It seems a bit surreal to be writing this last blog post from here in my kitchen, a place that seems so far removed from all that I experienced during these past two months. Reflecting on this summer, it was my last week at the SJDS Bilioteca that sums up perfectly how far I came over the course of this internship. During that last week, a group of us drove up to Ameya – a small, impoverished community outside of Chinandega in northern Nicaragua for a missions trip. The SJDS library, with the help of the community’s sister church in Colorado, have helped build both a library and a vocational school in Ameya whose resources offer a significant improvement in the types of educational opportunities available to both adults and children of the community. During this trip, I worked with both the young adults from the vocational school as well as younger children offering various art workshops and activities throughout our four-day stay.
Everyone on our trip had different roles throughout the week and I was responsible for organizing and running all of the activities for the children. We decorated headbands as a sewing activity for the vocational school, made visual autobiographies, and on the last day used sponge painting to make a mural. These children so rarely get the opportunity to express themselves artistically, which made my work in providing art projects for them even more rewarding. Additionally, throughout the entire week, I was also acting as a bridge between the community members and the Colorado church members, many of whom did not speak Spanish. It was my first time really translating and I loved it. One day, a mother and her daughter wanted to teach the children how to make paper flowers and so while she explained in English I translated into Spanish so that the children would be able to follow her instructions. Moments such as this or others when individuals, Nicaraguans or Americans, would come up to me asking if I could help translate for them comprised some of my favorite memories from the week. To have reached the point in my Spanish where I am able to help others communicate with one another and form connections by utilizing my burgeoning language skills proved to be a real stepping-stone.
Returning to Brandeis, I’ll continue taking Spanish classes and getting ready for my spring semester abroad in Bolivia. While I’m sure that trip will offer a completely new host of challenges and experiences from what I’ve been exposed to this summer, the experience I now have living on my own in a foreign country will I’m sure work to my advantage. Studying abroad in Bolivia, I plan on exploring even further the issue of social change through my specific interest in the field of education. Yet, on an even broader scope, I see both of these trips as only the beginning in what I predict will be a long love affair with both the Spanish language and the diverse cultures, countries, and people of both South and Central America.
To any interested students, my advice is be prepared to be both flexible and independent. An internship at the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca can offer a wonderful experience for growth, and the library is always open to having new volunteers but anticipate a large amount of independence. Most volunteers come down with at least a rough idea of what they want to do and while the library staff are more than willing to help you achieve that goal it is very clearly your project. That being said, when dealing with a completely new culture you also have to be willing to be flexible. Things may not often go as you had originally planned but just remember that often these experiences provide a lesson within themselves and that it’s okay if your plans change along the way.
Working at the library this summer I was able to observe various local, national, and international organizations dedicated to social justice work. Seeing the various models used by different organizations reinforced my opinion that in order to truly achieve community advancement groups must utilize the resources, people, and ideas that already exist within the community. Often, even with the best intentions, groups that fail to understand the culture and people with whom they are trying to help end up doing more harm than good. This summer was valuable in that not only did it offer the opportunity for personal growth but I also was able to observe what other individuals and organizations were working to achieve within Nicaragua.
– Abigail Simon ’14