Southwest Washington Students Bond and Build with the Community of El Rodeo, Nicaragua

“¿Que onda Mai? What’s up bro?” Just one of the many things we learned on our Courts for Kids trip to El Rodeo, Nicaragua. This was a trip full of just about everything from delicious food to a few sunburns. At the beginning of this trip, there were a few people who knew each other well, but most recognized a few people from their high school, and that was it. Regardless of our not knowing each other, by the time we were boarding the first flight to Houston, you would’ve never guessed. Everybody was laughing and getting along exceptionally well for how early it was. By the time we landed in Houston, after food, playing cards was the thing to do in our group, accompanied by the occasional nap. The four hours in Houston were helpful in bringing us together, but not as much as flying through a lighting storm on our way to Managua.

When we landed in Managua, we all laughed when we were told in the airport that we were experiencing the most A/C that we would feel for the next week, but we still openly welcomed the heat. The first thing I remember when we walked outside of the airport was the beautifully lit, blue tree right next to the airport, which we would later learn had different colored copies further down the road. The next thing was the school bus that would be taking us to El Rodeo, which I think confused us all a little bit, until we got in and saw it was a mix between an American charter bus and school bus.

When we arrived in El Rodeo, we had a heartwarming welcome from our community representative’s, Luis Peña’s, family. You could tell they were just as excited as we were for us to be there and to be working with them.  The next day was Easter, and we attended church with them. The service was followed by an incredible “acto”. The members of the community performed dances for us, then we danced the remainder of the night away, excited for what the next day would have for us.

The following day, we started our work on the court by helping the community finish leveling it. After the first day, we continued on through heat, dust, a broken concrete mixer, and a few dance offs and games of tag, as well as bonding with other for 3 days to complete our court. On our last working day with about only 3 feet of court left to go, our concrete mixer decided to call it quits, so we all watched with excitement and anticipation as the construction crew hand-mixed concrete to finish the court. We all agreed that the construction of this court, done while working with the community and building bonds with its members, was one of the most rewarding things many of us had done in our entire lives. Personally, one of my favorite things was getting to watch the number of women of all ages from the community that helped us grow day by day.

During our last night in the community, they shared with us one more “acto”. From yelling “la cuerte, la cuerte” in response to “la bomba, la bomba,” receiving dance lessons from the ever-generous locals, to performing our own acts, including singing “I’m a little tea pot” and dancing our hearts out, it was a night I doubt anybody will forget. We reveled in the joy of being with these people that we had grown to know, love, and consider our second, far-away, home. It was also a night where it finally sank in that the next day we would be leaving our new family, who had accepted us with wide open arms, bright smiles, and endless love and care. We all were heartbroken, but immeasurably thankful for the time that we had, as well as the knowledge that we still had breakfast with them the next day.

We faced many challenges throughout this trip, both culturally and in regard to construction. Thankfully, the construction challenges were limited to an abnormal (for us) spring heat and a broken concrete mixer, which truly posed little problems. Truthfully, I believe that the most challenging part about the trip culturally was the new disappointment that we had with our own culture. We understood how our culture was the way it was, but we were saddened that, comparably, we lived in a culture that was disconnected and unthankful. In El Rodeo, every time you passed somebody, there was a greeting exchanged. Every time you wanted to talk to somebody, you were prioritized over the next thing going on their head. Every time you waved, you received a wave and a smile in return. While building the court, every person was there ready, willing, and excited to help. If there was a mishap, there was patience. If there was a mistake, there was grace. If there was any kind of gift or compliment, no matter how small, there was a new happiness that let you know they truly appreciated what you gave them. I believe that we all return with more grace and patience for what happens and for others, as well as a thankfulness, even for things like education.

From this trip, I and my other group members returned not only better members of our families, towns, teams, you name it, but also, we grew to simply be better humans. We are all grateful for our time in El Rodeo and the people we were lucky enough to met and bond with, and the beautiful country that we were introduced to. We also could never be able to thank the community enough for all that they did for us and the kindness they showed us. We left Nicaragua with a new family, and, as they said, “we had arrived there white, but we were leaving tan.” – Alexandria, Columbia River High School Student

“Helping build the court will be my most cherished memory because of the satisfaction of knowing that I helped contribute to a project that will always have a lasting impact on this community, it will be used often and most importantly it was made out of love.” – Naseen

“(My) high point is interacting with the community, knowing their hopes, playing with the kids, trying their traditional food, seeing that the people are truly happy that we are here, being part of their community, and dancing with them.” – Dominika

“This trip has changed me to want to care more about others and be more aware not everything is about me.” – Makayla

“I’ve learned so much mentally, emotionally, and physically . . . This little community called El Rodeo has changed me. I’ve become 10x more aware of what’s really out there and how the world truly is. I’ve learned how to balance a healthy mind and how to appreciate all of the little things at home because here, those are the big things. I’ve learned that the world is a huge place filled with struggle and grief, but the Nicaraguans have showed me how to appreciate and love everything like it’s your last moment.” – Marisa

“What I learned about the world from this experience is that not each culture or societal system is inherently wrong. There are some flaws but there is a reason why they do the things the way that they do. Our job here isn’t to change their way of life it’s to adapt it a make it more enjoyable and have them teach us several lessons that we can apply to our daily lives.” – Evan

“I learned from this trip is the community is super close and they all care about each other. They support each other and respect each other. This community makes me feel like there’s hope and good(ness).” – Elise

“I feel this trip changed me in that I want to value in-person communication more. This trip made me realize how great it is to put down our phones and actually socialize. I want to be more conscious of my phone usage and start to live in the moment more.” – Lilly

“I have so many memories from this trip and thankfully about 98% of them are amazingly happy memories. The probably more obvious and typical one would be finishing the court/ construction of the court. It was super cool to watch something be built that I knew could positively impact the amazing community of El Rodeo, but also watch the construction of something that I was able to help build. Not only was it very fulfilling, but it also gave me a sense of how much we, even as teenagers are capable of doing.” – Alexandria