My VISIONS: Nicaragua

Are you all set with your VISIONS program and ready for the next steps? Then you're in the right place! The information below is everything you'll need to get prepared. Of course, you'll also be in touch with the VISIONS office, and feel free to contact us with any questions.

 

Flights & Logistics

Booking Flights
  • The VISIONS designated travel agent is Aileen Setiawan at Discover Travel, 215.925.6174 or aileen@discovertravelinc.com
  • VISIONS strongly recommends that flights are booked with Aileen and only makes exceptions in cases when a family wishes to use a free/miles ticket. Aileen has an overview of all participants’ itineraries in order to facilitate travel days.
  • Flights should be booked early for the best fares and itinerary options, keeping in mind that travel must follow specific arrival and departure time parameters. If families choose not to book with Aileen, the itinerary must be submitted to VISIONS for approval prior to booking.
  • Neither VISIONS nor our travel agent will be able to assist with travel issues associated with flights booked through an alternative option.
  • It is not guaranteed that there will be more than one participant on every flight, but participants booking flights through Aileen will be placed on the same travel itineraries whenever possible.
  • A few days prior to flights, VISIONS will share contact information between any participants who have the same originating flights .     
  • Unaccompanied Minor (UM) Service is required by some airlines for minors who are not traveling with an adult. Aileen will inform you of the requirements, and please also check the regulations of your carrier. UM assistance is arranged directly with the airline, but you will need to share the details with VISIONS so we can pass it along to program leaders. If you are not booking with Aileen and are booking directly with the airline using miles, the airline might not advise you of the UM requirement, which can cause last minute issues at the airport. It is each family’s responsibility to take care of UM requirements well in advance of travel day.
Evacuation & Trip Insurance

REQUIRED (Minimum): Emergency Evacuation. VISIONS requires that every participant has emergency evacuation insurance. We recommend the option below, and the cost ranges from $30-45. Should you choose another provider, you will need to email VISIONS with the exact process required by the insurance company for an evacuation and the phone numbers to call in the case of emergency.

RECOMMENDED (Additional): Trip Cancellation. While VISIONS does have a tuition refund policy, a full (100%) refund of tuition and airfare is only possible through trip cancellation insurance. Refunds beyond the stated VISIONS policy are distributed through insurance, and not by VISIONS. 

For questions, please contact the VISIONS A+ Program Protection representative: Mark Ceslowitz at (212) 683-4394  x221

 

Instructions for U.S. Residents

There are two plan types— Preferred and Preferred Plus— both of which include the required Emergency Evacuation and with options for additional trip cancellation insurance. See below for details of each. We recommend purchasing insurance no later than the same day as making your final trip payment (either tuition or airfare) because: 1) the pre-existing conditions exclusion will be waived; 2) you will have the option of purchasing the Preferred Plus / “CFAR” benefit if you choose.

  1. Click link: Purchase Insurance for US Residents
  2. Complete the quick quote.
    1. If you wish to purchase only Evacuation Insurance, then fill in $750 as cost of trip and select the "Preferred" plan on the next page. (Plan costs go up in tiers; the cost of insuring $750 of your trip is the same as covering $0.) Again, the cost should be about $30-45.
    2. If you wish to have additional trip insurance, increase the trip amount according what you would like to have insured. The cost of insurance will increase as you increase the amount that you insure. On the next page, you will have the option of Preferred or Preferred Plus (see below for definitions of each).
  3. Select "Travel" for Program Type; "VISIONS" as program name; date you paid your $800 program deposit (or full tuition if paid all at once); amount of the trip you wish to insure (again, $750 if you want evacuation insurance only). Most families do not select any of the optional coverage, but you may if you wish.
  • Preferred (Cancel for Covered Reasons): This insures cancellation resulting from covered reasons only (mostly medical). You may insure full tuition and airfare, only tuition, or just a portion of tuition. The cost will depend on the amount of the trip you choose to insure.
  • Preferred Plus (Cancel for Any Reason, or CFAR): CFAR provides full coverage of all program costs, provided you cancel in writing two days or more prior to your departure date and you insured the TOTAL cost of your trip (you cannot insure just a portion of your trip with CFAR). If you are purchasing airfare at a later date, you will need to add that expense to your CFAR coverage at that time. Note: New York residents are not eligible for CFAR through the company below; we recommend www.insuremytrip.com if you are a NY resident and wish to purchase CFAR.

 

Instructions for non-U.S. Residents

  1. Click link: Purchase Insurance for Non-US Residents
  2. If you wish to purchase only the Emergency Evacuation insurance, you should put your trip cost as $500. (Plan costs go up in tiers; the cost of insuring $500 of your trip is the same as covering $0.) The cost will be approximately $70.
  3. You can insure more of your trip + airfare if you choose, and the cost of the insurance will increase relative to how much you choose to insure.
Passport / ID / Visas

Visas are NOT required for U.S. citizens. However, your passport must be valid for through the return date from Nicaragua. Many countries are starting to require that passports are valid for at least six months following the return date, but this is not yet the case with Nicaragua. If you need a new passport, don’t delay! Processing for youth can take longer than adults, and you should pay for expedited processing if the trip date is less than two months away. U.S. citizens can hire a processing company (www.passportvisaexpress as an example), or do it yourself through the State Department (link here).

 

Passport Notes:

  • In addition to taking your passport to the program, please take a photocopy of the 2-page spread that includes your picture. Our leaders collect passports and photocopies for safekeeping during the program.
  • We also recommend that you leave a photocopy or digital image of your passport at home.
  • Participants who are not U.S. citizens must consult with the appropriate embassy or consulate regarding entry requirements. Please contact the VISIONS office if you need a letter confirming program participation.
Health

You may tell your physician that we are based Jinotega. There are several clinics and a hospital. Serious medical situations also may be treated at the more major hospital in Managua. While there are no required vaccines for travel to Nicaragua, many travelers to developing countries choose to receive common travel vaccines including those for typhoid fever and / or hepatitis A.

VISIONS cannot provide medical advice and decisions about vaccines should be made with the guidance of a physician. Please with your family doctor or a travel physician and schedule an appointment if needed, keeping in mind that some vaccines require a series of shots that take place over several weeks. VISIONS also recommends reviewing the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Malaria: CDC rates malaria as a low risk for travelers to the Jinotega Province. Some VISIONS families opt for malaria medications, others opt against it. Our leaders help participants set up mosquito nets over beds, and the packing list suggests a lightweight long sleeved shirt and pants to help protect from bites.

We use bottled water for drinking and cooking. Strict protocols are followed for cooking and cleaning, and leaders remind participants about basic prevention measures such as washing hands, staying hydrated, and using sunscreen and bug repellant.

 

Consumer Reports regarding bug repellant:

The most effective products against Aedes (Zika) mosquitos were Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, which each contain 20 percent picaridin, and Off! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent deet. They kept the mosquitos from biting for about 8 hours. Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula kept Aedes mosquitos away for 7.5 hours and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, containing 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, stopped them for 7 hours. The IR3535 products didn’t make our list of recommended sprays. Neither did repellents with 2-Undecananone or those that contained 7 percent deet or less than 20 percent picaridin. We advise skipping most products made with natural plant oils, as they did not last for more than 1 hour against Aedes mosquitos. In addition, those products are not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates skin-applied repellents and evaluates them for safety and effectiveness. Most plant-oil products are exempt from scrutiny by the EPA because the agency considers them to be a minimum risk to human health. Instead, the CDC recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents. To see if a mosquito repellent is registered by the EPA, look for its registration number (“EPA Reg.”) on the back of the label.

 

Zika addendum:

Zika Virus: The CDC currently recommends practicing “enhanced precautions” for travel to Nicaragua. Please follow the recommended mosquito repellent guidelines outlined on the packing list when preparing for the program. VISIONS cannot guarantee that a participant won’t contract Zika or another illness, but we do have program practices that help mitigate exposure. (Minimizing standing water, guiding kids to apply repellent in appropriate ways, using mosquito nets, screens on windows, fans in rooms, etc.) Please refer to the CDC website or talk with your physician if you would like additional information, or feel free to call the VISIONS office.

 

VISIONS leaders are CPR and First Aid certified, and many leaders hold more advanced certifications such as Wilderness First Responder. One leader is designated with overall medical and health responsibilities, though all leaders follow the health and safety procedures of VISIONS programs.

Participant health forms are reviewed by the VISIONS office and summer leaders before the program begins. The office will contact families if there are questions about medical conditions. You may refer to the FAQ page of VISIONS website to read more about health and safety on our programs.

Packing & Program

Packing Guidelines / Tech Policy

When in Rome, Do As the Romans

VISIONS places a high value on respect of trip mates, leaders, and for the communities that welcome us year after year. We are not tourists. We are temporary community members, and as such must strive to honor the standards of our host community. We all need to be conscious of adapting rather than imposing our usual day-to-day conduct or dress on the places we visit, as tourists tend to do. The community where we live and work will want to welcome you as a friend, so we must do our best not to alienate local contacts.

In addition to the cultural considerations, conservative dress protects you from the sun, heat, mosquito bites and minor cuts. Long-sleeved gauzy fabric is breathable and cool, and the body adjusts to protective clothing. You’ll be cooler and safer if less of your skin is exposed.

Articles of clothing not permitted on VISIONS programs:

  • Spaghetti straps
  • Low cut shirts
  • Bikinis
  • Clothing that reveals undergarments
  • Short shorts or skirts
  • Low-rise jeans
  • Spandex or tight clothing, including form-fitting yoga pants

 

Gadgets

VISIONS is a cell phone / tech-free program, but cameras are allowed and encouraged. Cell phones, music devices, and any other gadgets will be collected on the first day and will be returned on the final day. We make every effort to safely secure electronic devices, but VISIONS is not responsible for lost or stolen items. We have compiled information about our most asked about devices.

  • Camera: If you would like to bring your own camera, you can find quality, economical options such as the Nikon Coolpix, Sony Cybershot, or Canon Powershot (each is priced around $150 – $200), or the Olympus VG-160 (around $70). If you choose to not bring one, there will be a group camera that a leader will make available to participants. We cannot guarantee the quality of coverage from the group camera, but we will share the images with everyone at the end of the program.
  • Music Players: Please do not bring a device larger than a smartphone, and remember that it will be collected at the start of the program.
  • E-Reader: Like other gadgets, e-readers will be collected at the start of the program. Please bring a book rather than a device.

 

Why the tech policy?

  • First: The absence of these devices encourages us to take in the full texture of the community—the sights, smells, sounds and rhythms of daily life. Participants consistently comment after their VISIONS program that they were able to form deeper friendships, and they felt more connected to the community when the distractions of technology were removed.
  • Second: Because we are a group of non-locals, we will naturally stick out. Bringing gadgets only makes us targets for petty theft, and it accentuates the differences between our hosts and ourselves.

 

Snacks

Please do not bring a stash of snacks for the program as local shops have plenty that can be purchased. Healthy snacks are provided throughout each day and meals are prepared in quantities that allow for seconds. However, if you have special dietary needs noted on your health form that necessitate bringing some of your own food, you are welcome to do so.

What To Pack

Bring only the items listed below, VISIONS provides everything else. Do not pack more than one week’s worth of clothing, as we do laundry weekly. Remember that comfort and versatility are more important than fashion, and that clothes will get dirty. Check your airline website for baggage restrictions/charges

Link to Printable Packing List PDF

 

Personal Items

  • Passport valid through return date (see PASSPORT / ID section for details)
  • Toiletries, medications, and any personal medications. Less than 12 oz
  • Sunscreen: 8 – 12 oz
  • Bug repellent: 4 oz (see Consumer Report in HEALTH section)
  • Bath towel and beach towel
  • Lightweight blanket (i.e.: small fleece blanket)
  • 1 set of light twin sheets
  • Pillow (can be travel-sized and brought as a carry-on)
  • Daypack/bookbag (can be used as carry-on for flight)
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • 2 water bottles
  • 1 pair leather work gloves

 

Clothing

  • Work sneakers or hiking boots
  • Sport sandals with straps (Tevas, Chacos, etc.) and/or flip-flops (for showers, light walks, etc.)
  • Lightweight rain jacket
  • Lightweight long-sleeve shirt
  • 5 – 6 t-shirts (spaghetti straps and revealing tops are not permitted)
  • White t-shirt for indigo dying activity
  • 1 – 2 pairs lightweight work pants
  • 4 – 5 pairs shorts (at least end of fingertip in length; no short shorts)
  • 1 dress outfit for community events (something other than a t-shirt; sundress with spaghetti straps is okay)
  • Sleepwear
  • 4-5 pair work day socks (above the ankle)
  • Undergarments
  • Baseball/sun hat
  • Swimsuit (one-piece or tankini for girls)

Optional

  • Student ID, if available
  • Spending money (see DOCUMENTS / MONEY / MEDS section for details)
  • Camera (not a phone; see PACKING GUIDELINES section for details)
  • Camp chair or portable backrest that sits directly on the ground (used for group meetings). There are some chairs on site, but bring your own if you’d prefer (example here)
  • Laundry bag
  • Book to read (no e-books)
  • Travel games, frisbee
  • Musical instrument
  • Bandana
  • Money belt
  • Spanish dictionary
  • Small bottle hand sanitizer
  • School and art supplies for activities with local kids
  • Small homestay gift – no more than $10 worth (ex: candle, photo album, or a small souvenir from your hometown)
  • Psyllium fiber capsules and / or acidophilus pills—supplements that can help with travel / diet changes and only will be taken if needed. Not Ex-Lax.
  • We recommend treating clothing with permethrin, which helps repel mosquitos. You can buy pre-treated clothing or treat things yourself, and do this before packing instead of bringing permethrin with you. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings.
Documents / Money / Meds

Documents 

Bring the following documents with you to give to VISIONS staff on program site:

  • Copy of vaccination record
  • Copy of health insurance card front and back
  • Copy of travel insurance card (if applicable)
  • Completed Parental Consent to Travel form (if traveling outside home country)
  • Copy of passport (if traveling outside home country)

Money

Tuition covers almost everything during the program, but some participants like to bring extra money (around $30-50 per week) for personal items such as souvenirs, snacks, the optional weekly call home, and baggage fees. VISIONS leaders encourage participants to turn in cash and cards at the beginning of the program and then check the money/cards out as needed. Please refer to your program packing list for further details about money, and to your airline’s website for details of baggage fees (if applicable).

  • ATM Card: VISIONS recommends bringing an ATM card. They are more secure than cash and ATMs provide local currency. Additionally, they can be held in a parent's name because ATMs do not require identification.
  • Credit Cards: We recommend bringing a credit card for things like baggage fees and other expenses where cards are accepted. Since many small shops will not accept credit cards, however, you will still need a means for cash.
  • Cash: Please do not bring more than $150 cash—VISIONS can lock up cash in a secure area, but we don't want to accept more than $150 per person. You can rely on the ATM card for additional money needs.
  • Prepaid Debit Cards: These cards often do not work well in small local shops, so please do not plan on this as a primary payment option, especially if traveling outside the U.S.

Medications

  • Carry medications in the original containers, clearly labeled. Confirm that you have enough for the entire trip
  • Bring medications in your carry-on, so you will still have access to them if your luggage is delayed or lost
  • It is recommended that participants carry a doctor’s letter that lists the diagnosis, treatment, and prescription routine (including generic names of the medication)
  • Confirm the medication is legal in the country you are traveling to (note that drug laws vary by country)
Program Expectations

Buddy System and Boundaries

If you want to leave your homebase area during the occasional free time - for example, to stop at a store or to go for a run - you need to find someone in your group who is willing to go with you, and you must remain inside the pre-determined boundaries. You and your buddy check out with a leader, establishing where you will be and how long you will be gone. When you return, you check in with the same leader. 

The boundaries are explained by leaders on the first day of the program, and usually encompass our immediate neighborhood and the nearby places we know well. Our leaders need to know where everyone is at all times for your safety and for maintaining the general flow of the program. Participants will be with leaders at all times during non-daylight hours, unless there is a special case such as a dinner with a local family.

Getting Enough Sleep

VISIONS programs are demanding. We start early, work hard, and explore with passion. Free time can be used to catch a short nap, but to keep everyone healthy and energized throughout the program, we establish a set “lights out" time. Leaders consider the daily routines of our host communities and our personal program needs when setting those times. There are occasional exceptions including staying up for a social event, or sleeping in on a morning when leaders determine some extra rest will be beneficial for the group. Participants are welcome to use a headlamp to read after lights out, but we suspect that you will welcome sleep. 

Zero Tolerance Rules

The “Airplane Rules” are in place for everyone’s safety, health and welfare, common sense, group dynamic, and with local laws in mind. It is important to remember that local laws may be different than what you are used to, and in some locations, repercussions and penalties are severe and may have a long-lasting impact on your future. VISIONS rules and policies are in place to protect you.    

VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program regarding (1) consumption, possession, or attempted possession of alcohol or drugs/illegal substances; (2) sexual activity. Consuming, possessing, or attempting to possess alcohol or drugs/illegal substances will result in immediate dismissal from the program. Participants may not abuse over-the-counter drugs or use medications not prescribed to them. Sexual contact—meaning conduct deemed unacceptable in public places—also will result in dismissal. Remember that VISIONS focuses on an inclusive group dynamic, making cliques and romances out of sync with the goal of a powerful and life-changing experience. Please review the Enrollment Contract for the complete Terms of Participation.

Sending a participant home is difficult for everyone, but it will happen if an Airplane Rule is broken. Being sent home, even in final days of a program, results in forfeiture of the Certificate of Service and recognition of service hours. Again, the safety, health, and wellbeing of participants is at the core of our policies.

Community

Community

When we refer to the community of participants and leaders in VISIONS, we mean it as best defined by M. Scott Peck in “The Different Drum”:

[A] group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to . . . delight in each other, make others' conditions (their) own.

On a VISIONS program, we place a premium on building a sense of community and getting to know everyone in the group. Sometimes, community can mean “neighborhood” in the sense of sharing resources like power tools and physical labor, as we do in the communities where we work. On a deeper level, it can mean creating a kind of family out of strangers and it is this sense of community that we strive to create among our groups and leaders.

Community means embracing your responsibilities within the group rather than hiding in anonymity, respecting others, communicating clearly, and living together cooperatively. To encourage growth in each of those areas, your leaders will facilitate evening meetings that include every participant on the program. While you may hear the meeting referred to as “circle,” local vernacular has been adapted on some program sites to refer to the time that we set aside to gather as a group: “harambe” in the British Virgin Islands, “comunidad” in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, “bilan” in Guadeloupe, “allyu” in Peru and Ecuador, and “kanatapi” in Montana.

Your group will meet three or four nights a week for about an hour to speak and listen to each other. We almost always start by reflecting on the day, including the overall volunteer and cultural experiences. Sometimes an incident or event raises questions that deserve everyone’s perspective and input. When it’s called for, we also use the time to hash out issues and iron out differences. This is a time to communicate openly and to listen to others’ perspectives. It can also be an occasion for us to see how others perceive us, which is a valuable gift.

Through this forum, we stand to gain insight as well as more confident and effective communication skills, which are as useful as the physical skills we learn and apply during the day. Our focus is the here and now, and the integrity of the community, of both leaders and participants, living and learning together.

It is your time, our time, to build a foundation of trust and cohesiveness in the process of becoming a strong community.

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; 
there can be no peace — and ultimately no life — without community.

- Scott Peck

Code of Ethics

  • Travel with a spirit of humility and a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
  • Be aware of the feelings of others. Act respectfully and avoid offensive behavior, including when taking photographs.
  • Cultivate the habit of actively listening and observing rather than merely hearing and seeing. Avoid the temptation to “know all the answers.”
  • Realize that others may have concepts of time and attitudes that are different—not inferior—to those you inherited from your own culture.
  • Instead of looking only for the exotic, discover the richness of another culture and way of life. Learn local customs and respect them.
  • Spend time each day reflecting on your experiences in order to deepen your understanding. Is your enrichment beneficial for all involved?
  • Be aware of why you are traveling in the first place. If you truly want a “home away from home,” why travel?

Compiled by The North American Center for Responsible Tourism, San Anselmo, CA

Travel Prep

Pre Departure Checklist
  • Know your baggage restrictions and have cash on hand for baggage fees if needed. (**If paying baggage fees on the departing flight, be sure to reserve enough cash to pay the fees on the return flights.)
  • Check your airline for schedule changes the day prior to departure, the day of departure, and upon arrival to the airport.
  • Keep your passport or other ID safe and accessible
  • Have your money / ATM card safe and accessible
  • Carry your cell phone and charger in your carry-on (rather than packing in checked bags)
  • Have the VISIONS phone number with you: 406-551-4423
  • Put your home address (not program address) on your luggage tags
  • Wear your VISIONS t-shirt on flight day if you can.
  • If you are traveling outside the country, we recommend having the Parental Consent to Travel form on hand.