Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua 

Choose to experience Nicaragua through the lens of youth empowerment, or sustainable rural development. Running at two separate times, both offer participants an authentic opportunity to immerse themselves into the native culture, work alongside local peers, and build long lasting relationships, all while having a positive social impact, and experiencing the magic of this incredible nation. Each track offers a distinct social justice focus, and both include experiencing a range of Nicaraguan culture and adventure, including hiking, the chance to practice your Spanish language skills, exploring volcanos, experiencing Shabbat in a unique setting, and playing soccer with the local youth!

Both of the Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua programs involve intensive, physical service work in the rainy summer months, so be prepared to get down and dirty! Conditions on the trip are simple, and match the local style of life.

Spend time in the beautiful colonial city of Granada, one of Nicaragua's oldest and most vibrant cities on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, rich with culture, and the historic center of political and economic development. The group will work on a project to provide housing for low income families in the city, and visit with political leaders to learn about the challenges associated with economic development in the country.

Issue Focus: Youth Empowerment

The city of Granada is rich with history of both its native communities, and the Spanish colonization of the mid 1500s. Over the centuries, the seemingly contradictory narratives have given way to a complex dynamic, with stark contrasts between the descendants of wealthy colonials and the increasingly impoverished indigenous populations. The latter face discrimination and a lack of resources to address housing, nutrition, healthcare, and education. Organizations working to rectify this imbalance have focused on the future: empowering the youth of Nicaragua.

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua participants will be working alongside the local office of an organization that runs a number of health and training programs for women and youth, as well as housing projects for families experiencing poverty. While specific projects vary, participants will build facilities for these much-needed social services for youth, supporting the local economy by using native resources. By exploring the history of the nation, the way these lingering challenges come to light in the modern city of Granada, and immersing themselves in the culture and lifestyle of their Nicaraguan peers, the participants are able to fully appreciate the resilience and innovation of these powerful individuals.

In Partnership With: Central American Service Expeditions (CASE)

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua is run in partnership with Central American Service Expeditions (CASE). The CASE team supports rural development projects, and strives to ensure that participants are immersed in Nicaraguan culture, and work side by side with people from local communities, by leading our groups to areas which are off the beaten path. This program combines CASE's extensive experience and network in Nicaragua with Mitzvah Corps' deeply rooted Reform Jewish values and commitment to engaging participants in meaningful, relevant Jewish experiences.

Social Justice

Mitzvah Corps is committed to providing sustainable support; all of the direct service projects are initiated by local community members, in partnership with Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza (AMNLAE), and Casa de la Mujer, and relevant context is thoroughly discussed. Much of the work is focused on sustainable construction of homes and social service buildings, and working directly with children in the neighborhood. While specific projects vary, as we work in response to the evolving needs of the community, they typically include:

  • Forming adobe bricks to build a shelter for women and youth
  • Leading after school programs for low income children
  • Repairing playgrounds and sporting facilities

Living Life in Nicaragua

Like much of Central and South America, Nicaragua is known for its laid back, authentic lifestyle. The city of Granada is a vibrant urban center, rich with cultural, history, and community. Mitzvah Corps participants take advantage of this incredible dynamic, and enjoy:

  • Daily strolls through the city markets
  • Hiking and exploring active volcanoes on the outskirts of Granada
  • Relaxing on hammocks at sunset
  • Unplugging from technology and social media
  • Spending time enjoying each other's company

Becoming Part of the Community

We have longstanding relationships in the community, and as part of that legacy, Mitzvah Corps participants are welcomed each summer with open arms. Truly being immersed in the culture, teens have the chance to:

  • Practice their Spanish
  • Play soccer with local kids
  • Eat home cooked meals
  • Build relationships with their Nicaraguan peers

 

Below is our preliminary itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities. Shabbat will be observed in the local community on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and Havdallah is celebrated on Saturday evening.

Day 1 - Group Orientation in Miami
The program will commence in Miami. Everyone will spend a night at a hotel near the Miami International Airport, where they'll begin building their community by getting to know one another, and framing the experience they're about to have. Introductory programs will include providing relevant background information about Nicaragua, setting expectations for what daily life will look like during the trip, and giving participants the opportunity to ask questions. They'll get to sleep early and head to the airport together the next morning!

Day 2 - Travel to Nicaragua
Flying together, the group will arrive at the Managua International Airport in Nicaragua. From the airport, they'll take a drive to the center of Granada, where they'll settle in, and begin to explore the city. With the visual and tangible perspectives in play, the participants will really be able to understand and contextualize the economic challenges and inequality.

Day 3 - Exploration of Granada
Building off of their initial impressions of Granada, today will be spent delving deeper into both experiencing the vibrant culture and tourism industry of Nicaragua, and understanding the harsh realities of being one of the poorest countries in Central America. They'll tour the city with those competing perspectives, and begin interacting with local community members.

Days 4-9 - Service Project in El Pantanal & Life in Granada
Each morning will consist of service work in the impoverished neighborhood of El Pantanal, on the outskirts of Granada, working alongside members of Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza (AMNLAE) and Casa de la Mujer, two local grassroots organizations, to learn about and support their efforts to improve their city. Afternoons and evenings will be spent both discussing and reflecting on the work being done, as well as exploring Granada. From visiting a chocolate museum to participating in a painting workshop with local artists, wandering the local market to hiking volcanoes, the group will get a taste of life in Granada. 

Day 10 - Beach Day in San Juan del Sur
After saying goodbye to the folks in El Pantanal and Granada, the group will travel to the beautiful town of San Juan del Sur, where they'll spend the day on the beach relaxing after all their hard work this week! 

Day 11 - Return to the United States
Together, the group will fly back to Miami.

Each Mitzvah Corps international program commences at a U.S. gateway airport. Participants are responsible for their transportation to the gateway city, where they will be greeted by their Mitzvah Corps staff. The entire group will travel together from the gateway airport to their international destination, and return together upon conclusion of the program.

Domestic Travel to Miami

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua will commence at Miami International Airport.

Participants are responsible for their own transportation from their home to the airport. Travel parameters are provided upon registration; once confirmed, participants will submit their domestic travel plans to Mitzvah Corps. 

The cost of domestic travel is not included in tuition, nor does Mitzvah Corps make arrangements for any domestic travel.

Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience. 

International Travel to Nicaragua

Participants and staff on Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua will depart together from Miami International Airport, and return to the same airport when the program concludes. All participants must travel with the group.

The cost of this round-trip airfare is estimated to be about $700 and is not included in the program tuition. However, Mitzvah Corps organizes these flights and passes the true cost to families; there is no booking fee for this service. 

In order to reserve and pay for a seat on the group flight, families have two options.

  1. Option 1: Pay in U.S. dollars. Mitzvah Corps will take care of booking and paying the airline for your flight. When the seat is ticketed in the spring and the cost is finalized, that charge will be added to your Mitzvah Corps bill, and you will be required to pay it in full by May 15th.

  2. Option 2: Pay with points or miles. Mitzvah Corps will provide you with the airline and flight numbers that the group will be using. If you have access to points or miles that you'd prefer to use instead of dollars, and there is reward availability on the group flight, you may use that method of booking yourself. Once confirmed, you will be required to submit the confirmation number to Mitzvah Corps. 

Families will be able to select a flight payment option at the time of registration. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

What are the housing accommodations like in Nicaragua?
Participants will be living an authentic Nicaraguan lifestyle, and housed in simple, yet safe and clean, accommodations. 

Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Upon completion of the program, participants will receive formal documentation for 40 hours of community service. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact Mitzvah Corps in advance with any questions.

What kinds of clothing and other items will participants bring to Nicaragua?
Summers in Central America are hot, humid, and rainy. Participants should only bring clothing that can get dirty, and ideally made of fabrics that are quick-drying; we suggest loose, long pants and sleeves in order to prevent bug bites and protect against heavy brush. Each teen should bring waterproof boots, comfortable for walking through mud, as well as flip flops or water sandals. Linens, towels, and pillows will be provided, but participants should pack their own toiletries, bug spray, sunscreen, and personal items. All items should be packed in a large backpack, which should be lined with plastic trash bags to keep contents dry. A detailed packing list will be sent prior to the program.

Will the group have a chance to exchange money?
Yes. While tuition covers all necessary expenses, some participants may choose to bring extra money for souvenirs or snacks. Many local vendors accept American dollars, but there will be an opportunity to either exchange cash, or use an ATM machine to withdraw the local currency.

How does the group get to and from Nicaragua?
All teens will arrange their own transportation to Miami International Airport. After an overnight orientation in Miami, the group will fly together to Managua. The cost of the international airfare is not included in tuition; however, Mitzvah Corps makes arrangements on behalf of the participants and passes the true cost on to the families. Please visit our TRAVEL tab for more detailed information.

Are there any vaccinations required to travel to Nicaragua?
No special vaccinations are required by Mitzvah Corps to travel to Nicaragua Please consult the Center for Disease Control and a family doctor to make the right decision for your family.

Additionally, all Mitzvah Corps participants are required to be up-to-date on standard vaccinations; only in very rare circumstances are medical exemptions granted. Please refer to the URJ Vaccine Statement for specific requirements, and contact our office prior to registration to discuss any exemptions.

Is it necessary to purchase a special visa or traveler's insurance?
United States citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter Nicaragua. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit. 

Traveler's insurance is included in Mitzvah Corps tuition; policy details are available upon request. 

Mitzvah Corps programs are designed to be mixed and matched, giving you the opportunity to connect two or more experiences to design your ideal social justice summer.

Nicaragua Session I connects well with Chicago or Costa Rica.

Be captivated by the beautiful historic village of El Castillo. Eat home cooked meals. Unplug from technology. Hike to waterfalls and rivers. Play soccer with local children. Build relationships with Nicaraguan peers. Work with local grassroots organizations. Explore active volcanoes. Learn about the conservation efforts of the largest environmental non-governmental organization in the region. Practice Spanish. Visit with local political leaders to learn about the challenges associated with economic development. Relax on a hammock at sunset.

Issue Focus: Community Development

Rural, indigenous tribes that reside deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest are faced with high levels of torrential rainfall, making it challenging to build long-lasting infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and sidewalks. The resulting conditions are often too muddy and unstable to provide reliable access to schools, jobs, and healthcare facilities, and these communities are often cut off from those necessary resources, and unable to pursue education, careers, and medical attention when needed. 

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua participants will spend their time immersed in these communities, experiencing firsthand the challenges they face, and working alongside the individuals and organizations as they work tireless to build necessary roads, sidewalks, and buildings for schools, shelters, and clinics. Teens will understand the root causes of these challenges, interact with and hear the stories of these resilient tribal members, and support their efforts to lay stronger foundations for future generations.

In Partnership With: Central American Service Expeditions (CASE)

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua is run in partnership with Central American Service Expeditions (CASE). The CASE team supports rural development projects, and strives to ensure that participants are immersed in Nicaraguan culture, and work side by side with people from local communities, by leading our groups to areas which are off the beaten path. This program combines CASE's extensive experience and network in Nicaragua with Mitzvah Corps' deeply rooted Reform Jewish values and commitment to engaging participants in meaningful, relevant Jewish experiences.

Social Justice

Mitzvah Corps is committed to providing sustainable support; all of the direct service projects are initiated by local community members, and relevant context is thoroughly discussed. While specific projects vary, as we work in response to the evolving needs of the community, past projects have included:

  • Paving roads and sidewalks
  • Building the foundation for health clinics
  • Repairing local schools
  • Laying pipeline for sourcing portable water

Living Life in Nicaragua

Like much of Central and South America, Nicaragua is known for its laid back, authentic lifestyle, embodying a focus on relationships rather than material belongings, and prioritizing things that bring you joy. To live this concept, Mitzvah Corps participants enjoy:

  • Daily hikes to local waterfalls and rivers
  • Exploring active volcanoes
  • Relaxing on hammocks at sunset
  • Unplugging from technology and social media
  • Spending time enjoying each other's company

Becoming Part of the Community

We have longstanding relationships in the community, and as part of that legacy, Mitzvah Corps participants are welcomed each summer with open arms. Truly being immersed in the culture, teens have the chance to:

  • Practice their Spanish
  • Play soccer with local kids
  • Eat home cooked meals
  • Build relationships with their Nicaraguan peers

 

Below is our preliminary itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities. Shabbat will be observed in the local community on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and Havdallah is celebrated on Saturday evening.

Day 1 - Group Orientation in Miami
The program will commence in Miami. Everyone will spend a night at a hotel near the Miami International Airport, where they'll begin building their community by getting to know one another, and framing the experience they're about to have. Introductory programs will include providing relevant background information about Nicaragua, setting expectations for what daily life will look like during the trip, and giving participants the opportunity to ask questions. They'll get to sleep early and head to the airport together the next morning!

Day 2 - Travel to Nicaragua
After arriving at the Managua International Airport, the group will be greeted by their local guide, and taken to a hotel in the heart of Managua. The rest of the afternoon will consist of exploring the capital city, and beginning to contextualize the contrast of Nicaragua's vibrant tourism scene with the prevalence of severe poverty.

Day 3 - Travel to El Castillo
The group begins the trek to El Castillo with a bus ride to the port town of San Carlos on Lake Nicaragua, where they will board the boats for our three hour trip down the San Juan River. El Castillo is accessible only by boat and there are no cars there! Upon arrival, they will get settled in and meet with members of the Asociación de Jovenes Ara Ambiguus (AJAA). AJAA is a group of young people from El Castillo who have organized to promote the participation of the youth in environmental conservation and sustainable development in the region. 

Days 4-9 - El Castillo
Alongside members of the AJAA, Mitzvah Corps teens will spend each morning working on various infrastructure development and building projects around El Castillo. The focus of the projects vary depending on the community needs, but are likely to include mixing cement, laying foundations, making bricks, or building roofs. Afternoons are dedicated to learning more about the community, meeting with AJAA leaders to learn more about challenges they face, participating in round table discussions with members of the municipal council, and hearing from leaders of both the Sandinista Front, the left wing political party, and leaders of the Liberal Party, the more conservative party, to hear their varying perspectives on El Castillo's development against the backdrop of the rest of the country and region. There will also be plenty of time to enjoy the environment - visiting the ancient fortress, a day of kayaking in the Indio Maiz Reserve, hiking, playing soccer with Nicaraguan peers, and relaxing on hammocks in the rainforest!

Day 10 - Travel Back to Managua
Along the way back to Managua, the group will stop to enjoy the beautiful Nicaraguan beaches one last time.

Day 11 - Return to the United States
Together, the group will fly back to Miami.

Each Mitzvah Corps international program commences at a U.S. gateway airport. Participants are responsible for their transportation to the gateway city, where they will be greeted by their Mitzvah Corps staff. The entire group will travel together from the gateway airport to their international destination, and return together upon conclusion of the program.

Domestic Travel to Miami

Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua will commence at Miami International Airport.

Participants are responsible for their own transportation from their home to the airport. Travel parameters are provided upon registration; once confirmed, participants will submit their domestic travel plans to Mitzvah Corps. 

The cost of domestic travel is not included in tuition, nor does Mitzvah Corps make arrangements for any domestic travel.

Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience. 

International Travel to Nicaragua

Participants and staff on Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua will depart together from Miami International Airport, and return to the same airport when the program concludes. All participants must travel with the group.

The cost of this round-trip airfare is estimated to be about $700 and is not included in the program tuition. However, Mitzvah Corps organizes these flights and passes the true cost to families; there is no booking fee for this service. 

In order to reserve and pay for a seat on the group flight, families have two options.

  1. Option 1: Pay in U.S. dollars. Mitzvah Corps will take care of booking and paying the airline for your flight. When the seat is ticketed in the spring and the cost is finalized, that charge will be added to your Mitzvah Corps bill, and you will be required to pay it in full by May 15th.

  2. Option 2: Pay with points or miles. Mitzvah Corps will provide you with the airline and flight numbers that the group will be using. If you have access to points or miles that you'd prefer to use instead of dollars, and there is reward availability on the group flight, you may use that method of booking yourself. Once confirmed, you will be required to submit the confirmation number to Mitzvah Corps. 

Families will be able to select a flight payment option at the time of registration. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

What are the housing accommodations like in Nicaragua?
Participants will be living an authentic Nicaraguan lifestyle, and housed in simple, yet safe and clean, accommodations. 

Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Upon completion of the program, participants will receive formal documentation for 40 hours of community service. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact Mitzvah Corps in advance with any questions.

What kinds of clothing and other items will participants bring to Nicaragua?
Summers in Central America are hot, humid, and rainy. Participants should only bring clothing that can get dirty, and ideally made of fabrics that are quick-drying; we suggest loose, long pants and sleeves in order to prevent bug bites and protect against heavy brush. Each teen should bring waterproof boots, comfortable for walking through mud, as well as flip flops or water sandals. Linens, towels, and pillows will be provided, but participants should pack their own toiletries, bug spray, sunscreen, and personal items. All items should be packed in a large backpack, which should be lined with plastic trash bags to keep contents dry. A detailed packing list will be sent prior to the program.

Will the group have a chance to exchange money?
Yes. While tuition covers all necessary expenses, some participants may choose to bring extra money for souvenirs or snacks. Many local vendors accept American dollars, but there will be an opportunity to either exchange cash, or use an ATM machine to withdraw the local currency.

How does the group get to and from Nicaragua?
All teens will arrange their own transportation to Miami International Airport. After an overnight orientation in Miami, the group will fly together to Managua. The cost of the international airfare is not included in tuition; however, Mitzvah Corps makes arrangements on behalf of the participants and passes the true cost on to the families. Please visit our TRAVEL tab for more detailed information.

Are there any vaccinations required to travel to Nicaragua?
No special vaccinations are required by Mitzvah Corps to travel to Nicaragua Please consult the Center for Disease Control and a family doctor to make the right decision for your family.

Additionally, all Mitzvah Corps participants are required to be up-to-date on standard vaccinations; only in very rare circumstances are medical exemptions granted. Please refer to the URJ Vaccine Statement for specific requirements, and contact our office prior to registration to discuss any exemptions.

Is it necessary to purchase a special visa or traveler's insurance?
United States citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter Nicaragua. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit. 

Traveler's insurance is included in Mitzvah Corps tuition; policy details are available upon request. 

Mitzvah Corps programs are designed to be mixed and matched, giving you the opportunity to connect two or more experiences to design your ideal social justice summer.

Nicaragua Session II connects well with Civil Rights or Pacific Northwest.

At A Glance

Session I - Youth Empowerment
Dates:
 July 6-16, 2017
Length: 11 days
Community Service Hours: 40
Cost: TBD plus airfare
Session II - Community Development
Dates: August 6-16, 2017
Length: 11 days
Community Service Hours: 40
Cost: TBD plus airfare
Mitzvah Corps organizes and reserves seats for participants on a round-trip group flight from a gateway U.S. airport to each international program destination. Program staff will fly with the group on both departure and return. The international airfare is not included in the tuition cost; please refer to the TRAVEL tab for details.
Register for multiple programs to receive a $200 discount per additional program.
Mitzvah Corps is open to all rising 10th - graduating 12th graders.