At 3:30 am on April 5 Team Nicaragua met at PDX to begin their journey to Nicaragua. Our team consisted of 10 students from Union High School and 11 students from Camas High School– two rival high schools in southwest Washington. Four adult leaders also went on the trip. We arrived in Managua late that evening and met up with Blake in Managua, another Peace Corps volunteer that would be working with us in Jalapa. The next day we made the 5+ hour bus ride to Jalapa. It was an enjoyable bus ride filled with lots of singing, and jokes that were actually more like stories. After the sticky, humid
air of Managua, we were relieved to find that Jalapa had a much drier (although still very warm) climate. Jalapa is a located in northern Nicaragua, near the border with Honduras. Its economy is primarily based on agriculture, in particular beans, corn, coffee, and tobacco.
After settling into our hotel in Jalapa, we had our first Nicaraguan meal at the restaurant that was adjacent to our hotel. We then headed down to the site of the court to begin working. The court was a short walk away–about 3-4 blocks from our hotel. The lack of much traffic made for easy walking. The road to the school was lined with beautiful flowering bushes, buildings and houses in an array of pastel colors, and a cemetery with equally colorful tombs and tombstones.
The school where the court was to be built was named Santa Coloma. We entered through the school and headed to the outdoor area where the court was going to be built. The school had a lot of undeveloped land on the premises, but there was currently nowhere for the students to play sports. When we arrived, the area where the court would be built was staked off and only partially leveled.
That first afternoon was spent doing a lot of planning, and a lot of gravel moving. The group was excited to get to work. Using buckets and loading it into the back of the truck, our team moved a small mountain of gravel from one area of the yard to the other so that it would be ready to use the next day. A local community member kindly donated his truck to the cause, making the job a lot easier.
Day 2 started early with a full day of work ahead of us. We worked on leveling the ground for the court, and getting all the materials in order to make the concrete. We also met the “Padres de familia” that would be working along side us, as well as the leaders at the school. The students at the school were all abuzz with excitement to meet us and get started on the court. Even when they were supposed to be in class, we could see them peaking through the windows of the classroom, unable to even sit at their desks
because they were so excited/interested. The students were extremely friendly and welcoming to us, and were definitely not shy! During break times, we would play games like tag. Our group was also able to practice a LOT of Spanish with them. One thing we noticed was that the children rarely every fought, and we never saw them cry! They were too busy having fun and playing to be bothered enough to get upset. The younger students had class from about 7am-12pm, and then would come work with us after finishing classes. The older students were in class from about 12pm-5pm and also worked alongside us when they were not in class.
Days 3-5 were spent actually mixing and pouring the concrete, one giant slab each day. The Padres de familia would stay long after we finished pouring each day, working to smooth out the concrete. After a few kinks got worked out during the first day pouring, the process moved right along. After eating lunch at the school each day, we would go back to work on the court in the afternoon, with the full Nicaraguan sun beating down on us. We encountered a few bumps along the way–like needing to find a new water source as the water was turned off every other day in Jalapa. Luckily the community was very involved in the process, and let us fill buckets of water from their own sources. And once the water was turned off, we learned the importance of the 5-gallon buckets that were sitting in our showers–bucket baths! Another challenge for the group was having to shovel 350 buckets of gravel out of the gravel truck. But these setbacks, although not easy, only made the group closer. It was becoming apparent that any hard feelings between the two schools had been set-aside in favor for joining together as one team with a unified goal of finishing the court.
Finally, after 3 days of pouring concrete, the court was finished! Day 6 was designated for celebrating the completion of the court. The ceremonies included speeches, singing and dancing. The students at Santa Coloma, along with our group, were finally about to play on the court. Many of the students had never played basketball before, so there was a lot of learning taking place, and lot of shared joy that the goal had finally been accomplished. In the afternoon, our group was presented with certificates and there was even more singing by a local performer, with our group leading a Conga line. By the end of the afternoon, our group was worn-out, but the students at the school still had plenty of energy to play. Later in the afternoon, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. Some of the Padres de familia and their children that worked with us on the court joined us for dinner.
After finishing the court, we had some time to explore Jalapa as a group. There were many things that we immediately noticed throughout Jalapa–the deteriorating condition of the roads and buildings and the stray animals, for example. But when we looked closer, we realized that there were differences that were positive, too. The people of Nicaragua were genuinely kind to us, and were willing to give whatever
they had. They were always so welcoming to us, and did anything they could to accommodate us. From the employees at the restaurant helping us with local foods we bought, to the store owners helping us exchange money, we were truly treated with the utmost kindness. The people we encountered on this trip may have not had as many material possessions as the average U.S. citizen, but they were willing to share everything they had. That kind of compassion was a big take-away from this trip.
On day 7, we left the city of Jalapa and headed on our surprise trip. The leader of the trip, Jason, a former Peace Corps volunteer, had arranged for our group to get a chance to explore the Somoto canyon in northwest Nicaragua. The beautiful, rugged cliffs that line the canyon are cut by a shallow river that’s perfect for swimming or just floating along. We were able to see all sorts of wildlife, including huge spiders and wild bees that produced cylinders of honey that hung from the sides of the cliffs. Some members of the group even did jumps from the lower rocks along the canyon (with direction from the guides, of course!) We also took a short boat ride along a part of the river. It was a perfectly relaxing way to end our trip.
After a delicious Cuban dinner in Estelí, we continued on to Managua. Again, there was lots of singing for the duration of the bus ride (less jokes this time.) We arrived late in Managua to the same hostel that we stayed in before.
The next morning, we were up very early to head to the Managua airport. Jason helped us get checked in and get to security, and then we said goodbye to him, as he was staying in Nicaragua. After another long haul, we were back in Portland.
By the end of the trip, it was clear that the divides between Union and Camas had disappeared, and the rivalry was put aside, at least while we were in Nicaragua. On our certificates from the school, it says “Dando es como se recibe,” which translates to “Giving is how one receives.” This could not be truer of our trip. Along with the local community, we were able to give the students a place to practice and play sports. But we also received so much from the trip. We learned the value of hard, physical work. We learned that although one might not have a lot of material possessions, they can still be rich in love and compassion. And we learned that by working together, even the most difficult tasks can be accomplished.
~Jamie Rodda, Camas HS teacher and adult chaperone
I feel like this trip changed the way I see work and success. I think it’s about who you accomplish a task with and who you accomplish a task for. The relationships built with people along the way are worth way more than anything tangible gained. Furthermore, doing something for someone is far more rewarding than doing it for yourself.
Zach- high school student
The whole scene when the kids were running after the basketball court was a sight in my life I will share with my children. What I learned is I find joy in other’s happiness.
Michael- high school student
In America we say enjoy the little things, but when you visit a place and all they have is little things it gives you a new perspective on that phrase. In America a basketball is a very little thing to be excited for. In Jalapa, a single ball causes a stampede of kids.
This trip helped me to find fun in everything. The kids in Jalapa had the time of their lives playing small, little games. They had fun meeting new people that should have probably intimidated them. That was really eye opening because I love having fun, but fun for me was limited to a few things in particular and I struggled with anything outside of that comfort zone. Games can played and enjoyed anywhere and that is easy to forget in America when you are so focused on completing a task or whatever. That’s one way this trip changed me.
Michael- high school student
From Jalapa, I also learned to be more gracious. After the court was finished, all the people would do was thank us, a lot of them tried to do it in English as well. Pure happiness was on their faces, for something so common in the US, the chance to play sports.
Lexa- high school student
This trip made me realize how many opportunities that I have but don’t take advantage of or I just come into with a bad attitude. I just have a new appreciation for everything and things that I used to care about don’t really matter to me as much anymore.
Grace- high school student
What I learned about the world from this experience was that in the end everyone is the same. I learned that even if there are barriers between people, there are still ways for them to connect. From building a basketball court together, playing sports, or even rock paper scissors, we really aren’t all that different from each other. I learned that you can form friendships despite all the differences you have from each other, and also how far a simple smile can go. Many of the people are struggling financially but they face each day with a grin. In my opinion, compared to the USA, many people appreciate what is really important in the end, like good bonds instead of the newest video games, or phone that came out. This made me learn that around the world, may people do not rely on the things that we do for happiness.
One boy said his main goal in life was to learn. Most people’s goals are to have money, a nice car, nice house. This really changed my perspective because his main value was knowledge, rather than attaining a material item.
Lisa- high school student
The worst part about leaving was leaving the friends that you have made. With only 8 days and even less, 5 days in Jalapa, it’d be hard to predict that one would make such a strong friendship over that short amount of time. Personally, before the trip I was in COMPLETE denial that I would meet 2 boys, one 9 and one 12, that I would miss only hours after we left them. The impact they had on me and my life was enormous. I consider leaving those 2 the hardest part of my trip by far.
Ian- high school student
Coming into the trip I had never been out of the country and had never been on my own without my family on vacation. I learned that I have the ability to be independent and that I don’t need someone there all the time helping me.
Lauren- high school student
Nicaragua 2014 was extremely unexpectedly wonderful to me. Coming in to it, I was very skeptical. I didn’t know if I would get along with anyone in our group, if I would be eating rice and beans all day, if I would get to shower at all… just everything. I had a ton of stereotypical thoughts and worries. To be
honest, I wasn’t ready to go to a different environment and work all day. But coming here, working every single day, bonding with the group. Seeing the kids’ faces, it all seriously made a huge impact on me and the way I look at things. I realized that happiness doesn’t come from anything materialistic and that once you take away everything you’re comfortable to… you start to stress a little less and realize that Life. Is. Good.
Joy- high school student