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!

 
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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.

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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.

 
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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!

 
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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!

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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!

 
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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.

 
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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! 

 
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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.

 
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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.

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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!

Learning to Teach

Being a Program Director comes with many new experiences and many opportunities for acquiring new skills.  The one that has challenged me the most is teaching English in Farito, our community center in Cedro Galan.  I don’t come from a strong teaching background; all I had was a semester of being a TA in college to go off of.  I teach English Levels 1 and 2, which are some of the bigger classes we have in our community center, El Farito. Level 1 ranges from 80 students to 120 students and Level 2 is usually around 60 students. This was one of the first challenges that presented itself: commanding such an eager, but large group of people and teaching all of them as effectively as possible. I could use the curriculum and stock of resources from past years to figure out the grammar portion of teaching, but making it engaging for everyone was something I had no idea how to tackle.

 
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However challenging it may be on a given day to command the attention of students, it comes with just as many rewarding surprises. It wasn’t until we played Jeopardy in class that the students were unable to contain their desire to participate. Adults coming after a long day of work alongside kids just out of school jumping out of their chairs to share the right answer. That day will always serve as my reminder that without interest in the subject, commanding the respect of so many people is significantly harder. While there will always be the inevitability of structured grammar lessons, throwing in some activities and games makes fun for everyone.   Walking down Farito road after class, one of my students even took the time to tell me how much she enjoyed days like that because everyone left class with a smile on their faces.  I know I can’t be friends with all of my students, but if I can make their experience learning English even slightly more positive, I’ve achieved my goal as a newly minted teacher.

August 2017 Despedida/Bienvenida

At the beginning of August, we held our bi-annual Despedida/Bienvenida (farewell/welcome party) at Farito, located in Cedro Galan. This event gives community members a chance to celebrate the past year with the veteran Program Directors (PDs) and to welcome the new ones. It officially marks the transition of program leadership by outgoing PDs incoming PDs.

The Despedida began with speeches from the veteran PDs. One of these speeches that particularly resonated with me is below, by Rachel Zolotarsky:

A year ago, I stood at the back of Farito listening to Program Directors saying their goodbyes. I stood at the back because I did not know anyone. I did not know my coworkers, and I did not know any of you. What I did not realize was that in this year of time, I would start as “the gringa” become “profe” get called “flaquita” and eventually be referred to as “family.” Originally, I came to work with Manna Project because I loved Nicaragua, but now I know that, while I may love Nicaragua, it’s all of you that hold a piece of my heart . Because you all are my family. I leave having learned so many things from you all, like how to cook gallo pinto, when I should say “maje” or “no me jodas”, and how to be unconditionally welcoming. I only hope that I can love other people as much as you, as individuals and as a community, have loved me. We might be standing up here at the end of a year, but know that this is not my goodbye, it is simply a see you later.
 
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After speeches, us new PDs introduced ourselves and shared what we are most excited about for the coming year in Nicaragua. Introductions were followed by a picture slideshow of the work MPI has done in the community and the fond memories that were made throughout the past year. During the slideshow, us new PDs were helping out behind the scenes, slicing cake and pouring cups of soda for all the party guests. 

The Despedida was a fun-filled evening with some tearful moments and many hugs, laughs, and smiles. Looking back, Rachel’s speech strongly resonated with me as a new PD at the Despedida. I also did not know my fellow PDs well and barely knew any of the community members. I hope to be in Rachel’s shoes by that time next year, building strong relationships in the new home that I will have come to love!

 
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