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Making a Difference in the World

This past spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to Granada, Nicaragua with seven other Aquinas students for a service learning trip. In the months leading to our departure, I was super excited, but also a little nervous for what was in store for us. I knew this experience would be nothing like what I had experienced on other mission trips–so I tried my best to keep an open mind and go in with no expectations. It was a good thing I went in with no expectations, too, because nothing could of prepared me for what I experienced that week.

After two flights, a car ride, and little sleep, our group arrived in Granada late on Saturday. One of the organizations we would be working with, International Samaritan, generously provided a retreat center for us to stay at for the week–allowing us to live somewhat comfortably, even if it wasn’t as comfortable as our conditions at home. The following day, we dressed up and went on an excursion all over Granada. It was our opportunity to experience the culture and the geography of the city and its surrounding areas. During the day, we got to see some volcanoes and a lake, and we had the opportunity to go on a boat ride and go shopping at the market there. Later on, we even went to Mass that was all in Spanish. Hearing it in a different language really tested how well I knew the Mass.

It was nice to take our first full day in Nicaragua to relax and experience the way of life there, but I didn’t come to Nicaragua for a vacation. I was ready to serve. The next day, we woke up around 6 AM, enjoyed a breakfast of beans and rice (something we’d eat everyday) and then we went off to visit the local garbage dump. Many citizens in Granada and the surrounding areas make a living working at this garbage dump, sifting and sorting through heaps of trash for money. To say that the working conditions at this place were miserable would be an understatement.  Our group had the chance to meet some of the women who worked at this garbage dump, who told us about their families and how many years they had been working there. Some of these women were older and had been working there for over twenty years; others were much younger–some of whom were even pregnant. One lady we met even told us she went back to work four days after giving birth! It was such a sobering experience to visit this garbage dump. It made me want to never complain about work again, but it also made me eager to help in any way I could. Thankfully, we’d receive an opportunity to help a family employed by this garbage dump soon thereafter.

After we visited the garbage dump, we went off to a local grocery store to buy groceries for two of the families employed there. I don’t normally find grocery shopping to be difficult, but this proved to be a challenge. I was so accustomed to being able to go to the grocery store whenever I wanted and buy whatever I wanted in whatever quantity I wanted (to an extent), but that wasn’t a luxury this family shared with me, or anybody else on this trip. During this shopping trip, our budget was an amount similar to what these families spend at the grocery store–an amount much smaller than what many of us are used to spending. It wasn’t a simple task to buy a nutritiously balanced amount of food with this money, but eventually, with good teamwork, we managed to do it. After we finished shopping, we delivered this food to these two families, and had the chance to talk to them with the help our student leader Zoey and her translating.

During these visits we also learned more about the Children’s Wellness Fund, one of the organizations we’d be working with for the rest of the week. The Children’s Wellness Fund is a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the quality of life for children and families in need in the United States and the Americas through healthcare, education, and enrichment activities. In Granada, the Children’s Wellness Fund’s main objective is to help fund the education of children in families employed by the garbage dump, so these children don’t have to work at garbage dump when they are older. The Children’s Wellness Fund also builds homes for these families, many of whom live in poorly constructed shacks that don’t provide much protection or privacy. For the rest of the week, our group would be assisting with the construction of one of these new homes. We got to work immediately the next day, and for the rest of the week we helped mix cement, move bricks, paint beams and construct the frame of the home–all in ninety degree heat. Although we didn’t get to see the house get finished, it was still an emotional experience when, less than a week later, I got a picture of the finished home sent to me via email.


In a way, I actually dislike it–to an extent–when people ask me about this trip. There is no way I could ever fully describe in words, let alone a blog post, the experiences, feelings or emotions of this trip to anyone. Not only did I help change the lives of some people in need, these people in need changed the life of someone else in need–me, a person who always needs to be reminded to check his privilege. I find that to be one of the most valuable lessons I learned during this trip, and I hope and try to apply that lesson in my everyday life.


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