Friday, January 30, 2009

Last 2 days in Nicaragua--tough ones! (Jan. 12-13)

Monday, Jan. 12

Our last morning in Leon was a tough one. We had to say goodbye to our host families, who have treated us like one of their own. Many of us made strong connections in just a few days. While most of us will try to keep in touch, all of us will recall the memories and experiences that we shared with them and cherish each one. We loaded the microbus for one final time and waved farewell to our Nicaragua family (la familia). Tears ran down the cheeks of people on both sides of the bus windows as we drove away.

We traveled back towards Managua to stop at an organization that works for fair trade. Esperanza en Acción (Hope through Action) is a fair trade organization that works with Nicaraguan artisans to ensure fair trade of their art. The non-profit organization (NGO) sells the art for fair prices and then gives that money to the artists. It has made a real difference in many
of lives of the artisans that they work with. We heard from one artisan, Guadalupe, who explained to us how selling her work and receiving fair prices for her art (el arte) has vastly improved the life of her family. We all had an opportunity to buy art from Esperanza en Accion after our discussion. The difficult part was deciding from all of the beautiful pieces of art - pottery, paintings, baskets, jewelry, woven bags, and more.

Finally, for our last night, we traveled to a lake to spend the remainder of the day and night laying in hammocks, swimming, relaxing, and enjoying the dwindling hours in Nicaragua. We stayed in dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds and a few showers. We ate an amazing vegetable stir-fry dinner under the stars and hung out by the lake. It was a nice ending to our amazing experience.

Tuesday, Jan. 13

We woke up early for one final time in Nicaragua. With an afternoon flight back to the U.S. approaching, we had time for one last stop. We loaded the microbus and made our way to the Masaya Market, an outdoor market filled with food, crafts, and goods, to buy souvenirs and gifts. The market (mercado) was a neat experience and gave everyone one last time to work on their Spanish!

Once we depleted our wallets of remaining Córdobas, we traveled to the Managua International Airport. It was time to leave. We checked in for our flight and stopped at the food court to have lunch before boarding the plane. Our delegation hosts, Ofelia and Ulises, dined with us for one last time. After long goodbyes and exchanges of email addresses, we waved farewell to our fabulous hosts and walked through security to our gate.

We had safe flights first to Miami and then Washington, D.C. We exited baggage claim just after midnight to find Gettysburg College vans greeting us outside. Shocked by the cold weather, we quickly loaded our things (plus, we were pretty good at this by now!) and traveled back to Gettysburg College.

Arriving back on campus around 2 a.m., some of us woke-up roommates and others arrived home to people waiting up to hear all about the trip. Either way, we knew that in the coming days we would have much sharing to do with everyone at home. And where to start or how to explain what we learned and experienced felt overwhelming. How could we possibly explain something that truly had to be experienced by oneself?

But for now, we were tired and freezing. The shock between the Nicaraguan warm weather and Gettysburg's frigid night made us want to warm up. Frankly we needed to go to bed after the long day of travel.

Post-Trip Reflections: Kristi Saeger

Day 7 or 8 of my time in Nicaragua was by far the hardest. By then, I had been in the Central American country for approximately one week; I had become accustomed to washing out of a sink sans soap and spraying insecticide under my bed nightly for scorpions and other nightly critters that may be lingering, waiting to pounce on my vulnerable, non-immune and sleeping body. I was days away from my flight out of Miami to Managua, and just days from my return, however both felt like a lifetime from where I stood on Day 8.

One of the reiterated themes from ex-patriots and other foreigners to Nicaragua was the fact that one could spend weeks, months, or years amidst the culture and people of Latin America, but would never truly and completely feel part of their society. As many times as I could possibly eat gallo pinto in one single day, (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack?), or watch the Gigantorro and Pepe perform in the streets, neither would ever fully integrate into my instinctual livelihood. Gallo pinto would never provide the same nostalgia as my mother's homemade ravioli or my dad's french toast, and falling asleep knowing there was a fairly high chance that the drums of the Gigantón performance would startle me in my sleep did not compare to the same effect from the loud music of the Macy's Day Parade, whatsoever. It would take years to become more than an appreciative observer to the Nicaraguan society, and by the eighth day, I couldn't decide my personal stance.

With time, the transition from the bright white walls, floors, countertops, paper towels and toilet paper of the United States was slowly fading, and the routine of waking up to the melodramatic chaos of 15 or more people constantly flowing in and out of the house/on and off of the premises, became preferable to waking up during winter break from school to emptiness and no one's company other than my own while my parents work or run errands or go shopping. Even at school, it is not often that I start my day with my roommates and best friends; our schedules are so jam-packed and busy that we do not have the time to see each other until late in the evening, and often by then we are all exhausted. Was the Nicaraguan way of life better or worse than what I was used to? After one week of immersion, I could no longer be so sure.

The economic and social conditions of the developing world are difficult to witness without feeling the sudden urge to get out there and help in any way you can; however, I have come to discover that these people possess so many qualities that we seem to have lost as citizens of the American society; most importantly of all, the ability to become close to one another, open-minded and accepting of differences, and completely dependent on the presence of friends and family. It is all of these things that create life, create memories, and a reason to push on, despite the hardship and suffering that may exist. This is what we lack as privileged civilians. This is what I have learned from Nicaragua and I will take it with me where ever I may go beyond Gettysburg College.

~ ~ ~ ~
My name is Kristi Saeger and I am in my final year of studies at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, USA. I have studied Economics and International Affairs while at Gettysburg, and hope to work for an embassy after graduation. I love to travel; I have visited Europe and the Caribbean, and lived in Australia for a 5 months during my college years. I love to read and enjoy solving all kinds of puzzles. I prefer warm weather over the freezing temperatures of the Northeast USA any day. I appreciate all medias of art but enjoy pop art the most. I have one sister, one niece, a dog and cat at home - I love them all very much! (Especially my niece- she is only 8 months old!).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Post-Trip Reflections: Sara Cawley

Nicaragua seemed to have more of a community emphasis and stronger relationships than any place I have lived in the United States. As I would walk with my host mother or sister through Leon, they never failed to say hello to passerby or people sitting on their porches, whether they knew them well or not. Family members and friends would frequently drop in, and it was obvious to me that my host family was quite close. Relationships between young men and women were very different what I am accustomed to, however. My host sister Fatima, who is 20, has a boyfriend named Daniel, and while they were frequently together, they were never in a situation (that I saw) where other people were not present. When they spent time “alone” it seemed to be sitting on the front porch or taking a walk together. Although they had been dating for three years, they still acted at times and were treated by my host family like a high school couple that has recently begun dating. The entire vibe of the neighborhood was more active and loud than in the U.S., people walk instead of driving everywhere, and there was a center square where people could come together. The cities of Leon and Managua themselves were not what I was expecting, growing up with cities in the United States. Rather than narrow streets crowded with skyscrapers, the buildings were not over a few stories, the roads and the cities were more spread out. It was nice to be able to see the sky so much! Nicaraguan culture was also far more laid-back than the U.S. – people were just content to be, and it was a little sad to come back to my hectic schedule.

I think that immersion projects are excellent tool s to help people from the States better understand life in Nicaragua – reading from a textbook or hearing a lecture absolutely cannot compare to what I learned in even one day there. Being out of my comfort zone made me more likely to really open my mind, try new things, and view Nicaraguan culture, history, and way of life with as little prejudice as possible. It is difficult to try to explain to friends and family exactly what I experienced there, and how much of an impression it has made upon me – there is only so much pictures can show - but I know my passion for what I experienced is obvious. Although I feel like people here are too often content to simply listen and nod, I think I have convinced a few people to consider going on the next Nicaragua Immersion Project. I think that learning more about Nicaragua would help people become more interested in the country’s future – it is surprising to me, with the United States’ long history of involvement in Nicaragua’s affairs, that U.S. students learn so little about the country.

Trying to decide the best course of action for U.S. and Nicaraguan policy is difficult, any aid monies or outreach programs coming from the government will be tempered with a political agenda. I am sad to say that United States intervention in Nicaragua so far, has not been for the best…the Contra War stands as a great example of negative U.S. influence. The United States needs to begin asking Nicaragua and other countries what they need, rather than always forcing its own agenda. Nicaraguans are not stupid- they know what they need, and I feel as though some U.S. citizens mistakenly associate developing countries with naiveté and unintelligence.

I am still shocked by what I saw in the Leon hospital – the lack of privacy and the conditions were horrifying to my U.S. sensibilities. I do have to stress my respect and astonishment at the dedication the doctors and nurses displayed in that hospital, and what they accomplished despite a severe lack of supplies and equipment.

I was struck by how happy many Nicaraguans were, even though many of them should have been miserable by U.S. standards – I might even say they were happier than many people I know here. I find myself viewing my daily routine and my friends daily routine’s very differently after not having a shower every day – really, every shower I took in Nicaragua was inadequate by U.S. standards, and yet I managed completely fine. My shower after coming back from El Porvenir was probably the best shower of my life so far. I find myself thinking that we really don’t need to flush the toilet that much, and constantly turning off lights that my housemates have left on. When I go to Bullet for lunch, I find myself missing Gallo Pinto, amazingly enough. I am determined to learn Spanish, which I think is a beautiful language. The trip has also had an effect on my future plans; now I am certain that I would like to do some form of volunteer work at some point, and end up working for an NGO, interest group, or the government. Talking with the expatriates we met made me realize that I do not necessarily have to take a traditional path in life; regardless of my future path, I feel that being able to view the U.S. compulsion to always be on the go through new eyes will benefit me and my mental sanity.

Sara Cawley is a sophomore and majors in Political Science with double minors in English and Environmental Studies. She lives in a Domestic Arts theme house with 7 of her friends and says, "My housemates love to cook, I love to eat what they cook." Her parents are divorced, and I lived with my mom, step-father, and younger brother until college started; now she lives with my father in Waverly, Pennsylvania. She loves to read, go running, do outdoor activities, take naps, and spend time with her friends. On campus, I mentor a child each week through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and am a member of College Democrats. She played on the Women’s Rugby Team until she injured her shoulder last year.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Hey folks, we´ll be back soon. We´re traveling and enjoying the last of our days in Nicaragua.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reflections on Day 4

C.W. Day 4
It feels like we have been here for weeks, not just a few days. There is so much
to experience. Just after one night with our host family, I feel like they have
adopted us for life. The more I learn, the passionate I become. Nicaragua used to
be just a developing country to me, but now I understand why others have fallen in
love with the community.

Jess Day 4
So many of U.S. citizens are unecessarily preoccupied with keeping everything
perfectly clean. I propose that we bulk up our immune systems and spend more
time not thinking about cleanliness.

Isha Day 4
The experience in Nicaragua so far has been really great. So far I have learned
a lot about the culture, food, hospital nature of the people, and also the
various problems faced by the nation of Nicaragua--from what I have seen
and heard so far. I can tell that Nicaragua is a country with great potential,
however, it is plagued crisis just like all the other developing countries of the
world. Also, shocked reaction from my friends make me realize how the people of
developing nations are oblivious to such methods of existence. I can see how
trips like these can be an ideal way to create awareness.

Toni Day 4
This trip has been very eye opening. I have learned so much about the Nicaraguan
history and culture. Already its made me aware of all the problems they are
having. There is no simple solution to any of these problems because most of
them are related to each other in the same way. I think what PGL has is terrific
because they are working on sustainable project projects aren´t looking for
quick fixes. PGL really wants to change the mindset of people--Nicaraguans and
others--in how to help in a sustainable way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Leaning about Coffee, trip to Porvenir, Jan. 8

We were up early again on Thursday, Jan. 8, to make our way to El Porvenir--a coffee cooperative and one of PGL´s latest projects. Traveling there took several hours. We left from Leon via our microbus and drove on a paved road for about 30 minutes and then a dirt road for 90 minutes. When the microbus could go no further, we got off the bus with our backpacks and boarded a tractor with a wagon in tow. With 18 of us and a few Nicaraguans also riding along, we stood in the wagon for almost an hour as we made our way up the mountainside. Most of the time, it was difficult to hold on and the tractor was going straight up man-made ramps with little switchbacks. It was a nervous-fun as we made our way to the mountain-top community of El Porvenir.

Upon arriving at the top, it was clear to everyone that the time spent traveling was worth it. El Porvenir is a peaceful and beautiful community of about 300 people who work on hundreds of acres producing organic coffee, cocoa, cotton, and a few other crops for their community. Their primary crop is coffee. Everyone in the community is responsible for different aspects of growing, harvesting, sorting, preparing, bagging, and distributing the coffee. PGL is currently working to bring water to the community via a water-pump system as they have no running water or electricity. Currently, they collect water during the rainy season in three 10,000 to 20,000-gallon metal open tanks that will sustain them for a few months. When they run out, they have to transport water from the base of mountain. The community has a school and we were able to take some time in the afternoon to play games with the kids: Luz Rojo, Luz Verde (Red Light, Green Light), Simon Dice (Simon Says), and drawing and coloring for the younger ones. We had a blast! We spent time with Rene, a leader of the cooperative, who talked to us about the coffee business, opportunities and challenges, fair trade, and the future of this co-op. It was stunning to learn what the farmers are paid for the coffee vs. what companies are able to sell the finished product. We took a hike to the top of one of the mountains for a view of El Salvador and Honduras. It was amazing! We stayed overnight at El Porvenir -- sleeping on hammocks and cots with a view of the valley below and in perfect position for a gorgeous sunrise.

Friday morning we got back on the tractor wagon and made our way to some coffee plants with beans that needed to be picked. Working two to a basket, we picked coffee for about an hour. A basket of coffee beans is worth about 17$ Cordobas (less than $1 U.S.) and most can fill about 7 baskets a day. Each group of two filled about half the basket, and as a group, we picked about 50 pounds of coffee. This co-op sells its coffee directly to two U.S. roasters who pay them $2 U.S. per pound -- a very good price. This coffee is then sold through a grassroots network and has made its way to Gettysburg throughout the year for purchase. We returned, gathered our things, said goodbye to the community, and made our way down the mountain. We returned to our host families a little dusty and tired, but what we learned while spending time in El Porvenir will stay with many of us for a lifetime.

Tomorrow, a day of rest at la playa (the beach)! Till then, Chau!

Reflections on Health Care Exposure

Where to begin with health care in Nica? I was taken aback by the lack of
equipment and the basics (sheets, wheelchairs, etc.) at the urban León hospital.
I was comforted by the warmth and purpose of the rural Santa Rosa casa materna...I have seen very few places like these in the U.S. The infrastructure in Nicaragua is not available.

The quality of healthcare is absolutely frightening, but I feel like it follows the standard of living that most people have. The only thing I know to compare Nica´s healthcare to is the U.S., and I don´t really feel it is appropriate to refer to the U.S. as the standard model. At this point I feel too shocked and not fully equipped to have solid arguments.
The visit to the hospital was informative but also a shocking experience. It was indeed sad to see the main hospital in León operation without necessary equipment and moreover without the basic necessities like bedsheets, stethescopes, etc. It was hard to believe that even donated erquipment didn´t always arrive in working condition. It was shocking to me especially because the government hospitals in my nation depend a lot on foreign donations, and it was difficult for me to image the impact of these problems on the health of the people.
I was very shocked to learn that even the hospital doesn´t have enough equipment
(gloves, sheets, etc.). It was also shocking to learn that people thought they
were helping by sending equipment that didn´t even work! I want to do so much to
help these people, but there are many problems associated with health care: It´s
a problem with infrastructure.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Midwives and Rural Outposts: A Trip to Santa Rosa, Day 4 Jan. 7

We began our adventure to Santa Rosa by leaving early in the morning. We traveled on the microbus for 2.5 hours through good, bad, and worse roads. Luckily for the Nicaraguans, many of the roads we traveled on were in midst of paving; however with many world grant funds being frozen due to economic or political reasons, the future of these projects is uncertain--only 10% of Nicaragua´s roads are paved. We were accompanied on this sojourn by the group of art teachers from the PGL-León Art School who were collecting images of the Santa Rosa projects for a future mural.

Upon arriving in Santa Rosa, we toured a health clinic. Much like the hospital, supplies and resources are scarce. This clinic services the city of Santa Rosa services over 33 rural communities and 4 municipalities--hundreds of thousands of people--with only 10 doctors and a few nurses. Still the work that they do provides needed care in this isolated group of communities.

After our tour of the clinic, we walked around Santa Rosa and saw the sister-school to Urbana High School, Md. This PGL project has fostered cultural exchange and understanding between the 2 high schools, and an Urbana delegation has visited and stayed in Santa Rosa in the past.

A block from the school stood the Casa Materna, which is a building constucted by the relationship between PGL and Project León Minnesota. Several midwives told stories from decades of experience serving the Santa Rosa area. The director and most experienced midwife shared with us the past vision of the facility and present and future plans for the center. One of the messages belayed to our group was continued frustrations with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health. A few years ago the government made a transition from rural midwife delivery to an institutional model prohibiting midwives from delivering babies. The midwives share continued frustrations becauser the clinics are over capacitated and the women prefer midwife deliveries. Now the Casa Materna functions as a temporary home for expecting mother from distant areas--as far as 9 km away. Here, pregnant women and their families wait comfortably until the birth of the baby at the nearby health clinic. The women return to their communities a few days after delivery--sometimes transported via hammock, carried by 2 men, back to their home.

Thanks for reading. We´ll be out of touch for a day or so since we´ll be at a rural coffee co-op Porvenir. Chau.

Making soup

Making soup
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

A variety of ingredients for soup - bananas and root vegatables.

Casa de Materna

Casa de Materna
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

Trip leader Dave Neagley '09 stands in front of Casa de Materna (maternity house), where pregnant women from rural areas can stay before giving birth so that the are close to a clinic. PGL funds were used to build the house and support the program.

Local transportation

Local transportation
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

A local Nicaraguan using a common and sustainable form of transportation.

Go Steelers!

Go Steelers!
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

First-year student C.W. discovered that there are Pittsburgh Steelers fans in Nicaragua, too.

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

Students photograph the scenes while walking in Santa Rosa.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

PGL projects and health, crazy day 3 Jan. 5

Today we started with a 4 1/2 hour tour of historic and modern León. We visited the indigenous section of León and various cathedrals. Later we went to a prison (carcel) that was used during the revolutionary times by the National Guard (guardia nacional) and later converted into a folklore museum. We had some freshly-squeezed juices for a treat, and then toured one of the largest maximum security prisons used during the revolution. It is a bittersweet experience on two levels. Here stands a prison which incarcerated thousands of people over political-ideological disputes; on one side, you have one of the prettiest views of León and on the other side, stands the regions only landfill. The multi colored garbage blankets several acres of land, and litter is scattered everywhere, including the road that leads to the prison. Buzzards and bugs are everywhere and several local extremely poor people scavenged the dump for food and supplies.

After lunch we met with PGL coordinator Felice and began to learn about the PGL projects developing in León. We then talked with a Nicaraguan doctor, Dr. Lau, who took us to the only public hospital in León. We visited each floor: ER, OB/GYN, Radiology, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Maternity, et al. We were alarmed by the lack of basic medical supplies: gloves, alcohol, sheets, beds, mattresses, and what we would consider as necessary equipment for a functioning hospital: functioning x-ray equipment, beds (las camas) for delivery, wheelchairs, etc. We learned from the doctors that often they don´t have medicines to give out or even regulators to help people receive oxygen. Or enough incubators to warm babies post delivery.

We processed this experience afterwards with some current Nicaraguan medical students (estudiantes) around our ages--one recently graduated from medical school at age 22! They shared some of the experiences from a students perspective as they have trained to become doctors. Since many students in this delegation are interested in applying to medical school, our group realized the large amount of dedication one must have to complete medical training in the US and in Nicaragua.

We wrapped up our day up by returning to our host families for dinner. Tomorrow we are excited to head to another PGL supported community (la comunidad), Santa Rosa, very early in the morning! Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pre-Trip Reflections: Sarah Kleine

Pre-Trip Reflection

I leave for Nicaragua and turn twenty in seven days and needless to say I'm really excited. I am expecting this trip to be an experience of a lifetime. However, I am EXTREMELY nervous about one aspect of trip: living with a host family. I am worried about communicating with my family because I know zero Spanish. But then I remember Valentina, a young girl who stayed with my family in the summer of 2006 who just so happened to be in the complete opposite situation (she knew Spanish, but did not know any English) and use her as an example that you don't need to speak the same language to successfully communicate. There are so many things that I am excited to do and see in Nicaragua that this worry seems almost trivial. I am excited to all the sites in Nicaragua because the landscape and animals that are found in Nicaragua sound absolutely beautiful. I'm excited to learn about a new culture, especially one that I have had only minimal exposure to before. I am excited to learn about some of the problems that Nicaraguans are currently facing and the ways in which I may be able to help. I am excited to become more than a tourist to this beautiful country.

Nature in Nicaragua

Nicaragua still has a rainforest, which has been relatively untouched despite its shrinking size. There are two big reserves: the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve in the southeastern part of Nicaragua and the Bosawàs Biosphere Reserve in the northeastern part of Nicaragua. There are also tropical dry forests found throughout the Pacific side of the country, where many tropical plants, trees, and animals live only without the continual source of water in the rainforest. Another type of forest found in Nicaragua is the semideciduous tropical forest, a forest with more rain and humidity than the dry forest, yet without the permanent rainfall and humidity of wet tropical forests. This forest is typically found on the Pacific side at elevations roughly between 400 meters to 800 meters high. Another, very special type of forest found in Nicaragua is cloud forests, found on the upper parts of volcanoes or mountains which are permanently enclosed by clouds. The permanent and high humidity enable the trees to hold their leaves all year and creates high growth and productivity rates, often resulting in very high biodiversity. Plants and animals living in these cloud forests are isolated from other areas, which has resulted in the development of several unique endemic (species only exist at one place in the world) species. Another forest found at the tops of mountains and volcanoes is a dwarf forest, where all the plants and trees are very short due to continuously strong winds.

Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake of Central America, and was called a 'fresh water sea' by the Spanish conquerors. Inside the lake is an archipelago of islands called Solentiname. This lake was also home to the bull shark. However, during the Somoza dictatorship a fin processing plant captured and killed almost every shark. There are also beautiful lagoons throughout Nicaragua, most notably the Apoyo Lagoon, located between the cities of Granada and Masaya. Unfortunately some of these lakes and lagoons have been contaminated, exemplified by Lake Managua.

Bordered by two oceans, Nicaragua is home to a lot of beach. On the Pacific side you can find many hilled beaches and bays that offer great swimming, surfing, fishing, and other water sport possibilities. These beaches also offer the sight of many beautiful sun sets. The Caribbean coast offers even more tropical settings, where one can experience turquoise water, white sand, and green palms.

There are more than 700 species of birds found in Nicaragua. Because of the lack of heavy industry, even the capital city Managua offers a breeding place for birds and beautiful birds can be spotted in the middle of the city. Common birds spotted in Nicaragua are motmots, hummingbirds, vultures, pelicans, trogons and the quetzal.

Nicaragua is home to many different types of mostly smaller mammals. In the forests animals like pumas, ocelots, ant-eaters, monkeys, sloths and tapirs can be found but are very hard to see. Along the coast some of the largest mammals on earth can also be seen, whales and dolphins. The sea and ocean are also the breeding grounds for many sea turtles. Other commonly sighted animals include green iguanas, black iguanas, green basilisks, caiman, and the Asian house geckos.

A Little About Me...
I am a sophomore Health Sciences major with a pre-med concentration. I come from Bangor, Pennsylvania, a small town in the Pocono Mountains. I am involved with DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship Club, and Pre Health Professions Club. I am a big fan of books, stars, the color yellow and snow, but I am not a fan of ketchup, rain, dirty feet, or sprained ankles.

Day 2 in Nicaragua, Jan. 5: Region in context

Our day was filled with many opportunities to learn about Nicaragua. We had two different talks about Nicaragua. We all gathered at our Hotel and either ate a mixed plate of fruit or eggs (los huevos) with gallo pinto and coffee (café).

We departed after loading our luggage on the top of the bus (microbus) and headed for our first speaker. We arrived and Rachel Anderson, from Witness for Peace, talked to us about how the Neoliberalism movement and trade agreements have affected Central America, especially Nicaragua. We talked a lot about the effects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the potential ramifications of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). Her dynamic presentation engaged us in several roleplays about the rises and pitfalls of free-trade agreements. You´ll definitely hear more about this as we continue on our sojourn.

We ate lunch at the conference center and then headed to Aynn Setwright´s house (la casa). She is a professor at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) and the director of the Nicaraguan SIT program, which our Gettysburg College Alum Carol Bellamy ´63 is president and CEO. Her 2 hour talked engaged us in the dynamic history of Nicaragua. Setwright originally came to Nicaragua as a Witness for Peace Volunteer. She thought that she would stay in Nicaragua for a few years, but after many years she´s made Nicaragua her home. She told us a very interesting story of her husband´s involvement in the Contra War, and put Nicaragua´s history into a context for us: one that makes Nicaragua´s history come alive.

After her talk, we headed to León. During this time we passed Lake Managua, which juxaposed with a panoramic view of a volcano. We learned that as beautiful (bónita) as the lake is, it isn´t swimmable because of the pollution. Originally the city of León was beside this lake, but in result of a natural disaster, León was moved to its current location. We arrived in León, unloaded our luggage, and were greeted by our families. All of the delegates ate dinner with their families (las familias) and retired early after our long day.


Pre-Trip Reflections: Sara Cawley


I signed up for the Nicaragua Immersion Project because I wanted to do something meaningful with my winter break. I think most students can agree that by the beginning of January, a cabin fever of sorts has begun to set in; I knew that by going to Nicaragua I would avoid that and experience something life-changing. Not only have I never been outside of the United States besides Canada, I also haven’t been on a plane in nearly ten years, so I saw this trip as an opportunity to really broaden my horizons. As a political science and environmental studies double major, I am very interested in learning about Nicaragua’s political system, culture, and natural surroundings. I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to experience another country at such a level of immersion - a little nervous too, since taking Latin through high school and college has left me with very little knowledge of Spanish. Regardless, I can’t wait for the trip, and I’m sure it will be an amazing experience!

Religion in Nicaragua

Catholicism is Nicaragua’s main religious denomination, having arrived along with the conquistadors during the 16th century, and was considered the country’s official religion until 1939. The Protestant movement has gained strength over the past few decades, but when most Nicaraguans speak of “the church,” they are still referring to the Roman Catholic Church. Over 90 percent of Nicaragua belongs to various Christian denominations. Protestant denominations such as Moravian and Episcopalian are mostly centered along the Atlantic Coast with Catholicism being concentrated mostly in the central and Pacific areas of Nicaragua. Most of these churches have been established through the efforts of missionaries from the United States and, although now institutionally independent and led by Nicaraguans, retain strong links with members of the same denomination in the United States. A very small percentage of Nicaraguans practice other forms of religion, such as Judaism. However, although most Nicaraguans are religious, those living in cities are often more observant than those in small towns and villages. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, which concentrates resources and activities in the cities, its capacity to reach rural areas is more limited. Worship of saints in particular is central to Nicaraguan religion, small household shrines decorated with pictures of saints, flowers and candles are commonly found in Nicaraguan homes. The main religious holiday is La Purisima, a week of festivities in early December in horror of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. Most of the private schools in Nicaragua, attended by upper and middle-class students, were established or are run by the Church. Religion and politics are more intertwined more in Nicaragua; bishops’ opinions on state issues are frequently considered, and can be found in attendance at important state events. They can also be called upon to mediate between contending parties at moments of political crisis. During the 1970s, many Roman Catholic clergy and lay ministers began to support the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN), in its opposition to the regime of President Somoza. Their support eventually caused serious divisions within the Nicaraguan Church and the FSLN. A group of leading bishops accused the Sandinistas and their Roman Catholic supporters of attempting to divide the church by creating a separate Popular Church. Conflict between Catholic FSLN supporters and less-radical members of the Church continued until the 1980s, when the bishops limited the church-based activities of pro-FSLN clergy. Protestant leaders were less inclined than Roman Catholic clergy to become involved in the Sandinista cause. Some were openly supportive or condemning of the FSLN, but most leaders generally adopted a public stance that was apolitical. The expansion of the Protestant population actually accelerated under Sandinista rule. During the first five years of Sandinista government, the number of evangelical churches (largely Pentecostal) doubled to 3,000.

Pre-Trip Reflections: Courtney Wege

Pre-Trip Reflections

Nicaragua has always been of interest to me! As a student I would volunteer with our PGL Auction each year and began to learn more about Leon. It’s Political history is fascinating and the culture is so rich; a Gettysburg student who visited Nicaragua with our college choir told me that she had never seen so many people cry when they heard their national anthem. Gettysburg and Leon, Nicaragua have been building a relationship for well over 28 years now and each year we are lucky to have Nicaraguan Artist visit the town of Gettysburg to speak to the community and visit our local schools to educate children about Nicaragua Art. The projects from PGL began with an Artist school, “Taller Artistico Xuchialt” and has continued to El Povenir; a coffee cooperative, Santa Rosa del Penon; a health care center and motherhood house, cross cultural exchanges between Nicaraguan College Students and Gettysburg students, summer internships, helping support education and transportation with many communities around Leon and most recently a water project at El Povenir. PGL has been able to send 6 delegations to Leon, from the college and the community, in 2008! We work very closely with Ofelia and Felice who live in Nicaragua and help organize the projects and the delegations.

This year is very special because we are celebrating our strong relationship through the years and we will use this blog and a short film to share our experience with more people. It will be interesting to see the effects of an election year and the economy on Leon and its people. I am extremely excited for this opportunity to learn and grow through our PGL project!!!

About Courtney

Immersion Programs Staff Leader: Courtney Wege, Associate Director of Admissions, Gettysburg Alum class of 2001, studied Psychology, Education, Spanish and Art. Currently working on her masters in Counseling. Supervisor of Admissions Tour guide programs and travels to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado and New Mexico.

Board member of El Centro and a member of the Adams County Art Council. She enjoys service, reading, traveling and anything outside; running, hiking, biking, swimming. Fun fact: Courtney is a Fourth Generation Gettysburg College Alum.

Catholic Church in Leon

Catholic Church in Leon
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

Inside the second-largest Catholic Church.

Mural in Leon

Mural in Leon
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

A mural depicting how Spanish conquistadors convinced native Nicaraguans to believe in God - by building churches and threatening death to non-believers.

Walking through the ruins

Walking through the ruins
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

Students walking through the ruins of the first church built in historic Leon.

View of Leon

View of Leon
Originally uploaded by cps_pgl

A roof-top view of Leon from the top of the second largest Catholic Church in Nicaragua.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pre-Trip Reflections: Emily Davis

Pre-Trip Reflection:

I have never had an experience being immersed in a culture outside my own, and Gettysburg is the furthest I’ve ever been away from home. I feel a need to both experience a new culture and engage in a service project at the same time. I believe that service oriented learning allows for a deeper experience and understanding of lifestyles and situations that are unknown to me.

I might struggle with witnessing poverty or situations in which people may be suffering due to the lifestyle. In past service projects, helplessness towards the situation and guilt for my own privilege has been especially difficult to deal with. I have no idea what’s ahead of me on this trip but trust that I will grow from it, learn to be thankful for the blessings I have yet have not earned, and do my best to help others along the way.


I’ve lived in Washington and Oregon with my parents and two little sisters, Haley (16) and Amy (13) all of my life. Growing up in a small agricultural town, I spent most of my childhood being read to by my grandmother and playing in the orchards and small swamps surrounding our neighborhoods. I was an expert at tetherball and soccer but terrible at marbles and foursquare.

In college, I began exploring religion, and Christianity has become a very important element in my life. Some day, I hope to become either a missionary or a teacher. I still enjoy playing soccer, but only do so for fun now, not on an organized team. I enjoy studying Spanish and English and hope to study abroad in Argentina, the country of my favorite author, and England, the country where my mother was born.

Our first day in Nicaragua, Jan. 4

Our group departed Gettysburg College at the early time of 3:30AM-not much of a night´s sleep after our orientation dinner. We headed to Reagan International Airport in 2 Gettysburg vans. We arrived, checked in smoothly and headed to Miami at 7:15AM. Once at Miami, we had a 4 hour layover and, during our quest for food, learned how confusing the airport is! We departed later than scheduled, around 1:45PM and arrived in Managua at 3:30PM (4:30PM EST). After going through customs, we were greeted by one of the PGL coordinators Ofelia and her assistant for our trip Ulises. We had a bus waiting for us outside the airport and our driver for the week Don Leo loaded our luggage. We headed as a group to the hotel La Posadita del Bolonia in Managua. After settling in our hotel, Ofelia shared our 9-day itinerary and gave us some important details on aspects of Nicaraguan food. We exchanged money to Nicaraguan Córdobas (19.45$C:1$US) and headed to the restaurant.

We gorged ourself with Nicaraguan specialities ranging from beef (carne) to chicken (pollo) with appropriate sides of rice and beans (gallo pinto) and french fries (papas fritas). We celebrated 2 birthdays of our renowned delegates, Sara Kleine and C.W. Gallagher, with a mariachi band sing a Nicaraguan Happy Birthday song. When we returned from the restaurant, we immediately went to sleep after a 13-hour day full of travels!

How exciting it is to be in Nicaragua! Expect to hear more about our voyage to Nicaragua from other delegates on the trip. Hasta Luego!

Leon, Nicaragua Jan. 6, 2009

Pre-Trip Reflections: Isha Rajbhandari

As an international student from Nepal, this trip to Nicaragua is not my first trip abroad. I am very excited about it not only because I will be a part of a different culture, but also because i think that Nicaragua will bear resemblance to my homeland. I am sure the trip will be a very different cultural experience, however, I expect the problems faced by the people and the physical situation to be somewhat similar to what I was brought up in. I believe an immersion trip such as this will help me understand and be a part of the culture and the society better than if I were to visit Nicaragua as a tourist. Opportunities like living with a host family,visiting places that form an integral part of the society like the midwife center, fair trade coffee, and others clearly make the trip a rich learning experience. I believe that this visit for me will be a reminder of the hardships faced by the people of third world countries and also, help me appreciate my blessings of being in a developed country.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pre-Trip Reflections: Kristi Saeger

Reflection Kristi Saeger: Pre-trip

As an Economics and International Affairs double major, the issue of coffee crises in Central and South America has become a focus of my studies and research while at Gettysburg College. The opportunity to spend time within a culture that is highly dependant on the coffee industry immediately grabbed my attention, and from then forward other aspects of the CPS trip became truly intriguing to me for multiple reasons. Though I have been outside of the United States, I have never had the chance to visit any locations "south of the border" and within this particular region. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in Australia, but did not get the chance to reside with a host family; something of which I feel is a valuable and potentially life-altering experience for all. I do not really have any fears or apprehensions upon preparing for the journey; mostly excitement stemming from unknown of a foreign country. I love traveling and seeing new places, and cannot wait to have a first-hand experience of what life would be like had I been born into a Latin American environment. I enjoy helping people; especially those who need it most like the people of Nicaragua who have recently gone through sorts of political and economic revolution. I hope that I can represent the United States to the best of my ability and reciprocate back to the Nicaraguan people the same amount of open-mindedness and mutual respect that I'm sure they will provide for me. Overall I am just really eager to get there and interact with the people of their culture, and have an amazing time!

Cultural Research Topic

In a recent economic research study that I conducted for class, I discovered a potential correlation between Central American's Human Development Index and their country-specific coffee industries. Some nations are flourishing with their coffee exports; however, others like Nicaragua are being exploited by the major Big Four roasting corporations who are not paying a fair market-value for the good. For instance, one study showed that kilos of coffee from Nicaragua were selling for less than US$1.00 per kilo, which in turn could produce over 80 cups of coffee being sold at an average of US$3.00 per cup. The overwhleming success of the coffee industry in Westernized nations has not proven to match the overwhelming struggles of developing nations responsible for growing the beans. With a HDI rating of 147, according to the World Bank, Nicaragua's economy needs a boost in order for their socio-economic situation to improve in the future. I am interested in possibly communicating with the Nicaraguan people as to how they feel about coffee and the opportunities available for them in regards to inequality amongst their culture and Westernized roasting companies. I am also interested to see how they feel about the fair trade movement, or if they are even truly aware of it, which has been growing in popularity and support over the last decade in the US. The only perspective one has is that which is offered to them; by actually traveling to Nicaragua I hope to gain a new perspective on the coffee crises of the 1990s and early 2000s through communication and maybe even first-hand experience in the coffee fields as well.

Pre-Trip Reflections: Toni Coringrato

My name is Toni Coringrato and I am a senior at Gettysburg College majoring in Health Sciences. My goal is to attend medical school in the next couple of years and maybe do some public health work. I studied abroad in Wollongong, Australia for a semester and loved traveling around the country. I am in the pre-health professions club on campus and have two work study jobs. One is at an elementary school working with children and the other is in the athletic training room in our college gym. I am looking forward to this trip being a fun and rewarding experience!

Pre-Trip Reflections

I am a bit nervous, but very excited, for this trip to Nicaragua. The thing I am most nervous about is the language barrier because I don’t know any Spanish, nor am I good at learning foreign languages. I’ve heard this is easily overcome with hand gestures and pictures but I still worry a bit. I am excited to find out who I will be living with and meet my host family though. I have a small family, there are only 3 of us, so living with another family will be quite different for me.

I wanted to do this trip because after spending a semester in Australia, I realized how much of the world there is to see. Australian culture is very similar to American cultures, but it made me realize how different the world can be. I want to be able to experience other cultures and the best way to do that is through an immersion project.


Before the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, Nicaragua had one of the poorest education systems in Latin America. Under the Somozas, there was limited spending on education and poverty led children to go into the labor market. This resulted in only 65% of primary school children being enrolled in school and of those that made it to first grade, only 22% finished the remaining six years of primary school. At this time, only ¼ of the rural population was literate and rural schools only offered one or two years of schooling. The secondary schools were too expensive for most Nicaraguans. About 8% of the population was enrolled at university and some upper-class families sent their children abroad for higher education.

After only five years in power, the Sandinista government managed to double the ratio of GNP (gross national product) which was spend on pre-university education. This money helped to increase the number of primary and secondary school teachers and the number of schools. In 1980, a literacy campaign was developed, which helped decrease the literacy rate from 50% to 23%. The government also set up Popular Education Cooperatives for residents of poor communities to develop basic reading and mathematical skills. Both adults and struggling children used the system set in place.

The Sandinistas also helped restructure the higher education system. They made higher education more accessible and replaced law, humanities, and social sciences with degrees that would help the country more, such as agriculture, medicine, education, and technology. By 1993, however, Nicaragua still had a large population of people that were uneducated, caused by not enough educational facilities to meet the growing population. The country is still working on helping the education problem and people in the country are becoming more interested in getting better education. Both elementary and high school educations are now mandatory and free for society. Several of the Nicaraguan universities have formed affiliations with different universities in the United States and the Nicaraguan government is increasing funding to improve the education available.C

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reflections from a past Nicaraguan experience

Marisol (nutritionist), Marie-Isabel, Dominiqute and Nora Lagos (health educators)

This is a guest post from Dominique Volney '09, who spent last Summer in Nicaragua through a CPS scholarship.

Who would have imagined that my first experience with a bone injury would happen in Nicaragua? For three out of my nine week visit, I was in a foot cast. It was during that time that I reminded myself that I needed to remain flexible and positive because I was experiencing a range of emotions as I started my internship a week and a half later than anticipated and my physical independence decreased.

At times, as much as I wanted to deny that I no longer had full mobility, I needed help. But, first I needed to humble myself and be honest in realizing my circumstance, then to accept the help of my friends. For example, when it rained, if we were close to our destination, my friends took turns carrying me on their back so that I wouldn’t fall while using the crutches. Despite my situation, I was still able to accomplish several tasks with the assistance of my co-workers.

During my time in Nicaragua, I interned at Hospital Nilda Patricia Velazco in the education office. I worked on various public health-related assignments: (1) bulletin-boards raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and upper respiratory infection which were placed in the public eye (outside the hospital) (2) a mural on breast-feeding with the brigade from Stanford University (3) and a mural on vaccination with Jose-Luiz, a local artist.

In addition, my major project was to organize a workshop highlighting the importance of good nutritional habits for pregnant mothers. This entailed creating a brochure for the mothers, inviting the hospital’s nutritionist to speak, and a hands-on cooking experience. It was well attended by expecting mothers and women who already had children.

The mural on breast-feeding informed the mothers and others that breast-feeding is better than the other food options that they may be using through the use of pictures and symbols. The mural on vaccinations informed the citizens on the importance of protecting their selves and their children from various illnesses through words and pictures. Theses murals were created in a fashion that catered to the population in order to equip them with the knowledge concerning healthy living and preventative health measures. During the nutrition workshop, the mothers were informed by the nutritionist about the major food groups and their health benefits in relation to the foods they commonly consume and of those that they will need to incorporate in their diet. Now, the mothers are better equipped with the knowledge to share this information with their family members and friends which will be a positive dominion effect in reducing the cases of malnutrition in Ciudad Sandino.

Tentative Intinerary

We have tentative plans for our Immersion Trip to Nicaragua. As you're reading this post, we are traveling to Nicaragua! Our team will arrive on Sunday in the afternoon in Managua, Nicaragua. We will be getting a historical perspective on Nicaragua, dine, and stay that evening in the capital city. The following day we will travel to León and meet our Host families there. Over the next several days we plan to learn about Gettysburg's sister city León, Nicaragua by seeing different historical and cultural sites of interest.

We plan to have time for a unique cultural exchange between students from a medical school in Nicaragua. Later we will tour a Midwife project PGL has supported in Santa Rosa del Penon. We will spend a night in El Porvenir, which is a rural community outside of León that has a fair-trade coffee cooperative. PGL is sponsoring a water project there, which we will learn about and hopefully enjoy some of the coffee beans!

Not all is work! We plan some fun times kayaking and admiring the flora and fauna of León. Stay tuned for awesome wildlife pictures (we hope)!We will be visiting an artist school in León, which is one of the oldest PGL projects.

We will return to Managua another time and visit Esperanza en acción, which is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with craftsmen around Nicaragua to market their products. Later we plan to spend time at Apoyo Lake.

All of the team members will be staying with host families. It is an excellent opportunity for us to interact with Nicaraguans face-to-face. Most of us have brought small presents for our host families and will be taking photos of our families to share.

As we travel to each of the PGL projects, we will write an post about the projects history and aims. We hope to report it to all of our readers through this blog.

Of course, this is Central America and things have a way of changing. You'll have to stay tuned to see how our travels will shape up!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Send off Dinner

We ate dinner together at La Bella Italiana in Gettysburg this evening. We took a picture of our team excited in anticipation of leaving at 3AM tomorrow morning! We will travel to Miami from Reagan International and then from Miami to Managua.

¡Nos vemos por otro lado!

What are Immersion projects?

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,

then let us work together.”

~ Lila Watson, Aboriginal Woman

What are Immersion Projects?

The goal of each Immersion Project is to foster a dialogue between the College community and the host community around issues of social justice. By working alongside people and sharing their stories, students learn about themselves and the world.

There are seven underlying philosophies and approaches to each Immersion Project. Each contributes to the understanding of community and the role of the individual within it.

§ immersion. The experience of being in a community.

§ service. Participating fully in a community-identified project.

§ learning. Examining community and social justice issues and how communities respond to those issues.

§ reciprocity. Both the community and the project participants work together to plan and implement the experiences so that equitable attention is paid to the agency’s needs and educational value for the student participants.

§ asset model. The community is not a place of “problems to be fixed.” Rather, strengths exist upon which to be built.

§ reflection. Connecting the action with theory – what is it that we have learned? How does this inform my future community involvement?

§ comfort zones. Center for Public Service will never knowingly put participants in real danger. However, we will gladly put them in situations where they will be highly uncomfortable.

Each project consists of three equally important stages: orientation, experience, and reflection. In combination, the three stages can project a powerful educational experience.

§ The orientation educates participants about culture, history, group dynamics, experiential learning, and more. Without proper orientation, the experience is severely weakened.

§ The experience supports what was discussed in orientation and provides a hands-on context for powerful learning. Without the experience, the orientation and reflection lose their reasons for being.

§ Reflection ties it all together, connecting learning and experience, so both are richer and more meaningful. Without critical reflection, the experience remains an unprocessed activity.

The program is built on the recognition of equal dignity and humanity of all persons, no matter what their circumstances. Hence, the local people at the project site, the students, and the leaders are all servers and served; they all teach and learn from each other. Immersion Projects are tools for changing students from observers into active participants and giving them a way to engage with people and ideas whom they would otherwise have little or no contact. Because of the nature of Immersion Projects, the human relationships established with the people at the project sites are paramount. The Immersion Project is committed to building two-way bridges between the persons at project sites and the participants from the College, so that the benefits are reciprocal and continuing.


This was contributed by the director of CPS, Gretchen Carlson Natter

Friday, January 2, 2009

Pending Contributions

Over the next 3 weeks we will be posting different things about Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL). Some of the posts will be reflections before, during, and after our trip to Nicaragua. Other posts will include guest posts from others that have traveled to Nicaragua in the past connected with CPS or PGL. We hope to give our blog readers a sense both of Gettysburg's past, present, and future relationship with Leon Nicaragua. We will wrap up hearing from the current president of PGL and post reflections and pictures from the trip.