While working in Nicaragua at a U.S. foreign aid agency this summer, I had the opportunity to visit Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners at its headquarters in Managua, and I was very happy that I was able to do so during one of the organization’s annual youth gatherings. From the very beginning I liked the feel of this organization because of all the Nicaraguan and American children running around having a good time together. After some previous experience teaching English to children in Japan, I have come to realize that such international exchanges are extremely useful not only to broaden the horizons of Nicaraguan youth but also to encourage all the American participants to serve as little Nicaraguan Ambassadors in the future when they are back in Wisconsin.
My visit started with an introduction to the Program Director, Amy Wiza, who took me around the newly-remodeled office, pointing out the classrooms and donated-goods storage facility (which was chock full of basically anything that could serve a purpose in educating Nicaraguan youth, a testament to Amy’s ability to simply make things work on the ground here). It didn’t take long to learn of a very tumultuous recent event in Amy’s life during our conversation that day: the unfortunate passing of her mother and founder of Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners decades ago. But, as sad as it was to hear of that fact, it was also very touching that Amy will ensure the passing of this non-profit from generation to generation, just as it had lasted through the decades since its inception within the Partners of the Americas network during the JFK era.
The day took a much lighter note almost immediately as, after a quick trip up the road to the town of Tipitapa, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a hilarious Barney piñata beat-down at one of the over 100 learning centers that the organization has established across Nicaragua over the years. I don’t remember too much about my childhood, but I only hope that I was as excited about candy as these children seemed to be. And, while the community children tore this lovable purple dinosaur apart, I enjoyed a great conversation with one of the teenage Nicaraguan participants, who seemed so happy to talk to me about the U.S. and his undying love of our professional sports leagues.
Eventually, after the community gathering had finished, Amy took the group to see the learning center itself, which offered the community a collection of books, maps, board games, and other educational materials that the students could actually check out and bring home to enjoy in the company of their families (a great way to build literacy rates, responsibility, and a sense of community among these children!). The Director of the learning center also pointed out that she encourages local teenage girls who had dropped out of school and/or had been victims of domestic abuse to volunteer at the center to give them a sense of belonging to the community as well. And, one thing in particular caught my eye that captured the spirit of this Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partnership: American students designed and created books in their Spanish classes that were provided to children in this community through this learning center. It is mutually-reinforcing activities like these that will allow the partnership to carry on through the years.
Although I unfortunately had to head back to my town after the learning center visit, Amy headed with the American and Nicaraguan youth participants to nearby Masaya Volcano National Park to explore one of Nicaragua’s most beautiful volcanic landscapes. I only hope that my final image of the group, enjoying each other’s company on the bus as they drove away, will continue into the future as it has persisted across decades and generations in the past.
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