By: Nataly Granados
This spring break, I had the life-changing opportunity through Alternative Service Beaks (ASB) and SLS to lead a service trip to Nicaragua focused on sustainability. Nicaragua was only my third international trip, along with one to my family’s country and a similar spring break trip last year to the Dominican Republic with ASB. I first want to express my gratitude to SLS and ASB for making this possible, as I never imagined I would have these opportunities. My trip to Nicaragua as a leader was one of the most challenging, educational, and inspiring experiences of my life.
Our work in Nicaragua was with a self-sustained community called La Fundadora and it included projects with their school to beautify it by painting their classrooms, preserve the surrounding environment by preparing dirt to be used for a garden, and make it a safe place for students through the installation of a fence. As we witnessed not only through these projects but through the conversations we had about their personal lifestyles, the rural community led their lives in ways that involved the preservation of their environment but still fulfilled their basic needs. La Fundadora demonstrates a good example of a sustainable community and they taught us that it can be simple to incorporate methods into our daily lives that satisfy our needs while preserving and protecting our Earth.
The most impactful part of this trip to me was seeing how open and appreciative everyone in the community was to have us there working with them. The children at the school would confidently come up to talk and play with us and they even helped us with the work we were doing because it was something they had been doing from a young age and enjoyed. There were also parents there helping with the more difficult aspects of our projects that required professional skills, and we spoke with them and learned more about their hard work and personal backgrounds. It was incredible to hear everyone, from children to adults, express their love for the environment and their desire to keep protecting the forests, mountains, lakes, lagoons, volcanoes, and wildlife that Nicaragua is so rich of. Everyone had a part in the transformation of their community and they all worked to continue developing their approach to sustainability. I hope to bring back all I learned and teach others at Tech about the various simple changes being made in other countries to foster sustainable development throughout the world, and to encourage small adjustments within their daily lives to take a part in the goal of creating sustainable communities.
As a trip leader, I took the time to reflect and improve my leadership skills. When I serve as a leader, it is easy for me to supervise and ensure everyone is contributing to the project at hand, but I have trouble when it comes to a more personal level of opening up to others. Being an introverted person, I at times found it difficult to push myself out of my comfort zone and strike casual conversations with my peers. There were also times when I wanted to keep to myself and felt the need for some time alone, but since we were all together for the entirety of the trip, this was almost impossible and as a leader, I decided to challenge myself and attempted to continuously stay engaged with the group. I am so happy I decided to become a trip leader because I learned a lot about the nature of my leadership skills and realized that it was okay to sometimes step out and take the time I needed to myself, and that that did not mean I was not a good leader. I also found that it was possible for me to step out of that comfort zone, and being with such an open and diverse group of Tech students and faculty made that easy and enjoyable.
Overall, my trip to Nicaragua was one of the best I had. I loved the breathtaking views, the happiness that radiated from the community, and the connections my group made with the community and with each other. I know that being back at Tech will not weaken those relationships, but will only strengthen them. Personally, I am confident that I will never stop reminiscing about my time in Nicaragua.
By: Alissa Kushner
This spring break, I spent four days making dirt.
When I tell people this, they get very confused, wondering what could have possibly taken so long about shoveling some dirt from one pile to another. But what we in America don’t often realize is just how easy we have it. For us, making a garden requires going to the store, picking up some Miracle Grow, and calling it a day. In Nicaragua, and around the world, this just isn’t the case.
We started with a patch a grass.
The grass was right behind the school we were serving, and the first day was spent raking the ground until the grass was uprooted and gone, and piles of dirt were left in its place. But this dirt wasn’t nutrient rich enough to grow a plant, because it had many rocks, roots, and clumps in it. The next two days were spent “cleaning” the dirt. We painstakingly split it into smaller, more refined pieces, while enlisting some help from the local school children to help us take out the rocks and weeds. Finally, on day four we added manure and lime, and then set out to bag 2000 small portions of dirt for the school’s nursery class.
This is just one of the many examples I experienced during my week in Nicaragua showing me how different, and more sustainable, life is there. If someone wants something, they often have to do it themselves, from start to finish. Things you can make yourself don’t just magically appear on grocery store shelves; there are no ready-made frozen tortillas to buy. If you want one, you either grow the corn or buy it from a local vendor; then you grind it, you shape it, you cook it, you eat it, you clean it, and you restart all over again the next time you want one. Many foods there are amazingly fresh, and even when things are imported, like soda or chips, people are very resourceful. Coke glasses are returned to the vendor to be reused and plastics are reused in many crafty and resourceful ways.
But only so much plastic can be reused. On this trip it became painfully clear to me that we in America have created a worldwide epidemic. When the amount of imported plastic piles up too high to be useful, it’s either discarded on the side of the road or it’s burned. There is no other way to get rid of it, no landfill to hide it in. On the trip, we saw a group of locals burn a small pile of plastic very close to the school, where the kids were still in class and we were working. Our entire group became nauseous from being exposed to only a few minutes of the fumes, and I can only imagine how it impacts the health of everyone in the community.
This realization has impacted my life. I always knew that I wanted to help people in some capacity, but now the pieces have fallen into place. A Mechanical Engineering degree can be used for good to help the plastic recycling process become more efficient, more widespread, easier to implement, and less wasteful. And when other students go on Alternative Service Break trips and see the world through a different lens for themselves, hopefully they too can be impacted and find a problem that they are passionate about. Bettering the world begins with understanding sustainability, and through the amazing opportunities afforded to us at Tech, we can do that. We can really change the world.