Marina Fleites ’19, Nicaragua –
It’s hard to believe this is our last blog post, because that means we have to leave soon. Over the last week Julia and I have taken turns every day looking over at each other in disbelief to say we can’t believe its almost over. We’re cherishing our last fresh tropical fruit juices and tasting with new appreciation the gallo pinto we have eaten nearly every day. Sure, we’ve been homesick and we’re excited to get home to our families (and our dogs), but seven weeks seems like it flew by, and its hard to believe there’s only one left.
In these seven weeks we’ve felt so at home in this beautiful city. We spent probably six weeks just wandering aimlessly in whatever free time we had until we found our favorite spots. We followed our noses one day to a little bakery that became our go to donut shop. We’ve become regulars at restaurants and cafes. (I would like to thank Pan y Paz especially for supplying me with way too much cafe con leche and pan de chocolate, and for letting me loiter in the A/C as I write my blog posts.) We’ve had regular meetings with Nicaraguan organizations for our secondary project and made friends within them. We’ve run into those friends and our host families as we’re out in León, making this city feel so familiar and comfortable to us. We’ve struck up conversations with complete strangers on buses and made friends as we traveled that ended up visiting us in Leon.
I have loved my teaching experience and our secondary project, the key elements of our fellowship. What I feel truly rounded out the experience, however, was Project Gettysburg-León itself. Outside of our fellowship projects, we visited people and organizations PGL has been connected with for years, some since the beginning in the 80s. I had already met many of the PGL members on the Gettysburg side, and I understood before coming to Nicaragua how dedicated they are to their work. But coming here and meeting our partners made it so clear to me why our sister city project works. PGL approaches sustainable development with the idea that Nicaraguans know what they need, and we as foreigners may have the means to help them obtain that. They do not approach Nicaraguans and impose solutions or projects on them. They are not paternalistic, and they are true to the principles that started their solidarity organization.
Our secondary project consisted of creating videos for some PGL affiliated organizations, and they were more than happy to have us there helping, and continuously thanked us not only for our work, but for everything PGL has done. At Las Tías, we were always welcomed so warmly and enthusiastically as “our friends from Gettysburg,” and as we interviewed one of the Tías for their video, she spent a chunk of time talking specifically about PGL’s involvement: the financial involvement yes, but more that they were always in touch, that there was a real friendship between the organizations. After visiting Talolinga, the rural community PGL works with, one of the agricultural extensionists messaged me on Facebook to send some photos, and to thank us for being a part of the project, saying working with PGL has been one of the most rewarding things in his life.
Of course, PGL has its challenges as any non-profit organization does, but in our time here Julia and I could have clearly seen the impact it has had on the communities and individuals. And those individuals are some of the kindest most genuine people I have ever met. These friends of PGL are so driven, and so happy that its contagious, like the organization La Base. We probably spent the most time with them, visiting various cooperatives, and they were always laughing and happy, but got down to business in meetings. It showed us how important that balance is, especially here in Nicaragua where often business relationships and friendships mingle because of the hospitable and neighborly nature of life here. You meet someone and you ask about their family and their life before you ask about their job, and you genuinely care about the response. You develop what in Spanish is confianza. The literal translation is confidence, but it is used to say much more than that. It is an inherent trust in the other person. In development work without confianza you can’t get very far. I think that has been my most important lesson this summer. PGL has its roots in solidarity, and because of that puts an emphasis on the idea of confianza. That focus has helped it succeed, making an impact on Nicaraguans and Americans alike, myself included.