Study Abroad: Students explore Nicaragua community, gain new perspective

Sophomore Courtney Cataudella and senior Samantha DiStefano spent 10 days in Managua, Nicaragua this summer, where they helped to cultivate an up-and-coming community in the poverty-stricken nation.

Cataudella planned the entire trip through Project Chacocente, an organization based in Managua that relocates refugees from their demolished communities to stable and clean ones.

Cataudella has been involved with the project since sixth grade when she began fundraising for the organization. During her freshman year at Geneseo, she decided to take her commitment to Project Chacocente to the next level and plan a service trip to Managua. Cataudella, with some help from Project Chacocente President Mary Anderson, organized the trip, assembling a team of workers and booking transportation and living arrangements.

In total, seven students - including Cataudella, DiStefano and five other students from Northeastern colleges - Anderson and Mary Beth Kelly, a Spanish teacher from Webster, N.Y. traveled to Nicaragua on the trip.

A day in Managua, according to Cataudella and DiStefano, included attending a worship session, eating a homemade local lunch, playing soccer with the children and working hours of construction.

Because the community’s continuous growth brought on a demand for more schools, Cataudella and DiStefano dedicated their time to building a preschool for refugee children.

While in Managua, Cataudella and DiStefano constantly interacted with the local people. DiStefano said she came to the realization that “people are people; no matter where you go, kids play, adults laugh. We’re all people; we can all connect.”

Despite an obvious language barrier with the Spanish-speaking locals, DiStefano said that “laughter and sarcasm” served as a universal tongue.

Both Cataudella and DiStefano said they had some hesitations about traveling to Nicaragua, but said they agree that helping the people, specifically the children, was the most rewarding experience.

Cataudella said that although the people of Managua do not have economic wealth, it was “inspiring to see how much emotional and spiritual wealth they have.” She said that she “didn’t expect to feel as safe, and [she] felt welcomed by Managua’s warm culture.”

Both Cataudella and DiStefano said they plan on returning to Managua in the future.

Furthermore, Cataudella said she plans on organizing another student excursion to Managua and hopes to reach out to more Geneseo students to join her. While one might assume that the hardest part of a trip to Managua would be the physical labor or seeing the poverty, Cataudella said that the “hardest part was saying goodbye.”