Westfield State Students Continue International Community Service Tradition
Seventeen Westfield State University students cut their winter breaks short to engage in international volunteer work. Students traveled to Nicaragua in January for the fifth consecutive year as part of a Global Service Learning course led by faculty leaders Kathi Bradford, director of Alumni Relations, and Kelli Nielsen ’04.
Each year, the students travel to Granada, Nicaragua to assist La Esperanza Granada, a local nonprofit that focuses on bettering children’s education. The organization aids more than 2,000 children in poverty-stricken areas.
In the five years that Westfield State has traveling to Nicaragua, students have raised more than $30,000 for the organization. With that money, and the help from student and faculty volunteers, the groups were able to lay the foundation for three different classrooms and build an entire technology classroom in a new high school (which was fully funded by Westfield State fundraising), build an entire community center, and a technology classroom for the elementary school with an updated water system and new latrines.
Students were asked to raise $300 each to pay for building supplies, but Patrick Bartel ’15 of Groton, Mass. decided to double the amount and collected $1,250 with his twin brother John. Bartel completed the course in 2013, but decided to return this year as a student leader.
“When I first traveled to Nicaragua, I was embraced by the community we worked in and I felt completely welcome,” Bartel said. “I just wanted to help out again.”
Westfield State students worked with local construction crews to revamp the water system in the elementary schools. While students have the option of repeating the course for credit, the construction crew is the same each year, including Mario, a Nicaraguan worker who was so dedicated to the project that he would often sleep at the work site while students were in town to ensure that the supplies weren’t stolen.
Student Drew Belskey, ’15 of Wilbraham, noticed that Mario’s bike, his main form of transportation, was worn down and in rough shape. He had experience working and fixing bicycles, so he examined Mario’s bike to see if he could get it to run better.
“I just saw a man who was in need and wanted to do what I could to help him,” Belsky said.
After he further examined the bike and discovered it was beyond repair, he teamed up with the rest of the class and pooled money to purchase a new bike for Mario. The students presented him with the bike the day before their departure and he was speechless.
“I could see the water building up in his eyes, which made my eyes start to water as well,” Belsky said. “This man gives so much of his time and dedication for so little in return and this gift made this rugged man show his softer side. It was a great feeling.”
Belsky said he was happy to give back to a man that taught him to appreciate his surroundings.
“I now appreciate so much that we take for granted,” Belsky said. “While I was helping those around me in Nicaragua, as I returned to the States I realized that they helped me just as much.”
Course leader Kathi Bradford said that after completing the class, students often develop new perspectives, and sometimes even change majors or career paths.
“Teaching the Global Service Learning course to Nicaragua is a yearly labor of love,” Bradford said. “Helping students find their inner beliefs about service, global awareness, and passion to help is a priceless benefit of this incredible work.”
“Whether you are the instructor, a student, or a member of the community, the pride we have in the work we have done, the way our students respond, and the fact that Westfield State supports this program each year is truly special,” Bradford said.