SPASH teacher bridges countries through lessons
By Heather McDonald
Cari Frederiksen had been looking for an opportunity to get involved with the Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners for quite some time, but there never seemed to be an optimal moment.
In stepped Amy Wiza with an opening that Fredrickson could not refuse.
“Amy keeps telling me that it was divine intervention that brought me on this trip,” the Stevens Point Area Senior High School Spanish teacher said. “Just something special brought me to this opportunity… (this) came up, and my husband told me to go for it, and that he would adjust his work schedule. He told me that it was something that I could not pass up and had to do.”
So a few weeks ago, Fredrickson joined about a dozen other Portage County residents and stepped on an airplane bound for Nicaragua.
“It was a life-changing trip for me,” she said.
Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas Inc. (WNP) hosts an annual Learning Center Trek for volunteers to see first-hand the impact of its many projects in action. In 1981, the first “Sewing Center” was established. Over the years, the centers transitioned into Learning Centers as many more skills were being offered.
Today, there are more than 50 active Learning Centers in Nicaragua, of which three are selected to host annual Learning Center Trek workshops between the people of Wisconsin and Nicaragua.
This year, a group of 18 volunteers participated in the annual 10-day tour that features optional hands-on workshops. Translation is provided, although many find it unnecessary in the spontaneous “show and tell” environment. In addition to the workshops, participants do explore the country, visit cultural centers and sites of interest, and partake in traditional Nicaraguan food.
Frederiksen, who teaches sophomores, juniors and seniors, took the opportunity to engage her students in connecting with the people of Nicaragua in the process of teaching Spanish prior to going on the trip. Wiza had asked earlier in the year if she would be interested in a class project.
“The thought of having children in Nicaragua reading their stories and personal biographies was so exciting,” she said. “The children were so excited and interested in the culture of Wisconsin that students wrote about, like farming, cheese, S’mores, sports and the Packers.
“I would love to do this project every year and donate them to the libraries,” Frederiksen said. “There is a need, and if we can supply a fresh set of books or even take donations to buy kids´ Spanish books, this would help the libraries a lot. I want to inform my students about the WNP and what opportunities there are for us to help and to make a difference.
“Using their Spanish isn’t just for someday, but for now, and they (can) see the results,” she said.
The classes were able to donate more than 50 books to children in Nicaragua. Many students were so engaged, they left biographies and contact information in the book they wrote and designed in the hopes that they may have future contact with the child that read it.
Frederiksen’s experience will improve classroom activities as well: she is in the process of setting up Skype sessions with the WNP center in Managua to talk with teachers and students there, each using the language they are learning.
“Just making anything real in the classroom builds such a real-world connection,” she said. “We have a beautiful sister city in Nicaragua that not many know about. I want to inform my students about this relationship and work with them to help foster it by getting involved in their community.”
Aside from being able to donate materials and provide books to Nicaraguan children, Frederiksen also learned lessons she will take home and use to improve the community here.
“Making people connections in our sister city and country showed us how small the world really is and that we are all together on the same earth,” she said. “How can we not help each other to be the best that we can be with the circumstances that we are given?
“I was very overwhelmed emotionally at the end of our workshops, hearing about people’s situations and how much they appreciated receiving a pair of scissors to be able to continue sewing and make clothes or crafts to sell was very humbling,” she said. “Something that is so simple and cheap for us was worth so much for some women.”
For more information about the WNP organization or how to help, visit wisnic.org or Room 129, Nelson Hall, 1209 Fremont St., Stevens Point, or call 715-346-4702.