This year, HWS made history by sending a group of students abroad on an Alternative Spring Break service-learning trip to Nicaragua. Thanks to the hard work of Carl Ranieri ’11, nine students joined Alejandra Molina, director of Intercultural Affairs, to spend a week in Nindiri, Nicaragua to work on projects, such as housing and educational needs. To make the trip such a success, Ranieri helped connect the Colleges with a non-profit cultural exchange program that had sent him to Nicaragua twice before: Bridges to Community, an organization which aims, through volunteer service, to create a world where basic needs, such as shelter, nutrition, education, healthcare and employment, are treated as human rights.
Before lending a hand half-way around the world, the students received preparatory classes in Nicaraguan culture and community from Molina as well as classmates Ranieri and Hannah Stoll ’11. Both Ranieri and Stoll have previously participated in the program and helped to plan this trip. In addition to these two students, volunteers included first-year Kitwan Billy and sophomores Kirby Benjamin, Anna Giangregorio, Marjorie Maxwell, Chris Nelsen, Martha Beltz and Chloe Pedalino.
Thinking back on her time with students in Nicaragua, Molina explained that, “It was incredibly hard work. The students worked all morning and for part of the afternoon in all areas of construction for the two houses.”
“In addition to two houses that we worked on, there was a garden project as well,” Molina said. “After returning in the afternoon, the students could interact and play with local children. This part of our service allowed our students to engage with the community in Nicaragua more directly and establish personal links.”
Ranieri agreed, saying that, “The hard work building the houses and the social interactions we were able to build with those who lived in the community strengthened the intercultural exchange that happened on the trip. There was a huge sense of community building.”
For Stoll, this was her third trip to the country. “I’ve been asked many times why I continue to return to Nicaragua and my answer is always the same: the people,” she said. “I always come home having learned more than I feel I could give back. I have a drive to give back as much as they give and share with me.”
Ranieri added that, “I was able to share my stories with my friends and enhance their experiences in Nicaragua as well as gain an in-depth understanding of the culture and daily battles that Nicaraguans face. My trips to Nicaragua become more and more rewarding with each year I travel, and I am excited to see the future of this program here at HWS.”
Reflecting on this inaugural trip and looking ahead toward future trip, Molina explained that, “My personal hope is that students here at the Colleges can see see how their help can alleviate poverty on a global scale, and that their help is still vital in combating poverty on a local scale as well.”