Lessons Through Art

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than explore the power they have to change it.”

Adi Dassler's wise words do a nice job of summarizing our objective as Program Directors for the Camp JAM program. With recent activities ranging from making tambourines to Valentine’s Day cards and a homemade erupting volcano, we strive to teach our students to embrace their creativity in a responsible and constructive fashion. By intertwining our activities with the themes of respect and optimism, we are making as strong an effort as we can to provide these children with a strong basis to evolve into their adolescent years.


Cultural barriers at times hinder our ability to keep the students focused or on task, but this hurdle by no means stops our pursuit of spreading love and happiness to this community. We firmly believe that by acting as strong role models - and as friends - for these kids, we will undoubtedly influence them for the better; and it all starts with an art class!


First Month As A Program Director


Benedicte Crudgington is a 7-month Program Director who arrived to Nicaragua in January 2018. Prior to joining the MPIN team, Benedicte graduated from Wake Forest University and spent a year working as an EMT and ER Technician in Washington D.C. As a Program Director, Benedicte teaches our level 5 English class, works in both of our community clinics, and helps to oversee the Community Health Promotion Program. Below is an account of her first month as a Program Director. 


As I stepped off the plane into the heavy warm air, the cold grey winter that I was leaving behind seemed far away. A mix of Nicaraguans, groups of volunteers and other travelers de-boarded the plane and crowded into the barren hallway to fill out the custom forms. As Arthur—the other volunteer that was arriving with me—and I were trying to remember the address for the Manna house, a man stopped and asked us if we were volunteering with Manna Project International (MPI). Jesse, had been a volunteer with Manna several years ago and was returning to Nicaragua to research the Zika Virus. He had nothing but good things to say about his time spent volunteering and wished us luck.  Up until I got off the plane, I had not started to process the fact that I was leaving my friends, family, and a life I loved behind in Washington D.C. for a little over half a year, but speaking with Jesse in the airport in Managua reminded me that volunteering with MPI was something that I had been looking forward to for the past several months.  

Settling into life in Nicaragua has been filled with new learning experiences, from learning how to take the local bus to teaching English to a full class room. While there are of course challenges to moving to a new country where you know no one, I have been pleasantly surprised about how easily it has been to adjust to this new life. Every morning I get up and work out with a bunch of people in the house before settling down in the Hub, our main conference/work table, to lesson plan and prepare for the week. I have enjoyed working in the two clinics, and I have especially enjoyed teaching English—something entirely new for me. It is startling to think that I have already been here for one whole month and that I have already been able to travel and feel more comfortable teaching and working in the clinic. As I look forward for all the adventures that are to come in the coming months, I just hope that the time doesn’t go by too quickly.


A Day in the Life of a Program Director 2017


Susan Hyman is a 13-month Program Director at MPI's site in Nicaragua for the 2017-2018 year. She is involved in Lacrosse the Nations, English level 3, Camp JAM, the Cedro Galan Clinic, Community Health Promotion, Women's Exercise, grant prospecting, and recruitment. The following is an account of a typical day in her life as an MPI Program Director.  


6:30am: Wake up! On Tuesdays, I get up bright and early to make it to my first program of the day. The house is usually awoken by crowing roosters, our barking dogs, or the smell of Elena’s delicious breakfasts.

7:30am: My first program of the day begins at 7:30am - lacrosse practice at Colegio Público Chiquilistagua. Even though I had never touched a lacrosse stick before arriving in Nicaragua, I quickly got involved with our partner organization, Lacrosse the Nations. Now it’s one of my absolute favorite parts of my job - I’m usually the one who ends up learning from the students at practice!

LtN Chiqui.jpg

9:00am: Public school practice ends. Andrew and I head back to the Manna House to refill our water bottles and get ready for the second lacrosse practice of the day.

LtN Club.jpg

9:30am: Time to leave for Villa Guadalupe! This community is a bit further away than Chiquilistagua. Luckily, we are able to drive the Manna microbus.

10:00am: Practice begins at Club Cristiana La Esperanza in Villa Guadalupe. These practices are one of my favorite parts of the week! The students are incredibly talented and work so hard to improve each day. Along with teaching lacrosse skills, Lacrosse the Nations provides academic support, feeding programs, and valuable life lessons to the students. Their mission of using sport as a platform to improve the lives of youth here is some of the most inspiring work I’ve had the privilege of helping with.

11:30am: Practice ends, and we hop back in the micro to get home and rest before continuing programs for the day.

12:00pm: We arrive home, cool off, and enjoy a wonderful lunch prepared by Elena! She cooks a lot of rice, beans, chicken, and fresh vegetables. We're lucky to have her!

1:15pm: Time to leave for the next program - Camp JAM (which stands for Juegos, Arte, y Música). Camp JAM is a creative arts program for kids of all ages that we hold in Farito, our community center in Cedro Galán. We do different arts and crafts, play games, and occasionally incorporate simple but important lessons into our activities. Today, we painted wooden flowers.


2:30pm: Camp JAM ends, and the other Camp JAM Program Directors head back to the house while I stay at Farito to prepare for Women’s Exercise.

3:30pm: Women’s Exercise begins! This is another one of my favorite programs. We run this program through six-week bootcamps that focus on different muscle groups and parts of the body. We also add in days of zumba, yoga, and pilates to keep things fun and interesting! The women love the camaraderie of working out together - it helps keep us motivated!


4:30pm: Women’s Exercise ends, and we catch a ride home in the micro as the English Level 1 students are arriving. Farito is packed on Tuesdays all afternoon!

5:00-7:00pm: After a long and sweaty day, it’s time to shower and relax for a bit. As some Program Directors are in and out heading to various English classes, others get the night at home to hang out and prepare for the following day. We will either eat Elena’s meals again for dinner, or sometimes switch it up and cook together!


7:00-9:00pm: Time to get some work done. I teach English Level 3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, so on Tuesday nights I plan class with my co-teacher, Andrew. Once we finish planning, I might catch up on emails, do some grant research, make sure I am prepared for the rest of my programs, or complete any other administrative work that I am responsible for. I am also on the driving schedule most Tuesday nights, so I make a trip in the micro to go pick up the last English class of the night!

9:00-11:00pm: Once we all finish our work for the day, we will often hang out together in the living room or rooftop patio. We watch movies on the projector, play cards, read, call friends and family, and catch each other up on our days. Days as a Program Director are busy but rewarding!


Cedro Galán Homestay Experience

Late Tuesday night, after teaching my English Level 1 class, I packed my things and set out in our microbus to Chepita’s house, nestled near the top of one of the hills in the semi-rural community of Cedro Galán. When I showed up through the driving rain, typical of the Nicaraguan rainy season, I was welcomed by the whole family. Mamita Chepita, Lisseth, Omar, Genesis and Diego were all standing by the entrance of their property, ready for the homestay week to begin. The six days I spent living with Mamita Chepita were my most enjoyable days thus far in Nicaragua.

From the moment I arrived, I could tell the week would be a blast. Within 15 minutes of being there, Diego had already planned our weekly activities and I had already gotten another taste of Chepita’s fantastic cuisine. Although there are so many different activities and intricacies of the week that I could write about, the two that I will focus on are the relationships I made with Diego and Genesis and the homemade Nicaraguan cuisine.

Familia. Diego, the 10 year-old grandson of Chepita and the son of Lisseth and Omar, was the person I spent the most amount of my time with. Throughout the week, we played X-Box and Wii, football and baseball, watched movies, played monopoly and hangman. We did it all. The video games were unexpected. I did not have a great idea of what to expect for the week, but I certainly didn’t anticipate playing "Need For Speed" and Wii Sports every night. Looking back on it, I realize how incredible this relatively simple experience was. We were sitting on the couch, playing a video game in English, having a conversation in Spanish about school and sports. In many ways, that reminded me of my relationship with my brother and reinforced how close I became to Diego in a relatively short period of time.

Genesis, Diego’s older sister, was slightly more reserved at the beginning of the week. However, by the end of the week, she opened up significantly and I was able to connect with her much more. Every weeknight, she would watch her favorite TV show, La Sultana, at 8:00 PM. Even though this was her TV show, the whole family would gather around the television set to watch with her. I really enjoyed that. Many times in the United States, I would watch TV shows alone and when other members of my family would watch a TV show, the rest of us would all disperse and do our own things. There was something really fun and unique about the whole family being invested in a TV show together, where they would discuss all the details during every commercial break.

My relationship with the two children was punctuated on the weekend with a series of fun activities. One of my favorite moments was teaching all of the children in the surrounding houses, including Diego and Genesis (and their cousins), how to play American football. My other favorite activity occurred Saturday morning, when I was taught how to do a balloon-twisting activity. The two kinds of balloon objects we twisted were roses and monkeys, although mine looked more like grass and a donkey.


Comida. Mamita Chepita and Lisseth, her daughter, are incredible cooks. Not only was every meal rich in flavor, each was so unique and different from the others. By far my favorite Nicaraguan food that I tried throughout the week was the dessert we had on our last night. The dessert is called Buñuelos and it is fried cheese served with honey. Although it might sound unappetizing, it was incredible and I look forward to the next time I visit their house (they already promised me they would make it again during my next visit). 

The reality of many homestay scenarios is that they are unpredictable and can sometimes feel forced. Although I can truly say it was an unpredictable experience, it never felt forced, nor did I ever feel uncomfortable around them. They genuinely embraced the opportunity to welcome another person into their family and show them the hospitable and loving attitude that Nicaraguans are all about. For this, I am truly grateful and appreciative of the homestay experience that they provided me. Not only did I have a family for those six days in September, I formed a relationship that will last the rest of my time here, and hopefully, beyond.

Group Trip to Leon!

In honor of the Battle of San Jacinto and Independence Day, we had September 14th and 15th off for a long weekend. We seized this opportunity to take our first multi-day trip independent of Manna Project. Holidays like these give us a chance to visit places and do activities that we otherwise would not have time to do in the normal span of a weekend. Thus, we decided to visit Leon and stay 3 nights at the Surfing Turtle Lodge, which is located on a stretch of empty beach in Isla Los Brasiles. Surfing Turtle Lodge was highly recommended to us by the previous group of Program Directors and is “One of the coolest spots in all of Central America” according to Lonely Planet. We were all excited to check the place out and see if it lived up to its name!

Day 1: We took a micro bus to Leon and spent some time walking around the beautiful colonial city. Among some of the historical sites we saw was the famous Lady of Our Grace Cathedral. Unfortunately, the roof access was closed that day due to construction so we were unable to go to the top, but we still enjoyed walking around the rest of the cathedral. After getting our fill of sights in Leon, we took a taxi to a beach area where we got a boat to the Surfing Turtle island. Upon our arrival at the hostel, we settled into our dorm room and relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day. It was so beautiful! 


Day 2: We swam in the Pacific Ocean, walked on the beach, relaxed more, and played volleyball with the hostel staff and other guests. At night, I went on a hostel-organized walk with the site’s marine biologist to learn about the sea turtles that frequent the beach and see if we could spot any. I, unfortunately, did not see any sea turtles. However, after walking a short distance away from the hostel lights, I did see the multitude of stars sparkling in the night sky. Though I was not able to see turtles, seeing the spiral arms of the Milky Way and the stars with such clarity was just as memorable and awe-inspiring.


Day 3: We headed back to Leon for volcano boarding at Cerro Negro! Cerro Negro is about a one hour drive from Leon. It is the only place in the world where you can slide down an active volcano! We began to feel a bit intimidated when we saw how steep the volcano was, but our resolve remained strong. We had to do this at least once while we’re in Nicaragua, right? The hike up the volcano was the hardest part for me. Heat radiated from the volcano as I trekked up with my gear digging into my sunburnt shoulders from the previous day on the beach. In the end, it was well worth it. We all slid down the volcano successfully with no injuries (though I can’t say that none of us fell off of our boards).

That night (our last night at the lodge), there were turtle hatchlings, and we watched baby turtles go out to sea! I would have felt unfulfilled if I wasn’t able to see the hatchlings. I am happy and thankful that I was lucky enough to have that chance.


Day 4: We packed up at Surfing Turtle, took one last look around Leon, and headed back to the Manna House. 

All in all, Surfing Turtle did not fail to impress. It was a trip of many firsts for me. It was the first independent trip we took as a group in which we stayed somewhere overnight. It was the first time I needed to take a boat just to get to my lodging. It was the first time I went sliding down an active volcano, and the first time I saw baby sea turtles crawl out into the ocean. While my phone’s camera could not capture everything my eyes could see, my memories of this trip are still in my mind’s eye. The feeling of wonder from our travels is still with me. I can’t wait until our next adventure!