Welcome to the first installment of our Parent Experience Series! With a new group of Program Directors on site in Ecuador and Nicaragua, we know that some of our new readers are parents who want to follow along. It's a fact - sending your child to an unknown country can be a nerve-wracking experience! Liz Herr's son, Dan, is starting his second year at Manna Project's Nicaragua site, and she has some words of comfort, advice, and encouragement for you.
"Mom, Dad, I'm moving to Nicaragua!"
When our son Dan announced last spring that he was planning to spend thirteen months in Nicaragua as a Program Director for Manna Project International, one of my first reactions was to buy a bunch of stuff for him to take along. He thought this was crazy. His intention was to throw some clothes and toiletries in a duffel bag and go. I hate to admit it, but he was partly right; my shopping spree was a little crazy and mostly a way to keep at bay my anxiety over having my son head off to an impoverished area of an unknown (to me), developing country. A few of my purchases, however, turned out to be quite useful.
I thought I would share my thoughts on this in case you are a parent, family member, friend or prospective MPI Program Director yourself – in the hopes that you can avoid unnecessary anxiety and the need for retail therapy.
There were only two things that Dan felt that he needed prior leaving - a new daypack to replace his current one, which was falling apart, and an extra pair of sunglasses. Both of these truly were essential. He also threw in good, sturdy water bottle.
Collared shirts and shorts (not gym shorts) are what the guys seem to wear most. The best pair of shorts works for everything, from teaching math to coaching lacrosse. Clothing should be lightweight and quick-drying. Nicaragua is hot - and dusty. So while light colors are good, anything that is white will soon be a brownish-gray color from dust and multiple washings. It’s more complicated for the girls, as shorts aren’t as socially acceptable for women in Nicaragua, but the general principles are the same.
Life as a Program Director
Program Directors walk (a lot!) in addition to running, hiking, volcano boarding and hanging out at the beach in their off time. Shoes get wet, muddy, and sweaty. Dan spends most of his time in athletic shoes or flip-flops. The athletic shoes he took in July 2015 were smelly and worn out by Christmas.
A good cell phone case is a good idea. Dan’s is the Lifeproof brand. It is waterproof, dust-proof and drop-resistant. Dan has always lived a life dangerous to cell phones; he gets tossed into some body of water about once a month, so he needed all these features before he left for Nicaragua. The case has been helpful in Nicaragua. He also chose to take his aging laptop with him. Fortunately, there is a Mac/ Apple store at Galerias Santo Domingo Mall in Managua that has helped him resolve computer problems.
What to Pack?
Some that things that are expensive or hard to get in Nicaragua include: sun block, insect repellant containing DEET, and powdered Gatorade. It’s nice to have a good travel mug for drinking coffee on that morning walk to catch the bus. Dan also really likes having English language classic paperback books (think The Count of Monte Cristo or Don Quixote). He took a couple along, and we’ve sent some as well. You can read a book on the bus or the beach - it doesn’t need wifi or an electric outlet and a book never needs recharging. (Editor's note: If there's no room in your suitcase, the Manna house has an impressive collection of books donated by past volunteers!)
Be sure to get a full 13 months supply of contact lenses, medications, etc. to take along. We haven’t had any problems mailing things to Nicaragua, but packages take a while to get there. It might be a little risky to depend on the Nicaraguan mail for really important things.
A Wonderful Adventure
Hopefully, these thoughts and suggestions will be helpful. One disclaimer: these views are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of MPI, other parents, or even my own son. Living and working in Nicaragua for MPI has been amazing and life changing experience for Dan - and by extension, for our whole family. It is a wonderful adventure.
Thank you, Liz!
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