Department: Romance Languages
Course: HUM 216 – The Writer and Society in Central America
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina & Managua, Nicaragua
Dr. Jane Albrecht designed “The Writer and Society in Central America”, a month-long summer course, with the hope of expanding her students’ worldview while bringing to life the occasionally distant events contained within the pages of an assigned class reading.
After spending a week on the Wake Forest campus reading and discussing works authored by prominent Central American writers, and the history and culture of the countries of Central America, Albrecht and her class embarked on the trip to Nicaragua to spend the next three weeks continuing their studies and engaging in a range of activities in collaboration with several nonprofit organizations that are working to eradicate poverty in Managua.
“We really wanted to work with organizations in a way that would be meaningful and reciprocally beneficial,” Albrecht said. “Specifically, we sought out organizations that we felt could make an impression on us as people, while at the same time allowing us the opportunity to make a positive and sustainable impact on a resource poor community like Managua.”
One of the institutions Albrecht’s class worked with is an orphanage in Managua called New Life Children’s Renutrition Center. Most of the children at the Center are placed there by the government and have been severely neglected or abandoned. Some have been sexually and physically abused. Nearly all of them are orphans. All of the children are suffering from malnutrition. The WFU undergraduates worked hands-on caring for, feeding, playing with and teaching the Center’s 45 children, from infants to eight year olds.
Albrecht believes that providing students with opportunities to interact with members of marginalized communities, like many in Nicaragua, is a necessary part of their educational development.
“There are thousands of people in Managua who literally live inside the city dump,” Albrecht explained. “Most American students can’t comprehend how grim that sort of poverty is. By working with organizations that are helping to get these people out of the dump, it can be an eye-opening experience that we hope will inspire our students.”
Another Wake student worked with Nejapa Christian Academy, a private school that educates children of Nicaragua’s middle class families. Although classified as middle-class, these households would still be seen as living below the poverty line in more developed nations; middle-class families in Nicaragua earn as little as $400 and as much as $1000 per month.
Consequently, even though Nejapa Christian offers a better than average education in Nicaragua, the school still lacks many resources that American students take for granted.
For instance, after touring the school for the first time, Albrecht’s student was stunned to see how poorly equipped the Nejapa Christian library was. “How can these kids reach their potential if they have so little to read?” he thought.
The student committed himself to solving this problem, so with limited resources and a narrow three week time window, he renovated the library. He then furnished it with additional books, and catalogued them too, all the while finding time to tutor the school’s students in English as well.
As remarkable a gesture as this may be, the school also made a deep impression on the impassioned Wake student, one that lasted beyond the duration of Albrecht’s course. The student could have easily returned to the States after the class and moved on from his experience in Nicaragua, but he instead continued his work with the school by collecting and donating money and additional books to the newly refurbished library. Although Albrecht did not anticipate projects of this magnitude coming out of the trip, she was proud to have helped plant the seed of service in her young students.
“The course was more successful than I could have ever imagined,” Albrecht acknowledged. “The students were remarkable and we felt that we accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time, all with a focus on social stewardship and sustainability.
“I am fortunate to be able to partake in projects like this that give Wake students a platform for developing meaningful service-oriented relationships in Nicaragua and beyond.”