Serving in Nicaragua

During this past week our entire school shut down as every single student and faculty member spent time volunteering with a different service organization around the world. This was our first ever “GOweek,” and I was fortunate to travel to Managua, Nicaragua with 15 students and 2 other adult staff members (our assistant principal and one of our Spanish teachers).

The intent of GOweek is twofold: 1) to spend a week selflessly serving those in need, and 2) to expose our students to different cultures. In both regards this was a great learning experience not only for our students but also for the staff. I’ve travelled the world, and it always strikes me how fortunate we are to live in one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world.

Despite their lack of wealth, the Nicaraguans we met were genuinely some of the happiest people I’ve even encountered.  We spent one morning delivering food bags that we prepared to a very poor community just outside of Managua that does not have any running water and until recently no electricity. We visited with about 10 different families in their homes that consisted of dirt floors and aluminum siding tied together to make walls.  One family in particular really stood out to me. They had 11 people living in about 300 square feet, yet every single one of them smiled from ear to ear the whole time we visited with them.  It goes to show how important family and health are in the grand scheme of things.

Speaking of health, we had another day with the elderly, many of whom had physical disabilities that almost make them an afterthought in their communities.  In one of the most fun days of the week, we picked them up in a bus and took them to a pool for some swimming and arts and crafts.  Even though most of them were reluctant to get into the water, we did convince a few to give swimming a try.  Everyone laughed and enjoyed the pool, even those who decided to stay out of the water!  The arts and crafts were a huge success too.  The big take away for our group was that the elderly tend to get ignored, and despite their age, they are still enjoy life and deserve our time and attention.

The bulk of our trip was spent working closely with a private school called Jehova Jireh that has ties to Nicaragua Resource Network, which is the group who organized our trip. The school sits in the community of Los Brasiles, which is also outside of Managua. It is by no means a wealthy area, but it’s also not dirt poor like the community we delivered food to.

Jehova Jireh, which consists of grades 1-6, just opened a month ago. We were actually the first group of people ever to visit the school and spend time with the kids. We had a really fun day making bracelets with them, teaching a Bible lesson, organizing a sports camp, and giving them small goodie bags our 4th grade class back in Austin put together. It was so much fun to spend the day with them! And despite class sizes of about 40 students to 1 teacher, the teachers at Jehova Jireh truly loved teaching those kids and were grateful for our help that day.

We made some very close connections with the community of Los Brasiles and were actually invited to attend church twice while we were there, which is a really big deal. Church in the poorer communities in Nicaragua typically takes place in what we’d call a community center. The first service we attended was 2 1/2 hours long, full of singing and dancing and a lot of thunderous prayer!

After the first service we were invited back for a second service that was going to be “really special,” as one of their elders put it. This second service was more of a party than a church service. Despite having almost zero disposable income, the church came together to throw us an amazing party. They made a piñata for us, baked a huge cake, and handmade cards for every single individual on our team. We then spent 3 hours dancing and singing. The night ended with the entire church praying over us. This night was a big deal for the church community, and it still amazes me the genuine love they showed us.

Nicaragua is a very poor country with political instability and turmoil that would make most people sad to live there. However, everyone we met was proud to live there and considered themselves “blessed” for one reason or another. They have a unique way of seeing the positives in life rather than focusing on the negatives. Although we were there to serve and give back to their community, in many ways I feel it was they who gave back to us. It was a great learning experience for me and for our students. I am already excited to go back next year and build on the relationships I started.