Our Experience in Mozambique
When we arrived at Young Africa’s Beira campus, we were immediately struck by the beautifully painted buildings and the serene atmosphere of students working and socializing. Though we were not scheduled to begin our work until Monday, we were eager to get started and so we set about pairing wooden boards to make benches and desks for a primary school in Dondo. The wood had been discarded by Chinese industrialists and was purchased for very cheap. Young Africa wanted to show the locals of Dondo that they could make something useful and practical without much money; also, the classrooms were just cement floors and the students were in the habit of sitting on the floor for class. We stripped the bark off the wood and matched boards together to make desks. The first week, we went to the site of the primary school where a group of men waited to work with us. Joe, an Irish volunteer trained in construction, showed the men how to nail the wood into the benches and use concrete to affix them to the ground of the empty classrooms. For the first week, we worked alongside the local men, sawing and pairing boards and carrying wood between the three classrooms in which we were working.
In the second week, we went for the first time to the site of the AgriTech, Young Africa’s new agriculture school right down the street from the primary school. There we were shown how to make cement blocks, mix concrete, and lay bricks in the foundation of the first building of the school. We also went back to the primary school and painted the classrooms with bright green and white paint.
In our third and final full work week, we conducted a survey with the young people of Dondo about the new AgriTech school. We drove to Dondo and stopped in a few markets and along the road to talk to people between the ages of 15 and 25. We asked them about their current employment and daily occupations, education experience, goals for the future, and interest in AgriTech. We prepared a lengthy report for the directors of Young Africa with the information gathered. We also took time during this week to interview various department heads, administrators and students of Young Africa for YA newsletters. We talked with them about how they came to get involved with the organization and what in particular they liked about working here.
In addition to the general tasks mentioned above, we spent about a day each week working at the Young Africa crèche. On the weekends we visited a local orphanage, the House of Blessings, and also a state-run orphanage in the city of Beira. Carolina, the volunteer film student in our group, also filmed and edited a Young Africa promotional video. She also worked on a project of her own, allowing young people to film short videos portraying the cultural identity of their community and then projecting the footage to them. She wants to show how, through film, a community can further understand the unique aspects of who they are. Our entire group visited the village of Mafambisse to project the video for villagers and witness their response to seeing themselves on film for the first time. We also spent some evenings discussing various elements of development (HIV/AIDS, aid and development, gender) in a roundtable setting with long-term volunteers.
In our free time, we enjoyed dance parties, playing games, and doing aerobics classes with the long-term volunteers and with the girls who live in the hostel on campus. Lastly, we enjoyed visiting local markets to try exotic new fruits and purchase jewelry and fabric for family and friends at home.
Our trip to Peru was an enormous experience for all of us and it’s difficult to break down all of those memories into a coherent conclusion. However, since we arrived back in the United States four weeks ago, the most important and valuable parts of that journey have floated to the surface in a way that makes it easier to write about them.
Our project was in collaboration with a comprehensive health initiative that MOCHE Inc, an archeological non-profit in coastal Peru, undertook so that community development could be leveraged for community support for academic interest in their dig sites. By providing for the health needs of those in the villages of Bello Horizonte, Ciudad de Dios, and Manocucho, MOCHE could rely on their respect and support to protect the fragile archeological property of Peru’s rich cultural history.
The health project consisted of two main components. First, the construction of a primary health clinic, which in its first phase would specialize in pre- and post-natal care for a population of 10,000 villagers in the Moche Valley area. Second, the planning and execution for three health fairs to facilitate education for hygienic health practices and offer free consultation services from doctors, dentists, and other health specialists.
Recap: The last few days of work were emotional for all. We poured concrete for the roof of our clinic (it’s finally a building!) and had another short ceremony/community party to celebrate. A few of us also helped out by painting a large mural on the gazebo structure in the central Plaza de Armas of Bello Horizonte. The children were very eager to help out because it’s a place of their own. We enjoyed the opportunity to allow them to contribute to their own space. The feeling that our days of work were limited and ending so soon hung over us in a way that was sadder than we could have anticipated at the beginning of the trip. Our last day was spent frantically packing and writing thank-you cards for all of the hostel and MOCHE Inc. staff that made our experience so unforgettable.
Our group’s impacts in Peru are both concrete and gratifying. There is a physical structure, a huge concrete building, that stands today in the small mountain village of Bello Horizonte where just six weeks prior to our departure there was nothing but unleveled terrain. That building will be furnished and staffed so that it is fully equipped to deliver the care that the locals need to keep their children alive and healthy. In addition, many families have altered the trajectories of their health with the new practices they learned about at our health fairs: hand washing, teeth brushing, appropriate response to illness, and awareness about chronic diseases and their diagnosis/prevention.
Conversely, some of the impacts that this experience made on us were most evident in a few situations after returning home. For many of us, it felt strange to enjoy everyday luxuries like air conditioning on a daily basis, after witnessing so much poverty in Peru. Driving everywhere rather than walking seemed unnatural. Having all of our peers speak the same language as us was another big change to get used to. The adaptation back to our native environments was quick, but at times clunky and revealing of the magnitude of our cultural experience abroad.
We’ve taken the relationships that we formed with each other to Facebook by creating a group for ourselves to share pictures, things that we miss about Peru, and plans to get together again and taste this summer’s adventure in reflection and reminiscence. There’s a general consensus among these nine buckeyes that the feeling that Peru left us with was awesome, important, and something that we’d like to stick with us. Doing that may mean future international travel, dedicating our careers to development projects like this one, or even simply reconnecting as often as we can with the people that characterized this thrilling experience.
Ah yes, the last blog post about Nicaragua. It is bittersweet.
We arrived back in the United States last Tuesday evening. Sam H and Ashton headed to their respective homes in California and Texas that evening and Sam W, Brie and I stayed in Miami for the night. Our flights did not leave till the next morning.
Last week Ashton did not tell you about our last excursion, the Volcan Masaya Night Tour, because I wished to tell about it. So here goes.
About 3 o’clock Friday afternoon Sam W, Brie, Ashton, and I drove with Andres and Memo to the Masaya Volcano. Sam H did not come because he was sick. Brie, however, took lots and lots of pictures for Sam so that it was like he came with us.
We started off our afternoon at the Volcano Museum and then drove up to the Saint Santiago Volcano. It is still active and is spewing sulfur. Parakeets live in the caves in the walls of the Santiago crater. The sulfur keeps their predators at bay. I could hear the Parakeets, but I never saw one. Next we walked up the sides of 2 more craters. I don’t remember their names, but they were named after saints. The walk to the very top was super steep and the path was slippery. We had fun coming down too. We “surfed” down the mountain. The trek, though, was well worth it. The views were amazing. I think the coolest part was seeing the Santiago Crater right next to a lush green mountain. The contrast was extreme.
My favorite part came next. We walked into a giant bat cave. We could see the bats flying out of it. There were so many of them. The cave was large and we kept walking further and further back. Near the end we saw some baby bats hanging on a branch
The final destination was Volcan Masaya. Some nights viewers can see the lava, other nights they’re not so lucky. We were unable to see the lava but we could hear the volcano rumbling. It was like constant thunder. Andres likened the rumbling to the snorting of a pig.
Right now I am sitting at the dining room table at my parent’s house drinking hot tea and writing this on my laptop. It couldn’t be more different than the 5 weeks I spent in Nicaragua. Nicaragua was great though, and I had a blast and learned a bunch.
I am happy to be back; I had no idea I liked New Mexico so much until I was gone. With that said, I enjoyed my time in Nicaragua, I think we all did. It was an experience none of us will forget and which may influence our lives back here in the States. It was, honestly, a shock to go to such poverty stricken areas. La Solidaridad, for example, was a large former squatter community that is now permanent. We were simply providing the materials for a roof and some labor and the people there were so happy. They were so happy to have a roof that would keep the rain out. I found this very humbling and truly realized how good we have it here.
The people I met there were very nice, both in Granada and in the communities we worked in. I loved how in the evening the people in Granada would bring their chairs out to the side walk and chat with each other. It was a small city but it had a sense of community. The food was different but very good. My host family was amazing and my host mother an excellent cook. I don’t speak the greatest Spanish, but my family worked with me and we were able to communicate effectively most of the time. The people at Casa Xalteva were great too. They were friendly and all for helping us improve our Spanish. Same goes for the people at Viva Nicaragua. They were all very nice and helpful. Viva Nicaragua is actually the group that set up which communities we would be working in and they were a pleasure to work with.
I would like to thank everyone who was involved and who made this experience possible. I want to thank our generous donors, without you we would not have been able to provide the materials used in each community. Thank you very very much.
Nicaragua was great and I would do it again. It was amazing. The culture, the food, the cause we were helping, the people; everything was good. I enjoyed it all and learned a lot, about all sorts of things.
Until next time,
Some random pictures:
PB&J for our last lunches in Los Cocos
Dear Readers – the end is near and it’s time for the final chapter! But stay with us — the epilogue has yet to unfold.
Last Sunday, Brie caught everyone up to speed, but this Sunday (and Monday) I will purposely leave some holes in the story for our reflections post to cover simply because Kyanne is the heroine, so it’s best to hear it all from the horse’s mouth.
Last week’s excursion took us to Volcán Mombacho, the volcano shadowing Granada. Instead of traipsing around the forest, we went in style – taking the “zipline canopy tour” in harnesses, gloves, and hardhats. Our guides led us to platforms built in various levels of the tree tops. We climbed the first one, but most of the others were connected via cables – so we were clipped on and went flying through the forest. Each ride on the line was a little different, especially when the guides had us try new things.
We learned the “Superman” is just as the name entails – arms out and legs behind you (practically free fall position). The guide helped hold us straight while we all zipped through like the man of steel.
Next, we were set upside down like trapeze artists…
And finally we were bounced along the crest and trough of a wave in the line. (My favorite – imagine a bungee cord)
All in all, it was an exciting morning… but since we finished early we ate out and went to the pool until dinner.
The next morning, we were refreshed and recharged for the start of our last project, a school improvement project in a community outside of Granada and towards the lake– called Los Cocos. This public school lacked government funding to repair the building, so it has been hindered by inconsistent classes.
Our main objective was to replace the rotted wooden beams supporting the roof and to remove and reinstall the zinc panels. Luckily, the leaking problem came from improper installation, so the panels were in great condition. We just needed to redo the roof.
Our second goal was to build a room for the kids’ toilet. When we started, it was completely open and unused due to lack of privacy.
We had seen pictures of the damage before-hand (see the first post), so we were all ready to tackle the logistics, but the implications behind these seemingly straightforward projects always manage to surprise us. When we started, we learned that holding class in this building was sporadic at best. When it rains, class is cancelled. When there is no water, class is cancelled. Even if it’s just too cloudy, class is cancelled (the rooms are too dark –leaky roofs at any time make electricity impossible). Some parents kept kids at home simply because the inadequate toilet. Many of the desks and books were ruined.
For this project, we received help from contractors outside of the local community. Every day, we rode together to the site and worked together to solve problems (i.e. power tools without electricity, laying support beams from the ground, upside-down ladders, pests and lunch!)
Through it all, we progressed slowly but surely. This Thursday was also Brie’s birthday. We had planned to celebrate after work, but Sam H got sick so we moved it to Saturday.
Saturday we made time to buy souvenirs in Masaya, a city known for its huge market. Overall, we had a good time, but we had a change of plans when Kyanne got sick. So Brie’s birthday was cancelled.
Sunday was a national holiday involving bull runs, but other than that – I can’t remember the significance of the event. Bulls are released in the cities and people watch and/or run with them.
Monday was our last day at the project site, and we ate lunch on site (like we did on Friday) to finish everything up. The sun was setting as we returned to Granada.
The thought of going home tomorrow is thrilling. Now that we have successfully finished our projects, we have to go back to our lives. After 5 weeks of day laboring in the sun, our air-conditioned classrooms will be a dream. I will miss the calm after work, waking up before the sunrise and considering sleep once the sun sets, but I will trade it back for the crazy long nights and frantic mornings of your average college student. Still, although our comfort is tempting, I can forever appreciate the simple thrift of rice, beans, fans and buses. All and all, I can say it was a great five weeks – I learned so much and still helped make a difference.
Tonight we will all finish our last minute packing and tomorrow we leave~ Here’s to a safe flight!
The fourth Nourish-FIPAH partnership project wrapped up at the end of July quite busily and quite well. The last days in each location (Yorito, Yoro and Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá) were spent finishing the final classes and workshops, preparing resources to leave behind for future English classes (see below!), making diplomas for students who participated, and saying teary goodbyes to friends in the community, FIPAH staff, and the youth we worked with all summer.
A lot of the busy final moments were spent making sure that after we left, the infamously difficult English classes could continue at least a little more smoothly than before. The two main problems with English classes in the education centers (at least as we saw them) are that the teachers speak at most only a little more English than the students (making pronunciation a real bear), and that the books provided come with very little explanation or translation and generally make no sense. So, the Otoro team set to work recording a pronunciation CD to leave behind with the facilitators (education center teachers), including the songs that were a real hit in all their classes. Meanwhile Ms. Asia Morris, our Postcards for Progress ally in Yorito, logged many an hour with a laptop on the table and Hi, Honduras (the aforementioned textbook) on her lap, translating the entire 7th and 8th grade editions (six books in all!) We hope that these resources can be useful to students facilitators, and that in the future we can build upon them more to make the English classes more sustainably successful.
Two days before the group’s departure from Honduras, the nine of us said goodbye to our respective lovely host towns and met up on a bus to La Ceiba, the city where we started our trip and where FIPAH’s national administrative offices are. Although Ceiba has a lot to offer in beautiful beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and zip-lining, the team, being the Diligent Dilcias they are, spent all of Thursday in the FIPAH office with the general administrator, Fredy Sierra, for a series of very fruitful conversations about the project, where it was successful, what we learned, and how we can improve it next year.
The definite consensus was that what was most important and fun for us as team members were the relationships we developed over the course of two months – with the students, with our host families, with the FIPAH staff, with the kids we played soccer with. Fredy made the point that one of the greatest impacts of the project is having a group that comes back each summer to support the youth programs and participate in the exchange of ideas and worldviews. Solidarity between the Nourish students and the FIPAH youth, more so than the English classes, computer workshops, and agricultural work, is what this project is about. This makes for what on the surface looks like somewhat of a contradictory position on the continuation of the project. On the one hand, one of Nourish’s core values is sustainability, so there’s something a little discomforting about a project whose success is to an extent contingent upon its repetition each summer. But on the other hand, coming back is fundamental to what has made this project so successful. It’s in the Nourish team’s return each summer that the relationships are made stronger and the solidarity that is the greatest strength of the project is demonstrated and reinforced. I guess another way of looking at it is that the fact that there are always students interested in returning, and that FIPAH always eagerly invites us back, is in itself evidence that the project is sustainable.
So, a huge thank you to all of Nourish’s coordinators, members, and supporters for making the project happen; to the 2011 Nourish team for the work and the fun; to FIPAH for being so welcoming and supportive; and most of all to the FIPAH youth for sharing with us their communities, their work, and these two months of their time.
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- 2 weeks in! Samara Beach, Costa Rica May 23, 2013
- The countdown begins! May 22, 2013
- Success, Sosua, and Sunburn May 22, 2013
- Getting Ready For the Trip! May 22, 2013
- Many thanks to our outgoing Board Members May 21, 2013
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