Meet Our Volunteers: Olivia Iekel

Olivia Iekel has already spent two years in Nicaragua working with CEPAD through the RCA (Reformed Church in America). After graduating from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, she spent two years as a medical interpreter before moving to Managua. She now serves as CEPAD’s volunteer coordinator while supporting some church and delegation partnerships. Her main objective is working with CEPAD staff to develop an official volunteer/intern program for Nicaraguans and foreigners, especially young people, so they can come, serve, and be part of CEPAD while learning about community development. 

Olivia first came to Managua after she graduated to spend the summer working with CEPAD, because she wanted to serve in a Latin American country. After working with delegations for a few months, CEPAD invited her to join them full-time. She officially moved to Nicaragua two years ago, and has enjoyed serving here.

“After learning more about CEPAD, I realized how ecumenical their work and mission is – Christ has rallied us to serve our neighbors and care for the poor. CEPAD is doing that in a way that helps our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters in the long run, not by giving hand-outs, but by truly serving them.”

Olivia’s favorite part about working with CEPAD is spending time in the communities, hearing people’s stories, both of their pasts and their hopes for the future. She admires that CEPAD doesn’t just provide external material changes, but internal as well.

“So many people that are in difficult circumstances or living in poverty are really trapped in these cycles. They might need an encouragement or a push to get going but are capable of accomplishing so much on their own if they are just given the opportunity. That’s the core of CEPAD’s work and community development – to help provide the opportunity. It’s not so much the ‘lack’ of physical materials but of emotional ones – dignity, self-confidence, empowerment, pride – these change lives. It’s more powerful than I recognize.”

We are so happy to have Olivia as part of our team and look forward to continue working with her!