The first time Janelle Nodhturft came back from the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua, she was angry.
As a first-year student in March 2004, she expected the trip would give her a greater understanding of the world. But seeing the realities of extreme poverty and deplorable working conditions – particularly among banana workers camped out in the capital city to protest their exposure to pesticides – compelled her to share her outrage with others.
"Post-brigade, I knew there was no other type of work to which I wanted to dedicate my time and energy," recalled Nodhturft, Class of ’07. "But I returned really charged up and pretty furious, with a lot to learn. When I first got back, I wanted to yell at people who were wasteful, people I felt were unaware. But this wasn't how the Nicaraguans I met taught me to pass on their stories. They were much more gracious than that."
Nodhturft of Maybrook, N.Y., soon realized that building awareness was a more effective approach than accusation. She switched from the pre-med track to a triple major in psychology, French and international relations and refocused her studies on the social context of poverty in third-world countries. She also changed her way of talking about her experiences in Nueva Vida, a resettlement area of residents displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. She returned to Nicaragua as a student leader on a 2007 brigade.
Now pursuing a master's in international peace and conflict resolution at American University in Washington, D.C., Nodhturft, 23, has maintained that drive to make a difference. And she always keeps in mind her experiences on the brigade and of meeting the banana workers.
"We were all blown away by how warm and welcoming they were," she said. "Very genuinely, they were interested in talking to us. Many of the people were dying from different diseases, and sleeping under garbage bags. The suffering was obvious and overwhelming, yet they were concerned about us, and were comforting us in our distress at seeing the conditions they faced. It was a most amazing thing to see such resiliency in the human spirit."
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