In the afternoon of June 15th, 23 student athletes and staff from the University of Oregon Athletic Department arrived in Nicaragua with the goal to work with local community counterparts to realize the dream of providing a safe space for local students to play sports. This trip is a yearly tradition for the O Heroes, a group of student athletes that dedicate time to community service and involvement.
After being greeted by a Peace Corps Volunteer, the group loaded their belongings, supplies for building the court and equipment for sports clinics into a large school bus and began the three hour journey northwest to the small public pre k – 12 school called Madre Teresa de Calcutta that served over 760 students daily. The school was located in the small village of Aurlio Carrasco and was the only school in a 30 km radius that had a population of over 34,740.
The journey across the country was abusively hot, but the students were instantly enamored with the sight of active volcanoes reflecting in bright blue lakes. Questions began flying as the bus passed small towns and the group saw houses constructed from any and everything from palm leaves to concrete. Everyone began to wonder where we would be staying and…more importantly what the food would be like.
After taking a brief look at the court sight and analyzing the work that had to be done in the morning, the group met the delightful couple who would play the role of host for the week. They had founded a local orphanage and were very excited to support the groups mission in constructing a sports court with the local school.
After unloading their belongings and timidly checking out the groups, the students arrived and began to prepare for the nights battle against mosquitoes and scorpions before going to bed. Everyone was full of anticipation for what was in store tomorrow.
The walk from the orphanage to the court site was about 1 km and the students began the walk at 730 am in the already intense sun. The students were prepped on the concept of “nico time” referring to the cultural standard that no one was ever in a hurry and there was enough time to get everything done. There had been discussion about the difference of American cultural expectations around time and work schedules and the local expectations and that it was important to “go with the flow”.
Upon arrival at the site, the group organized and began working with local students to clear and level the land. The heat grew more and more intense as morning turned to
afternoon and hands began to blister as those working on the land repeatedly hacked away at grass and compacted dirt to create the court area. The work was slow going but the athletes organized themselves into teams and began developing strategies for out to efficiently rip up the land. By the end of the work day, both the local counter parts and the student athletes were pleased to see that the land was clear and ready for the next step of leveling and then laying the concrete.
As the days progressed, the newly developed construction team encountered many hurdles including the
running out of materials, vital machinery breaking and running behind schedule. Amazingly, the students were able to organize and overcome language barriers to communicate with the local counter parts to problem solve and learn new skills. One student spent an afternoon working with the lead contractor learning how to screed cement while other student athletes became near experts in cement mixing. It was amazing to witness.
During down times, the group taught the local school children games like duck duck goose while the children taught the athletes their version of London Bridge is falling down. The athletes taught Physical Education and Spanish Classes and initiated their own version of the World Cup during recess.
On Friday the 20th, the team arrived to inaugurate the court with the school. During the past four days, the land had been cleared, leveled and the concrete had been laid. The goal posts were being placed and it was time to celebrate. The school organized a beautiful inauguration filled with singing, dancing and
recognizing everyone for the hard work over the past week.
After completing an hour of sports clinics in soccer, volley ball and basketball the team and the local students said their heartfelt goodbyes. There were tears and hugs shared and talks about how important the relationships that had been built were to each individual. The court was constructed but the real goal of creating meaningful relationships with the local community and increasing a mutual understanding between two seemly very different cultures was accomplished.
~Sara Evjen, Courts for Kids Representative
I learned that you don’t need ‘things’/ materialism to have a great time. Happpiness comes from sharing and being together with great people. I learned that taking focus constantly off yourself and apply energy and thought towards others makes me a happier and more satisfied person.
This trip has changed me in a variety of ways but mostly in not getting caught up in the little things because life is too short to waste. I also hope to slow down my lifestyle. Not being connected to technology all week has been a blessing as I feel much more immersed in the moment. I hope to stay that way at home. My understanding of my purpose is somewhat tainted as doing something like this has trumped anything that I have done on the golf course. It means so much more than individual accomplishment.
The most difficult part of leaving is leaving all the Nicaraguans behind as I feel we all bonded with them during the process.
I had a pre-conceived notion that Nicaragua was a dangerous place that was very hazardous. I now know that it is truly a beautiful country with beautiful people and the bugs weren’t all that bad.
What I learned about the world is that even though people may come from all walks of life, we are all
just striving for happiness and a caring hand. This trip has definitely humbled me. I used to take too much pride and put too much value and energy into material things. But now I realize that happiness does not come from items.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was a combination of the first view of the court and underestimating how much work we could get done each day. Until the end when we finished it and watched the kids play basketball on it. I was amazing the work we got done and how happy the kids were and how they played so happily on it!
Brandy Ann Duren
The thing I will remember most is my changing stereotype towards third world countries. Before, I always believed such places in poverty were unhappy, ravaged and in a constant state of discomfort. Leaving this trip I have learned that such places make it work. Families live in efficient, productive and ultimate high quality of life. Individuals use the most of every one of their resources in order to make life work. The best part, they not only make it work but make life a place where no sense of poverty is felt through love, commitment and making the most of an opportunity.
My favorite memory from the trip was the opening ceremony of the court. The director of the school, Marcelino, gave a speech that really stuck with me. He talked about having a court for those kids and the school was a dream that he thought would always remain a dream. ‘But we helped turn that dream into a reality’, he said, which was a cool thing to see. What I learned from the community was how simple everyone lived their lives, but they were also content. They were not upset that they did not have more, because they had so much to be happy about, and their joy rubbed off on everyone. The most
difficult part of going home is returning to a different culture that is so time oriented and driven by greed in most places. It was refreshing to see the exact opposite from the people in Nicaragua, and hopefully we can all bring bac
k that attitude and outlook on life back to our family, friends and others.