UO COE Courts for Kids 2016: Nicaragua

College of Education scores a win for kids in Nicaragua

While the Ducks prepared for what ended up being their final game of the NCAA Tournament, and while hordes of college students frolicked on beaches, 12 volunteers from the College of Education were helping wrest a tiny plot of land from the grips of the Nicaraguan jungle and turn it into a sport court.

The goal: Give children a safe place to play and the surrounding community a place to gather.

Courts for Kids is an international nonprofit that sponsors the creation of sport courts in parts of the world where concrete is about as common as free Wi-Fi. Students and faculty from the College of Education have made these journeys each year since becoming associated with Courts for Kids in 2014, and have traveled to the Dominican Republic, Panama and, in March 2016, a tiny rural community called Cruz de Mayo in La Concepción, Nicaragua.

The students raise money to contribute to the substantial cost of building the court, with help from local businesses. To prepare for the trip, students take a term-long course in global citizenship through the service-learning program. A faculty member takes point on the trip each year; this time it was professor Leslie Leve from counseling psychology.

"Seeing the fusion of what students have learned in their courses and this community service experience in Nicaragua was one of the most exciting and rewarding things to witness as their teacher,” she said. "Their appreciation of culture and cultural values deepened, they formed new ideas about what constitutes happiness, learning environments and teamwork.

“They made lasting friendships, and their beliefs and self-confidence about what they can achieve soared. This depth and type of personal development will benefit them in their academic and personal endeavors for the rest of the lives.”

The jungle is an inhospitable place to try to build anything, let alone a sport court. For college students unaccustomed to manual labor, it was a bit jarring.

“By the end of it, I was so sore,” said Rachel Kovensky, a doctoral student in counseling psychology and Courts for Kids veteran who shared trip-leader duties with Leve. “It took me, like, 10 minutes to get the cap off a water bottle. … I have great appreciation now for that kind of work."

Teamwork was key to finishing the project, which took just three days. While the cement dried, the students went about forging connections in the community, where laundry is still done with washboards.

“The kids there and the community worked equally, if not harder, on the project than we did,” said Kevin Gilbert, a family and human services major who hadn’t been anywhere more exotic than Mexico. “They were all invested and it was really awesome to see kids, women, men from the community all working together to reach that common goal."

By Cody Pinkston, College of Education Communications