Mark Este is the Assistant Director of Civic Engagement Programs at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. He first joined us in Nicaragua in 2018 with a group of his students. His experience there inspired him to become a Touch the Future Sponsor and he continues to empower our students in Nicaragua in this way today.
How did you first get involved with Outreach360?
Northeastern University has long been a partner with both Outreach360 sites through the Alternative Spring Break program. I had heard about the Outreach360 trips for years from colleagues and students. I got to participate in one as our staff representative in March 2018 with a group of students I work with who are part of the Northeastern University Alliance of Civically Engaged Students (ACES), a group of students committed to local community service in Boston's neighborhoods surrounding our campus.
What eye-opening moment sticks out to you most when you think back to your time in-country?
I was impressed with how excited the students got about more lessons even after their formal school days were over. The fact that the program isn't forced upon them leads to buy-in from the local kids. It was great to see that as our service week progressed, students were returning and now bringing their friends and siblings. Students and teachers bonded and were able to pick up where they left off the day before. Even after only a few days together, we could really see that they had increased their vocabulary and comprehension in many areas.
What motivates you to continue your support?
Only a few weeks after our trip, civil unrest broke out in Nicaragua that eventually forced Outreach360 to suspend volunteer groups to the site. Knowing that this decision would significantly limit the financial and human resources of Outreach360's programming has motivated me to continue my support.
How has Outreach360 impacted your life?
In many different ways, but the one that is probably most superficial has to do with coffee. Before working Outreach360, I literally had never been a coffee drinker. After visiting the Soppexcca Co-op and Selva Negra farm during our trip, I grew a deep appreciation for not only the taste but the hard work and pride that went into the local coffee production. I continue to only buy coffee from the Jinotega region. Luckily, we have a coffee shop in Boston, Recreo, owned and operated by a family from Jinotega!
How has the feeling of being part of the Outreach360 community stayed with you?
The college students that attended our trip are still involved with the ACES program and we reflect on our trip regularly in conversation and try to stay informed on the political situations in Nicaragua. Our group led a Dare To Dream Hike fundraiser in Massachusetts after our trip to raise funds for Outreach360. Northeastern University has continued to send Alternative Spring Break groups to the Outreach360 site in Monte Cristi, DR and has another group slated to go there again this March! It's been great to get email and social media updates from Outreach360 since our trip and it's always awesome to see one our students featured. I'm glad that they're still involved with the program.
How is Outreach360 unique from other non-profit organizations you do/could support?
Outreach360 is deeply embedded in both Jinotega and Monte Cristi. While the volunteer groups may rotate frequently, Outreach360 is firmly institutionalized in the communities that they serve. At Northeastern, we emphasize Asset Based Community Development with our students. It was clear to me that Outreach360 was working in collaboration with the community to reach their common goals and emphasized the assets of Jinotega to us during outings in the community. Additionally, Outreach360 provided our group designated times to discuss the historical and contemporary issues that affect the region. This even included a reflection on the perception and impact of the United States' involvement in Nicaragua. Some international non-profits try to gloss over similar issues, but I believe that having this type of context is imperative when serving abroad. I am grateful that Outreach360 provided it to our group.
What would you say to someone considering supporting Outreach360 in this way?
Do it! Outreach360 does outstanding work in their communities. Having worked with the organization, I feel confident that my donation is going to integral programming for the youth at their two sites. Especially while their Nicaragua site's ability to host volunteers is up in the air, donating even a little bit can go a long way to ensure that their impact continues.
What message would you like to share with the students?
You'll never stop learning. Even when school is over for the day, week, year, or even when you graduate, there's always more to learn. I was in my 30's when I participated in Outreach and I learned a ton from all of you! Keep up the great work and continue to seek out educational opportunities wherever you can.