Reflections from the Summer Session 1

Yesterday was the last full day here in Nicaragua for the summer volunteers of the first session, and before they left I asked each of them if they could write a short reflection about their time here.  Either what they learned or a story about their favorite class or friend they made, anything to share with the readers.  These volunteers have been so wonderful and helpful, and it has been such a joy getting to know each and every one of them.  I know for sure that they are going to be missed at the Manna House!  Ok here is what they had to say...
          Coming to Nicaragua for the third time, it was nearly impossible for me to arrive without any expectations of what I envisioned my month to look like. In the past, my trips had been only 8 days, so coming for a month meant that inevitably my time here would be very different. My past days in Nicaragua had been spent more playing with and loving on the kids. Now don’t get me wrong, as wonderful as this is, my time with Manna challenged and encouraged me in a new way. The first thing that I have really thought about is how amazing it is that Manna is making big differences and investing in these people’s lives for the long run. Although it may not always be as fun to sit with someone and teach them the English alphabet or multiplication problems as it is to just kick a soccer ball, this is an incredible way of caring and wanting these kids to have a tangible ways to succeed. Watching the Program Directors interact with the kids, challenge them, and care about them in this way has really forced me to think about what it means to really love these people the best way I can.
            Not only have I been challenged to grapple with these ideas of how to make a difference in their lives, the people here have undoubtedly made a difference in my life. I have been overwhelmed by the way that the people here love their friends and family and prioritize these relationships over other things that so easily consume me in the United States. One thing about Manna that has been special is how close everyone is with entire families. Some women will go to exercise class or English classes and their kids attend music class, eat at Comedor, or study English as well. This is an incredible thing, especially because family is so important in this country. There have been numerous experiences during my time here that have been meaningful in this regard, but one especially sticks out to me. One morning while I was in Chureca, I was playing soccer with a girl there named Tatiana who I had spent several days with. We ended up getting pretty dirty from kicking the ball in all the mud, so I decided it would be a good idea to attempt to somewhat clean myself before we left. Immediately after I told Tatiana this, she grabbed my hand tightly and led me to a sink where she proceeded to wash my feet. I quickly tried to stop her, telling her that I could do it myself, a little taken aback. But Tatiana insisted on cleaning my feet, smiling the entire time. I will never forget that gesture. She actually wanted to clean my feet as a way for her to show me she cared.
            The people here are the reason that I keep wanting to come back. This month and time with Manna has given me new ideas to grapple with going home, reminders of what life is truly about, and has challenged me to love as genuinely and deeply as the people here do.
-Ashley Parsley
Ashley and Tatiana.

Having never been to Central America before, I had no idea what to expect coming into this experience. Soon after arriving in this country, I was humbled to realize that I would the one learning a great deal during this month. The Nicaraguans I met had way more to offer me than I could possibly hope to offer them. One of the foremost examples of the kindness I have encountered was the night that Ashley and I did a homestay with the Flores family. Not only did they welcome us with open arms and try their hardest to work with our shaky Spanish, but Lorena also gave up her room to sleep in and delighted in cooking us meals. She would sit with us for hours at a time and simply serve us and engage us in conversation. It is funny to think that one way of loving someone is to allow them to serve you. It is also often times hard to let your guard down and allow yourself to be both served and loved. Spending time with amazing Nicaraguan families has definitely been one of the most rewarding parts of my time here.
-Kat Shearer
When I found out that I got accepted to Manna summer session 1, I immediately had mixed emotions about the situation. As a senior graduating from Virginia Tech, my first reaction was not that I was going to miss my college graduation but rather that I was given the opportunity to return to the place that Virginia Tech introduced me to two years ago. A large part of my college experience had revolved around Nicaragua and I knew that Manna Project would allow me to experience a deeper connection with the people in the community. Over the past few weeks with Manna Project, I have grown invested in the programs while forming connections with the kids. I have learned that life is about the relationships we form and the people who influence us along the way. I have become inspired by all of the children and their desire to learn English and this has motivated me to want to strengthen my Spanish. I am so fortunate to have been given this opportunity and I know without a doubt that I will be back here in Nicaragua again in the future.
- Courtney Baltimore
Tonight there is a community dinner to say goodbye to all of the summer vols. I’m not really sure what we will be doing there but I’m assuming it’s a chance for us to say all of our goodbyes to community members that we have become close with over the past few weeks. While I have met many people and seen many different faces throughout my time here I believe that there are more than a few people that I will always remember and I will be very sad to leave behind. It will be incredibly sad to say goodbye to Lorena and her daughter Dayana, who both participate in a lot of different Manna activities and really make an effort to reach out and accept you into their hearts. I will always remember how Dayana and I would look at each other in English classes and pretend we were karate chopping each other from across the room, ha ha, or the feeling that if I ever needed anything I could go to Lorena and she would do her best to help me out. I know that I will always wish for good things for that family since they give love to everyone that they encountered.
I will also miss Armando a lot, while he tends to be kind of crazy and somewhat of a troublemaker, he is certainly one of the kids I will remember best! I love how he came up with nicknames for all of the summer vols and will never forget the tickling fight that we got into. Although at times he seems like an out of control, carefree kid I was touched by how worried he was about his younger brother Melvin when he had not seen him for more than 15 minutes (even though he was with other volunteers Armando was still worried). Perhaps the person that I’ve bonded the most with is Itza, I will never forget her thirst for knowledge and how shy she was at first. She would not talk to me the first couple of days that we had class together, but she wanted to hold my hand so I figured eventually we would be friends. I think that she and I bonded a lot over the next few weeks and I desperately hope that we can keep in touch.
The people listed above are merely small examples of relationships that I will cherish the rest of my life and I hope that one day I will come back and see these people again. While there were some points in my stay here that I questioned how much I was really helping local people learn English, there was never a time when I wasn’t excited to go to the classes because I got to see those people in class! If there is one thing that I take away from this trip, it’s the wonderful relationships that I’ve formed and the bonds that I’ve made with all of the amazing people here in Nicaragua.
-Maddy Lytle

The national anthem sings, "¡Salve a ti, Nicaragua! En tu suelo \\ ya no ruge la voz del cañón".  The cannon does not sound anymore in Nicaragua.  However, the reverberations of past gun-fire can still be felt in the beautiful tropical country of Nicaragua. What was a purely indigenous virgin land some 500 years ago not yet fully explored by the god-like half man half beast - horse riding Spaniards with iron swords and guns - is in someways unchanged. Today, only along the eastern half of the country does one find few, if any, indigenous populations.  As for the western half, the tribe has been replaced not by tall skyscrapers, technology, and first class civilization but by a sort of modern tribe.  No, their are no more nomads, but their are individuals and families that live without deed and title to the land they live on.  No, their are no more hunter-gatherers, but a young man sweats to survive if he is lucky to be hired as a crop hand, planting or harvesting the beans he has so little money for which to buy.  No, their are no tribal families with a chieftain and his many wives, but the family structure is crippled by the cultural "machismo" and infidelity of men and women.  Against the beautiful volcanoes, lakes, and mango trees, is Nicaragua in all of its poverty, political problems, and perseverance.
Why are the men of Nicaragua called zombies?  Why is there a distinction between "marido" and "esposo/a"? Why is the road repaired at the start of the rainy season and not at the end? Why is the president known on a first name basis? Why does everyone throw garbage on the ground? Why are buses filed with 7 people per seat-aisle-seat? Where does the almond come from? Where does the cashew come from? What does the blank stare mean? Why is there so much poverty?
I came to Nicaragua to meet relatives, learn a little bit about my roots, and try to find an answer to some questions while volunteering with Manna.  Complete success was met at only one of my goals: meet some relatives.  As for an aging "abuelita" who has experienced a civil war, near death violence, and many difficulties in life I am unsure of the clarity and honesty in which I can trace my family lineage.  As for the questions, I found answers to only a few, albeit life changing and eye-opening.  For example, a little bird told me that cashews grew on the outside of a fruit of a tree.  One day, I finally decided to meander to the other side of the Manna house and check things out.  To my astonishment I found the ever mysterious tree where the slightly roasted-lightly salted-cant-stop-eating cashew comes from.  At that moment my life was complete.  Well as for the more serious and important questions, I found out where the almond comes from!
So, where does Manna step into the scene?  As a summer volunteer I had just enough time to form some meaningful relationships with some of the community members and then had to say goodbye.  On the Manna website it says, "communities serving communities".  Communities are formed from individuals that have vested interests first individually and then communally.  When communities serve other communities ties are formed that not only educate and enlighten but help each member of the different perspectives become members of a broader community, citizens of the earth.  Whatever spiritual, religious, political, environmental, or economic path that might mean is up to those walking that path.  Whatever a citizen of the earth means, well that is even more ambiguous. 
All I can say is that my time with Manna will be a memory well cherished.  I kept my mind open and held no expectations, expecting only more pinolillo.  Regardless, even if I ate the same thing all the time and many of my questions remain unanswered.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time and learned a bit from the experience, regardless.
However, step by step with knowledgeable people (shout out to all the PD's) and communities helping communities help themselves, the voice that will soar in Nicaragua and beyond will be the voice not of cannons and even less of poverty.
- Paul Hart

Spending a month down here in Managua, Nicaragua has changed my life forever.  Just coming here and meeting new people and seeing how these people live compared to the states is just amazing.  When we arrived here on the 13th of May, I was a little skeptical about being here and how it was going to go, but after going to all the programs and seeing all the good that is being done here all of my doubts quickly disappeared.  I personally have been helping teach little kids English, which is amazing.  The kids here are extremely wild and so much fun and I will miss them very much when I leave.  After meeting all of the people who live in Nicaragua who are associated with Manna or come to their classes, I have made plenty of new friends that I will never forget.  Coming down to Managua, Nicaragua has to be the best decision I have ever made and I would never trade my experience for anything.
- Thomas Fuson
Thomas and Maddy teaching Kid's English.
Thanks again to Ashley, Maddy, Asia, Courtney, Kat, Thomas, and Paul for all of their help and joy that they brought the past week fews!