In the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to be a part of a mission trip to the Bahamas with my school's football team that radically changed my life. I witnessed poverty and conditions that I don't normally see every day. I reflected on how my standard of living was different but I also considered the similarities I have with the Bahamian people. Ultimately, I left that country thinking "how can I present more life-changing experiences like these to the teens I come across each week"? That led to the organization of a service trip to Nicaragua. The purpose of the trip was three-fold. The first goal was to bring attention to poverty and how it affects communities. Many Americans live in the "land of opportunity" and are blessed to have basic necessities such as food, clean water, clothing, and shelter. We explored how we could help do our part in making a difference in the lives of others. The second goal was to build an appreciation for our standard of living. Access to healthcare, private schools, and "stuff" are things we expect and this can sometimes lead to feelings of entitlement. The third goal was to continue to develop a brotherhood and a sense of accountability with the other young men attending this trip. This life-changing trip helped everyone return with new levels of appreciation for our many blessings along with new found friendships. Read our travel blog below for more details of our trip.
We arrived safely to Nicaragua. We were a little early and had a chance to make it to verbenas in Masaya. We enjoyed cultural dances and music with a delicious meal prepared for us. Laguna de Apoyo is very beautiful at night so I can only imagine what tomorrow will look like with the sun revealing its true character.
Our day started with a picturesque breakfast outdoors at Laguna de Apoyo. After breakfast, we hopped on our bus and took a tour of Managua and had a chance to see Loma de Tiscapa (one of the highest points in Managua with incredible views). We also visited Parque Central de Managua, the old Cathedral of Managua and El Palacio Nacional. We grabbed lunch at Ananda.
One of the most impactful moments was when we met Yamilet who shared a story of how a community lived by recycling materials from an old landfill named Chureca. Many families lived on the landfill and the Spanish government helped to build houses and make situations a little better. Yamilet explained how she found her calling to help her community through providing health screenings and medical care for malaria, dengue, chikunguya, and other illnesses. She welcomed us into her home and introduced us to her daughter.
We also had a moment to meet a community center called Podcasts for Peace (you can find them on Facebook). The kids performed dances as we sat in the audience. We read books and played a quick game of soccer before heading to La Reserva. On our way, we were welcomed by the Los Muñoz Community and were introduced to our community project. We were not expecting a formal welcome ceremony with dancers, a piñata, and refreshments. This was very humbling.
After that, we met Ofelia, our host, and she had dinner waiting for us. We had time for reflection and finished early to prepare for our service work that starts tomorrow.
Today was our first day of service. We started our day with a delicious breakfast. After breakfast, we walked 20 minutes to our worksite to help the community dig trenches to lay pipe for fresh water to 28 homes. I was so impressed with the guys' work ethic. We finished ahead of schedule today which gave us an opportunity to get a head start for tomorrow. It was great working hand-in-hand with the community members.
We came back to our lodge and had lunch and free time for a few hours. We had to change our schedule because of rain and thunderstorms but enjoyed the downtime and each other's company.
Dinner was great and we reflected before practicing our farewell dance. We ended the evening with our nightly reflection and free time.
Today, we started with breakfast and continued our work in the Los Muñoz Community. The pipes have been glued and tomorrow we hope to test the water system so that we can cover them and finish.
We had lunch and visited families in the community. Those families showed us how they live and we were humbled by what we observed. After the home visits, we played a game of soccer with about 30 people. It was an entire community event that was so much fun.
After soccer, we came back to our lodge to have dinner and then, nearly 50 people from the Los Muñoz community came over and we watched a movie together. The movie was a documentary showing the day-to-day lives of several different Nicaraguan families. This opened dialogue between the members of the Los Muñoz community and us. We discussed the similarities and differences of how we live compared to them. The boys are so excited to get back to work tomorrow!!!
To close out our day, we discussed the tragedies in Orlando and had a moment of silence and prayer for the families affected. We also did our nightly reflection.
Today was our final day of service, but before we began our day, Ofelia told us more about La Reserva Quelantara and the projects they do to save endangered sea turtles. She also told us about the eco-lodge and its history. We had breakfast before walking to our work site.
On the way to the work site, we stopped by a nearby elementary school and dropped off some games, coloring books, and other goodies for the kids. They were so excited to receive the items.
When we arrived at the worksite, most of the pipes had been glued together so we continued digging trenches to add pipe to another part of the community. We were ahead of schedule. After working, we headed back to La Reserva for lunch.
After lunch, we traveled back to the worksite to participate in the "Amazing Race". Our guys were split into their teams and were given tasks to complete throughout the community. They visited the oldest person (110 years old), a cattle farmer (many of us milked a cow for the first time), a family that makes carbon, a guitar player, and much more. It was a great time to get to know the occupations of those in the community.
We made it back to La Reserva to have dinner and relaxation. We played a few games and then had our reflection for the night.
We started our day with breakfast, as usual, and then headed to Los Cardones beach. It was very beautiful and the waves were nice! We had a delicious lunch at Los Cardones.
We returned to the Los Muñoz community to have an official ribbon cutting ceremony. It was very emotional. The community was very grateful for our help and it was great partnering with them.
Dinner was held at our lodge and we invited the Los Muñoz Community over for a farewell party. We played games, danced, and the committee gave an account for the money spent to make this new project happen. It was an incredible night!
We ended our day by completing our reflections and packing up. Tomorrow we leave La Reserva Quelantara but we have an interesting day planned.
Today was our final full-day in Nicaragua but it was a lot of fun. We had our last breakfast at La Reserva Quelantara and thanked Ofelia and her staff for their hospitality. Then we headed out for a few excursions.
We surprised the guys with a visit to the Volcan Masaya, one of the world’s few active volcanoes. The site was incredible. We had a chance to see lava and feel the heat of the volcano (no worries though, we were very far away). Because of safety, we could only stay for about five minutes, per the park ranger. This was, hands-down, the most interesting thing I have ever witnessed. It is highly unlikely that we will ever experience an active volcano like this again.
Next we toured Las Isletas. This is a chain of 365 small, volcanic island formed thousands of years ago. We only saw a few of the islands. It was very scenic and the weather was great.
We ate lunch at the Garden Cafe. Most guys ordered cheeseburgers (the first time we had an “American” meal the entire week). We then packed up and went shopping in the markets.
Originally, we planned to travel back to Hostal Paradiso in Laguna de Apoyo but we ended up staying at La Abuela across the lake. It was incredible. We had an awesome time jumping off the dock and swimming in the volcanic crater lake. I have to admit, I was afraid to jump off the dock but I was pressured into doing it and I ended up taking a faceplant directly into the water. After trying to fix my bloody tongue, I managed to jump another two times.
We ate our final dinner and then had our evening reflection beside the lake. We ended the night with some free time. This day could not have been any better. It was the perfect ending to an awesome week of service.
We are still trying to take everything in from the week. Since we had such an awesome time swimming last night, the guys were given an option to have morning swim time or sleep in. A handful of us chose to go for an early morning swim. It was very serene and the natural landscape was breathtaking.
After our morning swim, we had our final breakfast and the guys completed one final reflection but this one wasn’t personal. They reflected by sharing something positive about each other. This was a great final touch after seven days of life-changing experiences.
We would like to take this time to thank all of our supporters for their help in making this trip impactful. Parents, chaperones, donors, friends, and the people of Nicaragua helped to make this a life-changing experience. A special thanks to Global Works Travel for being our travel partner. We truly appreciate all of you.