UNO, Volleyball and Sustainable Change

The first few days in Nicaragua have both flown and dragged by, but in many ways, the real journey hasn’t even started yet. I have started to settle in with my host family, meaning I have gotten my butt kicked in countless rounds of UNO with my host sister and cousins, I have sweated profusely playing volleyball in the street during the evening, and I have enjoyed conversations over meals with my host mother and grandmother. I am adjusting to stifling heat and humidity with no relief because of nonexistent air-conditioning, bug season, piropos (cat calls) and stares, and drums and fireworks constantly going off. I am enjoying cool showers, nights spend on the porch, seeing the passion of students and volunteers, and fresh juices. Most importantly, I am beginning to see Nicaragua, to absorb the culture, and to analyze what it means to work toward sustainable development here.

IMG_3574In only four full days, we have already encountered the countless dilemmas that make up the hard work of volunteerism and community development work. During sessions on teaching in a foreign language and classroom development, we discussed with amazing Peace Corps volunteers how speaking in English only may be the most beneficial choice for your students. This could involve pretending you know no Spanish, and obviously not practicing your Spanish during your work. This is one small way among many in which volunteers can be selfless by sacrificing their own pride and practice. We also talked about what it means to enact sustainable change specifically in education. It does not mean using materials and management ideas that only you can afford, things that will fall away when you leave. Rather, it means changing the behavior and perspectives of those people and institutions that will remain even if you leave. If you can show a teacher or students a new way of thinking or acting, they can continue in your absence. As one of our Peace Corps trainers said, the whole idea is to work so that your work becomes irrelevant, so that you are no longer needed. Even small discussions we have had about empathy and care given to street dogs versus people in the streets have challenged me to begin to think in a new way about how you can best help a community. I can already tell that these next weeks will be full of debate and exploration.

Next week we will begin to tour the schools of our primary placement, and we will meet our counterparts in those schools, the teachers we will be working with. We will also begin to explore possibilities for our secondary project. My head is constantly spinning already with curiosity and energy, and I cannot wait for the real work to begin. Meanwhile, I will continue exploring our neighborhood and León, brainstorming, and crossing my fingers for more rain and big thunderstorms. 

Kara Fitzgerald ’16