Our Courts for Kids team consisted of 5 adults, 19 students from Clark County high schools, and one fourth grade student from Eisenhower. We met up at PDX and began our long day of travel through Houston to Managua, Nicaragua. After a night at a hostel in Managua where some of us enjoyed air conditioning and some of us definitely did not enjoy the lack of AC, we boarded what should have been a three hour bus ride to Matagalpa. Unfortunately, about half way there we were informed that we were supposed to have picked up water for the work site while in Managua. So, back we went, and our three hour ride turned into a four and a half hour ride. And, so it goes with international travel: we had our first opportunity to embrace a “just go with the flow” attitude. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in Matagalpa and then headed out for another three hour ride to our eventual home for the week: Rancho Grande. The countryside was gorgeous, and there was so much to see: stunning valleys and mountains, beautiful lush hillsides, adults and kids walking along the roads to and from work, school, or friend’s and family’s houses, and many animals.
We were accompanied by our community liaison and Peace Corps volunteer, Ilana and her colleague, James. They helped us all week with getting to know the Nicaraguan history, culture, community, and language. Their contributions to our team were invaluable! Thank heaven for them! The next morning was Easter Sunday, so we had the tremendous privilege of visiting one of two churches in Rancho Grande: a Catholic church or an Evangelical church. It was a really special experience for our group to experience the ways that other people worship, gather, fellowship, celebrate each other, and enjoy the company of community. Later that afternoon we walked about a half mile to our work site and we got a tour of the school and farm facility at La Prometida school in Rancho Grande, run by Sra. Noemi. What an amazing program she has developed there to teach farming and technical skills to young Nicaraguans!
Senora Noemi and the contractors she had hired had already done a considerable amount of work preparing the court for our work including building a retaining wall, leveling the ground, and constructing a cover for the court. What a luxury to be able to work under cover all week! As a result of Noemi’s organization and project management, the contractor’s know-how, and the Peace Corps volunteers’ operating as the go-between for our group and the Nicaraguan locals, we managed to build a court in record time! The first day we shut down work at lunch because we were ahead of schedule. The same thing happened the next day. And, on the third day we finished the court by 11 am! With so much “extra” time, we had a wonderful opportunity to spend more time in the community. We got to tour and shop around the town, meet Don Jaime and Dona Elvira and hear their stories of their time during the Revolution, and visit the feeding center which is also run by Sra. Noemi. We went to a farming co-op where chocolate was made by hand, and we got to go on several beautiful hikes. One great adventure was our team photo scavenger hunt in Rancho Grande. Nicaragua is hot, but SO beautiful!
Our Nicaraguan hosts took such great care of us. Our comfort was their priority, and having traveled in the developing world before, I can tell you these accommodations were top notch! We had beds, mosquito nets, indoor plumbing and three showers to share amongst the team. The food prepared for us all week was plentiful and delicious! There were some new foods like fried salty cheese and local fresh fruit juices, but the old standards of rice, beans, chicken, and eggs were also delicious.
The day before opening ceremony we got to deliver school supplies to some of the children at their homes. Individual tours of the children’s homes were humbling and eye opening for our team. The next day at the opening ceremony, the students who had invited us to their homes the day before entertained our group with a beautiful dance and cultural song and celebration. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Each of us was presented with a hand-made crown by the students at the school, and we each hugged each person at the ceremony. The one-on-one attention to each and every person on the team really showed how much the community values relationships. There was no rush, nowhere else to be, just each person on the team hugging each person at the work site. Amazing! Soon, the games began and the community took the court. We played volleyball, basketball, and soccer on our new court. Ernesto, our contractor, was very generous to let us be on the court – he wanted to keep everyone off of it for several days in order to preserve the integrity of the materials, but soon even he had joined in the games.
Sadly, it was time to make our way home. In just a short time we had forged new friendships with our teammates and with our Nicaraguan companions. We boarded our bus to go back through Matagalpa, Managua, Houston, and then back home. Through our many hours and miles of travel we weathered a few injuries, a sick teammate or two, and some ghastly bruises the likes of which I have never seen. The students got pranked by the chaperones, and the street soccer at night will definitely be a lasting memory. Chocobananas (dos Cordobas) were a special treat, and trying to keep from getting bit by the parrot will be some of the sweetest memories I will keep with me. I am so grateful to our team, Sra. Noemi, Ernesto the contractor, our Peace Corps volunteers, and the beautiful students and adults in the Rancho Grande community for teaching us about life in Nicaragua. Thank you, Courts for Kids, for the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to enjoy an immersion experience, and to build a court with a community. The experience will be with us all forever. – Jeni McAnally Brown
Columbia River High School IB English and Theory of Knowledge Teacher
“The community of Rancho Grande was incredibly different than our community back home. The Nicaraguans friendliness, constant interaction, and self-dependent lifestyles showed me a whole new form of community. They shared things more, work with less, and have such innovative ways of doing work and play in their daily lives. One very important thing the community taught me was . . . that poverty is not necessarily synonymous with desperation or sadness. I was amazed the camaraderie and happiness of the people.” – Ian Rose
“I feel like this trip changed me . . . I noticed that they are very grateful for what they have, they take care of their things so I think I will take better care of my things.” – Nylah Brown, age 9
“The most difficult part of going home is that I feel like this has become one of my homes. Everyone has been so welcoming and sweet and I’m sad to leave. I never would have come here without Courts for Kids and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I’ve immersed myself in the Nicaraguan culture and have been able to exchange a lot with the people. We didn’t just come and build a court we built relationships.” – Lyn Lopez-Smith
What I learned from the community is that one does not need much in order to lead a happy and meaningful life. Many Nicaraguans living in Rancho Grande live simple lives consisting of few possessions. From the community I learned that family and friends are the ones who will stick with you for days to come and that money or wealth should not determine your self-value. – Katrina Hampson
“What I learned from the community, was a greater sense of what being a community truly means. I, and we, live busy lives. Lives that in most cases does not involve even weekly interaction with those we are neighbors with. Our homes are our castles. We build them up with stuff to simplify, comfort, and entertain ourselves. In doing that we also are in most cases building up walls separating us from our surrounding community. Community has not been something my actions have shown to be a value. That I will work to change.” – Terry Wollam, Adult chaperone
“The community has taught me so much. I’ve never had the opportunity to go to an area in a foreign country that a cruise ship or a jet airline couldn’t take you. Far away from the tourists and resorts I saw how much of the world lives. Despite deplorable conditions the people or Rancho Grande were happy. You could tell they care for each other and know each other. It was almost like everyone was related to each other because in the states you really only find that bond with families. It seemed that if you wanted to be a part of this community you would be welcomed with open arms.” – Curtis Putney, Adult chaperone