Canisius Students, Families Participate in Immersion Experience to Nicaragua
BUFFALO, NY – Canisius College President John J. Hurley led a group of 15 students and their parents on an immersion trip to Nicaragua in July. During the one-week trip, participants visited four communities in Nicaragua’s Matagalpa region to learn about the indigenous’ social, economic, political, religious and cultural conditions. Students and parents also participated in various service opportunities, working hands-on with people in need.
“Despite all of the preparation for this trip, nothing can quite fully prepare you for what you see and experience when you enter Nicaragua,” says Molly Burhans ’14, a student co-leader on the trip. “The theoretical and imagined suffering for those in abject poverty becomes real and more humanized.”
Canisius College teamed with Agros International for the Nicaraguan immersion trip. The faith-based organization works with the rural poor throughout Latin America to help them escape the cycle of generational poverty through a sustainable, holistic development model. The organization purchases land that is sufficient to support between 100 and 200 families. Each family is then provided with enough land on which to build a home and farm, approximately five menzanos. What develops is a community with basic housing, sanitary latrines, clean water and a democratically elected governing structure. The sustainable infrastructure elevates the overall health and well-being of each family.
“I’m glad I saw the Agros model working and even had the wonderful opportunity to see families pay off their Agros loans,” says Elaine D’Aguiar, mother to Gabriela D’Aguiar ’17. “I have a great appreciation for all the Nicaraguan people and how hard they work to support their families and communities, and the challenges they are up against to be self-sufficient.”
Participants on the Nicaragua trip met with the leadership in the various communities to learn how the villages operate. They visited with several farming families, who explained how their plantations and irrigation systems operate. The Canisius group also learned about different road projects, which help farming families get crops to market. Downtime was spent socializing with the villagers and playing games with the children.
“This was the one time on the entire trip that I felt like the gap between our group and the people of Nicaragua disappeared,” says Gabriela D’Aguiar. “Although the world categorizes us as being different from those in poverty, we really are not that different.”
The Canisius College Office of Campus Ministry offers several international immersion experiences throughout the year. Students travel to the marginalized regions of Jamaica, El Salvador, India and Poland. Each trip incorporates direct, hands-on work with people in need and learning opportunities to help students grasp the social, economic, political, religious and cultural contexts in which they work.
“Superior General Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., calls upon university faculty and students to become voices for the voiceless, sources of human rights for those denied such rights and persons of solidarity for the poor,” says Canisius President John Hurley. “Immersion learning or travel experiences, such as the trip to Nicaragua, respond to Father Nicolás' call. They give students direct contact with the gritty reality of the world and force them to think about it critically. Moreover, these immersion trips make students aware that in all our diversity we are, in fact, a single humanity that faces common challenges and problems. With that knowledge, comes an appreciation for the shared responsibility we have for the welfare of the world and a call to act on its development in a sustainable and life-giving way.”
Students who participate in the college’s international immersion trips describe the experiences as eye-opening and transformative.
“I was so glad to be there, filled with honor to be learning from these people and those around me,” adds Burhans. “I hope that wherever my path continues, I will be able to make a difference for people in similar oppressive living situations. I also hope that I will learn to live in a way that is not complicit in fostering these injustices.”
One of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation, Canisius is the premier private university in Western New York.