13 months in Nicaragua: CSU alumna works in international outreach

Megan Fischer

Nearly two years after graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in health and exercise science, Jessica Whitney is living abroad and doing volunteer work in Nicaragua.

Whitney graduated in 2014, and in July of 2015, she became a program director with Manna Project International at their site in Managua, Nicaragua, the nation’s capital. Manna Project International has another location in Ecuador.


“I know I wanted to work abroad at some point,” Whitney said, “And this just seemed to fit.”

Program Director for Manna Project International, Jessica Whitney, right, holds Dylan a child during Milk Day for the organization's Child Sponsorship program in Villa Guadalupe. Dylan is one out of 50 kids that are a part of the program. Milk Day is held once a month  when the organization checks in with families and give families a monthly supply of supplemental milk, vitamins, and oatmeal for their children.
Program director for Manna Project International Jessica Whitney holds Dylan, a participant in the organization’s child sponsorship program during Milk Day for the organization’s Child Sponsorship Program in Villa Guadalupe. Milk Day is held once a month when the organization checks in with families and gives families a monthly supply of supplemental milk, vitamins and oatmeal for their children. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Whitney.)

According to Whitney, the nonprofit organization provides different programs, all aiding health, education and the livelihood of poverty-stricken communities around the nation’s capital.

The mission of the organization, according to program director Michael Graham, is “to foster communities of talented young leaders to become the next generation of social change agents by engaging in collaborative, on-the-ground service with international communities in need.”

Among the various projects in Nicaragua, a health clinic, adult and children’s English classes and a women’s jewelry cooperative name some of the programs Manna Project International has provided for the community.

“The organization was founded in Nicaragua in 2004 when a group of Vanderbilt college students came down to volunteer, not knowing that an organization would be formed from it,” Graham said.

When Whitney first arrived in Nicaragua, she noticed both the culture and the language were different from the culture she was living in before her arrival in Nicaragua. In addition to finding a community with need and poverty, Whitney said Spanish language and communication was difficult, but she found the people to be friendly and welcoming. She took some Spanish classes when she arrived, and said she has been able to use it and learn it through her volunteer work.

“Getting to know a different culture was different,” Whitney said. “It’s not like I’m just visiting. I get to be a part of, and live in, the community. The culture is very helpful and is very accepting.”

Whitney works with a group of program directors who help implement community programs. She will be in Nicaragua for 13 months.

“I directly work alongside her right now,” Graham said. “It has been a great experience working with her, as she is very dedicated and organized with the work that she does in Nicaragua.”

Collegian International Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MegFischer04.