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Jóvenes voluntarios sobrepasan expectativa del programa VNU en Nicaragua - English Summary

09 June 1999

Bonn, Germany: Thanks to an initiative employed by UNV and UNDP in Nicaragua, 50 young Nicaraguan students have traded classrooms for the field to help with the reconstruction of their country in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch. They have been part of a special brigade formed to support the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Project, aimed at addressing the country’s dire needs after this devastating natural disaster.

The students were chosen from a wide variety of academic disciplines. While all of them are young men and women – the oldest being 21 – UNVs in Nicaragua have praised their great maturity and professionalism. For the young volunteers, this was an unequalled opportunity. In their own words, it was "the most innovative experience of our lives; a great privilege to begin our professional practices with an experience so closely linked to a dramatic and dire need of our own people".

Part of what made their participation in this project so unique was its approach: students co-operated with each other fully across disciplines. For example, an architecture student would not build without consulting first with his fellow psychology student, taking into account his diagnosis of those affected, as well as with the sociologist who contributed yet another important dimension. This process of mutual discovery was an especially enriching experience for all.

Interestingly, one of the outcomes of this initiative is that the focus of several university courses is being re-examined to adopt some of the lessons learned from the field experience and the realities of the disaster. An example of this is the School of Architecture. A student explains: "We had been taught in class not to change the traditional structure of rural housing. But when we brought together a large group from a rural community to hear how they wanted their houses re-built, we learned that they hoped for some fundamental changes that would improve their quality of life. They had never had the support to transform and improve their living conditions and we were able to do just that."

Some students are still engaged as volunteers in the project; others have returned to the classroom with a brand new perspective and invaluable lessons learned.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)