Over 20 Pacific Union College students gave up their spring break to work on construction, health, and education projects on a service trip to Empalme De Boaco, Nicaragua, March 23-31. The trip is part of a partnership between PUC and Developing Communities, Inc., a non-profit group founded in 1988 by PUC alumnus Jake Scheideman.
In Empalme de Boaco, students worked with locals to rebuild and renovate the town’s clinic, which had fallen into disrepair. While providing care for residents’ basic health needs, the clinic will also serve as a base of operations for future medical work as Developing Communities and PUC pursue a long-term commitment to the town.
“Initially, I heard it was a medical trip; I wanted to go and get some experience,” said sophomore pre-med biology student Meena Kim. “Then they told us we were building a clinic. Regardless of whether I would be doing the actual medical work, I went because we would be providing the assets and the means for them to better their healthcare system.”
At the clinic, the students worked with residents of Empalme De Boaco to replace the building’s old tin roof, which had been damaged by a bat infestation. The group also poured a cement foundation for the clinic’s further expansion and a sidewalk.
“When we took out the roofing, there was a layer of bat droppings all over the place,” said junior film major Andrew Lloren. “It was really bad, especially since this was where they brought sick people.”
Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and inadequate educational and health resources are commonplace. “I had never been out of the country and had no idea how poverty stricken they were. It was eye opening,” remarked junior communication major Darcie Moningka.
While work progressed at the clinic, representatives from PUC's education department spent time visiting local schools, getting to know teachers and observing classes, while exploring the specifics of a long-term partnership for school improvement in Empalme De Boaco.
“We spent quite a few hours in the classrooms observing...My goal is to take that information and help better the methods and strategies of these teachers so these kids will understand the power they have through education,” says senior education major Tarynn Machado, who hopes to return to Empalme next year and assist in its schools.
“The fine line that we have to walk is making sure that we remain sensitive to the reality of their situation,” said Jim Roy, a PUC education professor who was part of that evaluation process. “We need to create a trust where they desire to hear what we have to say and are open to it. We don’t want to be the gringos who ride in there on what we think is our white horse, when there are some really cultural issues that they face.”
“I was very impressed with the students and their attitude…the community was very impressed with their disciplined work ethics,” said Schiedeman, who has spent years working in Empalme and was excited to get students at his alma mater involved. “It’s really important for the youth to get this exposure, and hopefully it will stick with them for the rest of their lives.”
“Most of them were pre-med, and I hope this sort of trip can springboard them to a lifetime of service in their field,” he continued. “But the education component is something we want to build on for the future of the students here at PUC and the teachers in Nicaragua. The possibilities are endless and very rewarding.”
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