Students and Faculty Experience Life-Changing Service Trip to Nicaragua
Posted March 19, 2012
Spanish teacher and Assistant Headmaster for Student Life Ana Ramirez offered her thoughts on the incredible trip eighteen students and two faculty members experienced while traveling through Nicaragua this Spring Break with Tim Gibb '90 of Al Campo International. You can view pictures of the trip via Al Campo International's facebook page.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. After years of revolutions and civil wars, today ‘s peaceful air allows its population to express their rich folklore, music and religious traditions, a mix of European and Amerindian culture, and to enjoy its majestic natural beauty.
Our SAS trip to this amazing land took us on a journey through the western part of the country. We traveled from the northern border with Honduras to the southern border with Costa Rica. After a day in Managua, we drove to a sustainable farm in the northern area of the state of Estelí called Miraflores. Its mountainous geography and cool climate are ideal for coffee and vegetable growth. Our group explored the land with massive trees and arduous working ants on a hike and enjoyed the best tree house ever! Early the next morning, we were ready for our five day homestay in the community of Las Palmas.
Imagine a hill with no roads, no electricity and no running water with a few houses, most made of wood, with dirt floor and sheets for walls. Yet the material and economic scarcity was quickly forgotten by the warmth, hospitality and generosity of the families who live there. Upon arrival, all the families gathered in front of the closest house to the entrance of the community to welcome us. Moncho, the community spokesman, greeted our group by thanking us for our journey and kindness to help them improve their sanitation system. A mix of anxiety and happiness surfaced in our faces, but courageously we split our unity to form new ones with our families.
Some houses were close by, but others required going up a long, steep and rocky hill — a journey we did several times a day. Despite distances, language barriers and different diet, we quickly became part of our hosts’ families. Bonds were formed by our common work building latrines, milking cows and playing, dancing and talking at night under headlamps and candles.
Our work was tough but rewarding. It consisted of digging large holes of about 10 feet deep in a very rocky soil and building stonewalls around the holes to protect them from caving during the raining season. We dug 12 holes and by the time of our departure many of the latrines were completed. This process was rewarding not only because these latrines have a life of about 20 years, but also because we surpassed our limitations — physical, linguistic, and cultural. Sadly, our home stay came to an end and hugs, gratitude and tears we headed our way to the Somoto Canyons, and later to the town of San Juan del Sur, on the Pacific Ocean.
In our stay in San Juan del Sur, we engaged in different activities with a preschool in need of materials and help. We taught children to braid and had fun making handprints and face painting. Over time and through our own determination, we overcame the challenges of communicating with children ages 3 to 5, their cries and silence. By noon, they were playing soccer with us and painting our faces.
Despite the wind and the cold water, some of us with different degrees of success tried surfing for the first time- quickly we learned that patience, balance and pure luck are the keys to riding the huge waves! After a few more exploratory trips — canopying and seeing the majestic colonial town of Granada —we headed to the impressive Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic lake, for the last day of our journey.
After a restful night, we woke up to get ready to go to La Choreca, Managua’s municipal dump, where about 300 families live and sustain themselves by sorting through the trash for food, clothing and whatever else they can get to sell. This was for most their first experience of extreme poverty. And as hard as it was to see the material conditions in which these families live, we found ourselves connecting with the beautiful faces of the children at their beautiful school. Between magic tricks, soccer games and sweets, we felt embraced by the warmth, energy and affection of each child. The lesson they taught us was that despite desperate economic conditions and a society’s effort to marginalize people, they are not invisible individuals, for hope and love is abundant even in the worst living conditions. Hope still exists. The government of Spain has cleaned most of the dump and is building a modern trash processing plant that promises jobs and homes. Children are fundraising for a new school building that will cost $150,000.00 by selling paintings that we were lucky to purchase.
Overall, it was a transformational experience — a change that affected each one of us in different ways, a change that I hope can affect other people in many positive ways.
Sola Farquhar '12 wrote the following after returning from the trip.
I think all eighteen students can agree that the Nicaraguan experience was one of the most challenging, emotionally and physically taxing, and rewarding experiences any of us have ever participated in. Often the moments where we felt most uncomfortable were the moments we grew most. We learned not to feel guilty for what we have in this life. Instead, we learned to take responsibility—to make the health and well being of those with less a priority—to never allow ourselves to feel satisfied that we have done our part for the betterment of others. We will never live in a world without poverty, but by no means does that indicate an acceptance of complacency, lethargy, and renunciation.