By Amanda Tuzzo
One thing I find to be very difficult in life is describing unique experiences, those in which you truly have to be there to understand the magical feeling. Experiences are often so unique in their own way and are different for each individual. After my recent trip to Nicaragua over February break, it was only after I found myself crying in the airport that I realized how much this trip truly impacted me.
Each February the organization Bridges to Community pairs with Temple Shaaray Tefila and the Bedford Presbyterian Church to bring a group of students to Nicaragua to perform community service. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go on this life-changing trip, and it is my hope, that through my voice and stories, I can share this amazing experience with all.
As soon as my group and I arrived in Las Conchitas, I was overwhelmed by the new culture as I really did not know what to expect. I was told at a meeting, prior to the trip, “Be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.” I didn’t really understand what this meant, but I continued to go with the flow and allowed things to unfold one step at a time.
Las Conchitas is a community with a school, so I passed children constantly as they flowed in and out of their classes. Each child, no matter the age or gender, said “Hola!” with a smile across their face. I immediately felt welcomed, although I hardly knew anyone.
The next morning the group of students with whom I traveled woke up at 7:00 and got ready for the day, before leaving for the worksite. Our group stood in the back of a pickup truck and drove to a different community, where we would be building a home. Prior to arriving in Nicaragua, Bridges to Community pairs with the community leadership in a Nicaraguan town for comprehensive house selection. The family whose home we ultimately build is chosen depending on what is needed by the community at that time.
At 8:00 in the morning, I put on work gloves, grabbed a shovel and began digging a five-foot hole. This was my first experience with manual labor – boy, it was definitely tough! But in the upcoming days, I became used to carrying cinder blocks and handling all of the heavy materials. Not only did my group manage to accomplish our tasks each day, but we looked forward to doing so.
At the worksite, I developed a relationship with the family whose home we were building, as well as the other people living around the area. I found myself waiting for 2:00 pm each day, when Andrea and Ashley, the children of the family whose home we were building, got out of school. Just as I find it difficult to put my experiences into words, I have trouble explaining the connections I formed with these two little girls. As they only spoke Spanish and I speak very little of it, I was concerned that the language barrier would hinder the friendships I would be able to create. I could not understand how I would develop a relationship, in which words were meaningless. But soon enough, the two little girls were attached to my hip! They showed me how to play horseshoe with materials on the worksite, we played hide-and-go-seek around the community and they were always eager to use my shovel and help build as well! The hard work was always accompanied with constant laughter!
Each night, after a long day working with cement, dirt, and dust, I would take a bucket shower, which entailed taking a bucket and a small container outside to fill them using big barrels of water. Each barrel was covered with a black wrapping so that it could heat up during the day. After filling my individual bucket and bringing it to a stall, I would use the small container to dump water on myself. This shower only contributed to the unforgettable experience I had and I wouldn’t have wanted to shower any other way!
Each day, either on the worksite or playing with the children at Las Conchitas, the connections we formed amazed me. Returning in the truck to Las Conchitas daily, our new friends would stand by calling our names as we arrived, their eyes lit with excitement.
The connections we formed with the people in the community made this trip so impactful. It is one thing to learn about a country in school or read about it on the internet or in a textbook but another to actually visit in person! The images you see, most definitely do not do the overall culture and experience justice either. Sleeping in 90-degree weather, making sure my mosquito net was tucked in at night, knowing bugs would still manage to sneak their way into the bed, bathing with a bucket because there was no running water and waking up to roosters, chickens, and pigs right outside my tent was quite an experience. So was playing card games at night because there was no Wi-Fi, making handshakes and dances with community members, looking up and saying hello to everyone we saw and interacting with families everyday!
On the last day of the trip, it was finally time for the house dedication ceremony. We wrapped the house with a ribbon and a bow for the family to cut through to their new home. Before this, we visited the house they were currently living in. The pride and dignity the family stood with as they presented their home, about 10 by 10 feet with a kitchen and a bedroom for 4 people was eye-opening. As we dedicated the house we had spent days building to them, I knew I had just literally, “put a roof over their head.” With cinder blocks and steel, sturdy to withstand any disasters, tile rather than flowing mud as a floor, and a door with a lock to protect their belongings, we had changed this family’s life forever and I now understood how we were “… the reason [people can believe] in the goodness of people.”
Each family that receives a home pays $10 each month for seven years to a community fund that is used for small business loans, school or home repairs, clinic maintenance and other purposes.
Upon returning home to the United States, I couldn’t help but feel guilty of all of my possessions. That being said, with these feelings of guilt, I remembered what one of the older Nicaraguan students told meas we were talking about my visit. He said to me, “Wow. Take advantage of your opportunity.” I took this to heart as I recalled all my new appreciations. I remembered how grateful the Nicaraguan man who I was working with was when I gave him my extra pair of work gloves. Though cliche, it is sometimes the simplest things that make the largest difference in others’ lives.
As I walked into my own bedroom when I got home, my immediate reaction was to go into my closet and create a huge bag of things that I could do without to donate. That being said, I took a step back and realized that it is not necessary to return home feeling bad for what we have, but rather, it is important to return with a new perspective on life and a desire to promote change. The lives of those who I had met are vastly different from many of ours but nonetheless less important. The people I worked with and the others I got to meet are some of the most hardworking, inspiring and loving people I’ve ever encountered and I cannot wait to return next February!