Written by Erin O’Neill, Feed the Children Volunteer
My week spent in Nicaragua felt surreal, like when you are having a dream you never want to wake up from. We spent most days in El Crucero. My group worked on a variety of projects that included building a fence, teaching the parents the Heimlich maneuver, baking, gardening, farming, and so much more. However, the most important thing we accomplished was connecting with the people in the communities. They had so much knowledge to offer us, and getting to share stories about our different cultures was a unique experience that I’ll never forget.
At the beginning of the week, my group was given a challenge: build relationships with the people in the community. This task intimidated me much more than I would like to admit. I knew we would have a translator with us, but there were 14 of us in the group and I had never taken a Spanish class in my life. Half of the time, I forgot there was a language barrier. They knew our Spanish was not the best, and we knew their English would not be the easiest to understand. However, they did not let that stop them from engaging with us, which brought me comfort.
I’ve spent the last several weeks trying to accurately put into words how truly amazing the week I spent in Nicaragua was. I’m still searching for those words. In those seven days, I felt something I have never felt before. Every single member of the community in El Crucero opened their hearts, minds, and homes to us. They were incredibly accepting, and they constantly reminded us how grateful they were for our work. They did not let their lack of material items hinder them from dreaming big, which was especially true for my sponsored child.
Initially, I was incredibly nervous about meeting my sponsored child. Little did I know, meeting him was going to be the best experience of my life. When I got to his house, I was taken aback. It was small and made of wooden boards. The only thing that hung on the walls were pictures of his family. The only light that was present came from the sun. Despite the surrounding environment and my original fears, this child was the perfect match for me.
When we went inside to have a conversation, I asked him about school. He made a face that told me something wasn’t right. His mother informed me that he had hydrocephalus and had to be taken out of school because the activity was too much for him to handle. He told me that he had surgery two months prior to help drain the excess fluid from his brain and he hopes to return to school soon. I started to tear up because I faced something similar two years ago. My heart is smaller than the average person’s and beats at a fast, irregular pace. I told him how I had to give up many things and had surgery to help fix it. I let him know that even though it took some time, I’m back on my feet doing the things I love again. After hearing that, he smiled super wide. He said that when he grows up, he wants to be a doctor so he can help others, the same way people helped him. I still cry every time I think about that conversation. It amazed me how selfless he is. A young boy, living in poverty, wants to be one of the most respected and regarded professions in the world, and I know he will not let anything get in his way of achieving that goal.
Since I’ve returned, everyone asks me the same question, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” It’s not about the best moment, it is a collection of the relationships I built with the community. There is not a singular memory that stands out, but a continual lesson that I learned: trust. Each person trusted us with their equipment, children, land, animals, crops, etc. They trusted us with their personal experiences, hopes, and opinions. Most importantly, they trusted as strangers. We came onto their territory knowing minimal details about their culture and work, but they welcomed us with open arms. They taught me a lesson in trusting and accepting others without judgement, and that is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.