Throughout the spring semester, Harper College Honors ENG 102 students have read about the history of Central America’s largest country and its contentious relationship with the United States. Two guest lectures fleshed out students’ understanding of Nicaragua and the region: Prof. Karen Patterson (Art) gave a presentation on American documentary photographer Susan Meiselas’s visual chronicle of the Sandinista Revolution, and Prof. David Richmond (History) led the students through the convoluted history of Nicaragua and the impacts of U.S. “interventions” over the last 150 years.
The central focus of the course has been to interrogate the concept and practice of “service learning,” both domestically and internationally. All of the readings and assignments analyze examples of service learning along a scale from “charity” to “social justice.” Over spring break 2018, the group traveled to a rural community outside Managua, Nicaragua and put our theoretical knowledge to the test of hands-on practice. Facilitated by Unearth the World, we spent 10 days with La Mariposa Eco-hotel and Spanish School in San Juan de la Concepción.
The following blog entries represent the students’ responses to those experiences, often through the lenses of our class texts:
Stoeker, Randy. Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement. Temple University Press, 2016.
Green, Patrick M. and Mathew Johnson, eds. Crossing Boundaries: Tension and Transformation in International Service-Learning. Stylus Publishing, 2014.
Walker, Thomas W. and Christine J. Wade. Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle. Fifth Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2011.
Their final projects include a research assignment on the efficacy of service learning and an ArcGIS Story Map Journal. Links to the students’ Story Map Journals will be provided once they are complete.
By Richard F. Johnson, Ph.D.; Director, Office of International Education
It has become a cliché to say that we need to educate our students for a global future. Indeed, it has been over a decade since the AAC&U identified global competencies and intercultural skills as essential components of a 21st century college education (Meacham and Gaff 2006). Yet community colleges have lagged behind 4-year institutions in acknowledging the vital importance of global education in their mission statements, not to mention their curricula, faculty development agendas, and declared learning outcomes.
As community colleges educators, we are charged with preparing our students to participate effectively in a global workforce. It is vital that our students be able to function in an interdependent, highly diverse, and fast-changing world, one that is increasingly marked by volatile differences. The implementation of Global Learning Outcomes across the diverse curricula of the community college, from traditional academic tracks to career and vocational programs, is the first step in meeting the charge of preparing students for these global realities.
The Office of International Education at Harper College has been hard at work addressing these challenges. Over the last two years, a group of faculty from across our campus have researched, vetted, and adopted five Global Learning Outcomes (GLOs) through an open, inclusive, and interdisciplinary process. In collaboration with department chairs and program coordinators, we have also mapped the GLOs to many of the college’s curricula. We are presently developing rubrics for each of the outcomes and will pilot an assessment of several this spring.
Harper College’s five Global Learning Outcomes cover competencies that a student will have gained by successfully completing a globalized course at Harper College:
Evaluate issues of social justice and sustainable development.
Recognize the interdependence and interconnectedness of world systems.
Demonstrate competence in intercultural communication.
Demonstrate skills of critical analysis in cross-cultural comparisons.
Articulate an understanding of global perspectives.
Since the goal of any learning outcome is to offer an instructor a means to assess the effectiveness of student learning, it needs not only to reflect the curriculum but also to inspire the curriculum and inform our teaching. There are three levels of integration of global content.
At the “Introduced” level, faculty present basic information about global concepts, show maps and/or images from abroad to students, ask them about their awareness of global concepts. At this level, assessment of GLOs is minimal. If the global content is “Reinforced,” students explore global concepts through directed activities, reading assignments, guided essays, class discussions and projects. At this level, assessment may be in the form of exam questions, homework assignments and essays, and/or group projects. Finally, in a fully “Integrated” course, a significant portion of class is devoted to global concepts. Students may complete entire units that focus on a global concept, issue, country, or region. GLOs are assessed using exams, research papers, student presentations, and/or student projects.
So, how might faculty get involved? Of course, there are an infinite number of ways, but for the sake of simplicity, here are six steps:
Adopt one or more GLO in your classes. List them in your syllabus and assess them. If you aren’t comfortable with ours: come up with your own!
Seek out and sign up for a professional development workshop. If your college doesn’t offer such workshops, seek out opportunities that are offered on a regular basis through a variety of organizations such as NAFSA and CCID.
Consider building a study abroad proposal around one of your courses. Integrating an international experience in your courses can have a transformative impact on your teaching and the intellectual development of the students.
Join your colleagues involved in global education at your college. If you have an committee or workgroup dedicated to “international” education, join it
Join a global education organization. Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) is the premier international education organization in the country. . Other organizations include NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Midwest Institute for International/Intercultural Education (MIIIE), and Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA).
Attend a global education conference. The organizations listed above each sponsor annual conferences dedicated to global education. Other organizations, such as AACC, AAC&U, offer sessions on global education at their annual and regional conferences.
But no matter what you do, or don’t do, the Senior International Officer at your college, your Office of International Education, or the colleague responsible for international/intercultural education at your college will be ready to assist, inspire, inform, and applaud you.
From Granada, we travelled to Rivas/San Jorge, where we caught a ferry to Moyogalpa on the Isla de Ometepe. The island is formed by two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, rising out of Lake Nicaragua. The name “Ometepe” is derived from the Nahuatl words ome and tepetl meaning two mountains. The two volcanoes are joined by a low isthmus to form the island. In Moyogalpa, we were picked up by Mitch Haddad, our host and one of the owners of Finca Bona Fide, our destination for the next 24 hours. After a brief tour of the island, we arrived at the Finca just in time for an amazing home-cooked meal.
Path leading to Finca Bona Fide and Harper faculty lounging in dining area.
After falling asleep to a chorus of at least six different frog species, and enjoying a splendid and very solid sleep in one of Finca Bona Fide’s open-air bunk shelters, we awoke the next morning to vocal howler monkeys, parakeets, kiskadees, magpie jays, and domestic roosters.
We were thirteen of the two to three-thousand visitors received by the island each year. Finca Bona Fide exists to collaborate with the Isla de Ometepe and mainland Nicaraguan communities, to provide an opportunity for sustainable-agriculture research and development, and serve as a demonstration farm.
Open-air bunkhouses and “facilities”
With many plants throughout Isla de Ometepe having come from the farm, Finca Bone Fide’s effectiveness as a demonstration farm is clear, but that function does not provide sufficient funds to keep the operation “afloat.” The farm is presently supported by a diverse group of institutions including Arizona State University, McGill, Brandeis, Union College, Presidio, and a random assortment of other colleges, universities, and even high schools. Recent research at Finca Bone Fide has focused on maximizing growth and production of similar plants (e.g., jackfruit and mango), maximizing nitrogen-fixing crops, and ally cropping. It is tough getting grants, and sometimes “non-profit work sucks,” according to Mitch Haddad, our host, who arrived 16 years ago from the Boston area, and he appears entrenched in the operation. To supplement his income, he teaches courses throughout Nicaragua and works for the Where There Be Dragons organization in the United States. Across all areas of responsibility, the farm has a 20-person staff, including college-aged interns from around the world. The group of interns assembled at the time of our visit was very enthusiastic about their service at the farm.
Faculty sitting on tree platform with view of Vulcan Concepción.
It is the philosophy of the Finca Bona Fide mind trust that because nature works in four dimensions (length x width x height x time), the success of farming should likewise be measured in four dimensions, rather than the conventional, two-dimensional model of bushels per acre. With Guanacaste and Spanish cedar trees providing the canopy, coconuts right below the canopy, mandarins and papaya below the coconuts, bananas and plantains comprising the next layer, chilies and coffee serving as shrubbery, peanuts being the herbaceous ground plants, and ginger and turmeric beneath the ground, the farm is a simple model of the stratification of a mature, tropical forest. The development of permaculture at Finca Bona Fide, through experiments and replication, has filled niches, mimicking ecological succession.
There may be people who question some of the methods of the Finca Bona Fide team (e.g., introducing non-native plants into the farm and the lack of records of their research), but it is hard to find fault with their priorities. Since the farm’s “birth” on 25 acres of pasture in 2001, the priorities have been to
Care for the earth
Care for people
Have self-control of function and growth
Have a transitional ethic
As we departed Finca Bona Fide, we were asked to take whatever waste could not be composted or stuffed into plastic two-liter bottles (“eco-bricks”) with us.
Eco-bricks in action: from plastic receptacles to construction material.
Since Isla de Ometepe was once the Somoza family’s island farm get-away, some of wondered aloud if the General would have “packed it in and packed it out.”
A highlight of our studies in Nicaragua was our experience with reforestation volunteering at Laguna de Apoyo. Laguna de Apoyo is a wide crater filled with a vast lagoon, and an abundance of flora and fauna, making it a valuable natural resource for eco-tourism, agriculture, and development. The range of industries, interests, organizations, communities and activity around Laguna de Apoyo was relevant to several of our research areas.
The crater lagoon was formed 23, 000 years ago and today is considered to be a sleeping volcano, being the largest lagoon in Nicaragua. It is located in the middle of a long volcanic chain and close of the cities of Granada and Masaya and near several small villages. It is unique, in that to this day it provides livable land for local residents whose livelihood depends on agriculture, native plant production, tourism and family-harvested food. It also provides a home to a numerous tropical plants including pochote, mahogany, guacuco and a variety of orchids; and to wildlife including Howler Monkeys and Falcons which we saw in several instances, and Common Boas which we did not see.
In our experience of traveling around Laguna de Apoyo, we visited local residents at family-owned nurseries which provided tropical plants to be used for reforestation efforts. We explored the local community called Plan de Laguna, and witnessed colorful lively markets, a range of tourism destinations (including lodges, beachfront and hostels), vast overlooks, and local residents living in the slopes of the lagoon. Over 100,000 persons inhabit the community, with homes in Plan, settlements in the slopes, and mostly foreign-owned homes built on the shoreline.
So why reforestation? Historically, the natural qualities of Laguna de Apoyo have been preserved due to low tourism, economic and social exploitation. Today, there are many issues impacting the area and causing abuse of the lagoon’s qualities. The impact of “human activity” as expressed by our guide, including tourism with minimal consideration on the environmental outcomes, building in cleared areas, and properties of agricultural cooperatives have resulted in erosion, lack of natural drainage areas, and greater reduction in water quality in the lagoon. It was declared a natural reserve, Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo, in 1991, and currently managed by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). This is the organization we worked with to participate in the reforestation volunteering.
Picking up the tree saplings to be planted on the slopes of Laguna de Apoyo
With oversight by MARENA, several districts and investing corporations and donors, the preservation and infrastructure impacting Laguna de Apoyo is being guided by a developing management plan. Current partnerships between tourism vendors (hostels, hotels, university and faith-based organizations producing study/serve abroad participants) and invested businesses seem to have potential to be part of the solution for preserving the natural qualities of Laguna de Apoyo. In our travels to different communities around the lagoon, we saw use of strategic business and service partnerships in environmental preservation, human services, cultural education and other industries.
Harper faculty planting trees
Our service experience in the Laguna de Apoyo region included a series of steps to obtain plants from nearby nurseries, transfering them to the reforestation site, then working in teams on very steep inclines to transplant items to open areas. Local residents who were preparing for reforestation careers or doing community service, and foreigners who were staying in the Laguna area for long-term study or service or vacation, participated in the experience with our group. After two weeks of travels, tours, presentations, hikes, and educational immersion through cities, villages, historic sites and more, our group worked well together to make a small contribution to a valuable ecosystem in Central America. The experience also gave us an opportunity to work alongside local residents and engage in labor that is the foundation for much of Nicaragua’s riches.
Today we traveled from Managua to one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the Americas– Granada. On the way, we visited a solar farm, where we toured the facilities and were briefed by the director of the facility, Sr. Carlos Moreira. Carazo Solar Farm is one of the largest government-owned farms in Nicaragua and consists of 5,880 solar panels and provides the local town of Diriamba with enough power to serve 1100 households. A private Japanese firm donated $11,000,000 of the $12,000,000 required to fund the building project. Nicaragua has plans to build three more solar farms and up 10 in the near future.
Faculty team at Carazo Solar Farm
Already about 40% of Nicaragua’s energy needs are provided through renewable resources, and Nicaragua hopes to provide 90% of their energy needs through renewable resources by the year 2026. Along with wind and geothermal, Nicaragua will have the resources to produce enough renewable, clean energy to export to other countries in Central America. Considering that less than twenty years ago Nicaragua was almost totally dependent on foreign oil, that is an amazing accomplishment!
Later in the day, we were privileged to tour the city of Granada with a professor of history and culture, Prof. Fernando López Gutiérrez, who showed us many examples of Spanish colonial, neo-classical, and traditional architecture. Among the many examples we enjoyed were the Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral, the abandoned Hospital Antigua, Iglesia de Xalteva, La Polvora Fort, and El Parque de Xaltera—a park whose indigenous name has no Spanish translation.
Prior to Spanish colonization, Nicaragua’s indigenous population included people from the great Mayan and Aztec civilizations, and numbered over one million. Thirty years after the Spanish arrived, that number was reduced to a few tens of thousands through war and disease. This had a profound effect on the culture. Currently, 69% of Nicaraguans are mestizo (a mix of Spanish and Native American), 17% are white, 9% are black, and only 5% are indigenous. Most of the indigenous people of Nicaragua have assimilated into the mestizo culture, which is influenced by European culture, especially Spanish, flavored with Native American folklore, music, food and religious practices. This blend of culture was evident as we walked through the city blocks of central Granada.
While there was much more to see in Granada than is possible to relate here, Casa Tres Mundos (“The House of Three Worlds”) cultural center was the most enlightening–an institution created to initiate support and promote cultural projects in Nicaragua and Central America, the building itself incorporates colonial, neo-classical, and traditional architecture. Casa Tres Mundos recognizes that the causes of underdevelopment and poverty require not only material needs, but educational and cultural development as well. In order to meet that need, Casa Tres Mundos provides artistic, musical and education support for the poorer segments of Nicaraguan society.
The entrance to Casa Tres Mundos and entrance hall paintings
As you enter Casa Tres Mundos, two huge paintings hang on the walls on each side of the vestibule. Both are battle scenes depicting Nicaragua’s struggle for independence—one when Nicaragua gained its independence in 1821, and the other the defeat of the American, William Walker. In 1856, William Walker took over the Nicaraguan government and made himself president of Nicaragua with the intentions of having it annexed to the United States as a slave state for the South. Even though Nicaragua suffered William Walker as president for less than two years, Nicaragua continued under the yolk of American neo-colonialism and corrupt dictatorships until the 1979, when the Sandinista government ousted the US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza.
Nicaragua is a young country, but a fiercely independent one. This is clear in the the Mission statement of their Foundation: “Casa Tres Mundos promotes a concern for cultural exchange between European tradition and Central American culture and rejects the idea of forcing imported cultural elements onto Third World countries. The foundation intends to mobilize creative potential of the local people and rediscover buried cultural heritage and help a young nation search for a unique identity” (http://c3mundos.org/en/home/)
The day began with our departure from the beautiful town of Estelí travelling to Managua, Nicaragua, approximately 107 kilometers, or 67 miles away. On our drive from the city through the countryside, we observed police road stops, which are used to ensure that the roads are safe.
As we continued our drive on CA #2 (Central American Highway #2) , the scenes of the countryside opened up to some familiar sights: cows, chickens, donkeys, horses, fields of tobacco, red beans and rice, offering a majestic view of Nicaragua’s vast and plentiful agricultural landscape. Our Nicaraguan guide, Carlos, provided a deeper perspective on the advancements in agricultural processes that have moved away from the old traditions of farming to promoting organic planting, cultivating and harvesting of all crops. Not to be missed were the rolling vistas of mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and river beds, and villages that stretch through the Sébaco department region.
As we continued on CA#2, we made a stop in Sébaco, a lively and colorful town, where everyone was celebrating Mother’s Day!! Yes, in Central America, Mother’s Day is a national holiday that is celebrated on May 30th each year. Most schools and businesses are closed, but for those that are open, most people work only a half of day and then spend time with their families for the remainder of the day.
As we entered the city of Managua, the streets were filled with many tiendas, food markets, maquillas, and a variety of services to choose from.
Carlos provided an extensive overview of the businesses in Managua. The economy of Nicaragua is greatly dependent on the businesses in the country – from the small agriculture farmer, to the tienda owner, to the more established family businesses, and to the large corporations that dot the landscape of the countryside and the larger cities. Commerce (business) provides over 50% of the country’s GNP. The country of Nicaragua is established as a socialist nation under the Ortega regime wherein the wealthy provide for the less fortunate. In order to provide for the 1.75 million citizens of Managua, businesses are required to pay a 15% “business tax,” which is used to provide basic health, sanitation, and educational services to the citizens of Managua.
The average salaries for citizens of Managua are constructed on three levels:
Lower-waged employees – $340/month – agricultural workers, maquillas, service industry workers and teachers
Middle-waged employees – $350-$500/month – engineers; medical professionals (doctors); lawyers
Although the country experiences a 15% business tax, there is no personal income tax for individual citizens. In addition to the business tax, which comes from middle- to large-sized businesses, the local shops pay a small monthly usage fee for the stalls in which they provide goods and services to the local communities across the county.
Citizens that work for larger, established companies (or the government) are provided with benefits and a pension (depending on the company.) The average age of retirement is 60 years old — with the exception of teachers who have a mandatory retirement age of 55. Upon retirement, citizens are entitled to social security benefits; however, due to the life expectancy of Nicaraguan citizens, the government is seeking to change the mandatory retirement ages. Many U.S.-based companies (franchised locations and corporate offices) have established a presence in Nicaragua due to the lower wage structure in the country.
As we continued our tour of Managua, Carlos pointed out the colorful electric trees of Managua. The 67 trees were sanctioned by President Ortega in 2014 as a symbol of emotional and cultural freedom from the civil unrest (U.S.-backed Contras insurgency) of 1981-1988.
After a discussion of the business and economic influences on Nicaragua, our guide led us through the historical city of Managua, which was founded in the 1600s with roughly 400 residents. Over the years, the city has experienced great population growth and an economic explosion; however, in 1972 the Momotombo volcano erupted and an earthquake ensued. The eruption destroyed the city, and it has taken 45 years for Managua to rebuild. A miniature city sits amidst the Lake Xolotlan Recreational Park to remind the citizens of the bustling metropolis that once stood.
Clockwise from top left: Old Cathedral of Managua (Catedral de Santiago) and the front and back of the National Palace (Palacio Nacional de la Cultura).
After visiting the historic sites of the National Palace, the La Casa de Los Pueblos, the National Theatre, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, and the Sandino Memorials, the tour of the city continued to the Cathedral of Managua, erected in 1993 to represent the 67 evangelical movements of the country. The new cathedral has created much controversy, particularly about its architectural style and $4.5 million cost.
As we completed our tour of the cathedral, we came across a gathering of migrant workers who had suffered from the damages of abusive use of pesticides in the early 2000s – something that was studied in our GEC prior to coming to Nicaragua — and taken up residence outside of the cathedral in protest over the death, suffering and abandonment of thousands of residents. We were able to interview one resident, Carmen, who told of her 8-year struggle to obtain help from the Nicaraguan government; however, the American company that was responsible for this atrocity has closed business and left the country. A somber end to a busy day . . . .
By the 1970s, the government of El Salvador was like many Latin American and Developing Nations: a pro-U.S., capitalist military dictatorship, virulently anti-communist and anti-Soviet Union. The global politics of the Cold War meant the United States demanded the loyalty of the Central American governments. The people of El Salvador paid a high price for their position in the Cold War with few social programs, no labor protections, and a complete absence of civil rights. Attempts at social justice reforms such as demands for land redistribution, labor unions, public education, democratic elections, even freedom of speech and the press were denounced as the first steps towards a Communist takeover by the elites who controlled the export-dominated economy and their U.S. allies. As the people of El Salvador refused to accept the lack of political and economic reforms, the military was increasingly called upon to break up demonstrations and protect the propertied interests of the country. Death squads targeted journalists, labor leaders, community activists, intellectuals, and artists. By 1980, the military openly controlled the government. The people of El Salvador decided to take up arms to force the reforms they had demanded unsuccessfully for decade.
Five guerrilla organizations launched coordinated attacks against the government on January 10, 1981. These organizations’ members were drawn mainly from the rural people of El Salvador, many of whom were illiterate and living in abject poverty. The organizations had different goals for their revolution – Communists, Social Democrats, Anarchists, and Social Justice Reformers all organized and took up arms to promote their reform agenda. These groups all banded together under the umbrella organization FMLN – the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front.
Under the foreign policy doctrine of Containment, the United States supported the military dictatorship of El Salvador with weapons, training, and financing. The guerrillas responded with attacks on government and military installations, as well as economic infrastructure. The civil war eventually claimed the lives of 75,000 Salvadoran in the 11 years of conflict and the United States sent more than $4.5 billion in military aid. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and several internationally high profile atrocities committed by Salvadoran government forces against civilians, the United States finally cut off military aid to El Salvador in 1991. With the end of military aid, the Salvadoran government finally agreed to peace accords in January 1992 that called for democratic elections, reformation of the Salvadoran police and military, human rights guarantees, and an amnesty extended to both sides. While not addressing all of the problems, the 1992 peace accords have maintained stability and peaceful political transitions for El Salvador for the last 25 years.
During the civil war, FMLN guerrillas controlled several large areas in El Salvador, including the Morazan region in northwest El Salvador near the Honduras border. The largest town in the rebel-controlled region was Perquin. Today Perquin is home to the Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution. The Museum was founded in 1992 only months after the peace accords were signed. The Museum was founded by former FMLN revolutionaries who wanted to keep the revolutionary memory alive within El Salvador and the world. One of the Museum’s founders and current Director is former FMLN Comandante Mario. Comandante Mario was a founding member of the FMLN and helped coordinate the attack that started the revolution in 1981. Today he keeps the legacy of his revolution alive at the museum giving talks and guiding tours of the Museum’s five major exhibits, including memorials to fallen FMLN soldiers, examples of the weapons and combat methods of the FMLN, posters of solidarity with the FMLN from around the world, a display of the daily life in the mountain camps of the guerrillas, and a collection of wrecked helicopters shot down by FMLN forces.
One of the downed US-supplied military helicopters was used by the infamous Colonel Domingo Monterrosa during the civil war. Monterrosa was the officer in charge of the massacre at El Mozote, a small village near Perquin. In December 1981, Monterrosa led Salvadoran forces into the hamlets around Mozote and rounded up all of the inhabitants before slaughtering the entire population of the town and the surrounding countryside. More than 1,100 innocent people were killed, the majority of whom were women and children. The massacre was meant to send a message to other towns in order to eliminate support for the guerrilla fighters. The United States initially attempted to cover up the massacre which was carried out by US-trained soldiers with US-supplied weapons.
Rufina Amaya was the lone survivor of the massacre. Working with the FMLN radio station Radio Venceremos, she made sure the world learned what happened at Mozote. After the civil war ended and civilians returned to Mozote to rebuild, Rufina worked to train the women of the village to act as docents and give tours of the site of the infamous massacre. Like Comandante Mario, Rufina wanted to make sure the lessons of Mozote – “Never Again!” – were passed on to future generations.
The FMLN would seek out Colonel Monterrosa for the massacre. In October 1984 they allowed him to believe he had finally captured the transmitter of Radio Venceremos that he had long sought. Placing the transmitter beside him to take back to his office as a trophy, Monterrosa’s helicopter rose above the Salvadoran mountains. Unknown to Monterrosa, the transmitter he had chased with violent abandon was really a bomb in disguise. Once his helicopter reached altitude, the bomb exploded, turning the copter into a fireball above the mountain forests. Once the fires had died, the guerrillas returned to the crash site to recover the wreckage. Today the fuselage of the helicopter is the most-prized attraction at the Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution. Leftists around the world come there to be photographed with the helicopter’s remains as a symbol of the fight against oppression everywhere.
The people of El Salvador fought for the rights and opportunities of future generations against a violent US-backed dictatorship for over a decade. Today that revolutionary spirit is kept alive in the mountains of northwestern El Salvador. The lessons of the Cold War are being passed on to those future generations at the Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution and by the women of Mozote.