Jan. 14, 2010
Nicaraguan students visiting for two-week cultural exchange
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Eight Nicaraguan students are scheduled to arrive at Northwest on Friday for a two-week visit as part of a leadership and cultural exchange program.
The students from Juan Mejia Espinoza High School in Villa Sandino, Nicaragua, are coming to Northwest with their teacher, Andrea Tappmeyer, a Maryville native who is completing a two-year service with the United States Peace Corps. Tappmeyer is the daughter of former Northwest men's basketball coach Steve Tappmeyer and Lynette Tappmeyer, who taught second grade at Horace Mann.
The effort, dubbed the "Villa 2 'Ville Initiative," began as a dream for Tappmeyer, who wanted the high school students to get a taste of American culture. She also wanted her students to return to their community with new skills and the abilities to create positive changes.
To help Tappmeyer make her goals a reality, the Northwest and Maryville communities came together, raising the funds needed to cover the costs of the students' passports and paperwork fees, transportation and activities.
Volunteers also organized a clothing drive to provide the students with sweats and other items to help them stay warm. One Maryville couple purchased and donated long underwear for the students, said Dr. Joyce Piveral, assistant director of the professional education unit, who has helped coordinate the exchange.
"The deans office at Northwest and all of those on our project team greatly appreciate the outpouring of support to fund this and realize the dream of Andrea Tappmeyer to express and show these young people opportunities for the future," said Max Ruhl, dean of the College of Education and Human Services.
While the objective for the students' visit is to build English, leadership and motivational skills, some faculty members also are donating instructional time. Northwest adjunct professor Shelly Robertson and former Northwest administrator Bob Bush will be working with the students to develop a leadership project they can incorporate in their community.
Piveral noted the students, who range in age from 14 to 17 years old, are coming to Northwest with impressive backgrounds and aspirations. One student, Arling, has planted fruit trees and hopes to talk to agricultural experts about his experiments with organic fertilizer. Another student, Eyling, said she wants to explore occupations she can share with her community and inspire youth - many of whom are dropping out of school to support their families - to complete their educations.
"In our community and in our environment at Northwest, we take so many things for granted," Piveral said. "So these students are going to open our eyes to benefits that we don't realize we have around us."
In exchange, the Northwest and Maryville communities will have a chance to interact with the students and learn about their culture during night and weekend activities. The students will be staying with host families in Maryville, in addition to making cultural trips to museums in Kansas City, Mo., and St. Joseph. The students also will attend basketball games and Wednesday's Ploghoft Lecture at Northwest .
"It's that intercultural experience," Piveral said. "Sharing that and being here during that time will benefit us as much."
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America with a population of more than 5.8 million. But education and literacy are underfunded there, and more than half of the population is unemployed. Statistics also show 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and nearly 80 percent live with less than $2 per day.
The climate there is warm and relatively humid. Nicaragua's average January temperature is about 80 degrees, which means the students will be seeing snow for the first time in Maryville.
With a population of about 4,000 people, Villa Sandino's economy is based on dairy farms and related industries, such as cheese and cream production. There are no banks, no grocery stores and no restaurants. There is a health center, but the closest hospital is 90 minutes west.
The students are scheduled to arrive in Kansas City on Friday afternoon and will be at Dieterich Hall on the Northwest campus for a meet and greet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. They will cap their last night in Maryville on Jan. 30 with a cookout and bonfire.
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