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Lauren Spigel, 23, gathers items she will be taking with her when she departs for Nicaragua on Jan. 11 to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. Photo credit: Art Illman/for Daily News and Wicked Local

Ready to help: Framingham woman headed to Nicaragua with Peace Corps

By Danielle Ameden/Daily News staff
Posted Jan 03, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

About to embark on a two-year Peace Corps tour, Lauren Spigel is packing her bags.

Sundresses. Shampoo. A Red Sox hat. A French coffee press. Favorite photos. A “headlamp for going out to the latrines at night.”

The 23-year-old leaves the comforts of home this month for Nicaragua, where she will help residents with maternal and child health care.

“I’m trying to go in without expectations,” Spigel said in her family’s home on Knight Road Extension. “I’m just ready to get there and see what it’s like and hopefully make some friends and make an impact.”

The Framingham High grad applied for a spot with the Peace Corps in 2009 after attending an information session at college.

“I realized it was a great opportunity to put what I learned in school in action,” said Spigel, who graduated from the University of Maryland last May with a bachelor’s in community health.

Her mother and older sister are nurses, and Spigel said she is drawn to public health.

For the new Peace Corps program in Nicaragua, she and other volunteers will strive to help parents have safe pregnancies and raise healthy children.

The crew will work with women and youth groups, weigh babies, identify warning signs for pneumonia and other potentially fatal diseases, and promote healthy habits. “Simple things like trying to integrate handwashing into everyday life,” she said.

Nicaragua has one of the highest mortality rates for children under 5.

The goal is to be “the motivator,” she said, and train local health promoters in the community so that when the crew leaves, its efforts are sustainable.

The daughter of Marc and Jane Spigel, Lauren studied Spanish, the country’s native language, in high school and took a refresher course over the summer at Framingham State. She expects to quickly become fluent once she’s in Nicaragua.

She said she’s done research on the country’s culture, geography, politics and relations with the United States. The nation, which touches the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, Spigel said. She read about its tumultuous past in the book, “Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua.”

“I learned about the recent history, which in the ’80s was kind of rough,” Spigel said, when the country was embroiled in civil war.

Spigel knows living in Nicaragua will be “totally different.”

“It’s a very brave thing,” said Jane Spigel, a school nurse at Framingham High. “We’re very supportive of what she’s doing and we’re very proud and we’re looking forward to visiting.”

Spigel said she has talked to other Peace Corps volunteers and believes the cultural differences will be more challenging than logistical problems, such as not having running water. A lot of the country’s infrastructure was damaged by an earthquake, she said.

A map of Boston will remind her of home, she said.

Other items she’s packing are practical: hiking shoes, duct tape, a Swiss army knife and the new headlamp.

Citing rocky relations during the Reagan era, Spigel said Nicaraguans may have a negative view of America. “I think it’s important they see Americans without a political agenda that are just there to help.”

She leaves in mid-January for a brief orientation in Washington. In Nicaragua, she will stay with a host family for the first three months, during training. She has met other volunteers in her crew via Facebook.

Spigel said she expects serving in Nicaragua will help shape her future, and she may pursue a master’s in public health after she returns home in March 2013.

Her sister Ariel, 21, said she’s inspired by her sister’s mission.

“It’s definitely opening up my eyes to the opportunities that are out there,” she said.

(Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or dameden@cnc.com.)

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