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.


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.

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!


The Lacrosse the Nations Cup

This year was the fourth annual LtN Cup and our most successful one to date. Not only did every team get fully sponsored by the day of the event, in total we raised over $40,000. This was $10,000 over our original goal, and over $35,000 more than LtN raised in their first Cup just three years ago. As LtN’s programs in Nicaragua continue to develop, the LtN Cup will only grow to include more players, coaches, and LtN scholars. Through this event, our LtN student-athletes are able to become agents of change for their communities and strong competitors in the lacrosse world. $4,500 of the total raised will go toward MPI's health clinics in Nicaragua.

As a Lacrosse the Nations Program Director, the LtN Cup was something I heard about before even arriving in Nicaragua. Whether I was speaking with my boss Javier, Senior Program Director Dan, or players who have participated in LtN programs in the past, everyone around me regularly expressed their excitement for this day. Having an athletic background, I could recognize and share in this excitement for competition; however, prior to experiencing the LtN Cup for myself, I can honestly say I had no idea just how special this day is.

The Cup is one of LtN’s biggest fundraisers. On the day of the event, teams that we coach from the Chiquilistagua Public School compete against the teams we coach at Club Esperanza Private school in Villa Guadalupe in a championship style format. The goal of the Cup is to get each team sponsored in order to play. Through their team’s sponsorship, LtN student athletes are able to play an active role in giving back to their communities.

On a weekly basis, we hold practices for various ages, from 4th grade all the way up to the high school level. One thing I immediately noticed upon arriving at practices was the players’ unarguable passion for lacrosse, across all age groups. Whether it was answering questions during our life skills discussions before practice, mastering a new concept, or scoring a “tuani” goal on the field, the kids show a constant love for the game. When it came to their preparation for the Cup, their motivation alone triggered my own excitement.

The day of the Cup is like no other. Players from each school arrive together on a bus geared up and ready to go. Normally, these kids practice on a gravel-dirt mixture or a concrete basketball court. On the day of the Cup, they are greeted by the site of three turf fields with painted lines and music playing. The players are divided into their respective teams and enter the fields single file. This moment alone gave me goosebumps, reminding me of when I would suit up for games. The only difference was, this is a special occasion that only comes around once a year for these kids, and they are playing for so much more.

I had the honor of coaching team Managua this year, a group of players from Chiqui. While we did not have the age or size of some other groups, I saw performances from these players that I had never seen before. Millie is high school aged girl who is able to come to practice just once a week. During the Cup she was our star defender - chasing down fast breaks and stealing the ball from boys twice her size. Fourth grader, Jose, who was by far the smallest player on the field, scored a hatrick in our last regulation game which took us to the semifinals for Chiquilistagua. Every accomplishment on the field was celebrated by team Managua that day (my personal favorite being the seated rowboat with their sticks). I could not have been more proud of my team, not for their physical performance, but for the mere energy they brought and encouragement they provided each other.

Whether players were from Chiquilistagua or Club Esperanza, being able to represent where they were from created a sense of belonging in their game. Each player's pride for their respective school and community was apparent in their demeanor. The desire to perform well and compete for their program really shown through. As a coach, there was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness all that their hard work amounted to.



Stephanie's Cedro Galán Homestay

Spending a week in the community gave me a new perspective on how community members live.

It’s hard to believe I have been living in Nicaragua for almost three months now!  I have finally adjusted to my new home (although still adjusting to the blazing heat), new community, and new family.  I finally feel confident using the public transportation system, further increasing my street smarts.  I even learned to drive a huge stick shift micro and can maneuver through the crazy drivers of Managua.  Every day is a new adventure living in a foreign country, and I have come to embrace every single moment. My thirteen-month contract seemed like an incredibly long commitment at first, but now, it does not seem long enough.

Manna Project International provides Program Directors with the opportunity to foster stronger relationships and engage in complete cultural immersion through week-long homestays with members from the community.  This past week, I stayed with one of my English students, María, and grew close to her family. They welcomed me with open arms, and I felt completely at home.  I had such a wonderful experience and promised to return to visit soon.

Here are some highlights from my homestay week:


After my programs are finished for the day, I catch a ride into the community with the  micro and walk to María’s house with some of my students.  She welcomes me into her home and shows me my new room for the next five nights.  Her six-year-old daughter, Nicole, is letting me sleep in her room while she shares a bed with María and her husband.  There are seven people living in a three-bedroom house, so I am very lucky to have my own room. 

Today is the day before my birthday, and I am excited to share it with my new Nica family.  When I arrive, some of my students are at Maria’s house getting dressed up and cooking a huge dinner.  We hop in the back of the truck en route to another community member’s house. It turns out that María, one of my other students, and my fellow Program Directors have organized a surprise birthday party for me!  I was completely taken by surprise and am so thankful they remembered!  We ate homemade fried chicken, gallo pinto, pico de gallo, and cooked yucca (a very typical Nicaraguan dish).  It's probably the best meal I have eaten yet in my time here.  I spent the rest of the night listening to the guitar (mostly listening since none of us sing very well) and dancing with the niños.  I am thankful to live and work in such a tight-knit community.


I wake up to the smell of fried eggs, (more) gallo pinto, and fresh fruit served with avena con leche - a drink made with oatmeal and cinnamon.  María introduces me to all the animals living around her house, including talking parrots, pigs, birds, dogs, cats, and roosters.  She also grows many different kinds of spices in her garden to use for cooking.  We play the card game, UNO, with Nicole.  I already understand how to play and don’t have to go through trying to understand the Spanish translation for the rules of the game.  Later, we walk to English class together to prepare for the upcoming exam next week.


Nicole and I share my favorite Nicaraguan dish for breakfast – NACATAMALES!  Nacatamales are a dish consisting of chicken, pork, rice, and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves.  Mariá serves us homemade fresh calala (passion fruit) juice.  Perfect start to the day.  While Nicole is getting ready for dance class, I chat with Maria’s father in law about Nicaraguan culture, politics, and economics.  He speaks fast, so I have to constantly remind him to speak slower so I can understand.  I promise to practice my vocabulary for when I return next time. 

We catch two different buses to get to Nicole’s dance studio in Managua in the afternoon.  During the middle of the day, the chicken buses tend to be overly crowded and cramped to the point where you cannot move. 

After about an hour, Nicole finished dance class and we meet up with Maria’s friend Lupe and Program Director, Sanjana, who is also doing a homestay.  We take another bus to Salvador Allende, a nearby boardwalk with a stunning view of Lake Managua.  I order a batido from my favorite smoothie shack and eat too many pupusas (another common Nicaraguan dish made with corn, beans, and meat).  After taking many pictures and selfies, we head home.  Nicole, María, and I watch the movie Me Before You with English subtitles, and I have to hold in my tears because this is the saddest movie I have ever watched.


I have to go back to the Manna house today, but I do not want to leave my new family.  I have grown so close to María and Nicole over the past week.  Spending a week in the community gave me a new perspective on how community members live.  I am overwhelmingly thankful to be part of this community.  These are the little things that make me feel like I am at home.

Until next time,


5 Things I Learned in Nicaragua

Executive Director Samantha Church reflects on her August visit to MPI's Nicaragua site.

1. Manna Project is deeply connected with the communities it serves.

During my week-long trip, two community members, Sonia and Chepita, hosted me in their homes for traditional Nicaraguan lunches. Sitting on the porch, listening to the women tell timeless stories about the volunteers they have gotten to know over the years, emphasized MPI’s commitment to its motto, "Communities Serving Communities." 

2. Progress takes time.

I was extremely fortunate to be in Nicaragua when the Clínica Médica MPI (MPI medical clinic) in Villa Guadalupe received its official license from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA). Country Director Christina Palazzo and her clinic team started the licensure process in December 2014. Being there to see Christina hang this license up in the clinic was especially exciting, and a testament to the team's hard work! The license includes both primary care and specialized OB/GYN care, and will allow the clinic to actively collaborate with MINSA on community health initiatives (i.e. vaccination drives, direct referrals for specialized exams/patient follow-ups, and public health campaigns).

3. Nicaragua is breathtakingly beautiful. 

Christina brought me to Masaya Volcano National Park, which showcases one of Nicaragua’s most active volcanoes. I also had the opportunity to relax in Laguna de Apoyo’s refreshing lagoon water!

4. Everything is more colorful in Nicaragua.

Whether it be the public school playgrounds, or the massive, brightly-lit trees that line the streets of Managua, Nicaragua and its people are visibly vibrant.

5. MPI Nicaragua staff and volunteers work tirelessly to fulfill Manna Project’s mission. 

I am so honored to be working with MPI's teams. A HUGE thanks to Christina and the team for welcoming and introducing me to the impactful health, education, and livelihood programs we operate daily on-site!

Want to join the team? Early registration for Program Director positions in Nicaragua and Ecuador ends October 1st. Learn more here or apply below: