The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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June 27, 2011

Lewisburg graduate volunteers with ProNica

LEWISBURG — Hannah Bowen thought she knew the definition of the word poor before she spent nine months in Nicaragua.

About 25 percent of the 6 million people living in the second poorest country in Latin America struggle to survive on less than $1 a day, and the 2010 Lewisburg Area High School graduate wanted to find out why.

Bowen, 19, of Lewisburg, recently returned home from her trip, and she shared her experiences with about two dozen people on Sunday in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Route 15.

“I wanted to go because even though I knew what poverty was, I wanted to see it up close,” Bowen said. “I needed to experience it.”

She decided to become a volunteer for ProNica, a Quaker organization that supports women’s groups with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and domestic violence and works with children living in Nicaragua’s garbage dumps and back alleys. That’s when she met ProNica programs coordinator Lillian Hall, of Arizona, who has traveled to Nicaragua since 1982.

“She was brave for making the trip to witness the poverty of the country,” Hall said Sunday. “I applaud her for taking the experience back home to Lewisburg and sharing it.”

Bowen explained what she did for nine months and what she saw.

“Well, I got to see someone wake up and work and sweat because of a full day’s work,” she said. “It was an eye-opener.”

“Growing up here in the Valley is complicated, and you feel like you can’t focus on things sometimes. But to be honest, being in Nicaragua and working hard and seeing the people I work with become my friends was so insightful.”

Bowen lived with a host family and worked on an organic coffee farm.

“I was there every day working right next to others,” she said. “I got to learn Spanish while I worked, and I got to really see how hard this really is for them.”

No one complained, they just laughed and joked while they worked, Bowen said.

“I made a human connection with these people,” she said. “Clearing a field with a machete and laughing with fellow workers all day was really amazing to experience.”

Nicaragua is known for people living in garbage dumps and waiting for trucks to drop off trash, so they can pick through it and find clothes and food, Bowen said.

“The people may be poor but they are rich in spirit,” she said.

Bowen visited and spoke with families during the trip and said she even helped raise a bit of money for the organization.

“I started to teach yoga classes,” she said. “I told people that if they could make a donation where it would go.”

In the fall, Bowen will attend Bucknell University, but she said she already has gained an education.

“I had an idea of what poverty is like, but when I saw people in the garbage dumps and just how poor they really are, it all became very real,” she said. “I went through growth and change.”

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