I spent my spring break on the Albert Schweitzer Institute Alternative Spring Break trip to Nicaragua. Contrary to popular belief, I am not about to quit all my other clubs and only talk about Nicaragua upon my return to Quinnipiac.
People say how life-changing the trip can be. They say how it is the greatest 10 days of their lives. They say how it makes them really realize what they want to do with their lives and how they now appreciate everything so much more.
They say a lot of things. I used to want so badly to bring all of these people back down to earth and disagree with them. I so often relish being the sole voice of dissent (re: reason).
But what do I actually think? It was the greatest 10 days of my life and I now know what I want to do with the rest of it.
Some things could have been better. The issue of sustainability was obvious when the garden planted last year seemed to have been left in disrepair. The QU delegation knew little about the history of Nicaragua, myself included. The group at large also occasionally acted like they did not know how to behave outside of the United States, and exemplified some typical ugly American tendencies.
That being said, I would go on the exact same trip, time and again, if given the chance. It was the most that I have ever accomplished, for myself or other people, in any 10-day span of my life.
In our efforts to assist in building a preschool classroom, we saw mothers of the village shoveling gravel with us. We saw school children on their lunch break walking a few miles home carrying buckets of water. We saw barefoot kids running around a dirt schoolyard grinning ear to ear while playing soccer with us, even though we hardly spoke the same language. We saw the absolute joy of a whole community seeing that somebody in the world cared enough to make their lives even the tiniest bit better.
It made me rethink the audacity I exhibit while skipping a class at a $50,000 per year university with a host of inadequate excuses.
After getting over the guilt and promising myself I would no longer skip for frivolous reasons, I thought of the opportunities that I have been presented with. A gifted program and a college dual enrollment program at my high school, a world class university, parents who financially and emotionally support my endeavors into education and an extremely safe environment in which to pursue them. I realized, quite painfully, how I represent the vast minority of kids in the world. Even within the United States, I feel like I have been pretty lucky.
Executive Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute David Ives told the delegation how students with any major can become involved in development work. I am a history major, fond of policy writing and public administration. I was failing to see in my endeavors stateside where I could take this interest. My Nicaragua trip has solidified my desire to enter the world of education and enact change that I know posses the perspective to appreciate.
Then I was struck with a profound moment of perspective; realizing my size and impact relative to the world. I worked in one country, in one village, on one schoolyard, to build one half of one classroom. Greg Mortensen ran into the same moral dilemma when it seemed like every village in Pakistan pitched an idea for a school to him. I felt like no matter what I did, there would be somebody that was left out. In fact, a large number of somebodies are always left out.
Then I recalled what Nicholas Kristof said when he spoke at Quinnipiac recently; that every little action can make some discernible impact for the world at large. He urged people to get involved in development in some capacity and I wish to do the same.
I hope those that have traveled on trips similar to the one that I was just fortunate enough to experience, keep their lessons in mind. Nicaragua 2012 trip leader Stephanie Ferris says she thinks about the trip every time she brushes her teeth. The mechanism allows her a systematic way of recalling the memories and lessons every day (hopefully twice a day). I am usually silently critical of such silly little techniques, as it sounds like it is from “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
So fellow skeptics, please believe me when I tell you how worthwhile this method is. I think of the trip every time I open my journal.
Who knows, a kid attending our preschool in Nicaragua may one day grow up to be a doctor who saves your life. Maybe the kid you helped serve that hot meal to in New Haven grows up to be president. Or maybe it just makes their life better for that small amount of time you are in it. Either way, it will be more than worth your while.