Children help capture joy in Nicaragua

Bethany Dionne

This is the second in a series of reports by a student who spent her spring break in Nicaragua.

Living in La Villa in Leon, Nicaragua, was a culture shock for all. There were 26 of us, 24 being Quinnipiac students who lived with host families for our week-long adventure, while the four chaperones stayed in a hotel in Leon. Although some had been there before, our new homes were still something to get used to.
In Connecticut, we don’t think twice before we throw something into the dishwasher, the laundry machine, or hop into the steaming, hot shower on a frigid January morning. It comes automatically because we are accustomed to it. In La Villa, we grew accustomed to their way of life. There was no dishwasher to wash our dishes in. Our clothes were scrubbed clean on a ribbed board in the sink, and the cold showers cooled and refreshed our hot bodies after a long day of work. It seems odd that it took almost no time at all to get used to this new way of life, but we embraced it and were ready for the new experiences.
La Villa was almost like a small town of its own; a small community on the outskirts of the city, where everyone knew each other. We had never seen such a sense of community as we did here on Spring Break. Everyone worked together like a family and took care of each other- something you unfortunately don’t see in the United States everyday. It didn’t matter whose child belonged to whom. If someone was hungry and another family was eating, they pulled up an extra chair and shared their dinner.
Erickson, a young boy around eight or nine years old was a favorite among our group, and he wandered around visiting people each night. He came from a large family and did not always get to eat supper. There was one family he spent time with every night: where he ate dinner and played games with the Nicaraguan daughter and the Quinnipiac students living in the house.
Erickson brought joy to my experience, and I looked forward to seeing him every night. I gave him an Albert Schweitzer pin the first night I met him, and everyday for the rest of the week, I noticed the pin on his shirt. Just knowing he took the time to put the pin on his shirt each day made me smile and feel appreciated. I know how much my gift meant to him, and I hope that every time he looks at it, he still thinks of me and remembers the fun we had and the laughter we shared.
This little boy gave me something in life that is unexplainable and irreplaceable. He made me feel needed the way no one else has before. He gave me a friendship I never thought I would have, regardless of our language barrier. The night before I left, he came into my room and gave me a drawing he made for me. On it, he wrote ‘friends forever.’
When I said goodbye to Erickson Friday morning, I tried to conceal my tears. As soon as he jumped into my arms, kissed my cheek and looked at me with his big brown eyes, I was not afraid. Tears streamed down my face because I knew I would miss him more than anything, and I said a silent prayer that he would be alive and healthy next spring when the next group of Quinnipiac students gets the pleasure of meeting this charmer.
We learned the value of life in Leon. We saw children who lived on the streets and who were forced to beg for food in hopes to stay alive for one more day. We saw mothers struggle to feed their children and children struggle to keep a dying parent alive. Everyone was affected by various people in Nicaragua, especially the innocent children who are forced to live a life of poverty and despair, yet still find a way to smile as you pass by.
“I first met Norlan in March of 2005 when he immediately found a place in my heart and my family,” said Jaclyn M. Trojanowski, junior social services major. “Norlan’s way of taking your hands and wrapping them around him give you a feeling of warmth and compassion are incredible. He lacks nourishment, love and attention at home because he has never met his father. His brothers and sisters live in Managua and his mother works everyday. Norlan is full of such love and affection that his smile is undoubtedly contagious. When we go to visit Norlan, we give him a sense of life and adoration and in return he fills my heart with unexplainable happiness.”
Other children are not as lucky and struggle everyday. They live on the streets and do not know when their next meal will be. They may not even have a family or someone to take care of them. Senior Christina Hood was strongly affected by a boy she saw while the group ate lunch the first afternoon in Leon.
“He was a street kid with no family and he was dirty and all by himself,” Hood said. “I gave him some food, and Eduardo [our Nicaraguan friend who plans each trip and works with David Ives planning] started crying looking at him. When I tried talking to him, he was dead to the world. You could have snapped your fingers in his ear and he wouldn’t have reacted. He was so alone and dead inside. It was the saddest experience with a child I’ve had in the two years I’ve come on the trip.”
Each student on the trip is forever changed by a child. Seeing these children smile at us and love us is the most gratifying feeling. For some, these children have inspired us to change the world we live in, to appreciate life and to not take small things for granted. Through our experiences in Nicaragua, both by working and meeting so many incredible people, we have all found something more in life we want to accomplish and change.
“Last night I had a nightmare about Nicaragua. Unlike other nightmares, I did not wake up and find relief in reality,” said Keri-Lynn McHale, junior journalism major. “The yellow school bus pulled away from the small worn away school in the middle of a field. The children were left behind in their torn, dirty, tattered clothing. I left them there. The overwhelming guilt makes my heart free fall into pain. I see their faces everywhere I go.Three young girls at the school made me feel more loved than I had in my entire life. Mylady, Tanya and Judy, stood no taller than four feet and yet I looked up to them in every way possible. Their smiles became my inspiration to work hard, love hard, and appreciate life. How can you give up on a cause when the cause is standing right next to you as you dig? Because of those girls, the fight against poverty is not just a cause anymore. The fight is not for a slogan or a belief even, the fight is for the people. For the three faces so deeply engraved in my heart and mind that I am unable to forget their struggle everyday.”