, then a student at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL, got to know Davida Johns, then stateside director of ProNica. The student and his faculty advisor arranged for a trip to Nicaragua with ProNica.
Hearing of his son’s experiences, Rick, a professor at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, was motivated to lead his own student group to Managua. The delegations fit right in with Rick’s work at Washburn, since he organizes and manages student volunteer work there, too.
He noticed that his first ProNica trip “was very different from other study trips. It involved personal change, not just visits to museums.” He has led seven more delegations since then.
What has Rick observed? “Many of the students start with no sense of the historical U.S. involvement in other countries. They begin to question what is happening around them.
“And the ProNica staff provides experiences allowing the students to work in community in a much deeper way. They begin to see what people can accomplish at a grass-roots level. They return to school inspired to work in the U.S. and around the world, for example by expanding and developing the literacy program at Washburn,” Rick reflects.
When kids come back, their peers recognize that they have changed. “Part of the change comes from staying with families there. When they see the struggles the Nicaraguans face, they realize that their own struggles are do-able.”
Even more important to Rick, however, is that delegation travelers come back feeling they can accomplish change even with few resources. They do not feel the need to wait for large organizations to act. “When they return, they see how much they can do because they have seen, for example, a women’s clinic built from very few resources. The delegation members feel more competent.”
The students “feel that they can do something about poverty. They can be creative, roll up their sleeves” and act, like the Nicaraguans they have met, Rick notes.
Staying with families allows the students to make personal connections with their hosts and with each other, Rick notices. After five days in El Limón, the students returned to Kansas and raised the money for the town to finish its electrification project.
And while in Nicaragua, the students gather every evening to reflect on what they are getting out of the trip.
Summarizes the professor: “ This is one of the more powerful international experiences kids can have.” *