Project Update # 3



This last week in communities has been a very special time for volunteers, as they put the finishing touches on community projects and take advantage of every last moment to spend with dear friends and family. The corn fields have just begun to yield ripe corn, and volunteers are eating corn on the cob just after its pulled from the plants, and making fresh, hot corn tamales with their host moms. It has been especially rainy, and volunteers and youth have responded by playing in the mud, dancing in the rain, and puddle jumping! This last week of campamentos has been focused on finishing final projects, and on the Right to Education. Media communities came together to share drafts of their final projects, with themes ranging from game shows to immigration stories, activism around machisimo to stop motions about children’s rights. Winding through the mountains of Boaco, volunteers and youth on the arts project have been seen busy at work painting colorful murals on the sides of many schools and community buildings.


This morning, host moms and youth counterparts turned best friends poured into Teustepe, leaving a mountainous heap of backpacks at the entrance to a balloon-decorated hall. Together, they recounted summer memories, shared final media and art projects, and told stories of the summertime. The tone was festive, yet somewhat subdued, as everyone knew that soon enough the time would come for volunteers to board the yellow school bus and drive away, and for host families and youth counterparts to stay behind, waving and remembering. And that moment did come, and it came with embraces no one wanted to end, and many tears. In the short time we’ve been here, people who were strangers seven weeks ago call each other son, daughter, sister, Mama, Papa, friend. In seven weeks, what were ideas have blossomed into community based initiatives and what were forgotten stories have been remembered in media projects. In seven weeks, volunteers have adjusted to a 7 pm bedtime and a 5 am wakeup, and in seven weeks, Spanish language has sky rocketed. In seven weeks, volunteers have given hundreds of campamentos on children’s rights and sparked energy for the formation of youth groups. In seven weeks, the Boaco volunteers wriggled their way into the hearts of twenty six communities nestled in the lush green mountains and likewise, those communities wound themselves tightly and lovingly around the volunteers. It is with mixed feelings we embark upon debriefing and the journey home: volunteers are excited to regale their families with stories and memories, to share pictures and projects and lessons learned- and at the same time, we all kind of wish we could have just a few more weeks in this magical place called Boaco.


So, to all the families about to receive home our dear Boaco volunteers, thank you. We cannot imagine a more inspired, creative, fun-loving, dedicated group of young people. When they walk off the plane in a few days, ask them about their community based initiatives and murals and videos, but mostly, ask them about the way their host mom laughed. Find out if they like the wet, squeaky cuajada for the dry, flaky kind. Talk to them about rising with the sun when they hear the roosters crow and someone chopping wood. Listen to what inspired them, and which youth they loved collaborating most with. Ask them about the way the light crept into their house through the wood slats early in the morning. Look at their pictures, cherish their memories. And from all of us and from their youth counterparts, friends, sisters, brothers, and Nicaraguan Moms and Dads, please give them big, giant hugs. We’ll miss them dearly- thank you for sharing your brilliant young people with us! It’s been magical.

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It’s Date Night

It’s date night for us vol-less Senior Staffers. We had sushi at the trendiest of restaurants tonight, and took in a a movie- Water for Elephants. We needed this after a long day of paperwork, punctuated by Ensas with lime and tall glasses of ice.

Nope, we’re not in Teustepe anymore. I mean, we will return tomorrow. However, today and yesterday are about respite. Goodness knows we needed it after the despedida and debriefing in Granada.

The despedida was, as always, a crying mess of vols and host families and youth counterparts. After a brief celebration and memory sharing, and a failed attempt to watch final media projects in a space that was too light to let us actually see them when they were projected, we sang a boom chicka boom, and then… it was time. I hate this particular time. It’s always evidenced by the top of the bus filling up with backpacks. It’s evidenced by crying host moms and wailing volunteers. It’s a mob of people who love each other and know that in only seconds, they will be torn apart.

Perhaps the hardest to witness was the five boys of El Crucero. Micheal, a vol, Rafael, a vol, and their 3 youth counterparts- Ramiro, Jainer, and Samir, have been inseparable. And I do mean inseparable. As in, they perhaps spent more than 2 waking hours apart a day for the last 7 weeks. They laughed, they called Micheal by his last name, they made a video about immigration, they inaugurated their CBI with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Mostly, they were just a group of 5 teenage boys trying to figure out this big world together. I’ve rarely seen youth counterparts and vols bond quite like those five did. It was inspirational. And so, imagine tearing them apart.

First, Rafa comes to me. Then Micheal. Both asking to please, please bring these three vols to debriefing. I say no. Then comes Jainer, followed by Ramiro and Samir. Please, they say. Their faces, all five faces of five tall, lanky teenage boys, streaked with tears, their eyes puffy. I couldn’t say no. I just couldn’t. Which is why I have an APD to help me sometimes make sure I don’t do things like allow those three boys on a bus to debriefing. Instead, they grasped each other so tight I thought we’d never pry them apart. They looked into each others eyes and cried. They kissed each others’ foreheads. It was one of the most difficult goodbye’s I’ve seen in eight summers of watching vols and youth and host families say goodbye.

So, they boarded the bus. The day then passed in a blur, Granada and buying things and pizza dinners and evaluations and boat trips. 24 hours later, we were in a candle lighting ceremony.

I couldn’t believe how this one went, it was so special. In a convent in Granada, we all sat in a circle. In a bilingual ceremony, each person present lit their candle from a center candle and spoke about their experience. And boy, did people cry. I’m always impressed at this point in the summer, when it becomes apparent some who struggled learned from their mistakes, when those who did not get along all summer declare a sibling like love for their partners, when people talk about reflections and dreams and ideas.

Afterwards, interestingly, everyone got up and hugged each other. And then there were more tears. It was kind of stunning. I’ve never seen a candlelight ceremony that so naturally ends in hugging like that. Beautiful.

At which point we realized we would need to scrape a whole lot of wax from the floor. So we sent the majority of them to the hotel to pack, and a few vols and staff stayed behind with me to scrape wax droplets from the floor of the convent with coins. We hope the nuns don’t get angry with us!

And the next thing I knew, we were sending the last of them through security, and calling to let the on-call system know they were in the air. We had a passport scare or two, and we had to get the hotel across the way to sell us two loaves of bread at 4:40 am when the vols ate more than we thought for breakfast,  but what would AMIGOS be if you didn’t need to convince a hotel staff member that selling two loaves of bread at 4:40 in the morning to a random person not staying at the hotel was the best course of action?

And now, they are gone. Its so final.

I can hardly believe this part of my AMIGOS summers is over. I don’t get another group of vols, I don’t get another group of youth and vols to sing with whenever I want. My truck rides to pick up sick vols in the middle of the night are now memories, not realities. I can forget the emergency on-call number I have had memorized for several years now, because I won’t be the one calling it.

Sure, AMIGOS will always be there. It will always be part of me. Most of my good friends are AMIGOS. I’m writing a dissertation about AMIGOS. I am who I am because of AMIGOS.

But field summers, you’re what made me. And I will miss you. I will miss the grittiness of phone calls at 6 am under bug nets, during which volunteers explain they waited until it was 6 to call, since they’ve been up since 4:30 am with their host family. I will miss the staff meetings, and the intense inspiration drawn from an idea sparked by a staff member and a poster paper. I will miss the jars of peanut butter supervisors consume with vigor on the weekend, and the single restaraunt in Teustepe, Imperial. There’s so much I will miss.

It makes my heart break, seeing this end. Knowing I won’t be the one to convene these beautiful youth next year, nor the one to receive phone calls about vols from host moms who want to chat. I’ve gotten so much inspiration, love, creativity, passion, hope from this project- thank you.

I could write forever about my undying love for Boaco. But, I have to go do paperwork. The summer ain’t over yet.

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Oh, to be on the back of a truck….

There are not really words to describe that feeling, of being on the back of a truck, on really bumpy, really rocky roads, winding through the communities in the mountains outside of Teustepe. The wind rushes past your ears, and your hair flies in the air. You can stand up in the back of Alfredo’s truck, and the sides of the truck are high, so you can lean up against them. Its bright red and yellow, and cheery.

There are deep curves you come around, and rivers to cross. At the rivers, often there are hundreds of butterflies, flying in a swirl of green and yellow, that disburse into the air when you drive by. There are wild horses, running ahead of you and dissapearing into the foliage before you can ever see them. There are these yellow flowers covering the campo, kind of like mustard flowers, but not, and they turn the bright green mountains a beautiful yellow.

When you come upon a community, everyone waves and shouts out to the truck driver. In a lot of communities, people know my name, so they shout out some version of it, like Chechi, or Chexy, or Cheesti, or something. And sometimes there is a bunch of little kids who run after the truck, waving. Every once in a while, too, there are vols walking down the road with youth counterparts, or carrying water with their host moms, or hanging out on the steps with their youth counterparts.

It’s stunning, all this that passes by in a whir. It’s particularly good when you’re coming down the mountain, home after a day in communities. Today it was me and Rita in the back of Alfredo’s truck, after working with a regional group of media makers in Las Palomas. We were tired, but satisfied. We decided to ride in the back.

This is also an excellent time for life stories, deep thoughts, and gossip of all kinds. We talked about sups, about youth, about projects in communities, about CBI issues. Rita, our staff counterpart, is pretty awesome because she can give me the inside scoop- the things the youth and community members won’t tell me, they will tell Rita. And Rita will tell me! It’s like have a spy, someone to explain to me what’s actually going on. So we talked, and talked, and talked.

Again, I just can’t explain the rush of this back of the truck gossip. Its like you’re surrounded by utter lush green beauty, you watch the national bird flitting about, and you also see flocks of brilliantly green parrots, and sometimes jack rabbits crossing the road. There’s something regal about all this, about standing in a truck, in the wind, watching all this rush by. It makes it all feel…. real. That’s when I feel like a “real” Project Director, a “real” Researcher, a “real” something or another. It’s gritty, and sometimes bugs fly in your mouth, but its so awesome. Stunningly, amazingly, awesomely, awesome.

This video in no way does that incredibly awesome, real, gritty, down to earth feeling justice, but here’s a shot at what I see, when I’m coming down the mountain from community visits….it’s truly magic.

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New Videos!

Vols and youth counterparts talk about their experiences, and lead youth group games!

A few moments and thoughts from vols from yesterday, when I did a day of community visits with Regional Director of Plan, Donahi.

And lastly, Boom Chicka Boom. We must sing it. Every time we come together. And in case you were wondering how it goes…. And now, the vols are singing it in their campamentos, and I get to communities and kids are singing it… incredible.

Words of encouragement from Selene’s mom to Selene, who is a vol in Ecuador and from one of our host communities in Boaco.

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Oops! We Lost The T-Shirt Design!

Oops! We lost the t-shirt design!

Imagine this: Tanika, my APD, trying to describe the t-shirt design to me, as I sit in a rocking chair. It’s like when you were a kid and had those team work assignments, where one person can see a picture and has to describe it to the other person who is drawing, and can’t see the picture, and whichever pair is closest wins. Except now, that picture is the project t-shirt, and the only winners will be the vols attempting to decipher what the project t-shirt actually says…

The shirt says Boaco on the front, but the letters are made of art and media materials, like paint brushes and radios. I’m sort of an ok drawer, but…. It all began innocently enough, until, of course, we left the design at the designers, and then decided to go with another t-shirt printer. And, after several attempts at Tanika’s memory of a “really swirly B that looks kind of professional,” it dawned on us that we could call the artists, as they live in one of the only communities with signal. Which is how I ended up on the phone with a sixteen year old, asking her for a favorcote. At 7:40 pm, she told me the vols- Jaime, Karolina, and Kelly- were already asleep. But, she could go to their house at 5:00 am (at which point, she assures me, they are always up) and tell them to re-do the drawing, in pen, and send it on the bus. Just hope it works, or we’re back to square one with the swirly B.

I can hardly believe the summer is near over. I spent the day with Donahi in communities. We went to a regional meeting, with Asiento Viejo, Mercedes del Rancho, and Cerro de Piedra. These three communities showed us their works in progress for their videos and shared their videos. They gave constructive feedback to each other and drank sodas out of bags. As always, it was fun. I have to admit, I love this particular grouping of communities. The vols and the youth are inspired and thoughtful, and they participate critically and talk a lot in meetings. It’s fun to be with them!

From there, we headed to Bajo de los Ramirez. We happened upon Odilio, Julia and Najelly giving a taller- it was fun! They were singing with all these great little kids, and they also took us to meet their host moms, and regaled us with stories of cooking tortillas and the like. Their host mom said she did not know if she would be going to the despedida because it would be too sad… I hope she goes anyways, though. Check back later for a video of the three of them talking about their experiences.

We headed then to Potrerillos, with DeJannette and Idalia, and saw people working on the CBI. Selene’s mom (Selene is a vol in Ecuador from Potrerillos) was the only woman working on the CBI, and she recorded a video for her daughter, who won’t be home until August 10.

After that, we went to Las Limas and El Crucero. In El Crucero, the boys were leading a youth meeting. They were talking about their final project, which was pretty cool- they decided to focus on immigration, since so many people from El Crucero immigrate to Costa Rica. I’ll be uploading photos of them in a sec!

And of course, there were great long talks with Donahi in the car…. And then home, where I took a much needed nap to hopefully recover from this cold I’ve got! Now, to read research transcriptions, upload photos, edit video, respond to emails, and work on supervisor evals….

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The Project Director-Researcher

I don’t know what I thought research was, but I was certainly not thinking it would be this. This is way too familiar to be research- its youth I know and love, vols I can instantly relate to because I was like them when I was 16 and 17, its communities where I know where all the outlets are and narratives that are familiar.

I do actually have some idea about what I thought it was. I thought research was more… scholarly. I envisioned myself up late at night, in some kind of glamorous way, writing and having brilliant ideas and stitching pieces of interviews together. I thought this staying up late at night, this working by, in the vision candlelight (though there would be real light if you needed it) included having long and thoughtful conversations with people around me about theory (did I really think that?) and that I would get so caught in everything I wouldn’t be able to stop reading academic articles.

Reality check. Research, or at the very least, this research, is nothing like the scholar by candlelight engaged with articles for a thirst of knowledge and mapping ideas on paper into the wee hours of night vision. It’s more like… messy.

It’s interviews in the cabs of trucks after activities. It’s talking about video making with youth while waiting for the doctor to see a vol. It’s a truck with a broken tire and twenty youth in the bed in the hot sun trying to get to a regional meeting. It’s staying up late into the wee hours of the morning, to plan youth encuentros I am leading pretty much solo because supervisors just can’t go on route AND plan and lead multiple workshops every week. It’s falling into bed exhausted thinking about how maybe I should read that article someone suggested, look up that name, find that book online somewhere. But it’s only thinking about it. It’s plans with a wrench thrown in the middle when Plan needs me NOW or disrupted facilitation because someone is having an emergency. It’s a tripod tied to a hammock string while youth plan a video about machismo. Its pulling teeth to get youth to talk about their own personal experiences with machismo. Its using up markers by the hour and losing marker caps faster than I can buy them. It’s trying to remember all the things I want to write in my field notes but haven’t because the phone rang, or my friends came over, or it was time for feedback, or I needed a nap. It’s watching youth really get into a movie projected inside someone’s house on a mud or cement wall. It’s energy drinks and  spilled coffee on poster paper. It’s youth watching a film about immigration and then recording the discussion. It’s youth coming to a planning session with a totally flushed out idea. It’s youth who can’t come up with any ideas at the planning session. It’s lying in bed trying to kill a mosquito under my bug net and writing blog posts instead of writing field notes… gotta run!


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21 Youth Encuentros, To Date

21 Youth Youth Encuentros, so far

20Pairs of underwear hanging on the line right now

19 passion fruits used to make juice this evening

18 youth counterparts brainstorming final project ideas today

17 times I’ve called Maribel since this morning

16 years is how old a lot of volunteers and youth counterparts are

15 roles of poster paper

14 mosquito nets in staff house

13 Damn Your Good’s in my DYG envelope

12 vols showing experimental videos this afternoon

11 Staff members sharing one double latrine

10 French nails with butterflies on them I have painted today

9 English Speakers in Staff house trying to speak all Spanish

8 is the number of hours I would like to sleep

7 communities painting murals this week

6 am is when the supervisors get home tomorrow from the week

5 is the number of hours I will probably sleep

4 Plan representatives to call in the morning about a meeting

3 weeks until my mom flies to Nicaragua to hang with me

2 is how many frozen juice boxes I ate today

1 trip tomorrow to the bank in Managua to get out a LOT of $$$

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Photos! Check out these links!

Album 1:

Album 2:

Album 3:

***It’s too hard to upload many pictures to the blog because our internet is 1985-slow. So, please follow these public links to photos I have uploaded to Facebook (one upload is enough!) and enjoy the pics!

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Fluffy Pillows, Dogs Who Play Catch, and Homemade Marmalade

Sometimes the life of a Project Director is, well, gritty. I spend my mornings answering the phone, often perched on a stool on our open air porch at a breakfast table that is more frequently covered with stacks of paper and manuals and phone logs and post its and to do lists than with the breakfast that was meant to be eaten at it. I bleach the floors multiple times a day, and the laundry lady often leaves hundreds of socks and wet clothes on the line, so when it starts raining I dash out to collect them. Then I lay them on the rocking chairs that adorn the deck, and hope they don’t get moldy. Sometimes I look in the fridge, but usually I only have stuff I don’t feel like eating- sometimes I think by opening it one more time, there will appear sliced veggies, dark chocolate, and brie. No such luck- I open it and find leftover spaghetti sauce, coffee grounds, a pineapple I’m too lazy to cut, and a lot of pancake mix. Peanut butter, before the sups eat it, and bags of echineacea tea. Sometimes I buy carrots and slice them, and eat those for my veggie fill. Mostly, when I get hungry enough I go over to Maribel’s and eat whatever she has on the stove- gallo pinto, rice and beans, sometimes breaded squash and soup. Sometimes she makes passion fruit juice and saves me the bottom of the pitcher with all the seeds in it- how I love passion fruit seeds! Other times we share chicken at Dona Irma’s, and I eat the meat and she sucks the bones. I don’t get it, but the girl loves the bones. Having a best friend in Teustepe makes it ok that there’s no brie or bell peppers or almonds or espresso in my kitchen.

But, even having a best friend in Teustepe doesn’t totally alleviate the grittiness. It just makes it wonderfully gritty, but gritty nonetheless. So last night, when I spent the night at Horacio’s home, our country director. He lives in a gated neighborhood. He has tiled floors that you can walk barefoot on, and carpet in the bedroom. The shower has hot water, and when I arrived he gave me a passion fruit juice slushy. His dogs are well fed and playful- so wonderful to see dogs who are pets. No matter how many years I do AMIGOS, my heart will always hurt for the dogs and cats whose ribs I can count, who are not pets but animals around the house, who sleep outside and who just want (I think) a little love.

We sat on cushy couches and I regaled them with stories of Boaco, of the youth, of the passion, of the incredible communities. I was trying to convince them how great the project is, so I can leave knowing it will continue for years to come! There were appetizers and pictures of Horacio’s family on the coffee table- it was, definitely, a home. Kate and I each got our own room! There were TWO pillows on the beds and shampoo in the shower and extra toothbrushes in case we forgot. We were in a home. Ahh. And breakfast- homemade marmalade!

Anyways, here I go, back to this gritty place I love, nestled between the mountains of Boaco, where I have a best friend and a house with rocking chairs and murals, but no brie. I’m heading back to more research interviews and meetings, to collaborating with the facilitators of Plan and answering the door for community members and volunteers at 6 am. The buses get in so early! I’m headed back to a world of calenders on poster paper and a cell phone ringing with volunteer concerns. Last minute meetings, community visits, phone calls, getting my nails painted and eating off of Maribel’s stove. Heading up into the mountains in Alfredo’s red truck, to do what I’m here to do. I’m here to run this project, to do research, to dream big, to make sure every young person involved learns something, does something, meets someone, thinks about something anew. Ready, set go. Every day, I carry my ever-ringing cell phone with hundreds of contacts in it, lotsa sunscreen, my $2 date book since my iPhone got accidentally locked, my magic Livescribe research pen and notebook, my recorder and Flip camera, my Latin American Programs Guidelines/Pink Book, permanent markers, poster markers, and a roll of poster paper. You never know when you’ll need to whip out the poster paper, the guidelines, or the sunscreen. You’ll probably always need the research pen at some random moment you have a burning desire to record, and the permanent markers are oh so necessary for color coding on ANY surface! And if you really scrounged through my bag, you could probably find a few more tools of the trade- cough drops, band-aids, sunglasses, a role of duck tape, a pouch of USBs….

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Video from the Overnight Youth Encuentro!

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