Monday, 7 August 2017

How was Nicaragua?

We’ve been told, even during our initial orientation, that it will be important to formulate some sort of “elevator speech” of the high lights of your experience. People will ask you… “so, how was Nicaragua?” And the easy response is “Great! Loved it!”. But it’s also important to have a few key ideas formulated about what the experience has meant to us. And to be able to put the last 2 years into context. I can see why this would be important, as we head back into a world and community that seems so “normal” to us. It will be difficult to explain and demonstrate the impact that this experience has had on us, and to take the lessons we have learned and apply them into our U.S. lifestyles.

I have been thinking on this ‘elevator speech’ concept a lot, and haven’t been able to come up with the perfect elevator speech, but have a few ideas floating around. Many of these ideas come from a letter we recently wrote to individuals who have supported us financially in our time abroad, and it is helping to guide my thoughts on how I will summarize our time here. I don’t think this constitutes an elevator speech…unless that elevator is going up 900 floors :) I will try to get it a little more succinct, but until then, try not to meet me in an elevator ;)

p.s. We are currently in Guatemala for a final VMM retreat where we are spending time together, reflecting on the past 2 years and looking ahead together. We will fly to the United States on August 9th and will be visiting family and national parks, and doing some additional traveling. We look forward to this time of travel, but also are excited to see the flatlands of Indiana (is that possible?! :) )
Okay…here’s the note:

July 14, 2017

Kyle and Alli here, writing from Managua, Nicaragua. We left the sweet, little town of San Nicolas on Tuesday, July 11 and are catching our breath a bit in Managua. Doctor’s appointments, visiting friends, and a few meetings are on our itinerary. We wanted to take a chance to sit down and write to our supporters and donors to tell them THANK YOU! Thank you for your financial, spiritual and personal support over the last 2 years.
As we sit here, reflecting on the last two years, we are beginning to see the depth of our experiences here in Nicaragua. We realize that this experience would not have been possible without you all—our tribe—supporting us from afar. We are forever grateful!

We also wanted to take the time to write out a bit of what this experience has meant to us and what we have “accomplished” during our two years in San Nicolas. I intentionally put ‘accomplished’ in quotes because as volunteers with a focus on accompaniment, it is often difficult to put into words, or numbers, what our quantitative accomplishments have been. We have taught English and other high school and elementary classes, we have worked closely with the school director, we have cleaned and sold vegetables with the local organic farm—La Garnacha. But we believe the biggest accomplishment we have experienced is the relationships we have built in this community. We know that we have been changed forever by these relationships, and we hope that these feelings are mutual for those whom we have crossed paths the last 2 years.

Throughout our time in Nicaragua we have reflected on “The Spirit and Lifestyle of VMM”—a lifestyle guide to our 2 years of volunteer work. One part that particularly stuck with us is this:
“We are aware
that through our service,
we receive far more
than we are able to give
We realize that we are enriched
by our encounter
with people of other cultures  and beliefs.
We come to discover
that we, too, are poor in many ways.”
We truly believe that while we have given ourselves, our time, and our skills 
to this community, we certainly have received much more in return. Our lives will forever be enriched by the lessons we have learned walking along side our neighbors, our coworkers and friends.
We will miss our work, our lives, and our friends here in Nicaragua. But we are also looking forward to whatever adventure is next. You may be asking: “What is next?” And that is a great question. We are currently planning a slow transition back to life in the states. We will be visiting friends, family and national parks in the western part of the United States, as we make our way to Indiana, where we will move back into our home in Indianapolis.

Thank-you again! So VERY much…for caring about us over the last 2 years. And for supporting us financially as we completed this experience and accompanied the people of San Nicolas. THANK YOU!!

Alli and Kyle Stiffney

This may be my last blog post in this forum, but I wanted to take the time to say THANK YOU to all of you for following along on our journey. We are blessed by each of you, near and far!

Seriously! Thank you all so much for your support, love, prayers and encouragement over the last 2 years. We appreciate our tribe so much!

Keep in touch:


Friday, 4 August 2017

A Note to San Nicolas

As we started to think about saying good-bye, we wanted to be sure we were able to express ourselves and our gratitude to the people who have become our friends and community in San Nicolas. We wrote many thank-you notes, had many conversations, and also had a few tearful words in Spanish to our school community and at our despedida. The words below are some of what we said at these different events. Words are not sufficient enough to  say thank-you for all that we have been given these last 2 years, but it’s a place to start.


(Read our words below in Spanish first, and the English translation is in italics…)

A note that we read at our despedida in San Nicolas:

Hace 2 años venimos aquí para acompañar a la comunidad de san Nicolás. Pero en los últimos 2 años todos ustedes también nos han acompañado. Cuando llegamos por primera vez aquí no conocíamos a nadie, y no hablábamos mucho español. pero a ustedes no les importaba Nos recibieron en su comunidad y en su escuela, y nos sentimos muy amados y bienvenidos. Durante estos 2 años hemos compartido muchos recuerdos y valoraremos estos recuerdos para siempre. Les ensenamos algunas cosas como hacer pan de banana o Espagueti pero realmente somos nosotros los que hemos aprendido más de ustedes. Ustedes nos han enseñado tantas cosas, desde la lengua hasta la comida (lista de cosas), las costumbres y las celebraciones. También nos han dado su amistad, su amor, y han compartido su vida con nosotros. Ahora nos sentimos como parte de la familia San Nicolás, y es muy difícil para nosotros decir adiós porque estamos diciendo adiós a la familia. Pero esto no es adiós para siempre, sólo te veo más tarde! Muchísima Gracias a todos por todo lo que han hecho por nosotros! Les deseamos lo mejor en sus estudios y en su vida, ¡y los veremos pronto !!!

2 years ago we came here to accompany the community of San Nicolas. But in the last 2 years you all have also accompanied us. When we first came here we did not know anyone, and we didn’t speak much Spanish. You welcomed us into your community and your school, and we felt very loved and welcomed. Over these 2 years we have shared many memories and we will treasure these memories forever. We taught you a few things like English and computer things, but really it is us who have learned the most from you. You have taught us so many things, from language, to food, to customs and celebrations. We now feel like a part of the San Nicolas family, and it is very hard for us to say goodbye because we are saying goodbye to family. But this is not goodbye forever, just see you later! Thank you all so much for everything you have done for us!! We wish you well in your studies and your life, and we will see you all soon!!!


Our note that we read to the high school…

Hace 2 años venimos aquí para acompañar a la comunidad de san Nicolás y aquí en el instituto. Pero en los últimos 2 años todos ustedes también nos han acompañado. Cuando llegamos por primera vez aquí no conocíamos a nadie, y no hablábamos mucho español. Nos recibieron aquí en su escuela como docentes y nos daban su amistad. Por eso nos sentíamos muy amados y bienvenidos.

A los Docentes: (Rey, Juan José, Elvin, Esmilda, Vilma, Miriam, Jasmina y Douglas) Fue un placer trabajar con ustedes en estos 2 años, y hemos aprendido mucho de ustedes. Nos han tratado como un docente, un colega, un amigo y estamos muy agradecido por eso. Cada día nos admiramos la energía, aprendizaje y metodología que ustedes lo traen al instituto. Gracias por su amistad y su paciencia que nos han mostrado cada día.

A los Estudiantes: El inicio fue difícil para nosotros porque casi no pudimos comunicar con ustedes por el español, pero a ustedes no les importaba. Nos permitieron jugar futbol con ustedes, ayudarles en las clases de inglés, y participar en todo lo que había en la escuela. En el inicio nos sentíamos como sus amigos y por eso estamos muy agradecidos. Les hemos ensenado algunas cosas como inglés y computación pero realmente somos nosotros los que hemos aprendido más de ustedes. Ustedes nos han enseñado tantas cosas: el español, la jerga del español, las malas palabras en español, como copiarse durante un examenJ y también como jugar chibolas, béisbol, ajedrez, bailar trompos, y hacer murales. Gracias por su amistad que nos han dado y les deseamos lo mejor en sus estudios según lo que vayan a estudiar en la universidad, elegir una buena carrera y así tengan mucho éxito en su vida. Nunca dejen de aprender!!!!!!

Profe Idalia: no hay suficientes palabras en español, tampoco en inglés para decir gracias a usted por lo que ha hecho por nosotros. Durante estos 2 años usted ha sido nuestra tutora y nos ha cuidado como sus hijos. Nos ha ensenado muchas cosas como hacer comida, como hablar en dichos y mucho sobre la historia de San Nicolás y Nicaragua. Su trabajo en la educación es algo que debe admirarse. Usted ha dedicado su vida a la educación y está claro que usted es una parte importante de los avances en la educación aquí en San Nicolás. Gracias por su amistad, su amor, y su apoyo en nuestro trabajo y vida aquí en San Nicolás.

Nos sentimos parte de la familia del instituto y es muy difícil para nosotros decir adiós porque estamos diciendo adiós a familia. Pero esto no es adiós para siempre, sólo te veo más tarde! Muchísima Gracias a todos por todo lo que han hecho por nosotros! Que el dios les bendiga mucho y les veremos pronto!!

2 years ago we came here to accompany the community of San Nicolas and this high school. But in the last 2 years you all have also accompanied us. When we first came here we did not know anyone, and we didn’t speak much Spanish. You welcomed us into your community and your school, and we felt very welcomed in this school as teachers, and you gave us the gift of friendship. Because of this, we have felt very loved and welcomed.

To the teachers: It was a pleasure to work with you all for 2 years, and we have learned so much from you. You have treated us as coworkers, colleagues, and as friends. We are very thankful! We admire your energy, wisdom and methodology that you bring to the institute each day. Thank you for your friendship and patience that you have shown us each day.

To the students: At the beginning it was difficult for us, because we could not communicate with you due to our Spanish skills, but this didn’t matter to you all. You allowed us to play soccer with the group, and allowed us to help you in English class, and in all other activities in the school. From the start, we felt like friends and for this we are very thankful. We have taught you a few things, like English and how to use a computer, but really we are the ones that have learned much from you. You have taught us many things: Spanish, Spanish slang, bad words in Spanish :), how to copy during an exam…but also how to play marbles, baseball, chess, tops, and how to make cool murals. Thanks for your friendship that you have given us and we wish you the best in your studies and if you continue on to university we hope you choose a good area of study, and have many successes in your life. Never stop learning!

Prof Idalia (director): There are not enough words in Spanish, or in English, to say thanks for all you have done for us. During these 2 years, you have been our mentor, and have taken care of us like your own children. You have taught us many things, like how to make food, ALL the Spanish sayings :) , and a lot about the history of Nicaragua and San Nicolas. Your work in education is something to be admired. You have dedicated your life to education and it is evident that you are an critical part of the educational advances here in San Nicolas. Thank you for your friendship, your love and your support in our work and life here in San Nicolas.

We feel that we are a part of this school family and it is very difficult to say good-bye, because we are saying good-bye to a family. But it is not good-bye forever, it is see you later! Thank you all for all that you have done for us. God Bless and we will see you soon!!


Even reading these letters now, makes me tear up a bit. Good-byes are never easy. It always seems easier just to ride off into the sunset quietly, but we found it be very therapeutic and important to write and speak these words.

But again, words just aren’t sufficient, we hope our actions (in the past and the future) will show our appreciation beyond what words can do.

We miss you, San Nicolas. Pero, No es adios, es nos vemos pronto!


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Despedida Oficial…

The time has finally come. The time to say good-bye. It was with a smile on our face and tears in our eyes that we began the process of saying good-bye to our friends and community that have become very important to us over the past 2 years. What a mix of emotions! There is no better way to describe the good-byes other than BitterSweet. We are so thankful for the last 2 years, and are also looking forward to whatever comes next. But good-byes are always difficult and saying good-bye never gets easier.

I remember the week we did orientation with Davey and Sarah in San Nicolas, we attended their good-bye party in La Garnacha, and I remember tearing up hearing the workers say their good-byes and thanks to Davie and Sarah. At that point, I could not even imagine the relationships we were yet to build and the tears that would come at our own good-byes. These two years have gone so fast!

We did many things during the week we labeled “despedida” week. We stay overnight in La Garnacha to eat a final meal with everyone at the farm, we visited families in the communities, we baked with friends, we planned and hosted our own despedida for the many people in our lives, and we attended a final misa (or mass)…Pictures to come of all of that…but at this final mass the Padre focused on 1 specific bible verse, and appropriately it was a verse that I had taped onto my mirror and reflected on every morning these past 2 years. It was my focal point when I needed to be reminded that I could do hard things. During our first few months in Nicaragua, I was really struggling to adjust to all the changes. It was a difficult time, as I don’t really like change, and I really missed our community from home. I wasn’t sure who would become our new community, and how we would ever be able to make friends when we could barely speak Spanish….ha! But this verse helped me to see that I wasn’t doing this alone, and that there is a place to find “rest for my soul”…

Mateo 11:28-30

28 “Vengan a mí todos ustedes que están cansados y agobiados, y yo les daré descanso. 29 Carguen con mi yugo y aprendan de mí, pues yo soy apacible y humilde de corazón, y encontrarán descanso para su alma. 30 Porque mi yugo es suave y mi carga es liviana.”

Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It was very appropriate that this was the last verse we heard during the final San Nicolas mass, as we move onto to the next transition in life.

After misa, we hosted a large lunch for about 60 people. We ate fritanga (grilled and fried EVERYTHING! :) ) and had many conversations about our plans and many tearful good-byes. While it was a sad event, it was also a very lighthearted and celebrative event. We felt like we were surround by family and we talked about many memories of the last 2 years.

Here are a few pictures from our last few days in San Nicolas…


We made 150 cupcakes for the despedida at the school. Each student got a cupcake, it was a small way to say thank you for their friendship and their hard work in English classes.


The high school teachers


Lots of baby snuggles from Maria’s baby, Domanic



The last Thursday cleaning veggies


Last Friday at the market


Last adult English class



Some homegrown decorations for our Despedida party



We had a table to for a photo slideshow and a place where people could write a note to us or draw a picture or write down some memories.


The line for food! (fritanga!!)






Last picture in the empty house…so sad to see it empty.

There really are NO words to describe what this experience, these people, have meant to us. We will miss them dearly. But we also KNOW that this is not good-bye. It is just see you soon!!


Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Final Countdown

We are doing so many “lasts” these days it sometimes feels overwhelming to keep track of and document it all, but we are trying. As we head into our final week here, we have already had a few despedidas and many “lasts”. But this week we will say good-bye to our high school students (Last day of school for semester 1 is on Monday) and we will have a special lunch in La Garnacha and then our personal despedida in town will be on Sunday. We will pack up and clean house the following Monday and Tuesday and we will be moved out by Tuesday afternoon, July 11. Hard to believe how fast time is going. We are writing good-bye notes, and trying to put into words what these people have meant to us over the past 2 years. Good-byes are hard!


I spent a morning making rosquillas (corn based cookies) with my good friend, Albertina. These are always the best fresh out of the oven. Yum! I also taught her how to make baked oatmeal and we baked in their outdoor, barrel oven. Delicious.





Last week the school in Quebrada de Agua did a special event for us. They danced and read poems and there were lots of hugs to go around. I hope to see these students 1 more time this week.


“Desde Indiana hasta San Nicolas. Una pareja vimos llegar, un alto y una baja que nos venimos a ensenar. Ya se ingles, no se si me puedan entender ahora digo ‘oh yes!’. Gracis doy a dios mio de conocer a esta pareja que es una bendicion and hoy se quedan en nuestro corazon.”

From  Indiana to San Nicolas. We saw a couple arrive, one tall and one short who came to teach us. Now I know English, I don’t know if you can understand me. Now I say “Oh yes!”. I give thanks to my God that I met this couple, who is a blessing. And today they stay in our hearts.



With profe maria. Love her!

So last week felt like week 1 of good-byes and now this week will bring more good-byes, and probably more tears. But as we keep saying. This isn’t good-bye it’s just see you later! No es adios, es hasta luego!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Through New Eyes

We had the wonderful privilege of hosting Grandma and Grandpa Hawkins along with my Aunt and Uncle—Teresa and Butch. What an awesome experience it was to have our family visit us in this place we call home, to meet people we love, and to give US the experience of seeing San Nicolas, and Nicaragua through a fresh set of eyes! It was fun to introduce them to all the things we love about living here. They met many people in our community. We enjoyed a couple of days of school, English class and other “work days” in San Nicolas, and then we headed south for some days in Granada, where we did a few tours and ate lots of good food. Thanks for visiting!! We love you all!

(All picture credit to Teresa Little)


Teresa and Butch at the La Garnacha Mirador


Relaxing after a little hike to the Mirador


Lunch at La Garnacha


English class with a special guest!


Puzzles!!! And lots of friends.


We had a morning at my elementary school


Profe Maria bringing us some Matasanos :)


The obligatory Granada carriage tour! We learned lots of good history on this trip!


Boat tour. And a monkey jumped on our boat!! :D

Thanks so much for visiting! We are so glad we can share these memories together and look forward to seeing you again soon!


Tuesday, 6 June 2017


As we enter into June—our last full month here—we have a few classes wrapping up and we are starting to think about good-byes. It really feels crazy how fast this two years went. And I know we won’t even know the extent of our learning and changes for months and years, but I feel like we have learned so much about ourselves, individually and as a couple. We have just learned SO SO MUCH about ourselves, about community, about being flexible, about work-life balance, about solidarity, about a new culture, about so many things…. That could be 10 more blog posts….maybe someday.


My English class just wrapped up last week and certificates of completion have been handed out. The classes went a lot better this semester and I felt a lot better overall in curriculum, lesson planning and classroom management (Shout out to Brittany Hershberger and P.C. Costa Rica!) I had a really fun group of kids this semester and it will be sad to say good-bye to them. I will miss them and their incessant yelling “GOOD MORNING!!”…even when it’s the afternoon :)


Kyle has been working hard at the high school, as a glorified secretary/english teacher. He has done so much to help the teachers get organized with their gradebooks and consolidating to get cumulative grades easily calculated. He plans to train one of the teachers who will be cutting back on some of her classroom hours to manage the excel system for grades, as well as organize the computer folders and files for accessibility. He also have been a key part of all the daily English classes taught by the English teacher, Vilma. The students enjoy hearing Kyle’s pronunciation and Kyle enjoys telling them that every assignment is an exam worth 100 points :D He is always joking around and having fun with the students and I keep telling him… “I don’t think they like you at all!” The administration and the teachers will miss Kyle’s presence, as well! We aren’t allowed to talk about a despedida (good-bye party) until 2 days before we leave. Ha!

DSC02940 My 2x/week walks to Quebrada de Agua elementary school continue to go well. I am helping with Math and Spanish classes. I also teach a gym class once a week. I’ve had to get creative as we don’t have a ball…or a gym. But we still have fun and move our bodies. I am also playing in a women’s soccer league. And I am trying to keep up but, 1.) I am old and 2.) these ladies play HARD and I am pretty shy on the soccer field. I do my  best, though and 3.) I prefer to play sports where I can use my hands ;)


We celebrated Nicaragua mother’s day last week (on May 30), we made cake for some of our favorite mom’s in town! Now we are gearing up to help host a student group that is coming for an immersion experience with their fearless leader, Billy Byrnes (1st volunteer in San Nicolas!) We are looking forward to meeting the high school students, but we are definitely excited for the chance to see Billy and Kristin again before our time wraps up here!

At this time, we are planning to leave San Nicolas on (or around) July 10th. So those are the big things going on right now. A big thing on our minds are the good-byes that are ahead. We know it will be difficult to say good-bye, but even more difficult to put into words what this experience (THESE PEOPLE!) have meant to us. But we will try!

DSCN0890 Love. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

New Hospital!!

On May 25th, the town of San Nicolas had a very exciting day—the inauguration of the new mini-hospital! While there has been a health center in town for many years, this hospital will allow for more access to care, including specialist doctors and more staff. I think this is a great step for our little town. It is incredible to think of the changes we have seen in the past two years! We know many people would say the same thing about education and infrastructure in this area, and now they can add health care to that list as well. Below are some pictures taken by our mayor’s office. It really was a great day to celebrate this new addition!

(Photo Credit: San Nicolas Alcaldia)


A few weeks before completion


Inauguration Day!


The Emergency Entrance


Inside the Hospital

This is a really great addition to the community. I know many people will benefit from these facilities and the new staff and specialists.