This Spring Break a group of about 20 students travelled to the small rural town of Jiquilillo, Nicaragua on a service trip. A service trip is meant to broaden your understanding of not only poverty, but also of humanity and different cultures in general – and this trip did exactly that. Everyone has a basic understanding of how lucky we are to live in a more developed world and to have the means to live comfortably, however this did not really hit home for me until I participated in a service trip where I saw that you can make a real connection to the community and children, and more fully understand the meaning of poverty.
The trip to get to Nicaragua is very long and tiring, starting with a 6 a.m. flight out of Victoria and not getting to Nicaragua until about midnight. This is followed by a very long and bumpy ride through the country to our lodge in the small town of Jiquilillo. Even at 2 a.m. the temperature was about 30 degrees Celcius and would only get hotter during our stay.
Over the course of the next few days as we settled in, we got to know the local area. We walked along the beautiful beaches and released baby sea turtles into the ocean. In the afternoons, different groups of students went to local schools, community centres or language learning centres, where we were able to forge relationships with the children there. Virtually all of these centres were small and a little dilapidated, and we began to see the conditions that were these children’s realities.
“Everyone has a basic understanding of how lucky we are to live in a more developed world and to have the means to live comfortably, however this did not really hit home for me until I participated in a service trip.”
Despite the less than ideal conditions, the children were always happy and excited to see us and were fearless in jumping up on us, even if they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Spanish. In addition, throughout these first few days we had the opportunity to travel to Cerro Negro – a striking volcano covered in black sand – which we then sand boarded down. After the sand boarding, we travelled (covered in black dust) to Leon, an old colonial town where we saw interesting architecture, a magnificent cathedral and visited a delicious French bakery.
Most days after we returned from whichever centre or activity we had visited, we would gather for a big game of beach soccer against the locals, which is when a number of bonds were formed. Because Jiquilillo is so small it was very easy to form close connections with the kids, as we would see them every evening on the beach. Getting to know these kids really enforced the notion of their poverty because these are people who, if they attended SMUS, would easily be our friends. However, as we get to go home and go back to our lives in Canada, they remain living in poverty, many of them having dropped out of school.
One of the most moving moments of the trip was when we travelled to El Limonal, a massive garbage dump inside which an entire community lives, scrounging through the dump for scrap metal to sell. The children there were all extremely small due to malnutrition and were caked in dirt from living in there. The people that live there spend every day in appalling conditions, including constantly breathing in plastic fumes from all the garbage they burn. Despite all of this hardship, the children there were just as excited to see us. One of the few things that made me feel good from that visit was the realization that joy can thrive anywhere, even in the worst of conditions.
This concept was also reinforced to us by Wilson, the bread man who would come to our lodge every afternoon with some of the best bread I’d ever had. It turned out that this local guy selling bread had been (at one time) the top student in Nicaragua and was given a government scholarship to get a degree in psychology from a university in Washington, D.C. Although Wilson probably would have had a higher standard of living and made more money becoming a psychologist in the U.S., he decided that what made him happy was just living a simple life on the beach in Nicaragua with just enough to get by.
On our remaining days in Central America, we visited an orphanage where we played with children and helped out in their garden, which eventually turned into a water fight with the hose! We also helped to clear and flatten land, and dig a well (which was very tiring work in 35-degree heat) for future homes to help families in need.
Another day we travelled to two big shipping containers – full of soap and thousand of pairs of shoes – that had been sent down from Kamloops. During the shipping process, however, much of the soap had gotten ruined and everything was mixed in with each other, so we helped to sort everything out, as well as find pairs of shoes for the children that lived around the storage containers.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Jiquilillo and Monty’s Beach Lodge and all the many friends we had made there. None of us were ready to leave the beaches, the culture and most of all the people, as the experience has truly influenced the way we see the world. Although another grueling travel day followed and we returned home to Victoria, the impact of this trip will always stay with us.
The video below is from Grade 10 student Megan Greensill:
Check out more photos from the Nicaragua Service Trip on the SMUS Photo Gallery.