By Sneha Deshpande, a member of the SkillCorps Nicaragua July 2017 team
We are already halfway in on this amazing journey! I cannot believe how fast the time is flying by and how much we are accomplishing, workwise and exploration-wise. Over the course of the week, we have been able to see how much Nicaragua has to offer as well as getting to work with the talented staff and kiddos at the CIE Center in Managua. I feel extremely blessed to be able to take this adventure with a group of dedicated, passionate individuals who mirror many of the same interests and values as mine. It is always exciting to find an immediate connection with a stranger, and I am lucky to have met six all at once! I am also tremendously grateful to all of my donors, without whom I would not even be here. The overwhelming amount of support I have been given by friends, family, and even complete strangers is deeply touching.
We jump-started our first weekend by boating the beautiful city of Grenada, shopping the markets in San Juan, paddle boarding and kayaking in Laguna de Apoyo, and bravely venturing up Volcan Masaya, an active volcano previously known as the gate to hell. After our remarkable weekend, we dove in and mapped our way around CIE, impressed with how much the center has grown since SkillCorps visited last year. Their vast resources, knowledgeable team of therapists, and wonderful programs have set a solid foundation in creating an environment specifically catered to all of their sweet kiddos to thrive in, having grown from 14 kids at the end of last year to 90 kids (!!!). After experiencing differing cultures and hearing stories from the locals, I find it fascinating that the evolving beliefs inside and outside the center and even in other parts over the world mirror each other. Suffice it to say, autism is a mirror, presenting as the same reflection no matter where in the world or in what culture.
Touching on evolving belief systems in Nicaragua outside of CIE, we were given an interesting background concerning Volcan Masaya. It was believed by the locals to have been inhabited by the devil, giving it the infamous title of the gate to hell. We were even shown the metal cross posted atop of the volcano which was used to perform exorcisms on the volcano, in addition to the sacrificing of infant girls. Yes, you read that correctly; infant girls were literally thrown into the volcano as ransom to “keep the devil calm.” Thankfully, this damaging belief has been extinguished, and infants are no longer sacrificed. Similarly, it was a popular belief that children with autism were possessed by evil spirits. In an equally damaging way, many rituals would be performed to excise these “evil spirits” which further hurt these children or even resulted in their deaths at times. Mirroring the progression of beliefs regarding Volcan Masaya, the acceptance and awareness of autism as an empirically legitimate developmental disability is becoming more and more prevalent all over the world. It is incredible to see how much CIE is evolving over just a few months and to be a part of that growth. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity, for all the people I get to share it with, and for everyone that helped to make this happen. I can’t wait to see all that unfolds during the rest of my time here.