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Senior works to build Nicaragua connection

Two volunteer trips to Nicaragua as a high school student inspired Mary McNamara to bring the experience to fellow Binghamton University students.

As part of a group called Students for 60,000, McNamara had helped build houses, repair schools and deliver clothes and medical supplies to people in rural areas outside of the city of Léon.

“When I first came to Binghamton, I tried to search for my place on campus,” said McNamara, a 21-year-old senior from Northport, Long Island. “But I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to create something for the student community. … I wanted this to be something that would be a yearly opportunity for students and build a relationship between the University and the communities we are working with in Nicaragua.”

With the help of the Office of International Programs and Nelson Lopez, associate director of Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies (LACAS), McNamara co-founded the Nicaragua Service-Learning Program. The program allows more than a dozen students to take a semester-long class in preparation for a volunteer mission to Nicaragua.

“A sharp student, Mary has been selflessly working for these past two programs to Nicaragua,” Lopez said. “She is definitely a huge asset for the program.”

Students and Lopez made the inaugural trip last April, raising more than $5,000, helping to build a house and meeting with students at the University of Léon. McNamara was unable to attend because the English major was spending the semester in Great Britain as part of the English Department’s London Program.

But McNamara will return to Nicaragua this spring, when the group visits from May 19-29. The students will build at least one house, bring funds for medical supplies and supply shoes to residents in towns such as Chacraseca and Los Alpes, McNamara said. Campus fund-raising efforts will continue during the next two months to pay for the trip.

Service-learning programs such as those in Nicaragua are beneficial for students, McNamara said.

“They provide a step out of the comfort zone and a way to connect with people you may have never met in your life in an environment that you may have never gotten to travel to,” she said. “The exchange is remarkable.”

McNamara, who also takes part in the English Conversation Pairs program and helps with Harpur Palate literary magazine, plans to attend graduate school for library science and is considering jobs in the publication field. She is proud that the Nicaragua Service-Learning Program is already making a difference.

“It’s amazing to see where this program has gone,” she said. “Seeing it in its full form, already with a successful trip, is cool. Going to Nicaragua after I graduate is the perfect way to end my career at Binghamton. It completes my experience here.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08