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Volunteering for a Future

Eye-opening class trip to Nicaragua helped UI College of Education senior realize that he wants a future giving back to the world.

Eli Campbell never really had any solid plans about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Raised by a professional golfer and a nurse, the Boise native’s interests naturally leaned toward healthy living and exercise. But he wasn’t really sure how to turn that into a career.

But a summer 2015 class taught in Nicaragua by University of Idaho movement sciences professor Helen Brown changed everything.

“It was kind a little bit of a cultural shock,” said Campbell, who had not traveled to Central America before. “It opened my eyes to just how so many of the little things that we have can make such a difference to these people, who literally had nothing.”

Now, the UI senior is looking forward to graduating with his bachelor’s in exercise science and health from Department of Movement Sciences in the College of Education this May and joining AmeriCorps. After serving with AmeriCorps and gaining some experience in nonprofit service, Campbell plans to join the Peace Corps.

Campbell came back from Nicaragua eager to begin contributing in the local community. This spring, he is doing an internship at the Community Action Center (CAC) in Pullman, assisting with the organization’s gardening program. Campbell is working with food bank garden manager Joe Astorino to write a handbook on building hydroponic systems to grow lettuce and other crops. Campbell also helps educate local youths by planning materials for and teaching a culinary club for children.

The internship plays into his degree, which emphasizes community health.

“The Nicaragua trip just kind of made me realize that there was a lot that I could do — that I could make a difference in the world because of all the opportunity that I have here,” he said. “That I could make a difference with my education.”

That’s just the sort of reaction that Brown hopes to inspire in her students with the trip. Brown’s specialty is nutrition and public and community health. She has taught the class — now called Global Health, Literacy and Community Development in Nicaragua — since 2013. In 2015, instructor Janine Darragh joined the class with several English as a New Language students. Students have to pay their own way, but some scholarship funds are available on a limited basis. This summer, Brown and Darragh are taking 10 students.

Each year, the class visits the same communities in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Brown has established relationships with development organizations, health posts, schools and community members, which allows the students to have a very immersive experience. Before the students arrive, women in the community identify a project they’d like help with, and the students assist. For instance, when Campbell went on the trip, the students helped the women build pens for raising pigs.

“We spend a lot of time learning from the community,” Brown said.

Brown tries to cater the trips to the interests of the students. There is often a mix of exercise science, physical education, nutrition, pre-health, education and other majors. The 14-day trips have included visiting local clinics, schools, development organizations and assisting in community projects. They also include four weeks of online course preparation, during which students do research on a health and development project on a topic relevant to Nicaragua. Students also plan and implement an in-country project. Previous projects have included teaching swimming lessons to the village children and teaching mothers how to create simple toys from sticks and string to help with infant stimulation and brain development.

Campbell took old soccer gear, cleats and balls with him on the trip and gave them to the children.  He was amazed at how excited they were to have his old gear. He enjoyed playing soccer with the children and learning about empowering girls through sport at Soccer Without Borders in Granada.

“It kind of made me realize that I’d been taking for granted a lot of things,” Campbell said. “These balls have been sitting in my garage. When they saw them the kids’ eyes just lit up. They were running around in the dirt in bare feet and they didn’t care.”

Brown commended Campbell for his willingness to get involved with the children and his positive attitude on the trip.

“He really let himself immerse in the culture,” she said. “Those are the students who have the best time. He had a great attitude and worked very hard. He walked away feeling challenged and changed.”

Before Nicaragua, Campbell said he really had no idea how to get involved in his community. Now he’s eager to dedicate the next few years of his life to service.

“There is so much going on around the world, there’s so much for you to do,” he said. You don’t have to travel across the world to help people when there’s people in your own community who could still use it.

“There’s a lot more to the world than just the little bubble that we live in. Helping people around you is part of being a citizen in the community. You should be involved with helping the total welfare of the community. I think everybody should be involved in some way.”


Department of Movement Sciences

Mailing Address:
College of Education
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2401
Moscow, Idaho 83844-2401

Phone: (208) 885-7921

Fax: (208) 885-5929