A spring break lesson
Over spring break, I traveled to León, Nicaragua with a group of about 30 Quinnipiac students. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, trailing just behind Haiti. The poverty of Nicaragua is mostly a rural problem, and just under half of its people live in rural areas. About 68 percent of the people in rural areas live off a little more than $1 U.S. a day. Could you imagine living off $1 a day? It would be impossible in the United States.
After landing at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua, our group took a two-hour bus ride to León. In León, the poverty issue was easily noticed. There were all dirt roads, houses in ruins and children walking through the streets trying to sell trinkets and different foods for tiny amounts of money. For me, the sights were depressing. I started to imagine how our host families would act; I assumed they would be sad and tired of living in poverty stricken areas. I thought about the depressing commercials shown on TV where the children were begging for food and just trying to survive. My thoughts couldn’t have been more wrong. When we pulled into La Villa (the neighborhood where our host families lived) all of the families were gathered in the street anxiously awaiting our arrival. The families had put up a sign that said “Bienvenidos, Quinnipiac!” meaning “Welcome, Quinnipiac!” As we exited the bus our host families ran up to us, introduced themselves and quickly handed us ice cream cones to welcome us.
After a few minutes, the families split up and brought each student to the homes they would be staying in. I was brought (with my roommate Rachel) to a small home at the end of the street. It had concrete walls and a tin roof. In comparison to some of the other homes on the street it was a very nice house, but in the U.S. it would be considered tiny. Despite the fact that it was small and cramped, our family was excited to show off their home and quickly welcomed us in with open arms. These people, whom I had never met or spoken to, treated me like family the moment I walked in the door.
As the week progressed, I continued to learn about how different life was in Nicaragua. A group of us worked at La Villa school and helped build sidewalks and a wall around an open-sided building that functioned as an auditorium. We learned that the younger children went to school in the mornings and then the older children attended the same school after lunch because there weren’t enough school buildings or teachers to have all students attend school at the same time. We also learned other shocking statistics like the fact there are only six cardiologists in the entire country; I think there are about six cardiologists in one office of a hospital in the U.S. That statistic shows how limited the health care in Nicaragua is.
Despite how difficult their lives may seem to people living in a developed country, these people were some of the happiest people I have ever met. Every day when we came back from working at the school, our families would greet us with smiles on their faces. The young children would run up to us and jump up for huge hugs and immediately ask us if we would play with them before dinner. At dinnertime, we would all sit down as a family and do our best to communicate through the use of Spanglish, and we would laugh when we had no idea what we were trying to say to each other. Then, every night, we would sit in the street with the kids and play, talk and dance with them until they were called in for bed. Each day was filled with hard work, but the work was worthwhile when you realized how happy the families are.
As I reflected on my time in Nicaragua, I realized how true the phrase “first world problems” could be. In our society, many of us strive to buy the next best thing, whether it is a newer car, a new generation of the iPhone or designer clothes. Yet, many times, we are not satisfied with what we have; we always have complaints and new desires. In simple terms, we are spoiled. As cliché as it sounds, this service trip changed my outlook on life. I encourage you all to remember to appreciate what you have, but never forget that there is more to life than material things.