We asked Carolyn Barrett, SCSRN Board member, to share her reasons for joining the SCSRN team and what the experience has meant to her.
How Nicaragua? Why Nicaragua? It all started when I retired from a 30-year teaching career at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was accepted to serve in the Peace Corps. My first choice for placement was somewhere in the South Pacific islands. Can’t you just picture it – a nice tropical location to live in for the start of my retirement? I was told that there was no need for a career nutrition educator in the islands but they could place me somewhere in Eastern Europe/Central Asia. My uneducated imagination pictured that as being the polar opposite from the South Pacific – poor and cold. I’d rather be poor and hot so I declined that offer. A few weeks later they came back with the offer of Nicaragua and that was the start of my relationship with Nicaragua.
After serving my 27 months plus 4 more months to write a nutrition education manual for the Peace Corps community, I returned to Chapel Hill ready for the next phase of my retirement. This was in 2011 which just happened to be the 50th anniversary of when President Kennedy signed the bill that created the Peace Corps. So, naturally, there were events taking place nationwide in recognition of this anniversary and the success of the Peace Corps. One of these events was held in Raleigh. I attended a session titled, “Life after the Peace Corps”. Keep in mind that most volunteers enter the Peace Corps right after graduating from college or shortly thereafter. After completing service they are considering graduate studies or what career path they want to follow. Their readjustment allowance goes toward application fees, car purchases, rent down payments and home furnishings. Not me, I already had two graduate degrees, a car, and a fully furnished condo. I used mine to put a hardwood floor down in my condo.
But I digress; back to “Life after the Peace Corps”. Two of the presenters at that session talked about this organization based in Durham that they had created to serve the residents in a small rural mountain town in Nicaragua. Well, that got my attention. When they finished, I introduced myself and told them that I had just come back from serving in Nicaragua and that got their attention. Thus was the start of my commitment to serving on the Board of Directors of Sister Communities of San Ramón, Nicaragua.
One of the most meaningful experiences that I have had while serving on the Board was to organize an ecotour to San Ramón. The purpose of these tours is to introduce people from the U.S. to the way of life of the people in this small town and to learn about their culture. In exchange, San Ramonians learn about the lives of the people on the ecotour. Perhaps the most meaningful part of the trip for many is the morning spent doing crafts and playing games with the students at a school built or improved upon by donations to SCSRN. The fact that most ecotour members don’t speak Spanish has no impact whatsoever on the experience. Because of this experience, many ecotour members either independently or as a group want to support a school through the Rural School Partnership (RSP) program. By agreeing to contribute $500 a year for 3 years to a school, they provide valuable learning materials for both the students and their teachers.
Being a member of SCSRN has been fulfilling to me in many ways, but most importantly, in allowing me to maintain a connection with the wonderful Nicaraguans I have come to know and love. Even though travel is limited now, I still feel connected to Nicaragua through the various ways we support the communities of San Ramón from here in the Triangle Area. You can learn more about how you can be involved here, and you can see photos of the RSP program, ecotours, and other SCSRN work on our Flickr page .