The 2011 student delegates to Sacramento, their host brothers and sisters, and the community leader Soledad pause for a picture after they finished painting the community's school.
By Dana Cuykendall
After an emotional departure from their iPods, cell phones and perhaps families as well, the 24 students of the 2011 Student Delegation piled backpacks, suitcases of material aid and themselves into the cars that would whisk them away on a two-week, life altering experience.
The students went down with suitcases full of school supplies and came back with their backpacks bulging of stories from four towns: Moyogalpa, Angul, San Pedro and Sacramento. Whether they hand-constructed a new sidewalk in Angul, painted an entire school in San Pedro, built a sports court in Moyogalpa or re-painted the school in Sacramento, each student developed a personal relationship with the community and culture of Nicaragua.
Let me introduce you to our students as they were known in the community of Santiago:
- Sean, in what everyone called “the American house” (because it actually had a porcelain toilet and an indoor shower). You might call him John or a mix of the two names because the Nicaraguan kids liberally switched between them..
- Isabel, in the beach-front property with the big stereos that blasted anything and everything you can imagine. She was Eduardo’s novia (Eduardo is 1 year old and is Isabelle’s host sister’s son).
- Colby, in the bachelor pad where on any given day a gaggle of guys could be seen playing soccer out front. He also acquired the nicknames “come chili” because he ate a very spicy chili and “the kitten bather” (guess who took pity on an adorable dirty kitten?), or maybe even “king of the Mamones” because he was rarely seen without a pocket-full these delicious grape-sized fruits.
- Rosalie, in the farm house with an ever growing number of animals present inside and out. She was a late-night beach soccer match organizer and was never seen without a brother or sister in hand.
- John, in the house of Mickey the monkey. Before stepping into the community he was already el alto (“the tall one”). And on any given day you could call him Sean and no one would correct you.
- Asia, Hasel’s big sister and best friend to her cousin and sister; rarely were they seen apart. Also she was the only student with a fridge that functioned as an actual cooling unit.
- As for us chaperones? We acted as Google translates teachers, cheerleaders, and nags, but mostly as an English safety net armed with a chocolate stash to keep students going.
These are of course stories and observations that a chaperone can only hear and make from a distance. But, as an alumnus of the student delegation of 2004, I know there are many more to be told, shared on a student-to-student and very personal internal level after an intense two weeks of community bonding.
Here are some brief vistas into the hundreds of stories brought home from Sacramento: We were welcomed on Day 1 into the school amidst their Dia de los Padres celebration. Our students’ first impressions were of their host dads dancing reggaeton up to balloons and popping them to see what comical action they had to perform in front of the entire school. The students left the school not understanding much of what had just happened, but knowing that until 4 that afternoon they would have to struggle through spanglish introductions and get to know yous.
We bonded through daily 4 p.m. meetings where students compared rice and bean stories and learned vital vocabulary to help them politely refuse the next day’s serving of salty cheese. Laughing at misunderstandings and taking a giant breath together prepared everyone for the adventures of the next day. Some days we painted school walls constructed by the first student delegation to Sacramento in 2000. On other days we handed out packs of school supplies that the Bainbridge students had spent countless hours organizing, reorganizing, and naming to make sure each chavalito received their own materials.
While delegates were covered in blue and white paint some mornings, they put on bathing suits and jumped in the lake or learned new afternoons werehours covered in blue and white paint, themajority of the afternoons were doused in the lake bathing and learning new Nicaraguan games with host brothers and sisters.
Our Sundays were divided between Catholic mass and processions or Evangelical services in the mornings and bull fights and disco-like dances in the evenings. The students along with a family member from their Nicaraguan homes climbed four hours straight up through clay mud and mountain jungle to a lagoon nestled in the crater of the volcano Maderas. Victory came back at the base where a bottle of coca-cola and a plate of fries never tasted so good.
In between all the work and play were some of the most meaningful moments. These were the moments sitting on the patios of each home sharing what you could about your family and life with your new Nicaraguan family. And as the two weeks came to a close and words of goodbye were said at the despedida party, one eight year old’s words summed up the entire trip, “Me siento mi corazon lleno con ustedes y ahora me duele el corazon porque se van.” Translated, “My heart is full with you, but now that you are leaving it hurts.” Driving away the next morning few eyes were left dry watching the entire community gather to wave goodbye. Goodbye at least until next year.