A Lasting Commitment

September 03, 2014

Student reflects on experience with YWLP in Nicaragua

YWLP Nicaragua Group My team poses with this year's Bigs and Littles after their first meeting together.

 Emily Anthony

This article is dedicated to the supporters of Rompiendo Fronteras in Managua, Nicaragua including the faculty of Lincoln International Academy, Facilitators, and former and current Big Sisters, as well as the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 JPC teams, whose hard work has brought the mission of Rompiendo Fronteras to life. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Before leaving for Managua, Nicaragua, my Jefferson Public Citizens (JPC) Team and I spent an entire semester and summer preparing for the two-week long trip. Since its founding a year ago, the mission of Hermanas Unidas Rompiendo Fronteras has been to adapt U.Va.’s Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) into a Nicaraguan program that connects upper class teens exhibiting leadership skills with disadvantaged, elementary-level girls. With the guidance of a teenaged mentor, or “Big Sister,” Rompiendo Fronteras strives to encourage each mentee, or “Little Sister,” to overcome life’s setbacks, so that she can then prevail as a leader in her developing community. Though Rompiendo Fronteras ran successfully during its first year with funding from JPC and the Alcoa Foundation, as well as support from YWLP and Lincoln International Academy, the private bilingual college-preparatory school the Bigs attend, its continued sustainability became the primary issue my team eagerly worked to improve, so that Little Sisters in years to come have the opportunity to gain the same confidence in self as our first group of girls.

Nicaragua Classroom One of the seven classrooms at la Sagrada Familia, where the mentees of Rompiendo Fronteras attend school.

To achieve this goal, we decided to establish better infrastructure so that Rompiendo Fronteras would be able to run successfully on its own. My team and I achieved this by creating a comprehensive handbook that teaches the program’s Facilitators how to successfully manage group meetings, curriculum and membership. Additionally, we brought new 2D printing technology and mentoring curriculum, with the purpose of increasing each mentee’s ability to think and act autonomously in order to achieve personal goals. We created networks to better foster Rompiendo Fronteras’ relationship with its YWLP Sister Site in Charlottesville. Toward the end of our stay, my team and LIA held the first of many annual induction ceremonies for each of Rompiendo Fronteras’ dedicated mentors. Furthermore, four former Bigs created a fundraising club at LIA to help cover the yearly supply costs of the program. Although all of these goals seemed daunting at first, by the time we left Nicaragua, my team and I had successfully completed a lengthy list of tasks aiding Rompiendo Fronteras’ internal sustainability.

However, these anticipated achievements only encompass a small portion of what I learned and saw during my stay in Nicaragua. Only a few days into our trip, after our second meeting with mentors from the previous year, my mindset completely changed as I became aware of the reality surrounding Rompiendo Fronteras and its participants. After speaking with the students about their individual experiences with mentees, I realized my excitement and focus on the team’s outlined tasks for the trip distracted me from considering the day-to-day lives of the Littles and the challenges that have shaped them thus far in life. Like myself, these high-school aged mentors came from well-off households, with caring parents and access to basic necessities, including education. Because socioeconomic barriers are difficult to transcend in Nicaragua, many of the Bigs had no prior understanding of or connection with a different socioeconomic class. As a result the Littles pushed the Bigs out of their comfort zones and into a life far less privileged than what these girls have grown accustomed to know. I learned from the Bigs that many Littles had been through natural disasters, abuse and poverty – all before finishing 5th grade. After listening to such testimonies by Bigs about their Littles, I found myself overcome with guilt for not coming to help sooner.

Nicaragua Teacher A teacher's lesson in the common area of la Sagrada Familia: Students learn how to count using chalk on the ground.

For the Bigs and myself, after visiting Centro Escolar la Sagrada Familia for the first time, we finally understood how difficult it is for some to receive an education. Although faculty of la Sagrada Familia and many of its parents are dedicated to keeping the school open and running, it is difficult to accommodate everyone living in the community and in need of an education. The students and teachers brought lively energy and love into the seven-room schoolhouse, but the facilities are of limited quality and quantity. Furthermore, complications with building codes prevented the school from expanding beyond 7th grade, leaving children at risk of an incomplete education. This trip was an awakening not just because of the conditions these young girls endure every day, but because I finally saw where and how much I could make a difference in the lives of others. After hearing these stories and seeing these communities, I feel motivated to improve the success of our Littles’ education and future career paths, no matter what obstacles arise. Whether this means gathering donations for more supplies in Rompiendo Fronteras, or support for expanding and developing la Sagrada Familia, I feel responsible to help make a change. My team and I were only in Nicaragua for 15 days, and our project with JPC extends only for one year. While our formal obligations will end at U.Va., our Little Sisters in Managua will still be at Centro Escolar la Sagrada Familia, in need of hope and guidance. Our Big Sisters will still be working to make a directly positive impact on the lives of others, while Facilitators of Rompiendo Fronteras and supporting faculty of Lincoln International Academy will still be investing time to ensure the program’s success each week. Now that I have established a personal connection to the community and individuals that will benefit from this program, I am eternally dedicated to ensuring that Rompiendo Fronteras is a success.

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