I started writing this the day after I got back from Nicaragua. With the passing of my grandmother, my writing was halted, but I wanted to keep the spirit of this post the same. That is why I have not changed some of the references in the following words…
As I sit here in my office in Santa Monica, it is hard to imagine that just over 24 hours ago my friend, Cami and I were still in Nicaragua. The contrast of the two worlds sometimes makes the last eight days feel like a dream. And it’s an amazing, life-altering dream that is hard to put into words.
This wasn’t my first trip to Nicaragua, in fact, this was my 4th time to this beautiful country. However, it was my first time on the ‘front lines’ of some of the real issues in the capital city, Managua. My other trips involved loving on kids in the morning, and laying by a pool once 3pm came around at a beautiful compound built for missionaries. Don’t get me wrong, those trips were amazing in their own right, and opened my eyes to what real poverty and desperation looks like which completely changed my life. But this was different.
We slept in the same neighborhood that the children we worked with lived. We ate the same food, walked the same streets, and had the same drunks and thugs as neighbors for a week. This community is considered by some as the “ghetto” of Managua. We were not allowed to go outside of the school’s walls without a “bodyguard.” We were not to be on the streets in the dark at all, yet children as young as 5 run the dirt alleyways until 11 pm (or later) without supervision.
We were completelty immersed in their culture, and I loved it.
The first time we got to meet the children, they greeted us with hugs without even a second thought to who we were or if we even wanted to be hugged. You could tell their hearts ached to be loved, to be noticed. None of their clothes matched, their skin was covered in dirt, their eyes were heavy, but their faces carried smiles. With every hug and kiss on the cheek, my heart ached more for these kids.
We started out the week with a little clean-up project at the school. We wanted to engage the kids in doing the work with us, and give them a sense of ownership over the new ‘landscaping’ and clean play area. They helped gather rocks, pick up trash, kill cockroaches that were the size of my fist (true story), and planted flowers.
We were pleasantly surprised with how much they enjoyed the work, and it was fun to see the children in action and get to know them in this relaxed setting.
The next morning we were able to visit a project that we had worked with during my first three trips to the country. It was amazing to see how much the children had grown up and how some of them remembered us from our past visits. I brought them some brand new soccer balls and in true Nicaraguan form, the garage was immediately cleared out for them to play an exciting game of futbol.
The afternoon brought another new experience as we got to meet all of the children involved in the project and witness what a normal day at the school looks like. Children go to school year round in Nicaragua, so the kids that attend this project go to public school in the morning. This project was established to feed the hungry kids lunch, keep them off of the streets, and provide educational re-inforcement.
First, all of the kids come for lunch. This is cooked by one person, who’s name is Julio. He is the ‘groundskeeper’ of the school who also doubled as our bodyguard for the week. Meals almost always consists of rice, beans, and ketchup in some form. Yes, ketchup. If you are lucky, some plantains will be thrown in there (yay for carbs!).
Once lunch is over, the older kids go home, while the younger kids stay for their afternoon class. The ages in this class range from 4-10. The teaching consists of the teacher writing math problems, or stories up on the board, while the children simply copy them. That’s it. Most of them don’t even know what they are writing down. And someone of them can’t even write their letters or numbers correctly. Even though there was a language barrier, it was surprisingly easy to help and encourage them through their challenges. We were desperate to provide a more efficient way to help these kids learn. And with exciting news, we learned that after we left, some of our money was used to purchase workbooks for everyone!
The afternoon consisted of two hours of the same kind of teaching, just at a somewhat higher level. Cami and I were challenged to go back to high school when some of the older girls had questions about their algebra homework. It’s still pointless (my apologies to math teachers all around the world).
Everyday looked the same from the outside, but each day was a new experience as we became more comfortable with the community within and beyond the project’s walls. We befriended our neighbors, and became close with our host, Tom’s family. We learned more about the culture, and the real needs of each of the children and their families.
One particular story captured my heart. Pictured above is precious Yaritza. She is seven years old, and a complete terror :). She reminds me a lot of myself at that age, always wanting to be the center of attention. But I could see the deep sadness in her eyes, and knew that her behavior was merely an outpouring of the life she had been handed. She lives with her dad who is a drunk, her mom who is a prostitute, and her aunt (22) who tries to provide for the family by selling food on a street corner. Yaritza was always one of the dirtiest children in the class, and the most stubborn. She stole my heart.
While on the trip, I decided to become her sponsor. I am so excited to get to know her and love on her from afar until I get to see her again.
On the 4th of July, we decided that we needed to throw a true American party. We bought 300 hotdogs, an obseen amount of rice, and some classic fireworks to entertain the entire community. We enlisted the kids of the project to help us again. It was so fun to see how serious they were about their tasks. I got yelled at more than once for my bun-splitting skills. If the bun broke in half, they were not happy with me. They wanted it to be perfect. I would simply shrug and exclaim “accidente!!”. They would just roll their eyes and laugh.
It was a joy to watch the children serve their community, but it was heartbreaking to see poverty stricken people face-to-face. There are several kids that the project can’t serve, due to financial or scheduling reasons. Do these children simply go hungry? Do the babies have a way to get proper nutrition? How many of these drunks and theives are parents to the faces that I have grown to know and love over the past 7 days?
Everyday presented us with a new challenge that we dreamed about overcoming. What can bring real change in this broken community that seems to be content with their brokeness?
Thank God for the blessing of technology and ways to communicate with those that are working on the front lines every day to combat these obstacles. I love continuing these conversations from afar.
Although we go days without a real shower, without a good nutritious meal, without many of the luxuries we are used to here in the states, I am always desperately sad to leave this country and its people.
It’s a harsh reality when re-entering a first world life. I landed at LAX with tears in my eyes, as I overheard people complaining about petty things. Yet, here I am almost two months removed from the trip, and I am again complaining about those same meaningless things right alongside of them. That is why I strive keep these children in my thoughts and prayers daily. It is a beautiful thing to realize that they help me as much, if not more, than I get to help them. Their joy helps me to find joy on the dark days and their smiles help me to smile through the tears.
A HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to this cause in honor of my birthday in February. None of this would have been possible without you. We were able to clean the school, and update the landscape to make it safer for the kids to play in. We bought each of the kids a Spanish, children’s Bible – all of their faces lit up when they got their hands on something of their very own. We fed the entire community on the 4th of July, and we got to take the kids away from their neighborhood on an adventure to a beautiful park for the day. We were also able to leave money to purchase the much needed workbooks, and provide funds for meals over the next month.
Each and everyone of you had and continue to have a part in this journey. I am excited to see what our God has planned for this community, and how you can be involved. You never know, you could end up in these children’s arms before you know it.
If you want to hear more about the trip (there is a lot more to tell), please feel free to shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to visit my friend, Cami’s blog as well to hear about the trip from her perspective. You can view the re-cap video that she created below.
Please follow Tom (the man behind the project) and find out how you can get involved. http://onlyinnica.wordpress.com/ . I encourage you to also check out Cassidy Maynard’s blog: http://cassidymaynard.blogspot.com/. She is living and working at the school for the next few months.