In May, 12 St. Mary’s College students will leave campus behind to spend two weeks in Nicaragua. Rest and relaxation, however, will take a proverbial back seat on this trip. While in Limon 2, a village of 500 inhabitants on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast, members of the college’s Raíces Hispanas Club will live and work in the small community to promote literacy among the town’s children.
“It happened by a lot of love, passion and support,” explained Cristina Tono ’14, who instituted the Raíces Hispanas Service Trip to Nicaragua in 2013, as she discussed how the trip went from a concept derived from personal passion to an annual initiative—one that the college plans to carry out even after Tono graduates this spring.
Feeling directionless her first year at St. Mary’s, Tono wanted to find an internship that would help her focus her studies. “I had ideas of what I wanted to do, I just needed to go do them,” she said. “I needed some motivation, and I think a lot of students feel this way in the beginning.” Working with the college’s Career Development Center, Tono landed the break she had hoped for: an internship with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization specializing in international aid. Although the internship would not happen until her junior year, Tono was more than ready for the opportunity. “I had my application [for FSD] set since my first year,” she exclaimed. She chose the organization’s site in Nicaragua to gain experience in environmental education. As an intern, Tono would help coordinate community trainings on recycling and repurposing trash. The workshops, she describes, consisted of hands-on activities with the locals, such as crafting piñatas out salvaged goods and knitting with plastic.
After spending the fall of her junior year in Nicaragua, Tono returned to campus in the spring with what she would describe as an experience of a lifetime. She had gained invaluable knowledge in a field of interest and helped to stimulate a community’s efforts toward sustainability. But, she had also returned with a heavy heart. “I felt really selfish going from doing something to help other people to focusing on myself and my studies,” she said. Feeling inspired to follow her newfound passion while maintaining her studies, Tono, with volunteers from Raíces Hispanas, a campus service club of which she is a member, launched the college’s first service trip to Nicaragua—a feat she says would not have been possible without the much-needed help received from the college community.
“There are a lot of details that go into such a trip,” she said. “I talked to the college’s Office of Student Services and Department of International Education and they agreed to help me. We got the group [of volunteers] together; fundraised for the trip … it all happened so quickly.” Tono said that help also came from places she had never expected, like student and athletic clubs who pooled money to help pay for transportation, food and other needs.
The first service trip was in the spring of 2013. Nine students spent ten days remodeling a dilapidated community playground out of recycled tires, plastic debris and concrete. This year, May 18 – 31, the 12 students will work with the community library to help the children of Limon 2 read and interpret books focused on environmental stewardship. The group plans to culminate the tutorship by converting the stories into a play, complete with props and costumes made from recycled materials.
Volunteer Emily Cerna ’16 is looking forward to the experience. “It seamlessly combines all my interests into one beautiful project,” she said. “I am fascinated by the environment; I admire, and may want to be a part of, the field of education; I am passionate about service work; and I am a proud of my Hispanic heritage. … I’m excited about incorporating theater into the environmental education lessons we will prepare for the children. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.”
Like the year before, Tono and the service group are hoping for support from the college community to make this year’s trip possible. With a designated project page on St. Mary’s new giving platform, anyone from anywhere can help. Reflective of her experience, Tono is confident of the college community’s goodwill. “We [St. Mary’s College] have this mission statement about community and people working together, but do people actually mean it?,” she said. “I learned through this process that they do. It’s amazing.”
– See more at: http://smcm.edu/news/pressrelease/2014/02/14-010.html#sthash.htuqZShH.dpuf