By Briana Frenchmore
In the fall 2012 semester, I studied in Nicaragua with SIT Study Abroad on a program entitled Nicaragua: Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society. The program was based out of the capital of Managua but also included three excursions.
In September my program’s first excursion was to the rural agricultural part of the country known as el campo, to experience how a majority of Nicaraguans live. We left the capital and traveled two hours north to Matagalpa and then another hour into a community called El Edén. Although the natural beauty of the vibrantly green countryside textured with cornfields makes El Edén live up to its name of a garden of paradise, the lived reality of the campesinos tells a different story.
I stayed with a host family who generously included me in their lives for five days. They brought me along to the field to plant beans, showed me how to sharpen a machete, and taught me how to grind corn and make tortillas over the wood stove.
Although brief, the experience left me with much to consider regarding the complexities of efforts to reduce material poverty, increase education rates, and promote women’s empowerment in areas such as el campo.
This experience prompted me to focus on rural women’s empowerment for my Independent Study Project (ISP). I am thankful for the generosity of the community of El Edén and the opportunity to spend time with the people who are the heart and spirit of Nicaragua.
The second excursion was to the Caribbean Coast where we experienced the other, often forgotten side of Nicaragua. The Caribbean Coast is divided into two autonomous regions and is home to three indigenous groups (the Miskitos, Rama, and Suma), two Afro-descendent groups (the Creole and Garifuna), and an increasing Spanish-speaking Mestizo population.
We traveled five hours by bus and then three hours in a small boat called a panga to arrive in the Garifuna community of Orinoco. I really enjoyed being in a place that embraces multilingualism and multiculturalism and is striving for “unity in diversity.”
Our final excursion was to El Salvador, known as “el pulgarcito,” or “little thumb,” of Central America, in order to understand the ways its history compares to Nicaragua’s.
Our week was also filled with a variety of speakers and organizations working on everything from finding disappeared loved ones who have migrated to reducing violence in gang culture using Mayan philosophy to trying to make metallic mining illegal to fighting for women’s rights to searching for ways to create more employment in agriculture in small rural communities.
We ended the week by going to the National Assembly to meet with both of the main Salvadoran political parties. The highlight of my time in El Salvador was visiting a community radio station where we helped produce part of the day’s program.
What I appreciated the most about the program’s excursions was that our learning was experiential which meant that the people with whom we met and engaged were our experts. From the diversity of perspectives that I was exposed to, I gained a depth of knowledge and more nuanced understanding of the history and current events of Nicaragua and Central America than would have been possible from any textbook or college classroom. Out of all that I experienced, what will stay with me are the stories of how the pueblo (the people united together) is working to transform society.
Briana is now a senior at Pacific Lutheran University. She is majoring in political science and global studies with a concentration in social justice and development; her minor is in Hispanic studies.
Program excursions are subject to change. Please visit the SIT Nicaragua: Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society program pages for current information.