I've started to write this several times, and just couldn't come up with a better way the the travel journal style I used after we took our BWCA trip. I think it deserves better than that, so I'm going to try to concisely tell you where we went, what we did, our impressions, and even include *gasp* some pictures!
At the end of June, we departed with a small group from our church to go on a medical mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua. They have a long-standing partnership with Nicaragua Resource Network (NRN), whose goal is to help Nicaraguans help Nicaragua - primarily through education.
Our first experience with the differences between Nicaragua and the United States began at the airport. NRN recently purchased a property known as La Quinta Primavera ... and we suspect that the obvious permanence of such a move may have led to the sudden change in treatment at the airport. Our personal belongings were in our carry-ons (which was fortunate, in the heat and humidity we would have begun to smell pretty quickly without a change of clothes) and the medical equipment was in duffle bags which we checked. The government seized the duffles, and it was a good 24-36 hours before we were able to get them back. They claimed suspicion that we might be smuggling illicit drugs as vitamins. I am almost positive someone had to slip some Benjamins to get them back.
While there were some purely medical aspects to the trip in which my paramedic husband was of great assistance (health screenings of children who live at one of the schools, and a few special cases) for the most part our tasks were things in which anyone could assist. We did lice treatments/vitamin A (for vision) distribution/anti-parasitic administration and hygiene/fire safety classes at three different schools. We also went on food distributions in three communities, as well as spent some time with students sponsored by people who were on the trip.
The school visits were hectic, but the kids were amazing. Very few buildings in Nicaragua are air-conditioned, so the classrooms had either vented cinder blocks or windows. No screens, no glass. I can't imagine packing a group of American students into such an environment and getting much done. But these kids/young adults are hungry to learn and eager to pay attention. Sometimes they were eager to participate, but more on why they weren't shortly.
Tim and I volunteered to teach fire safety. With the younger students it was just plain fun ... but we felt a little silly teaching high-school students about stop, drop, and roll. Until we started asking questions. Something we take as such basic, life-saving knowledge simply isn't taught here. And these kids live in shacks of plywood and corrugated tin practically stacked on top of one another in areas where the government has given away land to anyone who builds some kind of structure on it. Their mothers cook on open fires, and those homes fortunate enough to have electricity it consists of exposed wires and bare bulbs. Short-circuit was almost always one of the first responses we were given when we asked for possible causes of fire. So we taught our hearts out. We actually got pretty good at it towards the end, and the students loved learning "Stop, Drop, and Roll" in English. When we asked for volunteers to show what that looks like, the older students usually were hesitant. I don't blame them. Despite their living conditions, they showed up to school in pressed, spotless white shirts. So Tim and I did a lot of rolling on the floor and crawling low to avoid smoke inhalation.
The food distribution was the most heartbreaking. There we were invited into the homes of people who had so little in the way of material things, but who had great joy and trust in God. They knew this food we brought (a collection of rice, beans, oil, sugar, salt, etc. which should feed a family of four for two weeks) was not from us but from God. We would stand in the dark houses, only lit by the sun coming through the door and the holes in the tin roof, on carefully swept dirt floors praying with these Nicaraguans and their families. In Nicaragua, everyone prays at once. Afterward, at one home, I remember the interpreter telling us that while we were praying for the health of her family, one mother was praying for us to be blessed at home so we could come and do this again.
We also got to meet Pablo, the boy we will be sponsoring. I was sponsoring a young lady before Tim and I even met, but she did not return to school last spring. Knowing we would be coming on this trip, I held off getting a new sponsor. I was able to ask Jenny, one of the missionaries who lives and serves out of the Quinta,
if there was someone especially in need. Pablo came to her mind. He approached her last year in the neighborhood pictured above (in Los Brasiles, just outside of Managua) asking how he could attend the school. They let him start, as a kind of trial to see how he would do. He did very well, and is working hard. He is 13 and in the 3rd grade (which isn't as unusual there as it would be here) and very determined to become a teacher so his mother won't always have to work. She cleans six days a week in a textile factory, and his step-father is a security guard, but they make probably $1 a day. Things are generally a little cheaper in Nicaragua, but definitely not that much cheaper.
After the mission part of our trip was over, Tim and I spent a few days as an addition to our brief Arkansas honeymoon relaxing at a wonderful Surf Lodge on a black-sand beach about an hour from Managua. It was a wonderful opportunity to process all that we had seen and spend some time alone together and with God before returning home. Our perspectives were definitely changed. We pray we will be back someday.