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In April of 2011, I experienced a trip like no other. A service trip to Nicaragua during Holy Week highlighted my eighth grade year. Traveling with my mother, brother, my friend Quinn, her mom, and her aunt, we began our week-long, lesson-learning journey.
We arrived at the Managua airport on Tuesday in the late afternoon. Conveniently, to reach the hotel we stayed at for the night, we simply had to cross the road. The hotel did not reflect the socioeconomic status of the country. Bright green foliage lined the outdoor walkways leading from building to building. Statues and fountains stood throughout the hotel and added to the landscaping.
After a nice night's stay in the hotel, my fellow travelers and I boarded a bus that took us to our final destination. The old school bus belonged to the organization of the woman we stayed with. The children that benefited from the organization had painted their hand prints on the sides of the bus. Before we even arrived at our destination, we could tell the importance of the Circle of Empowerment organization.
The Circle of Empowerment organization works to give Nicaraguan citizens more knowledge about healthcare treatments and procedures and to build a strong education system for their children. The organization provides support through a clinic and health care workers, Saturday school for children, the opportunity to sponsor a child's education, and a local library. As we traveled on our way, the founder of the organization, Meg Boren, told us all about her work.
As the bus bumped along the road, the true sides of the country started to show. Propaganda from the upcoming election cluttered every billboard on the way. Houses got smaller and smaller as we traveled further and further from the main city. The houses soon became shacks and huts, not even qualifying as houses at all. Tarps served as roofs connecting two or three make-shift walls. The buildings looked as if they could collapse at any moment.
The bumpy ride had almost concluded when we reached a gate. My brother got off the bus to open the gate and hold it as the bus passed through. We bounced along for a little longer until we reached a large house less than 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean. About 100 yards from the house stood a pavilion-like structure that Meg called a “ranchero.” The “ranchero” consisted of a high thatched roof above a tiled floor. In between the pillars holding up the roof, hammocks hung, swinging in the soft wind. A few sets of tables and chairs invited guests to socialize or share a meal together.
A little while after my arms got sore from painting so much, a man took over my job. Quinn, my brother Alex, and I volunteered for the job of entertaining the children while the adults finished up the painting. We played soccer and kickball, both of which we lost. Then, we thought of a game that everyone could win at: Limbo. Alex grabbed the stick of a broom and put it up against the side of the building. I explained the instructions as best I could in Spanish and the game began. Though unfair because the kids were so much shorter than we, we still enjoyed the healthy competition.
Finally, the final coat of paint covered the walls and the time came for some fun. The bus brought everyone back to Meg's house. We enjoyed food in the ranchero cooked by the maids. Then, everyone headed into the water. We played games and had races. At one point, my brother pushed a log with a bunch of children crowded on it. It amazed me how much fun they could have. They didn't have toys, most of them didn't even have real swimsuits, but they managed to have the time of their lives.
When the fun ended, the bus driver took everyone back to his or her home. With another busy day under our belts, my family and I relaxed until dinnertime.
A few more days passed, and it came time for us to perform more service. We woke up early one morning and piled into Meg's small truck. Alex, Quinn, and I had to sit in the truck bed because of the lack of room. We bumped along the road, and soon we came to a shack that we had visited a few days before. We got out of the truck and walked down the small hill to the make-shift house. A tarp covered the three-sided hut to keep the rain out. The dirt floors gave the ambiguity of not knowing where the outdoors ended and the house began. Since we had already met this family a few days prior, we didn't bother with introductions. Rather, we got right to work. My mom, Alex, and I stayed at this house while Meg took Quinn, her mom, and her aunt to another one. The mother of the house assigned each of us a job as part of their daily chores. My brother had to gather water from the well. I had to sweep the dirt, and my mom had to throw water at the dirt to keep it from blowing in the wind. I found it difficult to sweep the dirt because I did not know where to stop, but I managed to figure it out.
When we finished chores, which didn't take long with so many people helping, we sat down to talk with the family. The mother and father had six kids ranging from eight months to seventeen years old. The father had a job, but the mother stayed home to take care of the children. The kids attended Meg's Saturday school each week and loved it. The oldest son studied in Meg's clinic to become a healthcare worker called a “brigadista.” The “brigadistas” learned basic nursing skills and served as a healthcare professional in their communities.
It amazed me to see how much Meg empowered these people to change their own lives. The family insisted that they feed us because of our hard work. Crazy, I thought, these people have nothing, yet they still want to give to us. The world could use more people like that.
After my trip to Nicaragua, I learned to appreciate the things I have. Not only that, my family has also taken measures to help those in poverty. We sponsor a child from Guatemala by paying for a portion of her schooling. That trip also helped me to realize that those who have less, appreciate more. I always try to appreciate what I have and even appreciate the things that set me back, because they teach me valuable lessons.
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