Parents

Visiting Nicaragua During the Lacrosse the Nations Cup

Getting Involved as a Parent

Ever since her son, Dan Lewis, came to Nicaragua as a Program Director, Dr. Liz Herr has actively supported many of MPI's programs and initiatives. In this blog, she shares some of the ways that she was able to get involved as a parent and help raise awareness about the work her son was doing.

Eleven months ago, we said goodbye to our son Dan at the Denver airport as he headed out for a year as a Manna Project International (MPI) Program Director in Nicaragua. Dan also directs programs with MPI's partner organization Lacrosse the Nations (LtN).

Lacrosse the Nations uses lacrosse in PE and after school programs to teach nutrition, health, self-esteem, life skills and the value of education. Through the LtN Scholars program, students can also receive educational support, coaching opportunities, and university scholarships.

Over the next few months, as we learned more and saw Dan becoming more passionate about MPI and partner organization Lacrosse the Nations (LtN), my husband Fred and I found ourselves wanting to find ways to support the programs. One of the most fun ways we’ve done this has been to lend our support to the annual LtN Cup.

As part of his duties as a Program Director with Lacrosse the Nations, Dan is heavily involved in organizing the LtN Cup. The Cup is a 5 v 5 tournament held annually as a competition and way to share and connect the two LtN programs in Nicaragua - Chiquilistagua and Club Hope. It is also LtN’s biggest fundraiser of the year, supporting LtN programs and providing vital funds for MPI's Cedro Galán Medical Clinic.

Fundraising is done by posting a picture of each player on the LtN website and allowing supporters to pledge funds in one or more player’s name. The goal is to have $100 in pledges for each player by tournament time. Fred and I got into the spirit of the event. We made a pledge ourselves and we also spread the word to friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, the sports teams our sons had played on, local lacrosse shops and literally anybody else we could think of. We had planned to take a trip to Nicaragua during Dan’s year there, and we managed to schedule our trip to coincide with the tournament. So, as added incentive, I was able to promise any of my friends who would donate that I would take an action shot of the player they had supported email it to them.

People were very receptive to hearing about the organizations and the tournament. Some donated, some didn’t, but we had fun, and in addition to drumming up sponsors it allowed us to introduce LtN and Manna Project to many of our friends and acquaintances.

Because we felt like we had a tiny part in it, it was fun to anticipate the tournament and to be excited as the coaches and players got closer to their fundraising goal. Actually being able to attend the LtN Cup last November was a wonderful bonus. It was great to meet LtN directors Javier and Norman, all the Manna Project Program Directors, and the coaches who had worked so hard on the tournament. But the highlight was watching the kids play lacrosse.  Equipment is a bit scarce and worn, and there aren’t fancy uniforms, but the players were remarkably skilled. We were impressed by their effort, determination, and teamwork. There was laughter, a few tears and to top it off the championship game was exciting until the very end!

There are many ways to support Manna Project:

  • You can help meet the needs of one of the critically undernourished children in the Child Sponsorship program.
  • Choose your favorite team in the annual Cedro Galan 5k. Women in the community head up the teams and recruit running participants, aiming to promote and celebrate health as well as raising money for the clinic.
  • If you are into lacrosse, organize a “Scoop for Loot” or “Mini-Jam."  
  • See if your company has a matching donations program.
  • Select Manna Project as your charity of choice on Amazon Smile.
  • Search the internet with GoodSearch.
  • Or come up with your own way to support Manna Project, and enjoy!

Parent Series: Exploring Nicaraguan Cuisine

After his son, Dan Lewis, came to Nicaragua as a 13-month Program Director, Dr. Fred Lewis and his wife, Dr. Liz Herr, came down to visit - twice! In addition to participating in many of MPI's programs, they also had the chance to travel throughout Nicaragua and experience much of what this beautiful country has to offer. In this blog, Dr. Lewis shares some of his favorite Nicaraguan foods and restaurants. Bon appetit!

Exploring Nicaraguan Food

Nicaraguan food has Spanish, Creole and indigenous influences. It is simple, fresh and, a bit to our surprise, we found it to be fantastic. We enjoyed a number of traditional dishes.  

Plantains

photo source: Wikipedia

photo source: Wikipedia

Plantains are found just about everywhere in Nicaragua. Dan introduced us to the three different ways plantains can be prepared. Very ripe plantains are sweet and can be sautéed into maduros. Tajadas are “potato chip”-like plantains. You will find them packaged and sold in grocery stores, gas stations and sometimes as street food. My favorite were tostones, especially tostones con queso. Green plantain slices are fried then topped with a slightly salty queso or Nicaraguan cheese.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is a staple in Nicaragua. Beans and rice are cooked separately then combined, sometimes with onion or garlic. Gallo pinto is hearty, cheap, and really delicious. Just about everyone (including the Manna Project Program Directors) has gallo pinto for, or with, all three meals.

Corn

Corn is also a staple and used for everything from tortillas to a sweet drink called chichi de maiz. Our driver introduced us to quesillos—the very best ones found in a roadside shop in Nagarote—a blend of cheese, cream, picked onion, and vinegar wrapped in a corn tortilla. Traditionally, quesillos are served in a plastic bag and consumed by biting off the corner of the bag and eating/drinking the contents.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit is abundant and delicious, including bananas, mango, pineapple, papaya, and some others we didn’t recognize. Dragon fruit is pink and spiny and jocotes look a little like cherry tomatoes.

Coffee

Nicaragua is also very well-known for its coffee. Here I am standing on a mound of coffee beans at Finca Magdalena on Isla de Ometepe.

Recommendations

Nicaragua is encouraging tourism in the hope of joining its wealthier neighbor Costa Rica as a travel destination. If you are lucky enough to visit, here is a little restaurant advice:

Favorite Dishes

Although not a part of most Nicaraguan’s daily diet, we found the beef in restaurants to be extremely good. Churrasco, a spicy grilled steak, would be worth going out of your way for.  Fresh fish is abundant and fantastic. We enjoyed many of our meals accompanied by Tona, the local beer, which is kept ultra-ice-cold, a wonderful contrast on very hot days.

In León

In León don’t miss El Sesteo, known, among other things, for the fact that Mick Jagger ate there in the 1960s. It’s right on the Cathedral Square (the rooftop view from the cathedral itself also a highlight). We also had a great meal at Al Carbon; the best sandwiches and can be found at Pan y Paz.

In Granada

In Granada, there are also many good restaurants, our favorites being Bistro Estrada and The Garden Café. The town of San Juan del Sur even has it’s own brewpub, San Juan del Sur Cerveceria, started by three ex-pats from the University of Denver. Breakfast at El Gato Negro is fantastic.

In Managua

We stayed near the metrocentro mall in Managua. There are a number of good restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood, the “new downtown." We had a wonderful dinner at Don Candido, a short walk from our hotel. Some of our favorite dinners though were at Chik Chak, which is near the Manna Project house in the outskirts of Managua. A group of the MPI Program Directors joined us, so we had great company and food!

Food Safety

Before our visit, we were given various recommendations about how cautious to be when eating and drinking in Nicaragua. We generally drank bottled water, rather than tap water, and ate in restaurants rather than buying food from street vendors. Otherwise, we enjoyed fresh fruit and everything else on the menu, and we had no difficulties at all.

Everything is "Farm to Table"

In the U.S., trendy restaurants may promote the “farm to table” concept—local foods produced nearby. In Nicaragua, we realized the cuisine is, and has always been, by nature, local, simple, and fresh. If you are going to visit, though, go soon, as we did see a McDonald’s going in across the street from the Cathedral in León.


Thank you, Fred!

Do you have a question for Fred? Email him here

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Parent Series: Traveling to Nicaragua

In the second installment of our Parent Experience Series, Fred Lewis shares how his son Dan's passion for Nicaragua inspired him to learn more about the country and its people...in person! 

Our First Trip to Nicaragua

When our son Dan first decided to volunteer with Manna Project International, I knew only a few things about Nicaragua. I could vaguely recall that it was in Central America, possibly politically unstable and potentially not a safe place to visit. As months went by, we couldn’t help but be caught up in Dan’s passion for the MPI mission and his love of Nicaragua. We wanted to learn more about the country and see what Dan’s life there was like, so we planned a visit.

Getting Around

Getting around Nicaragua is easy, but it took a little time to figure it out. On our first trip we chose to rent a car. The highways are great and the car gave us a lot of flexibility to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It did carry a few practical challenges.

In Managua, there are no street signs or addresses, so navigating the city can be a little challenging. Also, we encountered some unexpected traffic hazards, including motorcycles driving between lanes, pedestrians crossing wherever a break in traffic allowed, horse-drawn carts, carts pulled by men, potholes, road construction without any warning signs, and the infamous traffic circles. 

On The Road

The Nicaraguan police are notorious for issuing traffic tickets, and we got two for lane changes within thirty meters of an intersection (although my wife maintains those were my fault). On our second visit, we used a car service (NicaRoads.com), which we were able to book by email before our visit. Our driver, Luis Payan, calmly and safely negotiated the hazards for us and was happy to accommodate us whenever our plans changed. In our experience, this wasn’t any more expensive than renting a car, but much more relaxing, although it did require advance planning.

Planning Your Own Trip

If you are looking for active pursuits, Nicaragua has plenty to offer—hiking, surfing, climbing volcanoes, volcano boarding, and we even found a stand-up paddleboard tour on the Rio Tamarindo. We relaxed on more than a few beautiful beaches and watched the sunset at the most distant spot on Punta Jesus Maria.

A couple of my favorite tours were the historical tours in León (Sandino Tours) and Managua (Gerald Duran, toursbylocals.com).  Visiting the local markets in Granada and León were highlights, and the Huembes Market in Managua is amazing. Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is a jewel not to be missed. Dan suggested we rent scooters, and this great suggestion allowed us to see the whole island, including a fascinating tour of the coffee plantation and ancient petroglyphs.

Pictured: Fred and his wife Liz in Nicaragua

Pictured: Fred and his wife Liz in Nicaragua

Booking Your Hotel

Booking hotels over the internet worked well for us. Compared to the Program Directors who (I hear) spend less than $10 per night for a hostel, we were looking for somewhat more upscale accommodations. Most business websites lacked an automatic reservation function, but with a few emails it was easy to set up reservations for hotels and tours. We found small hotels in Granada and León to be first-rate and friendly, unexpectedly reasonable in price, and as much fun to stay in as any we’ve been to. 

Warm Hospitality

During our time in Nicaragua we were cautious, as we would normally be in any big city in the U.S., but we never felt unsafe. On the contrary, we found the country and people warm and inviting. It’s hard to miss the contrasts and contradictions which are so much a part of Nicaragua. The country has great beauty, natural resources, and we met so many friendly, warm, hospitable people; yet the poverty is striking as well. Recent Nicaraguan political history sheds some light on this.

Book Recommendations

I would highly recommend a couple of books —Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer and The Country Under My Skin by Giacomo Belli. Learning a little Nicaraguan history, and a little about the relationship between the United States and Nicaragua, left me with a new understanding Nicaragua and of my own country as well.


Thank you, Fred!

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Parent Series: A Wonderful Adventure

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. 

                Liz with Dan in Nicaragua

                Liz with Dan in Nicaragua

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.

The Necessities

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?

                          The famous duffel bag

                          The famous duffel bag

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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Welcome, Parents!

Do you have a son or daughter who is interested in volunteering with Manna Project? Is your child currently on site in Nicaragua or Ecuador? Welcome!

Serving with Manna Project is a life-changing experience for our volunteers, but it can also be transformative for the whole family! You have raised a confident and adventurous young leader, and it's important that you feel connected to their journey. We are establishing a variety of resources for you, and the first is our Parent Experience Blog Series!

Over the next month, we'll be posting blogs shared by parents of past and current Program Directors. It is our hope that you will follow along, be inspired by the experience of other families, and connect with your child's work across the miles. 

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