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Saturday, May 7, 2011

NDCL Nicaragua trip: In their words

Nine Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin students spent spring break on a weeklong immersion trip in Nicaragua. Although the students may earn some school service credits for the trip, ultimately they went for the experience itself, said Greg Welch, director of campus ministry. What follows are excerpts from an interview Welch and several students gave The News-Herald this week. (See the "just the facts, ma'am" version.)

Hallie Stacho, sophomore: A lot of people, and I as well, have seen pictures like on the internet or in magazines of people who have experienced that poverty but it’s a lot different when you see it face to face, and it’s especially different when you’re talking to those people, so I was trying to prepare myself but there’s not really a way to prepare yourself completely for something that you’ve never experienced before.
Jimmy Vanek, sophomore: We experienced a lot of poverty and it was really tough to see but we also experienced the loving community of all the people down there …
Hallie: It was really moving to see a lot of children who were working at such a young age and a lot of the children were out by themselves without any parents, just working out in the streets ...
Valerie Arko, junior: I think another thing that we all agreed on is that the people are so proud of the little that they have and they wanted to share it with us and they wanted us to experience it but the little, little, little that they have they were just so proud and so happy.

Hallie: The people there have such strong faith, not just about going to church. They walk miles to church and the man who Mr. Welch was talking about who used to be an executioner and wanted to become a policeman, he carried around a rosary with him. A lot of people did. They have crosses in their homes. Their religion is everything to them.

Hallie (pointing to a photo): This was actually one of the places that the kids had toys. A lot of the places we went, there weren’t any toys. One of the kids had one roller skate and was pushing it around like a car, and then they were playing baseball with a stick and just a ball. They were already striving to have money for food so they can’t really get toys.
Welch: We bought the soccer ball for them and the Sisters (of Notre Dame) said that it was great because they had gotten balls but they were sent to them because they (the balls) were defective and that doesn’t help much.

Hallie: It was really difficult because when we were driving in our van it would stop at stoplights and people would occasionally come up to the window and want to sell things but in one instance a little girl pushed her face against the glass and she was all by herself. She was probably 6 or 7. She was asking for money and it was really hard because there was nothing that we could do and we started to drive away and she stayed with the car until she couldn’t keep up and then we just left her in the street.
Robin Jordan, junior: That was the same with me except it was the second time when we all had our money out because we were going to exchange it for córdobas and a little boy looked into our car and he saw all the money we had and he had called his family over and like four other kids came over and he was asking for just one dollar, please just one dollar, and we had to drive away from him and he got upset and he threw water at the car, but that was really hard for me.
Valerie: One of the organizations that we visited, the little boy -- we were in the van -- he said, mom can I have some water? She kind shushed him away. He said again, mom I’m really thirsty, can I have some water? And she didn’t have any water to give him. That’s so awful that a mother has to tell her child she doesn’t even have water to give him.

Welch: One of the people that will stick with me is a guy we met at night school. These are people who have to work during the day but believe enough in education that they’re coming back at night to take school and he’s in his early 20s and he wants to become a police officer and he was talking with us about (how) he was illiterate before he started coming to teen night school and telling us about the work he had done for the army as an executioner and he hoped that we didn’t feel differently about him because of that. That was a job and it was what he could get and so he isn’t doing it anymore …
Jimmy: I think they’re making great efforts and great strides towards becoming a more educated country. I think that they believe that the more education that they get, the better it’s going to help the situation out.
Robin: And the teenagers in their high school, they have a different focus. They focused a lot on recycling in their community and immigration and things like that (which) we really don’t talk about because it’s not a really big deal to us here.
Hallie: The teens there were really bright. They know a lot about their politics, their economy, and they know a lot about the USA’s politics and economy, what was going on here in comparison to there, and they asked us a lot of tough questions -- some that I didn’t even know the answers to, about what America was doing about certain issues.
Valerie: … They wanted to learn and they wanted to better themselves. There were 40-year-olds in the sixth-grade English class. It was just so inspiring …

Hallie: A lot of the organizations (we visited) were people down there who were putting their organizations together to help other people in their country, even though they needed help themselves.
Robin: What was really cool to me is in the country Nicaragua, the women are not as powerful as the men there, but most of the groups that we went to visit were groups of women who were trying to change their culture and helping their communities so that was really cool. And then they were like gradually letting men into their group…
Valerie: … The looks on their faces and the smiles whenever we would go somewhere and buy something from them -- a lot of the people had to make their own things to survive. We would wipe them out. We would buy almost everything they had and we almost felt bad and they would say thank God for days like today. It’s what kept them going.

Robin: It’s hard for me to say what was the best, but I really liked when we came back to the guest house and we had reflection and we ate dinner. That was when we mostly figured everything out and got our feelings together rand it helped us like recuperate for the next day and what we’re going to do in the future so that was a big part of the trip. …
Jimmy: My favorite place was more general, just anytime we were with children, because just seeing the smiles on their faces, running around having fun, just playing with them, seeing how happy we made them; that was probably my favorite part of the trip.
Hallie: We went to Jinotega … and we played with a lot of the kids and we couldn’t necessarily speak with them because we weren’t fluent in Spanish and they didn’t know much English but just playing with them and smiling at them, it warmed your heart. It just made you feel so good inside knowing that even though you’re not talking to them, just playing with them makes them happy. We also had a soccer match with some kids from a different part of Nicaragua and that was so much fun too because the sport just brought us together and we were falling and we were missing the ball when we tried to kick it, but we all came together with just laughs and smiles and it was a really fun time.
Welch: I was amazed at the beauty of the country especially north in Jinotega …

Robin: It was hard to leave, to leave it like that, the way it is. It was just hard to leave. I didn’t want to leave them like that. I didn’t want to leave the children. I didn’t want to leave the women. I just wanted to stay there and try to work with them help clean up their communities.
Hallie: I agree with Robin. That was a really hard part. But what goes hand in hand in that is knowing that we don’t have another trip planned yet, so it was really hard leaving and not knowing when we were going to come back to do all the stuff that we wanted to do.
Jimmy: For me the hardest part was, going off what they said, also coming back to the United States. I remember just sitting in my room the night after I came back, just looking around, (thinking), I don’t need this. There’s people throughout the world that are getting by on less than this, so it was just a humbling experience.
Robin: When were down there we pointed out all of the things that we take for granted, all of the things that are really important to us that really shouldn’t be important to us, and we’re afraid that we’re going to come back and adapt to that, like taking things for granted and thinking things are more important than what they are.
Valerie: We have so much that you don’t even realize we have. We have simple luxuries that they would never, never, even have and we take it so much for granted.
Hallie: Even at lunch on Monday, the lunch line was really long so a couple of people at my line were waiting and they were going, oh I wish the line would go faster, I’m starving. (I thought,) you’re not starving. You could go at least two more days.
Regime Willis, junior: … This morning everybody was like, I don’t want to go to school today, and I was like, go to school. We take it for granted.

Robin: One lady (we visited), she said, whether we come back or not, that she’ll still be down there fighting, and that really stuck with me too, because they’re not used to people coming back to help them or to be with them. We wanted to be that group who kept our promise and wanted to come back to them.
Valerie: The Sisters of Notre of Dame are down there and, being NDCL, we affiliate with the Sisters of Notre Dame. We’re trying to accommodate any of their needs. We’re looking at doing some type of book drive to send down there to one of the schools and raise some money, maybe, for whatever they need. … We’re also looking at trying to do another trip too, to either El Salvador or the Dominican Republic, maybe even go back to Nicaragua.
Hallie: A lot of the schools down there are in need of supplies, such as school books and stuff, and we thought about at the end of the year, when everyone cleans out their locker, a lot of people throw away half-used notebooks and stuff like that. We were thinking about collecting those, recycling pages that were already used and then sending down empty notebooks for them to use.
Jimmy: I’m trying to keep in contact. … I sent (one of the nuns) an email last night asking her if they need any help and what we can do to help.

Robin: I wanted to be an orthodontist but I’m also very interested in traveling and languages, so I always thought maybe I could do something like that. Then, I didn’t want to leave my family for a long time, but then this proved that I could leave them and so maybe I could do dentistry in other countries where they don’t have it.
Hallie: I’m interested in film producing and stuff like that, and going down there I realized that when I’m older and I do choose a career, that I could on these missionary trips, and it’s not the same as experiencing it, but for those who don’t go on missionary trips, capturing it with even a video camera is still (important).
Jimmy: It changes your outlook on life in itself. There’s so much that needs to be done in the world, I think that so many people here in America just don’t understand it -- its much different reading something than actually experiencing it.
Robin: It was hard at the time, because you were like, what can I do, but it just made me want to make everyone else in America be aware of it, people at NDCL to be aware of it, and maybe we could do something about it.
Jimmy: I think that was probably the toughest part, was just having that feeling of helplessness at the time, but also remembering that now that we’ve seen this, we can come back and we can help change it. Since I’ve been back, I’ve just wanted to do everything in my power to help fix problems down there, and I think that if we can all work together as a school and as a community, that we can really make a difference.
Hallie: It was a struggle knowing that, being there, we couldn’t do much but just learn about it, but I think the hardest part was coming back and knowing that I’m coming back to my house, to my family and my school and everything I have, but they’re still living the way they are. But Robin and Jim both said that it’s important for us to educate all the people around us on what’s going on down there and what we can do to help them now that we’re back here.

-Rachel Jackson



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