August 30, 2012

Summer Fellowship in Nicaragua

Murphy '14 Realizes SND Mission During Summer Fellowship in Nicaragua

The St. Julie Billiart International Community Service Fellowship, supported by Emmanuel's Center for Mission & Spirituality, is a summer opportunity to complete a service experience that is aligned with the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Kaitlyn Murphy '14 was selected to carry out the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur through a service-immersion experience in Nicaragua this summer. Below, Murphy shares thoughts on her work in Nicaragua and the importance of education in one of the world's poorest countries.

Receiving the St. Julie Billiart Community Service Fellowship from the Center for Mission & Spirituality allowed me to pursue an amazing experience in Granada, Nicaragua, that has permanently altered my outlook on education. Working with the nonprofit Amped for Education, I witnessed first-hand what volunteer work can do to improve the structure of education in the poorest of countries, thereby improving the lives of the poor in such places. In Nicaragua, education is only mandatory through the sixth grade. However, even this amount of education is not always possible because of a lack of institutions, specifically in rural areas. From our first walk to the school that opened in February 2012 by Amped for Education in collaboration with La Esperanza Granada (The Hope of Granada), it was evident that these children needed a means to escape the cycle of poverty that was apparent in this small town of San Ignacio.

As we got farther from the open air markets, pavement turned to dirt roads littered with garbage. When it rained, the roads were nearly impassable on foot, and certainly impossible to manage by vehicle or horse. Before the new school was built, on days such as these the children of San Ignacio who were lucky enough to attend school would have to trek approximately four miles on foot.

Most of my work centered on supporting the process of education and improving the overall lifestyles of the students. Building causeways to prevent flooding of the roads allows garbage trucks access during the rainy season and promotes proper waste disposal and health. It also allows the people of San Ignacio transportation to the markets and cities.

The second project was building a house for one student with the highest attendance. This project was an attempt to urge parents to send their children to school. Many parents do not realize the true value of an education, especially when they never had access to secondary schooling, and their children often remain working in their homes in San Ignacio or selling trinkets to tourists on the streets. Taking part in transforming the home of 12-year-old Erica and her family, from tarps hung across trees and anchored with twine, into four solid cement walls with doors and windows was unforgettable. Erica's mother now gives a strong testimony toward sending children to secondary school, and she hopes that her daughter will move out of San Ignacio and continue her education at a university.

I think perhaps my most valuable lessons came from talking to the children, and also the way in which the non-profits in these communities approached the situations. They looked to "give a hand up, not a hand out," by promoting education above all else. In this manner, the educated community can then begin to fix other problems on their own.

Although it is easy to recognize the value of the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to educate the poor, actually witnessing first-hand the effects of such education was remarkable. Erica's best friend unfortunately did not have a place in the classroom (there are only 52 spots per year), but she eagerly explained her yearning for an education. Seeing her friends go to school has prompted her to practice reading and eventually delve into novels. She confided that she also has a love of poetry, and would love to go to a university someday to study. Being able to converse with both adults and children of the community further strengthened my perception of education as the backbone of liberation from poverty, as every community member noted all of the good the school has brought to the community and how they cannot wait to see their children continue on to universities.