Camas and Seton Catholic High School volunteers in Buena Vista, Nicaragua

We left for Nicaragua April 2nd, 2016 on the red-eye out of Portland, Oregon. Our group was mixed with Camas High School students and Seton Catholic High School students. We didn’t know each other that well, but we knew over time we grow to become good friends. The court was being prepped before we got there, so it would help us when we would start working. For some students this was their first trip outside of the USA, but regardless, everyone would be stepping out of their comfort zones once we arrived. Once we landed, we met up with Robin, who is a Peace Corps volunteer and our in-country-host, and we all crammed into a very small bus after loading a pile of luggage on top. She took us to a restaurant with a pool, where Robin’s students had actually raised money there for the court. We ate and swam and then had to get back on the tiny bus.

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We drove to the school in Buena Vista, where we were greeted by all the students, who gave us candy in small flower bowls that they had hand-made from pieces of foam paper. They held a welcoming ceremony for us filled with songs, dances, speeches, poems, the Nicaraguan national anthem, and surprisingly to us – we were asked to sing the American national anthem. Then we played some of their games and everyone was so excited that we had arrived. We got our luggage and then picked our sleeping spots for the next week on the classroom floors. We had dinner, which consisted of rice and beans (also known as “gallo-pinto”) and then we had a team meeting. Our team meetings always consisted of jokes and laughing, but most importantly supporting each other. We ended up selecting challenges that we would have to complete during the course of the following day or you would get a punishment. The challenges were designed to push everyone a little but out of their comfort zones and engage with the local people, and learn about local life and culture. But some were just plain funny! For example: have a staring contest with a local. It was so much fun. After our team meeting, everyone went to bed and we knew we had a hard day tomorrow.

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On the first day of work were split into four groups, that we would be rotating and sharing work on the court during the week. Each team got a team name that meant something cool in the local language, my team was “Barbaro” which is a slang that means barbaric/tough/awesome which we definitely were. Every day of work was hard and it was so hot (95 degrees!), but each day, we grew as a team. We had to shovel gravel and sand, wheelbarrow the cement, carry water, and carry 100lb cement bags. Every team was giving their all out there and working so hard. We did run into some difficulty each day, but we pushed through and worked even harder. We got to know the locals and everyone in our group. Everybody was so nice and we were all getting along. We learned more and more about their cultural every day. Each hour we would get a 20 minute break from working where we were would rest and drink a lot of water and then we would get back out there and work more. One day we worked for 10 hours, from 7:30am until 5:30pm with only a longer break for lunch. When we would finish for the day, we would wipe down with baby wipes and go take a bucket shower. After that we would play games or hang out and get to know each other. Each night a group of students from the school were assigned to participate in cultural activities with us, and they brought guitars to teach us songs and local dances. We taught them how to do the “Macarena” and how to “Whip” and “Nae Nae”.

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Everyone was getting comfortable with each other and we were building friendships. We forgot about our phones, running water, our beds and we just focused on what was happening in the present moment. The food was delicious! There were always rice and beans but we had fresh fruit juice, made from papaya, mangos, bananas, and pineapple. We ate a lot of plantains and one day they made “naca-tamales” for us, a special local dish similar to tamales but stuffed with more chicken and vegetables. After days of work, we finished the court. We played on it for a little bit, but the ceremony was the next day so we had to get ready for that. We woke up so excited, but we still had to clean the court up and put the hoops in. Once we finished that, everyone got ready for the ceremony.

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Everyone looked great in formal attire and we were so excited. The entire school came out for the ceremony and they presented more cultural dances and they thanked us and gave each one of us a gifts: maracas, water gourds, games, and bowls. Then we cut the ribbon to the court and gave them the balls and everyone was out playing on the court.

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The next day, we had to say our goodbyes. We had our final breakfast of more “gallo-pinto” and had a small birthday celebration for the school director. We packed and cleaned our rooms and then we crammed into the tiny bus and we were off. It was sad to say goodbye to the local friends we had made during the week. We went to the market and bought a bunch of gifts, everything was so cool there: hammocks, shirts, coffee, everything was such bright colors! Then we spent the rest of the day at the Lagoon (which was a lake in the middle of a dormant cinder-cone volcano) and we ate lunch and swam. There were even diving platforms to jump off of into the water. It was amazing there and everyone was having so much fun. We had dinner and left for the hotel.

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We stayed in a hotel for our last night, but we all missed sleeping together in the community at the school. We woke up and said our goodbyes to Robin, and our other helpers Chris (Peace Corps volunteer) and Eric (Bridges to Community volunteer) and we left for the airport. This trip was an amazing experience and everyone grew as a person. We all became really good friends and got to know each other really well. The community was so nice and welcoming and it was hard to leave them. Everyone loved this trip and we didn’t want to leave. Courts for Kids is an amazing program that changes people’s lives.  – Kira Zook, Courts For Kids volunteer

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“This trip changed me by realizing that expensive things or technology doesn’t make things better it might actually make things worse.  And I was much happier there then when I was staring at my phone.” – Sabrina Tice

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“Something amazing that I realized on this trip was that it was basically entirely built by a group of kids (Nica students and student from Camas/Seton) with the exception of the chaperones, a few peace corps volunteers, and four [workers].  A court for kids built by kids.  Truly amazing.” – Kristen Jackson, Courts for Kids representative

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“My high point was probably the last night in Buena Vista, as we had successfully built the court.  It was super exciting to play with all the kids and see how we impacted their community.  Specifically, it was great to see all the girls doing something that was rare in a male-run society.” – Tanner Thorson

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“What I learned about myself is that I don’t need my phone as much as I thought I did.  In fact, I enjoyed not having my phone with me and worrying about time and social media.  The most difficult part of going home is the fact that time will rule my life again.  In Nicaragua time was very relaxed, and often time I had no idea what time it was, but I didn’t care.  It was great and I’ll miss that.” – Luke Moravitz

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