For the first time, the school collaborated with the Escuela Asociación Kairos para la Formación (AKF)—a traveling school for community education based in Managua, Nicaragua—to revamp its Central American summer community service trip.
Organized by Spanish Teacher Maggie Caso, the trip was chaperoned by Community Service Coordinator Meena Kaur and Librarian Stephanie Donohue, who accompanied six students to Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, for a nine-day service endeavor.
The group of five rising sophomores and one rising junior lived in a youth hostel called Kairos Center owned by the AKF on the outskirts of Managua. During the first four days of the trip, students traveled to underprivileged artisan villages to help local women produce various crafts—including jewelry, bricks for construction, and clay pottery.
Although each woman worked on a different project at a time, the women collaborated and helped each other, a sign of their culture that Sara Allan ’14 said intrigued her—along with the generally strong sense of community prevalent in the village.
“Kids from around the village would always be welcomed in people’s houses, and even though they sometimes would be strangers, the hosts would always serve the guests food. It’s something you don’t see every day, especially in Cambridge,” she said.
The group then took a four-hour bus ride north to El Ojoche, an impoverished, remote village located in the province of Chinandega. The AKF contributes regularly to El Ojoche, which once faced fatal health problems, by donating monthly early childhood health checks, repairing roads, and distributing basic necessities.
“Life in El Ojoche is vastly different from our own,” said Ms. Donohue. “It is stripped of a lot of comforts we take for granted. The people there live very simply and work very hard for the little they have but are happy, healthy, community-minded, and incredibly generous.” Ms. Donohue credited the women who make pottery as a driving force for the village’s steady revival.
While in El Ojoche, students also divided into groups of two and lived with local families for a few days. As in Managua, they had a chance to work on clay themselves, helping the local women with pottery work.
“The women all showed us how they work with clay, and even let us try it with their help,” Molly Murphy ’15 said. “Their pieces were beautiful, though I can’t say the same for my misshapen vase.”
Students also contributed by building a stone wall, which was the groundwork for a new kiln. According to Ms. Donohue, it was hot and sweaty work, but it was still rewarding.
Despite these sometimes laborious community service projects, both students and chaperones said that they enjoyed the experience they shared in Nicaragua.
“The [Nicaraguan] kids were so sweet, and we had a great time playing soccer, tag, and hand games, in addition to just talking to and helping with the little ones,” said Molly.
“I think we were all deeply touched in our own ways by the experience,” Ms. Donohue added, “but I think it gave me a better appreciation for what I have and made me think more deeply about what I need. I think we were so lucky to have had this eye-opening experience in how most of the world lives.”