Service trip to Nicaragua brings English education to local children

Rachel Lee February 1, 2018 0

What did Elizabethtown College students and faculty and staff do over winter break? A group of 11 people went on a service trip to Nicaragua through the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE). The trip ran from Friday, Jan. 5 to Saturday, Jan.13.

CCCE Program Coordinator Sharon Sherick and student trip leader and occupational therapy fifth-year Samantha Tobon were among those who went and led the trip.

The group flew into Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, and spent the first night there. Then, they travelled to Jinotega, a small mountainous town known for its coffee industry. In the outlying communities of Jinotega, people live in poverty.

The group volunteered with Outreach360, a volunteer service-learning organization, to help bring education to the elementary-age children living in poor communities of Jinotega. They taught English classes in English to provide the children with a foreign language immersion experience.

While a knowledge of Spanish was not mandatory, some members of the group understood and spoke Spanish. Fifth-year occupational therapy student Samantha Speierman knew some Spanish and learned more while on the trip.

They stayed in a volunteer house with volunteers from two other schools and ate food provided by Outreach360. Some dishes were American, while others were more traditional, local cuisine. All the food was cooked by locals.

They taught in the education camp with volunteers from the University of Tampa, who were mainly nursing majors. Outreach360’s theme of the week was body parts.

Volunteers from the University of Tampa taught two stations in English about topics like nutrition, hygiene and exercise.

Etown volunteers also taught two stations, one about body part vocabulary and another on how to create various art projects.

“I liked seeing how excited the kids were to come to camp every day,” Tobon said. “We would see them racing down the street to get to the door and waiting by the door. They just had so much energy.”

Before leaving Etown, the group had planned an art project for each day and brought enough supplies for 100 children. They taught two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They had 40 to 50 children in the morning and 80 to 90 children in the afternoon. Because of this, they had to be flexible and adjust their lesson plans.

Each day followed a similar schedule. They taught four stations in the morning for two hours, had a break for lunch and siesta, and then taught four stations in the afternoon for two hours.

Each session, the children would start with reading, followed by singing and dancing, and then they would rotate through the four stations. Volunteers would teach the same station eight times a day. Tobon’s favorite station to teach was the art station.

“It was just really cool to see what the kids created,” Tobon said. “It was interesting to see the creativity and the different levels of creativity, too.”

Speierman’s favorite station was reading. She thought the children benefited from seeing that the Etown volunteers were still learning to read Spanish in the same way the children were still learning to read English. Tobon remembered a girl who was especially excited about learning and would copy down books to read at home.

In addition to teaching, the group went on an excursion each day to learn more about the local culture. For one excursion, they watched the 2009 documentary “Dreaming Nicaragua” about four young children and their families living in extreme poverty in a city about an hour away from Jinotega.

“It showed the importance of education where these kids lived,” Tobon said. “It was a really good insight into a local culture and people who were living in poverty.”

The group also stayed at a black pottery cooperative for two days. They talked to the women who worked there and learned about the process of making black pottery and the culture behind the practice. They also practiced making the pottery.

Another excursion was to a coffee farm, which gave them a look into Nicaragua’s well-known coffee industry. The farm was located on a resort, and the group attended a coffee tasting.

Other excursions included a Latin American dance class, which Tobon thought was a lot like Zumba. They also had free time to explore Jinotega and experience the culture, food and architecture first-hand. Tobon’s favorite dish was gallo pinto, which is the Nicaraguan staple of rice and beans.

Some also hiked to Peña de La Cruz, a cross on top of a mountain that is visible from everywhere in Jinotega. This was Speierman’s favorite excursion.

“Impacting someone’s life in the littlest way, you never know what that means to them,” sophomore Kaley Frantz said. “It was interesting to see the differences between here and a country like [Nicaragua].”

This was the second year a group from Etown has gone to Nicaragua; the first group went in 2017. Next year, there will be a similar trip to the Dominican Republic. For more information about the 2019 trip, contact Sherick at


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