This past June 2013 I had the opportunity to spend 8 days with a wonderful group of 15 and 16 year old young women on a service learning trip to rural Nicaragua. During our time in country we hiked in rainforests and learned about the challenges of preserving this precious ecosystem. We helped plant school gardens working side by side with parents in the community. The girls spent time with high school students practicing Spanish/English and sharing about each others’ lives. Supporting rural schools is a cornerstone program for the organization we traveled with and the girls spent time with young school children and their teachers, witnessing how people in other countries value as education as a gift and essential investment in the future. We played with children at the Los Pipitos clinic who had a range of serious physical, developmental and behavioral challenges whose mothers brought them 3 hours each way on foot to receive 2 hours of therapy a few times a year. The difference in the demand for services and availability of care was stark while the intense commitment of these parents to their children was humbling.
One of the more thought provoking visits on our journey was to the Casa Materna – a small home where women from remote areas could spend the last few weeks of their pregnancy and deliver their baby at the nearby health department. This is so important as one out of every 300 women die in childbirth in Nicaragua and their infant mortality rate is 3 times that of the US. During the visit the girls met a 16 year old who was due in a few weeks. In contrast to our perception of teen pregnancy, this young woman had planned her pregnancy and was looking forward to the way her new role as mother would impact her status in the community. A different looking glass to consider… We also learned that most women leave the health department pretty quickly after giving birth followed by a ride home on a crowded, bumpy bus or a long walk home. Women are strong and mighty indeed.
We also saw the positive impact of micro enterprise investments in women owned initiatives…and helped support those women by purchasing their lovely products while learning about their innovative business models. We witnessed the importance of entrepreneurship – be it business, social or just thinking outside of the box (as did the fabulous Peace Corp volunteer at Casa Materna). Finally, across the board as a group we loved the neighborliness of everyone we met. People in Nicaragua make time to stop and talk with each other. They gather in squares and on front porches. Homes may be tiny but hearts are big. Life might be hard but there is time to share.
The joys and challenges of being a Girl Scout leader is a topic for a different blog, but my decade investment in building leadership with my scouts (including my daughter) has been worth every second. I feel great hope for the future when I look at these young women and see how they embrace a world much bigger than the one they live in every day. They are smart, have cultural humility and recognize the interconnectedness of their life and those of women and girls around the world. And they aren’t afraid to get messy, try new things, support each other and believe that the world is full of endless possibilities!