By Emily Seevers, a member of the SkillCorps Nicaragua October 2017 team
“They came to us with questions, but also with suggestions, ideas and thoughts of their own. They were local experts in their field.”
Today ends the first week of being in Nicaragua and I cannot begin to tell you how amazing this trip has been.
My journey began in February of 2017, when I was feeling like I had more to give to the world and turned to Google for my life’s answers. I thought for a moment about what I wanted to do, and quickly Googled “volunteer work – children with autism in other countries”. I scrolled through a few pages until I came across the words “Autism knows no borders, fortunately neither do we”. This phrase is written in blue letters on the top of the website for the Global Autism Project. I scrolled through the website with excitement as I read more about this organization. Their mission statement is written in bold letters on their page and reads “We promote the acceptance and integration of individuals with autism worldwide by training communities in culturally relevant, sustainable practices.” I immediately knew this was something I wanted to be a part of and was an area that I felt I could be of value. Within an hour of beginning my research, I found myself clicking on the link for volunteers.
After submitting my application and completing an interview, I was accepted to SkillCorps! I spent the next several months telling people about my upcoming journey, sharing my story and explaining my “why”. I was met with so much support from friends, family and even strangers. My excitement began to grow as I continued to prepare for this trip.
Fast forward to October 23rd – the night before my flight to New York to begin orientation for SkillCorps. I was packing my bags, stressing about not being able to fit things into my suitcase, and had tears running down my face due to being both exhausted and overwhelmed. I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to do this. Could I really help? Do I know enough about autism? Have I been in the field long enough? Surely there are people out there better than me to be doing this job. Who was I to think that I could travel to another country and help train teachers in sustainable practices? I had never traveled with strangers before, and certainly never left the country without a familiar face by my side. I eventually had to stop worrying and just go to bed, since I knew my alarm was going to ring in just a few hours and I would need to get to the airport. Just as planned, my alarm went off at 3:00am. I got ready for the morning, grabbed my bags, and headed to the airport. Before I knew it, I was on the plane to New York. Unfortunately for me, there were storms and it was not long before the airplane was bouncing around in the sky. This of course led to me being sick, missing home, and wanting to give up. I was alone on the plane and all I wanted was to be home, but I knew deep down that I wanted to do this. I came to New York to travel with SkillCorps and that is what I was going to do. We spent the next few days in orientation, meeting new people, and having wonderful conversations with individuals from all over the country, who were about to travel to sites all over the world. On Friday morning, the teams flew out to the partner sites within 5 different countries. My team’s destination was Managua, Nicaragua and we arrived in country on Friday night. Our team would be training local experts at an ABA center called Centro de Intervention Edu Terapeutico (CIE) on Monday morning and we could not wait!
Bright and early Monday morning, we pulled up to CIE. When we arrived at the center, we were greeted with a sincere welcome from a beautiful brunette woman, speaking a million words a minute, both English and Spanish. This was Bea — the woman who made it possible for children with autism in Nicaragua to access ABA services. This slender woman in her twenties had opened the first ABA center in the country which is now servicing over 90 children. Her love for these kids and her passion for this center is clear to anyone she encounters.
After talking with Bea and her staff, our team dispersed to observe some of the ABA sessions. We talked with staff throughout the center to gain a deeper understanding of CIE, and made mental notes of our priorities, their priorities, and what would be sustainable. The staff came to us with questions, but also with suggestions, ideas and thoughts of their own. They are local experts in their field. These individuals are incredibly knowledgeable and have so much to give!
Unfortunately, I don’t remember much from my Spanish classes in high school, (and certainly not terms relevant to the behavior analytic field), so we collaborated in English and hoped that there was nothing lost in translation. Most of the staff at CIE speak English as a second language and they are all so patient and kind. We quickly found ourselves smiling and nodding with enthusiasm when we realized we were understanding each other! We have been working together to problem solve, bounce ideas off one another, and develop strategies to help better the center. We are working as a team to establish sustainable practices that will be maintained even after we leave. The staff at this center are capable of so many things and they work incredibly hard, so it is wonderful to see what they can achieve when we all work together. We have accomplished so much in only the first week, and I cannot wait to see what we can accomplish next week! I am so glad I was able to step out of my comfort zone and become a part of the SkillCorps family!