University of Oregon College of Education in Cruz de Mayo, Nicaragua

Panorama pic of Court

March 16th, 2016- It was finally time to leave for Nicaragua. Our group consisted of 9 University of Oregon undergrads from various majors, 1 UO instructor (Leslie) , 1 UO grad student (Rachel)  and 1 Courts for Kids representative (Darien). We students spent the previous months fundraising, and preparing for the trip. We took a term long class together to get to know one another better, as well as in order to learn about where and why we were going. While we were preparing for the trip, Patricia, the main contact in Nicaragua, was working with Courts for Kids to help with a lot of prep work on site to get ready for our arrival. Overall there was a lot of work that was done before we departed for Nicaragua, along with a lot of work left to do.

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Going into the trip, we all had some similar motives for wanting to go. We wanted to experience a culture outside of what we are normally used to, we valued doing service, and we wanted to break down stereotypes that we may have had about Latin American culture. I think that a lot of the expectations and thoughts that we had going into the trip were very much different by the end. There was talk about whether or not the community would welcome us, there was a lot of worrying about not being able to communicate due to the language differences, and there were safety concerns about being in an unknown area to all of us. It was evident once we stepped out of the airport that things were going to be different.

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Once we landed and walked out of the airport, Patricia was there to greet us all with open arms. She hugged each of us, even though we had never met before, and was very warm and welcoming. This later became a common theme throughout the whole community. We traveled to Hope Bilingual Academy, where we would be building the court, and got a tour of the area. We were introduced to where we were going to sleep, shower, eat, and work. While the conditions were a lot different than what we are used to at home, everything was prepared and set up for us. One big surprise to all of us was how much work had already been done of the court. The area was cleared, supplies were ready, and the foundation of the court was already done. The community had already put in a lot of work before we had even got there. We spent the rest of the first day meeting a few of the community members, eating, and getting settled in. We were able to talk to some of the kids from the community on the first day. This was when we first realized that communication was not going to be as difficult as we thought. All of the kids spoke some level of English, and some of us spoke some level of Spanish. Together we were able to communicate pretty effectively. It was also great because we got to learn and practice Spanish while the kids in the community got to learn and practice more English. The first day went well, and we were warmly welcomed by everybody that we met.

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The next few days were filled with hard work, and relationship building. We began constructing the court. Every job included hard labor. There was wheelbarrowing, shoveling, and lifting the gravel sand and cement. We moved the 100lb cement bags to different locations. We filled and carried water. We poured materials into the mixer, and then carried wheelbarrows of the concrete mixture to the area of the court where it needed to go. Every job was demanding, but we had a very strong team consisting of our group, students from the schools, and men and women from the community. It was great to see every person pulling their weight and giving 110%. If there was something that one person couldn’t do, there was always somebody close by that would see and offer help whenever needed. There was a great team effort the whole time, and while we were tired and drained, the court was getting built in a timely manner. We were also able to use the work time to get to know the community member better. We all got to talk to a lot of students and adults about various things. We found out about common interests in music, activities and subjects. We shared more personnel stories about each other, and we shared parts of each other’s culture. Whether we were working, talking, playing or just hanging out, we were constantly building new relationships and friendships that in the end we would never forget.

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After we were done working on most days, we spent a lot of time hanging out with the kids, and finding creative ways to spend our time. We played games, raced, and shared a lot of music and talents that we all had. We also tried a lot of local traditional foods for our meals. After a few days it felt like everybody had become pretty comfortable with everything that was going on. The bucket showers, the bug bites, the sun burns were not bad at all. We were learning so much about ourselves, and about the culture and community that we were staying with, that small things were ignored.

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When we finally finished the court, we spent time doing more activities to further build bonds with the community. We spent a whole day doing activities with the kids on the court. Every day we met more and more community members. They were all very welcoming. We visited homes, and got to see differences in lifestyle and housing structure compared to what we are used to. We did the scavenger hunt in town with all the kids, and got to see how the town differed from the Hope community that we were staying in. Every experience offered us new opportunities to learn and grow with the community members.

Lagoon

The final day we spent at the Lagoon and had a day full of swimming and having fun with the kids for one last time. It was a nice break from a lot of the hard work we had been doing, but emotions started to settle in because we all knew it was our last day. Later that night a lot of people from the community came over. We had a big dinner, and took a lot of pictures. We danced talked and shared memories from the trip to further make lasting bonds. As a group we shared our thoughts and memories from the trip. Both our group and the community members took turns talking about how we felt about the past week. There were a lot of tears, a lot of smiles and a lot of laughs all at the same time. We had all been affected in a way that we did not expect going into the trip.

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Overall the trip seemed to go smooth and great for everybody. We all learned new things about ourselves, as well as about the community that we worked with. There were a lot of friendships and bonds made that will last a life time. We could not have teamed up with a better community for this project. While we were only there for a week, we feel we were impacted greatly for the rest of our lives.

-Kevin Gilbert, UO student and Courts for Kids volunteer

“When we first arrived in the community we were greeted with a hug from Patricia as she told us “welcome home” and that is a tradition I would love to continue in my own life when someone comes to visit. I have never felt more welcomed into a community than I did on this trip.” – Kenzie Williams

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“My life is definitely changed from this trip. It has sparked a passion in me to travel and establish real connections.  Courts for Kids has taught me how to make a positive impact on a community that will last a long time and better many lives.  I am considering the Peace Corps now!” – Hailey Peterson

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“I met a great community that is many miles away from home that I will never forget.  They taught me so much and I now want to try and make friends in other parts of the world in order to continue learning and change my perceptions about the world.” – Kevin Gilbert

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“In this community we used bucket shower and bucket toilets.  When I heard about bucket showers, I thought a bucket of water was not enough for me, but I didn’t even use a whole bucket.  From this experience I realized how much water I always waste when I take a shower.” – Haruna Fujimoto

“Each night I would talk with a few community members about their lives and my life, and reflect on how these descriptions are similar or different.  Discussion topics from these conversations include education, culture, family life/expectations and differences in career choices. From these conversations I gained a deeper insight on the intrinsic cultural differences/similarities between America and Nicaragua.” – Isaac Leve

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“Prior to coming on this trip I believed that families in developing countries lacked something important, when in fact they are perfectly content and full of love and life.  I now will always be keeping in mind the importance of family and the connection within a family unit. ” – Maggie Hamilton

“I am blown away by the strength of character, genuine smiles, and welcoming arms. They taught me so much in so little time.  I will miss every single one of them. – Hailey Peterson

“The hardest part about leaving Nicaragua is that I will also be leaving the relationships that have been built over the last weeks.  I know it is very hard going home, but I am leaving with the knowledge that both myself and members of the community have impacted each other in unique and powerful ways.” – Isaac Leve