Students travel to Nicaragua, volunteer with safe house and elementary school


A team of 10 students spent their spring break in Managua, Nicaragua, doing construction work at a safe house for young girls and painting a local elementary school. The service trip was organized by Greta Jarvis (senior) in partnership with Forward Edge International, a Christian relief and missions organization based in Vancouver, Wash.

The students stayed for eight days in Villa Esperanza, a safe house that offers programs in life skills training, psychological counseling and medical services for young women, Jarvis said. Gloria Sequiera, a former Nicaraguan school principal, and Forward Edge founded Villa Esperanza in 2008 for girls from La Chureca, an impoverished village once located in Managua’s dump. Many who come to the villa are prone to drug use and prostitution and suffer from health effects due to air pollution caused by the garbage surrounding their homes.

At the villa, the group worked on building the foundation for a new classroom. This second project required sweeping, raking and transporting dirt and wood to level the floor.

“There were some days when I’d get blisters from sweeping and raking or sore from painting, but I enjoyed every second of the trip,” participant Jodie Henderson (junior) said via email.

The team regularly interacted with safe house residents during meals and on nights when they watched a movie, went out for ice cream or played games. Lena Owens (first-year) said that, although she was only in the villa for eight days, she treasures the time she was able to spend with the girls.

“A team comes every week, so you don’t really get to know anyone unless they come back, but [the residents] definitely opened up throughout the week,” Owens said. “They gave some of us photos and were super nice at the end. We shared our hopes and dreams and they were really open about that.”

Aside from helping the safe house, the team spent three days painting the exterior, roof and three classrooms of a local elementary school and playing with the children during recess. When the painting project was complete, Forward Edge facilitators held a celebration for both the elementary school and Occidental students with piñatas and games. Owens said that connecting with the children was the most memorable part of her service experience.

“We were playing a game of soccer and this boy comes up to us and gives us candy,” Owens said. “They’re from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Nicaragua and he just spent 15 cents to buy us candy, which sounds insignificant. But it was super significant to us because he didn’t have to do that, and he was so generous.”

Jarvis organized her first student mission trip in 2013 through Medical Teams International, a global health organization that aims to provide medical care and holistic development programs in response to disaster, conflict and poverty within the United States and abroad. The group traveled to Guatemala, where they helped build sustainable stoves that minimized the smoke released by traditional wood and stone fires.

Jarvis decided to collaborate with Forward Edge International this year after Medical Teams International doubled their fees for mission teams. She first learned about Forward Edge when she volunteered with them in Haiti her senior year of high school. After visiting their offices last summer as part of an internship with M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, she started to consider the possibility of a collaboration.

Although the trip is not sponsored by the college, Jarvis reached out to professors in the Latin American studies and public health departments to help publicize the trip. However, the participating students were not required to be connected with the departments in any way.

“It’s a completely new group of people and we’re all different majors, different ages, different years,” Jarvis said. “It’s a group that normally wouldn’t get the chance to know each other, and you get to form such deep relationships and have such great conversations.”




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