Last month, I traveled to Nicaragua. What I saw left me in a quandary.
What can writers do to better the world?
My destination was Ameya- a little village lined with shacks along a dirt road near the Western coastal region of Nicaragua. My church partnered with Food for the Hungry and sent a team of us to lay a foundation for a classroom and to present a VBS for children.
Write About Organizations Like Food for the Hungry
Food for the Hungry believes that the way to empower the poor is NOT to create dependency. Community members participate in and take ownership of projects. So, while our church team was sweating, the community was sweating with us.
Write About Inspiring Youth
On the first work day, a fourteen-year-old named Jose watched us dig and smooth out dirt from a ditch. A brimmed hat shaded my face from the equator sun, but sweat still soaked my shirt.
Jose left his buddies to join me and take my shovel. By the next day, he recruited fellow teenager, Marco, the good-hearted, to join us. In broken Spanish, I affirmed, “Jose, you’re a leader.”
Jose’s parents abandoned him four years ago and left him with a family friend. He struggles with a learning disability and, like many diamonds in the rough, a strong will. During the week, the family friend vented to one of our team members, while Jose listened. Pointing at the teen, she scowled, “If you want him, you can take him.” Jose left the room. His path is not an easy one. What will be his future?
Write About Global Friendship
Elieser is Jose’s friend. Hooked to his Ipod, Elieser didn’t understand what his favorite American musician was saying, so he asked me to explain. Poor kid.
Interpreting was a stretch. I didn’t understand what the rapper was saying in English, nor could I understand Elieser’s interpretation of the rap dude. Finally, I was able to come up with a slangy- “How-Yo-doing?” as the English version and “Como estas?” as the simple, Spanish translation.
Elieser’s face fell and I could see him thinking, “how lame.”
Jose laughed and put his arm around Elieser. He then asked me to take a picture of the two of them. Taking “fotos” and videos is a big dealie deal. Villagers didn’t appear to own cameras. I was smiling as they smiled at me. Click.
Write About Girl Power
I noticed thirteen-year-old Heydi in the afternoon on the first day of vacation Bible school. A cell phone was hanging out of the front of her shirt. How do kids that don’t have running water in their homes gain access to IPods and cell phones?
Heydi befriended me on day two. When I attempted a conversation in Spanish, she was graciously attentive. I learned that while she’s thirteen or maybe even fourteen (many children don’t have birth certificates), she’s a fifth grader. Being a year or more behind in school is quite common.
Any child older than age thirteen is not eligible for sponsorship through Food for the Hungry’s child sponsorship program. We saw many late teen and early twenty-something mothers. What will become of them? Most don’t have an education beyond grade school.
I pulled a children’s book, written in both English and Spanish, from my backpack. Heydi and I sat in a pile of construction gravel, while I read to her. She asked thoughtful questions and we discussed the meanings of various words. We talked about the importance of pursuing an education and staying away from boys- at least for awhile.
Write About Education
On our last day, the teens were milling around their school. I asked, “Porque- why?”
“The teacher didn’t show up,” was the nonchalant answer, given as though ho-hum- that’s just the way it is. My friend, Julie, and I offered to teach. The unanimous response was, “Sure.” The young teens carried desks to the dirt courtyard and hung a white board from two nails on the tree. The outdoors is their current center for learning until a classroom is built for this age group. Fortunately, we had nice weather all week. When it rains, school is cancelled for older kids.
I used to teach high school and college English in America. I will never forget this group from Nicaragua.
With no books and spontaneous teachers, they took notes like the world depended on that lesson. Everything we wrote down they quickly copied to their papers.
Those kids walked a mile along their community’s dirt road to get to school. They did not begin the day with warm showers. There were no teachers, administrators, or front office staff taking attendance and following-up with calls to the parents that morning. Truancy officers weren’t locating those who skipped school. The special education teacher didn’t work individually with the child on the IEP. What special education teacher? An I-E- what?
Many teens, like Heydi, are in charge of younger siblings or cousins, while parents work in fields. Did the children even eat breakfast that morning?
Write About World Truth
They battle such deficiencies, but overcome so much with earnestness. Inspiring! We have no excuses in developed countries. Really, we don’t. Our pioneer past could be compared to the current reality in Nicaragua.
They withstand the elements, but come to life with appreciation. Their stick, tin, and tarp homes are decorated with colorful flowers hanging from make-shift pots. Cooking takes place over wood fires in stone stoves, but the meals are hearty. The lack of stuff- the lack of choice- the lack of pampering seems to have bolstered their desire to learn and to improve their community’s condition.
Write to Inspire a Better World
Upon our team’s return, I was encouraged to hear news from Food for the Hungry that Ameya’s teenagers united on a project. They approached the land owner’s foreman, who agreed to donate the edge of a field for soccer. The teenagers gathered to build goal posts and to form a team. They’re considering playing other communities on the weekends at their new soccer field. I’m smiling!
Write to Better the World
What can I do? What can you do?
- Participate in a missions trip.
- Unite with other organizations in the communities you target. (I found an organization in Ameya- Biblioteca Esperanza y Gracia that is raising funds for mobile libraries.)
- Blog or tweet about opportunities to help widows and orphans.
- Partner with organizations to bring electricity and Internet connections to remote communities. Internet access can stimulate economies.
So, do share. How are you using your gifts to better our world?