Students, faculty spend nine days building homes in Nicaragua

Before Emma Vierheller ’12 (Orrville, Ohio) boarded the plane destined for Nicaragua in December, all she knew about the largest country in Central America was what she had read.

After spending nine days in the country that is bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica, Vierheller’s thoughts on the people and country have been altered somewhat.

“The most surprising aspect of the trip was how much we learned about how the actions and decisions in the United States affect Nicaragua’s economy and government system,” she says. “For example, sweatshops employ a large number of Nicaraguans, including the ones we worked with. … I was also surprised by the sustainable lifestyles that Nicaraguans hold—having running water only every other day, using limited amounts of electricity and fully utilizing natural light, etc.”

The International Leadership and Political Science major was part of a nine-person Marietta College contingent, which included six students that went on a service-learning trip to Nindiri, Nicaragua, from Dec. 11-20. The Office of Civic Engagement sponsored the trip.


This spring, the College is undergoing a dramatic expansion of service-learning courses, led by Arielle Jennings, Director of Experiential Education and Service-Learning. Jennings is planning for at least 11 courses to include some service-learning component.

Jennings was one of three Marietta employees who traveled to Nicaragua.

“I believe that the International Alternative Break trip to Nicaragua was an incredibly impactful experience for everyone who attended. Our lives are all changed by the relationships we formed with Nicaraguans and the things we saw that we will never be able to forget, some very difficult to bear but ultimately important,” Jennings says. “We all agreed that while Nicaragua is a ‘developing’ nation and the United States is considered a ‘developed’ nation, there are many ways in which Nicaragua is far more developed than the U.S. The sense of community and support community members offered each other far exceeded the typical community here in the U.S. We also saw that the lack of waste and little impact on the environment that Nicaraguans demonstrate in their everyday lives was something the average person in the U.S. could learn a great deal from.”

Other Marietta College folks who made the trip were Amanda Dever, Civic Engagement Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA; Dr. David Brown, Associate Professor of Biology; Sarah Snow ’13 (Huntsville, Ala.); Patrick Tegge ’14 (Glenshaw, Pa.); Meagen Rinard ’13 (Newport, Ohio); Megan Born ’12 (Delta, Ohio) and Ellen Schott ’13 (Caldwell, Ohio).

After touring the capital city of Managua and tourist city Granada, the group settled into the community of Papayal to build two houses for local families through the organization Bridges to Community. The group worked with local masons and volunteers to complete the two housing projects and learned about their role as global citizens in the process.

“This trip was true service-learning rather than just volunteer work. Students performed service by building two houses from start to finish but also learned a great deal about Nicaragua, the culture, the people, and the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States,” Jennings says. “We worked side-by-side the families who would be living in the houses we constructed. We went to a political prison and learned about how the U.S. had a presence in Nicaragua during a large part of the 20th century and supported a dictatorial regime, which greatly oppressed Nicaraguan citizens. From this, we learned that we are truly global citizens and the actions we make as a country in the U.S. affect others in large ways.”

The group also learned about global poverty by living it for a week—taking bucket showers, using latrines and eating local food. The students also discovered they have a lot in common with the Nicaraguan students. For example, they liked similar music, to dance and enjoyed playing soccer (futbol) each afternoon during siesta.

On their final day, the group did have a relaxing day on the beaches of San Juan del Sur.

“The most enjoyable aspect of the trip was the medium for discussion the trip held in discussing issues of systemic poverty, both in the United States and in Nicaragua,” Vierheller says. “Of course, the beautiful beach in San Juan del Sur was pretty enjoyable, as well. For most of the students, this was our first trip abroad and being in a new culture for the first time was an unforgettable experience for us.”