I had the opportunity to be a participant of a service learning experience with the ACT office (Appalachian & the Community Together) this past spring break. I had never been to Nicaragua before, nor really had the opportunity to do hands-on service internationally and it was a truly amazing and life changing experience. The trip included two student leaders of the group as well as a faculty member who was extremely helpful because he is a fluent Spanish speaking professor since many members of the trip (including myself!) only knew the basics in Spanish.
There were 10 other students, including myself, and I only knew one of them before coming into this experience. I was scared to go to a foreign country with so many people that I did not really know in a country that speaks a language I am not completely comfortable speaking in. But on Saturday March 11th, we all hopped on that plan to adventure together and help these children in Nicaragua who were in need of our help.
When we arrived in Nicaragua, we waited for our bus to arrive to take us to our first hostel, which is like a small hotel. When we arrived at the hostel, we all divided up and found which rooms and beds we were going to be living in for the next week. Once we rested for a little while, we went out to begin sightseeing in the beautiful city of Granada, Nicaragua. The next day, we had the opportunity to have one day off and climb to the top of an active volcano and then zip line down afterwards. Despite being afraid of heights, this was an absolutely beautiful experience to look down at parts of Nicaragua and capture the true beauty of this country.
That Monday began our service for the Mercedes School, which was about a thirty minute walk each day to and from through the daily market and across busy roads. The school in the morning is for younger children, more like our elementary and middle school children here in the States, and in the afternoon would be more like our high school aged students.
Our service project was to build a new entrance to this school because they were unable to even open the doors without a struggle because of the mound of dirt that was in front of it. The first few days consisted of digging and dumping the dirt mound that was in front of the entrance to the school in order to clear the area in front of the doors. The best part about this was when our faculty member chased down a Coca-Cola truck when the man in the back of the truck wanted to give us a free bottle of Coca-Cola, which cooled us down on these very hot and manual labor filled days.
The next few days consisted of making cement and placing out cement blocks on the side to create the ramp for the entrance to the school. On the last day, even though not pictured, we painted the doors to the entrance of the school to paint over the graffiti that were on the doors to make the entrance more welcoming, especially for the younger aged children. Every afternoon of each day we had the ability to hang out with the after school program children and played soccer, frisbee, jump rope and more with them.
I can truly say that I have never worked so hard in my life, but this was the most rewarding experience of my life. I went to Nicaragua with 12 strangers, and left with 12 really amazing and close friends.