By Grace Masback
WANT Original Content
Last March, I joined 80 others on a trip to Nicaragua where we spent a week working in el Trohilo, a village of about 2000 people located between the city of Leon and the Pacific Ocean in Nicaragua’s volcanic lowlands. In the heart of what is the second poorest country in our hemisphere, el Trohilo’s poverty is punctuated by ongoing serious health issues, believed to be caused, in part, by polluted drinking water. Though the surrounding sugar cane fields offer employment for some, these jobs are low wage, dead end jobs, paying less than $5 per day. There are elementary schools and government-paid teachers right in the village, but most kids do not continue school past the fifth grade.
Those on our mission trip, which was sponsored by the Yale Alumni Service Corps, were divided into four service groups: (1) a medical team that performed health screenings and procedures; (2) a building team that added a room to the small school complex; (3) a sports team that provided daily activities to kids from el Trohilo and neighboring villages; and (4) an arts and education team that taught classes with a particular focus on arts and crafts.
We were warmly welcomed to the village. For those in need of medical evaluation and care, a week of treatment by highly trained Yale doctors and nurses was appreciated. There was no doubt that the burgeoning school-age population had outgrown the existing buildings, so the extra classroom was a valuable addition. The sports group provided two daily sessions of baseball and soccer activities and donated a substantial amount of Nike sports equipment. I was part of the elementary school teaching corps.
As with most service projects, I gained much more from the experience than the kids I was teaching. They had their regular classes from 7 am until 10 am, when we arrived. Our arrival gave the regular teaching staff a much-needed respite from their daily grind. The teachers are under-resourced and challenged – they work in cramped quarters, their schoolbooks are worn (or non-existent), they have no supplies to speak of, and the temperature can be oppressively hot. Still, the teachers were a great group, smiling and patient with us as we discussed our proposed activities.
The kids were amazing. They appreciated everything, from the decorative arts and crafts projects they got to take home every day to the songs we taught them and games we played. There was a bit of confusion caused by the fact that most of our group had rudimentary Spanish at best, and some of the younger children could not understand why we couldn’t respond to their questions. Still, they were all very well-behaved and respectful of one another. Our one-week stay didn’t change anyone’s life, but it gave the teachers a break and it provided a bit of variety to the kids.
One of the highlights for everyone involved photographs. During the week, the kids had enjoyed break times when they would grab our phones and take pictures of one another. It was obvious to us that their homes – mostly shacks made from corrugated steel — were unlikely to be festooned with family photos like our own homes. As one of our art projects, we had the kids make picture frames using popsicle sticks, beads, and local stones. And, we took a photo of each child which we were able to print out in Leon. We then presented each child with a framed picture.
There were many tears when we left el Trohilo. We had formed some true bonds with the teachers, the students, and others in the town. We also were happy to have provided a small recompense for the bad acts of the U.S. government dating back to the mid-19th Century, which greatly contributed to the chaos and poverty in Nicaragua. I hope I can return soon to this beautiful country.