Grinnellians travel to Nicaragua, help community

nicaragua1webWhile many Grinnellians parted two weeks ago for home or destinations with temperate weather, Marissa Gilman ’09, Aniko Drlik-Muehleck ’11, Katherine Gregersen ’09, Annie Pigott ’12, Mary Jane Giesey ’12, Grace Philipp ’12, Evan Ponder ’10, and Emma Peterson ’10 headed to Nicaragua where they spent their spring break experiencing firsthand the development of the San Ramon community.

After an internship in San Ramon, where she worked with an office of sustainable community tourism, Gilman was inspired to organize a return trip, this time with the company of other Grinnellians.

Influenced by a Global Development Studies trip to Costa Rica with Monty Roper, Anthropology, Gilman knew that she wanted the trip to be an experiential learning opportunity. “I still wanted to have some sort of learning component to it. I wanted to have a group of students go to this community I worked in,” Gilman said. “I knew I wanted us to deal with Spanish, Global Development Studies, and Latin American issues.”

Gilman, determined to see the trip through, set about postering and applying for funding for various College grants. Although the College initially agreed to provide funding, risk assessors brought to the administration’s attention the high risk of eight unaccompanied students traveling abroad. “The hardest part was finding funding,” Gilman said. “Two weeks before the trip, the College was canceling our funding and the administration, the higher ups, found out about the trip and decided to revoke the funding that had been received.”

After contributions from President Russell K. Osgood and his family, however, the trip was made affordable, and therefore possible.

Once the eight students successfully made it to San Ramon, they spent a little over a week learning about the region’s economy and assisting in various community projects. While the students anticipated more participation with the community’s microfinance efforts, they took the advice of the community’s development office and insetad learned more about the general state of the community. “The office didn’t think this was the most beneficial thing to be done with our time. None of us wanted to force our own agenda on the organization,” Gilman said.

The students spent a good portion of their time at a cloud forest reserve, studying the area’s economic dependence on coffee and helping the proprietor create rest areas throughout the plantation for potential tourists. Students expressed satisfaction at their mastery of bench construction by the end of the trip. “I had never used a machete before!” said Gregersen. The remainder of their time was spent learning about the sustainable tourism effort in San Ramon and working with the primary office to help find ways to improve their tourism programs.

Despite an unfortunate encounter with fried bologna and a few alarming incidents with vociferous indigenous monkeys, the students, overall, found the trip to be a rewarding and eye-opening experience. “Even though there are so many limitations with a big group and short period of time, it was important to have a taste of [the San Ramon community] and to have other Grinnellians to share the experience with in order to better understand complex issues going on in a community that is trying to get out of a rut it finds itself in,” Gilman said.
nicaragua1web