Alli Schulman, For The Miami Student

For 11 weeks of her summer, junior Samantha Rothney taught English to children in buildings composed of recycled plastic bottles in the small town of Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.

Growth International Volunteer Excursions (GIVE), the organization that facilated her trip, is a volunteer-based program. Rothney first heard of it during a class announcement her sophomore year. The program’s unique methods and determination to change the lives of children in underdeveloped towns in Nicaragua and Tanzania motivated her to get involved.

Rothney said she liked GIVE’s approach to making every change as sustainable as possible.

GIVE begins each project by constructing schools out of plastic bottles recycled by the local community.

“Before GIVE, these bottles were thrown away or sitting in piles of waste, but now they have turned it into a solution, killing two birds with one stone,” Rothney said. “They urged the community to be proactive, implementing recycling routines and producing a school building.”

The organization then provides the schools with teachers, materials and support.

“GIVE gives the community ownership of the project by allowing them to be in control of the valuable outcomes,” Rothney said. “The people of Little Corn Island take part in the recycling, helping to build the school and running the school that their families will directly benefit from.”

While Samantha did not take part in the construction process, she was selected as the education coordinator for the entire project located on Little Corn Island. She assisted the Nicaraguan teachers, disciplined students and led her own after-school program, The Reading Room, teaching English to children between four and 13-years-old. All of the kids who attended The Reading Room came voluntarily, driven by their desire to learn what they called “the language of prosperity,” according to Rothney.

“The biggest source of income for the island is tourism,” Rothney said. “So the best jobs are tourist-related, which require the workers to know English.”

Rothney recalled when a local mother came in asking for help with her English so she could become a waitress and provide for her family.

“It was shocking to me because most people would feel embarrassed to go to a children’s place to receive help, but she had to do this for her family,” Rothney said.

Rothney’s trip this past summer was her first experience with the GIVE organization, which is still developing. She is currently adapting her position and curriculum to better cater to the children’s needs. She has plans to return to Nicaragua next summer and to work full-time for the organization after she graduates.

As an early childhood education major, she is collaborating with some of her professors to further structure and adjust her lesson plans to create the most beneficial curriculum possible.

“I want to create lesson plans that allow the kids to set goals for themselves and allow them to reach those goals in their desired time span,” Rothney said. “I think that this will increase attendance for the after-school program and the kids’ confidence in knowing that they are learning.”

Her commitment to helping others rang true when she said, “It doesn’t matter to what degree people need help, it’s just the fact that they need help.”

While GIVE taught Rothney teaching skills, communication skills and compassion, she said it also taught her about relationships.

“What I would do with my friends there was much different than what I would do with my friends here, in the United States,” Rothney said. “I didn’t waste my time texting people all the time. There was not much to do, so we would sit on the porch and just hang out with each other, without any distractions.”

Rothney said she also valued learning about the unfamiliar culture.

“The people on the island had all been there and known each other their entire lives, so when I would walk around with them, they would point out places and tell me old stories about everyone that I had met,” Rothney said. “I felt connected to the place and now a part of their history that was so special to them.”

The philosophy of those she met on the island left a lasting mark as well.

“These people didn’t have plans for the future, which really taught me to live in the moment,” Rothney said. “I wasn’t constantly worrying about what was going to come next and I was able to appreciate what was going on then, which is why the conversations seemed more genuine.”

Rothney said her last day in Nicaragua made the experience even more meaningful when a tourist family from the U.S. approached her with a bag of donations they collected for the GIVE project after discovering her blog. The family was so touched by her actions, they found her upon arrival and directly delivered the contribution.