Nicaragua Service Trip 2018
At the beginning of Spring Break, thirteen Brentwood students and two chaperones stepped out of the Managua airport, bleary-eyed from travelling overnight, into a climate totally different from the temperate rainforest of Vancouver Island. A four-hour van ride took us to Monty’s Beach Lodge, in the coastal community of Jiquilillo, Nicaragua, where we stayed for ten days.
The country of Nicaragua boasts many beauties, including mangrove forests rich in biodiversity, picturesque beaches, and majestic volcanoes. It also has, despite recent trends towards improvement, one of the highest poverty rates in the western hemisphere and a significant negative environmental impact. That’s why we were there for a service learning trip.
One of Monty’s main projects is building houses in Villa Esperanza – the Village of Hope – for single mothers whose beachside homes have been destroyed by rising sea levels. We were privileged to be able to work alongside local residents, including the beneficiary, to contribute to the construction of a house. While trained masons laid the cinderblocks of the walls, we dug a two-meter-deep hole for the outhouse, sifted sand to make concrete, and moved rocks into the foundation of the house.
There were also multiple opportunities to teach English lessons at the community centre in Jiquilillo, and at the school in Villa Esperanza. These English classes are taught by volunteers and are free for anyone who wants to attend. Many of the people who came to the lessons had just started learning English, so those of us with limited Spanish abilities had to get creative with communication! Nevertheless, they learned some English, we learned some Spanish, and everyone had fun. Their appreciation for basic education and opportunities is certainly a lesson to remember next time we think about complaining about something at Brentwood.
Nicaragua has very little in the way of waste management, no garbage collection services outside of the cities, and little recognition of the importance of environmental sustainability or preservation. As Lucila G, Hope ’19, said, “The impactful part of going on this trip was not only the poverty, but also the absence of education”. This lack of knowledge leads to burning of all waste, garbage scattered on the ground, and plastics on the beaches and in the oceans. The final consequence is of grave concern to many, including those at Monty’s, because microplastics – tiny, sometimes invisible, plastic particles – look exactly like dinner to a fish. To make what difference we can, our group did two local beach clean-ups, focussing on the tiny bits, as well as larger pieces. Although locals mostly look on without participating, we were thrilled to have two children voluntarily join us on the second clean-up.
One group of Nicaraguans who, literally, survive by recycling, are the residents of El Limonal. When their homes were destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, about 1,800 people were relocated to a site next to the Chinandega garbage dump. Despite promises that the move would be temporary, they are still there. These people sort through waste as trucks deliver it from Chinandega, and pick out any recyclables, which they sell for about $1US per day. To assist these families, and allow their children to be as healthy as possible, Monty’s runs a soup kitchen at El Limonal. We helped out with this initiative one day, cooking and serving three enormous pots of soup to anyone who came with a pail or jug to eat it from.
Of course, we did not work the entire time we were in Nicaragua. Monty’s is right on a beautiful beach with excellent surf waves and temperatures much more pleasant than the ocean at Brentwood! The beach faces west, so the sunset view from late-afternoon hammock sessions was incredible. We were also offered the opportunity to go on a sunrise paddle and exploration of the mangrove forests, as well as an educational boat tour and explanation of the biological importance of this unique habitat.
One day held an excursion to the Cerro Negro volcano: a beautiful, if windy, hike up, and an exhilarating slide down! Cerro Negro is still active, although it is closely monitored to make sure that it is safe for people to visit. After everyone had had a turn to slide down the volcano, we headed off to the city of Léon for lunch and some free time, in which we could admire the beautiful artwork in the cathedral and wander through the market.
Each evening, the group met to reflect on challenges, positive experiences, and lessons of the day. A recurring theme of these discussions was appreciation and finding happiness in simple things – something that people at Brentwood often forget. Lucila observed: “Even though the people in the garbage dump were experiencing an incredibly hard time, they still look happier than many rich people do”.
Nicaragua is many things: home to six million people, the land of lakes and volcanoes, and one of the poorest countries – but one of the happiest – in the western hemisphere. To us, Nicaragua is absolutely unforgettable.
Hannah R, Mackenzie ‘18