Project: Nigaragua with Amigos For Christ, 2009
The experience with Amigos for Christ in Nicaragua was, in a word, incredible. This trip was different from the one I took last year to South Africa in a few ways – it was a smaller group (only about 50 of us were there this week), and we were a little more casual about time. This came to be known as “Nica Time” – when we would aim to do something at say 9am, and would actually get started around 10:30am.
We worked – HARD. Between shoveling stuff called ‘material selecto’ (basically a mixture of sand and small and large rocks), mixing/pouring concrete, and hand-digging 10′ x 3′ x 3′ ditches for a warehouse foundation, we were all exhausted by the end of our workdays. Combine this back-breaking work with the 90+ degree & seemingly 100% humidity days (every day!) and that’s basically what the week consisted of.
Our Nicaraguan colleagues worked hard right alongside us. Each day, people from the communities we worked in came out and shoveled, dug, hauled, lifted, and sweated with us. The Nicaraguans work hard for what they have, even though to us it may not seem to be much. They take pride in this because of the fact that they have worked so hard for it. This inspired me to work even harder, knowing that the people we were doing these projects for were so willing to put their own sweat equity into the work that was being done to assist their communities. All too often, I feel jaded because of the lack of willingness to work I see here a lot in the US. My faith in hard work was renewed after this experience.
During the week, we took a trip to the Chinandega garbage dump. There are people who actually live there; daily life for them consists of picking through mounds of trash looking for recyclable material to trade for Cordobas. On any given day, most of them can find enough trash to earn about 6 cordobas (about $0.25 US) which might be enough to get them rice and beans for one day. Amigos For Christ is working with these people to help them get out of the garbage dump and to a community called Villa Catalina – a community built with love by efforts from Amigos and the people who used to live in the dump. We visited the Villa later in the afternoon and it was inspiring to see what the people there have done to turn their lives around from where they came from.
We also visited a special needs orphanage in town. The children at this orphanage have physical and mental challenges and need round-the-clock care. The women who work here have essentially given their lives to take care of these children. I ended up sitting with a 12 year old girl named Yaosca who could neither walk nor speak. It was an emotional morning for most of us, and the children were so pleased to have people sit with them, play with them, and basically just be there with them.
At the end of the week after all our work was complete, we took a day trip to La Playa Roca on the Pacific coast. As a girl who grew up 15 minutes from the Gulf Coast, this was a special treat to me. The beach is volcanic ash and rock so it’s black sand, and the surf was high that day. There was a lagoon down the beach which was safe, so we went swimming there and hung around for the sunset – absolutely gorgeous! A perfect end to an inspiring week.
Some of my observations from the week:
- John Bland, the man who started Amigos For Christ, had gotten in touch with some high school buddies. They passed the word around and there were about 12 guys who’d gone to high school together about 30 years ago who came down to work. A couple of them brought children and grandchildren. It was really neat to know that they had arranged a little ‘reunion’ to do service work.
- The Nicaraguans were eager to help us understand their language. I took Spanish all through high school but never used it so it was a bit rusty, but over the week it started coming back to me. The next time I visit a Spanish speaking country, I will do a little more prep work with the language. I think I missed out on some interaction because I couldn’t communicate as well as I wanted.
- Spending time with the children was priceless. On our last day, I brought a tub of fingernail polish and painted the little girls’ nails. I must have spent about 2 hours doing this, and it was such a treat for the little girls. The children help their families make money, so there isn’t much time for play. They know when we’re there, they’re going to get some playtime. Loving on the kids is one of my favorite things to do on trips like this!
- The work ethic there is outstanding. People typically only have hand tools to do manual labor, so it’s intense and they work REALLY hard.
- Our Amigos hosts were wonderful, we were well-fed all week and they were very kind to us. They see a lot of groups come and go through their home; they were very hospitable to us.
I’m getting addicted to doing things like this. The feelings of fulfillment and renewal of faith I come back with are priceless. Experiences like the one in Nicaragua help me to put my own daily issues into perspective in the grand scheme of things. When we take our eyes off of ourselves and do stuff for someone else, things always seem to get better. There is something special about serving those who need it, and the gratitude you receive in return just warms your heart. There is another trip to South Africa being planned for April 2010; I am giving serious consideration to returning. Would you like to come too? Let me know!
If you’d like to see pictures from my mission trip to Nicaragua, you can check them out here on Facebook!
I returned safe and sound from Africa on Saturday, November 29th around 11:30am. It has taken me this long really to just digest this whole experience! Admittedly, it’s weird being back, and having been in the company of at least 200 people for the last 10 days, it’s strange to be back in my little home office working alone once again. I’m still suffering from a bit of jet-lag; getting tired at 8:45pm is unusual for me, but if I go to bed now I will be up again at 3am!
South Africa was, in a word, amazing. My trip started off with a short hour flight from Dayton to IAD (DC) leaving my group with a 6 hour layover in the DC airport. We wandered around for awhile in anticipation of our departure, and discovered that there were 2 other mission groups on our flight heading over to South Africa! Imagine that. We were on an Airbus 340-600 (the largest one manufactured at this time) so our flight was a straight 14 hour flight from DC to Johannesburg (pronounced joe-, not yo-). We arrived around 4pm Jo-burg time on Friday (10 hours ahead of you all on the West Coast) to a fantastic welcome from our Mamelodi friends – seriously, horns, dancing, LOTS of hugs…it was fantastic. We hustled off to our first hotel, theKopanong, for the evening. On Saturday, we went to the Apartheid Museum first and then off to the Pilanesberg National Park for a game drive. Short list of some of the animals I saw included hippos, rhinos, warthogs (Pumba!), red hartebeest, impala, springbuck, waterbuck, and a beautiful giraffe (my tour group was the only
one that saw a giraffe, and I think that was especially for me to get a photo to give to one of my prayer partners who is obsessed with them J) It was fantastic to see all these critters in their natural habitat and to take in some of the history and beauty of this country before setting off to work. We moved to Pretoria and settled into our home for the week, the Manhattan Hotel.
On Sunday, we visited the Charity and Faith Mission Church campus and received tours of the hospice, the school, and the orphanage. This campus is truly the center of its community – there are over 300 children who attend school here and there are currently 6 orphans who live in the orphanage. We got to meet some of the men who were being cared for in the hospice as well, and quite wondrously, many of their conditions had been steadily improving with the love and care they were receiving at the hospice (most were HIV/AIDS patients). Later that day, we were paired with our host families. My family consisted of a mom, Johanna, her 26 year old daughter Sara, and Sara’s daughter, Wisdom. Johanna’s 2 younger sons also lived at home. Johanna is a seamstress by trade and she showed us some of the beautiful clothing she makes for people. Their home was very nice by the neighborhood’s standards even though the roof was made of tin and was unfinished, and there was no indoor plumbing. The bathroom was an outhouse behind the home and the “sink” a tub with a faucet beside the outhouse. No A/C of course. Truly made me appreciate my modest little apartment which houses only myself and the kitties.
Monday, the work began. And it did not end until we left. I’m serious, we worked HARD all week – it was in the mid-80s all week, and I think I sweated off about 10 lb and brought home a yard’s worth of dirt in my shoes every afternoon. I was on one of the gardening teams, and I think that we got to experience the most out of all the work groups. We got to go out into the communities and work hand in hand with the local folks, play with the kids, and also accomplish the task of planting self-sustaining gardens for those in our assigned neighborhoods. We had “bodyguards” with us the whole week, as the crime rate in South Africa is among the highest in the world, and white people are a rare sight in Mamelodi. There were some children we met last week who I’m sure had never seen a white person before. It was interesting because the kids were running their hands up and down my forearms b/c I shave them, and it was something they’d never seen or felt before.
I don’t know how many gardens we built, because the main purpose of us being there was to build into the community. Once word got out that we were in the area, we had a brood of about 15-20 kids following us around all week. We had to assign people from our team to play with the kids just to keep them out of the way while we gardened. In each garden we planted spinach and cabbage plants, and of course we encouraged the homeowners to pitch in and help. Once we finished each garden, we prayed with the homeowners around the garden. One woman we prayed with had just found out she was HIV positive, and another older woman had just been involved in a car bombing and her brother was still in ICU. It was truly eye-opening to experience a few days of life with these people.
Over the course of the week, some of the older boys and girls in the neighborhood came around with us and helped us plant our gardens. It amazed me to see how everyone helped take care of each other – there was a real sense of community. I had a pair of shorts that I bought with a soccer jersey over the course of the week that I ended up giving to Nelson, one of the boys who had been a huge help to us. When I handed them to him, you would have thought that I had just handed him a million dollars. Such simple gestures brought so much happiness to so many people all week long, it made me feel sad and petty for some of the things that I feel unsatisfied with…
We had a special treat on Tuesday, as the news of what we were doing had reached the US Embassy in South Africa, and the US Ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost, came to speak to our work groups. This was fantastic because it brought exposure to the partnership with Charity and Faith and the attention not only of the US government, but the South African government as well. Hopefully this will bring some additional governmental aid to the cause for C&F. As an interesting little side-note, the Ambassador gave a shout-out toward the end of his talk with us to one of my company’s new clients, Chevron, citing how they are a good example of a good corporate citizen in South Africa. I posted this video posted on my blog – feel free to check it out
. The link has already been sent to our Chevron team at work and perhaps they’ll be able to use some of it in their work!
We did get to go to a Mamelodi Sundowns soccer game on Wednesday night. They were playing the Orlando Pirates (Orlando, South Africa). I think I had more fun watching the fans than then actual game! The Sundowns fans are seriously nuts for their team – I have some videos of whole sections of the stadium dancing in unison – that’s approximately 1000 people all clapping and moving together. They put our sporting events fans to shame.
Friday, we visited an African market before heading back to the airport. We hit a little traffic on our way back, and thus were later than we had wanted to be getting to the airport. We waited in line to check in for 2 hours (!!) and they had to hold our plane for us to make it. I was literally running through the airport to get there. Consequently my bag did not make it to the US on that flight, and I finally got it yesterday. We had an hour stop in Dakar, Senegal, on the way back to refuel, making the return trip from Jo-burg to DC a 17 hour flight. My group was supposed to have an additional 6 hour layover in DC to get back to Dayton, but we ran, once again, through the airport and were barely able to get ourselves on to the earlier flight in order to get home a few hours early.
All in all, an absolutely fantastic, productive, and worthwhile trip. I made some wonderful new friends, both from here and there in South Africa. In fact, one girl who worked with our gardening team all week reminded me so much of one of my prayer partners, both a little in her appearance and certainly in her sweet demeanor. Her name is Athalia, and she is coming to the US with a group of people next year. I told her I would be pleased to host her when she comes.
Thanks to all of you for your prayers and good wishes for this trip. Without you, this experience would not have been possible. The people I met, the things I saw, and the feelings I felt, are all in part connected to your generosity and your caring – so thank you, thank you, thank you from the depths of my heart. I cannot wait to do this again in 2010.
“Small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace.” ~Mother Teresa
22 Comments so far
Leave a comment