Making a difference one brick at a time

By on March 26, 2008
Matt Andrew

The definition of poverty is all relative to an individual’s personal experience with poverty.

Many people have seen the commercials on television about the dying children and have heard the horror stories of countless children perishing each day of starvation.

This past week I, along with 24 other Quinnipiac students and 6 faculty members, experienced a type of poverty unknown to many people. It is a type of poverty that seems to have no end, but desperately needs the help and support from more fortunate individuals.

Each year the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac takes about 25 students to Nicaragua for an alternative spring break. This year was the 5th anniversary for Quinnipiac, making it all that more special.

From the moment we as a delegation stepped off of the airplane in Managua, Nicaragua, we seemed to be immersed in poverty. It was not just a couple of homeless people walking down the street, but rather men washing car windows at stoplights to make ends meet, or children roaming in between traffic attempting to sell water or gum to passing cars to make a few extra cents.

People would sell fruit or used car parts to support their families. Almost every house was made out of rusted sheet metal, wood, plastic and cardboard. Some of these houses had no flushable toilets, cooking “stoves” that were merely a couple pieces of wood under a pot filled with some homemade stew, and water that was pulled up from a well in a rotten wood bucket. Many households scrubbed their clothes clean by hand, then used barbed wire as clotheslines.

While the extent to many of children’s fun was mud and dirt, parents struggled to keep food on the table.

The smell of truck exhaust, burning trash and dust was constantly engulfed in the air, while people with no shoes on their feet and a couple pieces of fruit to their name, roamed the streets.

Senior Tom Fritz explained that, “the homes here were basically boards with plywood attached. There are ten people staying in the house the size of a shed. I have never seen poverty like this. It was something I will never forget.”

Though the poverty we were experiencing seemed to be almost unbearable and the complete opposite from how we live in the United States, what happened to be extraordinary was the unity between our group and the Nicaraguans. Both communities drew together with love, generosity, and a will for a greater good.

As a group, we stayed with Nicaraguan families in a village called La Villa, just outside Leon, Nicaragua. As soon as we stepped off the bus that first night the Nicaraguan families provided us the love, compassion and generosity that every human deserves. They sacrificed their time, homes and means of living in order to provide us with the best experience possible. No matter the language, race, ethnicity, social status or age, we were all able communicate and live happily under the same roof.

While we all could not help but gawk at the immense poverty we were experiencing, we were down there to make a difference in the lives of less fortunate people. We did not go down to Nicaragua merely as a “project,” but rather to provide aid to Nicaragua citizens who needed assistance.

As a group we traveled to Nicaragua to work in a small village named La Ceiba. Our project goal was to rebuild a classroom at an elementary school and repaint several classrooms at a high school.

Senior Biology major Truong Nguyen explained that, “what the schools lacked in structure was made up by the children’s burning drive to learn and each teacher’s desire to teach and motivate.”

Throughout the week, we worked laboriously to get much accomplished at both schools. Each day featured a new task. Day one we needed to take down the original classroom that consisted of a couple of sheet metal walls and a roof held up by tree trunks. Days two and three consisted of digging new holes for support structures as well as digging a trench where the foundation of the school would lay.

Due to the fact that we did not have access to power tools during the trip, days three and four focused on tedious labor. Throughout the two days we had to cut up metal “re-bar” with a hammer and chisel, while also cutting up metal connectors in order to hold the metal “re-bar” structures together. While one group was focusing on that task, another group of students was sifting piles of concrete mix, while another group began actually creating the concrete using a shovel.

As one group of students was helping to create a new classroom, there was another group at the high school repainting classrooms for children. They spent much of the days washing, sanding and preparing the walls to be painted. In the end, they were able to completely repaint and finish two classrooms for the students.

Although our time in Nicaragua seemed to be short lived, as a group we were able accomplish many of the goals we were set out to perform. At the high school, two classrooms and the schools mural were able to be completed, while at the elementary school we were able to get about one third of the way complete with the classroom.

The Albert Schweitzer Institute was able to leave enough supplies and money in Nicaragua that will allow for Nicaraguan contractors to finish the job we started.

In the end, the trip to Nicaragua was more then simply building and painting a couple of walls. We were able to travel to the third poorest country in the America’s and make a difference in the lives of many people.

We helped create a better learning environment for children, hopefully providing them with a better chance of succeeding in school. We developed relationships, while also developing life long friendships with individuals we had only known for a week.

In the end, the trip to Nicaragua was an experience that encompassed hard work, friendships, and the satisfaction of knowing we were able to forever make an impact on the lives of many people.


About Matt Andrew