Jan 8, 2009 — Sixteen Yeshiva University undergraduate students will experience a different kind of learning when they travel to the Central American country of Nicaragua on this year’s humanitarian winter mission sponsored by American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Volunteer Corps and coordinated by the Center for the Jewish Future. From Jan. 11-18, the students will be hosted by Servicios Médicos Comunales, a nonprofit association that supports community-based development initiatives in the district of San Juan del Sur in southwestern Nicaragua.

The group will be assigned to Achuapacha, a village in San Juan del Sur approximately two and a half hours from the capital city of Managua. They will help construct a bridge, interact with the local community and learn about issues affecting the developing world. Living among the locals, sharing their way of life and performing hands-on tasks to improve their standard of living will open their eyes to the issues that affect Third World countries.

“These trips fulfill our mission of inspiring students to make a difference in the world,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said. “Service learning programs create experiences that enable our students to realize their potential to make an impact, which is why they are such an important component of our student programming.”

Staff from AJWS will run classes in the afternoons addressing topics in world poverty, the specific socio-economic issues facing Nicaragua and the Jewish values of tzedaka [charity] and tikkun olam [repairing the world]. Using Judaic texts and secular literature, the students will learn about the complex responsibilities of addressing global poverty and with issues such as micro-financing and the World Bank.

The students will be accompanied by Chaviva Fisher, CJF director of operations, and Rabbi Zvi Schindel, who will provide the Torah learning component of their studies and oversaw their halakhic issue while on the trip.

The students will stay in a modest, three-room building with electricity and latrines, but no running water; bucket showers will be available near the building.

According to AJWS, at least half of Nicaraguans have no access to electricity or communications. Government spending on health fell from $50 per person in 1983 to $16 per person in 2000. In 2003, some 840,000 children did not attend school, unemployment was 13 percent and half the population still lived in poverty. AJWS supports nine organizations in Nicaragua working in the areas of microcredit (combining small loans with other needed services that help borrowers), training for women’s rights and economic development organizations, HIV/AIDS prevention, sustainable agriculture and youth leadership.

The mission to Nicaragua is one of three winter service learning programs being run this January. Students on the Project Connect Mission to Israel will perform outreach to and learn about the country’s immigrant communities of Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, while another group will learn about Jewish communal life and volunteer in lower-income areas hit by recent hurricanes in Texas as part of the Jewish Life Coast to Coast Service Corps. All three programs are subsidized by a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.