Exploration & Empowerment: my summer internship with Comunidad Connect

July 29th, 2015

By Anna Menke, 2015 Princeton IIP Intern, Comunidad Connect

In the fall of my junior year at Princeton University it dawned upon me that I was about to embark upon my last real summer. After reflecting upon what I really wanted to get out of the ensuing summer, I eventually settled on the following four-pronged criteria: 1.) I wanted to learn about something new, 2.) I wanted to learn about what kind of work I might like or dislike, 3.) I wanted to do something that I found intellectually interesting, challenging and rewarding, and 4.) I wanted a little bit of an adventure.

Anna installing a solar power system at an "off-the-grid" primary school in La Esperanz, Jinotega

Anna installing a solar power system at an “off-the-grid” primary school in La Esperanza, Jinotega

To fulfill these criteria, I turned to the Princeton International Internship Program (IIP), which offers internship placements all over the world, linking students to diverse summer-employment opportunities. Eventually, I decided on Comunidad Connect, a nonprofit with a  sustainable, community-driven development model that appealed to me and met my criteria for my last real summer. Although I was not exactly sure what my day to day work as an intern for Comunidad Connect would look like, I was certain that the opportunity to live in Nicaragua for two months, working in international development with a team of motivated, multicultural and curious people would be meaningful and provide me with an opportunity to grow immensely.

I was right. I’m five weeks into my 8-week internship and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to follow great role models, while also being encouraged to take the lead on some projects of my own. One of my first projects was to create a participant database for the community Sports Park that Comunidad Connect runs in San Juan del Sur (SJDS). At the same time, I was also given the more challenging assignment of identifying a need in the community and working creatively to fulfill it.

Anna prepares to install a solar power system at an "off-the-grid" school in La Esperanza, Jinotega

Anna prepares to install the solar power system in La Esperanza

My idea came after a few weeks of living in SJDS. I noticed that far fewer girls were participating in athletics at the Sports Park than boys. As a current college athlete, I immediately saw this as a need that I could begin to address with the support of Comunidad Connect. I proposed the idea to Alejandro, our Sports Park Director, and he has been very receptive to helping me make it happen. Thanks to Alejandro’s connections, we are now working to collaborate with a few local primary schools in the SJDS area to bring my idea to fruition.

My goal is to design a clinic that provides young girls with the opportunity to try out a variety of sports while also fostering self-confidence and sparking the idea that athletics are for girls, too! My own experience as a young girl, participating in athletics, is something that I value very highly. Indeed, no other pursuit in my life to date has been as immediately empowering. My experience playing lacrosse has endowed me with a foundation upon which to build the rest of myself. It is through athletics, both as a young girl and currently in college, that I have learned to believe in the power of my own will.

Comunidad Connect has hosted girls sports clinics in the past, but more are needed!

Comunidad Connect has hosted successful girls sports clinics in the past, but more are needed!

At first this goal to play division-one college lacrosse seemed insurmountable for a girl living in rural New Hampshire, otherwise known as a “Not-bed” of lacrosse. However, with the support of my coaches and teammates, I learned the value of setting smaller goals. I began to run extra and train whenever I had free time. Finally, on September 1st, a flood of recruiting emails filled my inbox. Seeing your own hard work translate into a result instills the type of confidence and faith in yourself that can allow you to pursue any goal. Admittedly, as I near the end of my four years of collegiate athletics at Princeton, I am much more than a lacrosse player, but this is largely because lacrosse has made me value progress, and thus a constant evolution of self. Indeed athletics is just only one of the innumerable avenues to self-confidence, but it is one that I know well and feel lucky to have the opportunity to share with young girls in San Juan del Sur!

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