SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Reflecting upon his Spring Break trip to Ticuantepe, Nicaragua, Ben McAnnis-Entenman, class of 2008, of Portland, Ore., is more appreciative of everything in his life.
“I think the biggest impact this trip had on me was essentially putting my life in perspective,” McAnnis-Entenman said. “You go into a poverty-ridden community like that, and it’s incredibly eye-opening to realize how lucky you are to have running water, electricity, a stove – just basic every day things we all take for granted.”
McAnnis-Entenman was one of nine Wittenberg students who traveled to the impoverished Central American nation intent on making a difference during their study break. They were joined by Miguel Martinez-Saenz, assistant professor of philosophy, who organized the trip for a third consecutive year.
The Wittenberg group, along with students from Clark University (Mass.) and the Maryland Institute of Art, spent the week working alongside local masons to build homes for people who in many cases earn about $1 per day in their jobs. The group stayed in the nearby community of Palestina and participated in a cross-cultural learning experience that provided time for work, sightseeing and reflection upon their experiences.
It was an education without books, tests or computers.
“The trip to Nicaragua has been the most eye-opening and amazing experience of my life thus far,” said Mary Griffith, class of 2008, an art/education from Dover, Ohio. “I’ve learned so many lessons as a result of this trip.
“I’ve learned to appreciate the simplicity of life and focus much less on the material aspects of life. I learned that the views I had on my life were greatly skewed, and that I am so lucky to live the way I do. I’ve learned to do what I can, with what I have, and help others to make the best of what they have as well.”
Heady stuff from a first-year college student. Of course, waking up early each morning to work a long day in the tropical heat of Nicaragua can change a person – but so can interacting with the people you are helping, making friendship bracelets with their children and then taking time each night to reflect on it all.
And, perhaps, count your blessings.
“It really was a culture shock,” said Lisa Bendure, class of 2006, of Springfield, Ohio. “You see how lucky you really are when talking to these people who live in one-room houses made out of basically anything they could get their hands on.
“Also, the sense of community was really amazing. You really should be thankful for what you have.”
The trip is organized each year by the non-profit organization Bridges to Community, a community development organization that takes volunteers to developing countries to work, learn and reflect. According to the organization’s Web site, “Through the process of living and working with local communities on construction, health and environmental projects, Bridges promotes cross-cultural learning, a deepening awareness of our global interdependence and a commitment to the common good.”
Two Bridges to Community board members, Warren Licht and Regina Romanaux, worked closely with the Wittenberg group and led the nightly reflections, including a closing event that was “pretty emotional,” according to Martinez-Saenz.
“At the end of the trip, all involved came together and reflected on the experience,” he said. “It was a chance to explain what they saw and discuss the lessons they learned.”
The student leader in 2005 was Carly Dahs, class of 2005, of Sandusky, Ohio. The rest of the group included Ashley Sodders, class of 2007, of Springfield, Ohio, Christopher Hewitt, class of 2008, of Louisville, Ohio, Andrea Leistikow, class of 2007, of London, Ohio, Colleen Failey, class of 2007, of Columbus, Ohio, and John Lohman, class of 2006, of St. Paul, Minn. Among those on campus who Martinez-Saenz credits with lending support to the trip were the members of Student Senate and Students Taking Action Now Dammit (STAND), Associate Provost Gary Gaffield, Administrative Assistant Rosie Burley, Director of Student Activities Mark DeVilbiss and Coordinator of Accounts Payable Susan Swank.
Griffith enthusiastically recommends the experience to other students.
“I look at the positive aspects of every situation, and I try to show other people how grateful we should be of what we have,” she said. “I hope to be an inspiration to anyone who is thinking about traveling to a third-world country.”
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