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    • Lionel Louis ’18 blows bubbles with local schoolchildren

Hop Volunteers Travel to Nicaragua

Emilia Cottignoli '18, Arts Editor
This past August, a small group of Hopkins students and chaperones spent ten days in Leon, Nicaragua, through the New Haven/Leon sister city project.
The delegates taught at a local preschool, built a basketball court for the community of Leon, and learned about the lives of Nicaraguan people on a social justice level. \

Spanish teacher and head chaperone Susan Bennitt has been taking students to Nicaragua for eleven years. “This year’s trip to Leon was better than ever,” says Bennitt. “Students from ninth to twelfth grades had the time of their lives and got along as true brothers and sisters, supporting each other with their Spanish and home stays, trying the food, service tasks and other activities ranging from enjoying volcano boarding, dragon fruit ice cream, and body surfng in the Pacifc. It was so much fun for me to mentor everyone through this immersive experience abroad; all around a fulflling and fun way to spend 10 days during the summer!”

The trip was not only for Spanish speaking students. Several students who take other languages at Hopkins attended the trip this August. Despite occasional diffculties in communication, it didn’t take much to form bonds with local kids and adults. “I truly grew attached to a little boy named Jairo, and though we could not speak to each other, we became friends during the trip,” said Catherine Du Boulay ’18, a French student. Lionel Louis ’18, another student who does not speak Spanish, found ways to learn without words: “This experience was eye opening for me and I learned more about this community of people than I ever could in a classroom. Everyone here was very positive, something I didn’t initially expect considering the impoverished conditions in which many people live.”

Hopkins delegates would volunteer at a preschool in Troilo, a town a few minutes away, in the morning and do manual labor in the afternoon. At the school, students would help teachers plan classes and activities, in addition to working with the kids themselves. Though the preschool did not have many supplies, the teachers worked with the materials they had. “It really makes you think about how lucky you are to have things like handouts and whiteboards, something I know we take for granted,” said Ava Pfannenbecker ’21. Children found joy in simple things, like tying a dragonfly to a stick and dragging it through the air, or playing a game called “Ratón Ratón.”

After a week of diligent work in León and Troilo, the delegates then spent their fnal days hiking Ometepe, a volcanic island with a freshwater bay, the only place in the world home to freshwater bull sharks. However, local residents worry this pristine ecosystem will not remain untouched for long. Delegates met with local social justice activists to hear about the construction of a canal which will soon destroy both the water and banks around it; therefore, all of the floral and faunal life that accompanies the canal. Despite knowing of the island’s imminent destruction, students found ways to appreciate the island’s bounty before it was too late. “This was such a relaxing way to conclude the trip,” said Julia Cusick ’18. “After working all week, I enjoyed being able to experience the beautiful ecosystem unique to the island, from blue morpho butterfies to white-faced monkeys.”
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