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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Nicaragua Volunteer Perspective: Dreana Ferguson

Written by volunteer Dreana Ferguson:

On December 31, 2014, I tried to keep my list of New Year’s resolutions short and achievable. I wanted to try new knitting patterns and explore new recipes. I wanted to focus on being kinder and gentler. I wanted to spend more time volunteering in person since, at the time, most of my volunteering was done online. Then, I added a scarier resolution. This one was difficult to write down, because I knew it would be more challenging to follow through with. Living in fear of failure is no way to live, though, and 2015 was going to be the year I changed that. So, I wrote it down: Take more chances.

Fast-forward three months. Random Acts had recently started the Crowdrise page for Dreams to Acts, and I spent a few days staring at the “join the team” button. I knew that I wanted to help, but did I want to try fundraising? What if I sucked at fundraising and didn’t raise any money? In the end, I clicked the button for a combination of reasons. Access to education is incredibly important to me, I was already familiar with the work that Random Acts does and knew that I wanted to support this project in any way possible, and I remembered my resolution to take more chances.

My involvement with Dreams to Acts marked many firsts for me. It was my first time fundraising, my first time flying alone (and my second time flying, ever), my first time leaving the country (or leaving the eastern half of the United States, really), my first time actually using my rusty Spanish to try communicating, my first time welding…. There were many, many firsts.

From the very beginning, the project challenged me and helped me grow. Several people told me that this trip would be life changing. They were right, of course, but I don’t think they realized that the project had already changed my life long before I boarded that plane in Houston. I had spent eight months pouring my heart and soul into fundraising. That alone had taught me several life lessons. I had to overcome my anxiety and learn to reach out and ask for support, knowing that the answer would sometimes be “no.” I had to be creative and persistent and remain optimistic. It was difficult and terrifying, and I’m so glad that I took the chance and experienced it.

Even though I knew this would be one of those “life changing” experiences, nothing could have prepared me for how much my time in Nicaragua actually affected me. I brought my journal with me, expecting to write down every detail of every day. Instead, I was so busy living and learning that I never had time for detailed entries. I used bullet points to mark the most important parts of each day before I fell asleep. Here are some of the highlights:

Day One, November 20th

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I was surprised by how quickly I had bonded with the other volunteers. Although we had talked on Facebook, I had just met the majority of them in person for the first time in Houston. By the time we reached San Juan del Sur, I already considered them family and felt so incredibly lucky to be sharing this experience with them.

Day Two, November 21st

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We visited the current Free High School campus and were able to sit in on classes. Despite my embarrassingly rusty Spanish, Ferdinanda and I were able to work through her English homework together. She earned a 100% on it! It was so great to finally be able to meet Free High School students in person.

Day Three, November 22nd

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We visited the construction site for the first time! Austin Drill talked to us about the work so far, explained his plans for the upcoming months, and gave us a tour of the site. Seeing it all in person was overwhelming in the best way possible. This was it. This was the place we had all worked so hard to get to.

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In the afternoon, we visited the Barrio La Planta Project, where we played icebreaker games and went on a scavenger hunt with the kids. There was a lot of running involved. There was also a lot of fun involved, though, which made the running worth it.

Day Four, November 23rd

Photo credit: Cat HammPhoto credit: Cat Hamm

Construction day! I learned that I am not so great at welding, or at bending metal into the squares pictured above. I am, however, very capable of sanding bricks, shoveling and screening dirt, and carrying full buckets from point A to point B. Being able to get my hands dirty and put physical labor into this project was so incredible. I loved every minute of it.

Day Five, November 24th

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We met with a representative from Project WOO (Wave of Optimism) and visited a health center that Austin built. It was so great to see one of his finished projects. Some of the comments he made during our initial tour of the construction site made more sense now that we could actually see what he meant. The health center was beautiful, and the visit made me even more excited about how amazing the new campus will be.

Day Six, November 25th

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This was my favorite day. My group visited a rural community to build EcoStoves and BioSand water filters.

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Oh, and a six year old girl named Vilma stole my phone, my hand, and my heart. She took over one hundred photos, mostly selfies of us and pictures of other volunteers, which she proudly showed off to others. She was fascinated by my old photos and videos, too. Her favorite was a video of my brother singing at his high school graduation.

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She was really upset when it was time for us to leave. I was, too.

Day Seven, November 26th

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I was thankful to spend Thanksgiving Day with an incredible group of people, working at the construction site. This was such a great day. It was amazing to see how much progress had been made on the new campus in such a short period of time.

Day Eight, November 27th

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This was a harder day. We said goodbye to San Juan del Sur and made the long bus ride back to Managua. We also said goodbye to Felix, the amazing man who had driven us everywhere in the bus. Watching the bus leave was more painful than I had anticipated.

Day Nine, November 28th

I was actually relieved when our flight was delayed because it meant spending a little more time with my D2A family.

“Are you excited to be home again?” My grandpa asked when I called to check in with him.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Yes, I was excited to see my friends and family again. But I was also already homesick for Nicaragua. I learned so much. I found new family members in my fellow volunteers. I had the time of my life putting physical work into building the campus I had spent so many months fundraising for. I visited amazing places and met incredible people. I was already beginning to try to figure out how to return to this place that I love so much.

I’m not so afraid of taking chances anymore.

Until next time, Nicaragua.

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You can also watch Dreana’s videos below:

Nicaragua Volunteer Perspective: Alicia Kim

Written by volunteer Alicia Kim:

More often than not, the attention surrounding a service trip focuses on the good being performed by its participants. This is, of course, natural and unsurprising, given that the trip’s objectives and accomplishments are what garner excitement about the cause and how it benefits the recipients. That being said, with each volunteer project I take part in, the more I realize that the experience brings just as much complementary good and value to my life.

Two months before Nicaragua, I was at a loss about whether I could join the team in San Juan del Sur as planned. My dad had been admitted to the hospital, which turned my world upside down overnight, and soon, my mom and I were devoting all of our waking hours to his care. However, a sudden event like this distills your priorities to the most important, and after weeks of contemplation, the list was narrowed to family, school, and service. I had been drawn to Dreams2Acts due to my passion for access to education, and I knew that I would regret not seeing the project’s progress firsthand. I’ll admit I was a nervous wreck, leaving the country during a time when things at home were up in the air. I was restless on the flight, biting my nails when I lost phone service, but in hindsight I can say with certainty that Dreams2Acts was worth it all – and more.

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What I had looked forward to the most on this trip was working at the Free High School construction site. Fundraising for the project was one thing, but pouring my own sweat into the building was a feeling unlike any other. Each metal piece I welded together had me picturing beams supporting the library, or the brand new computer room. The tiles I cut would be laid in a hallway; the brick walls we sanded providing shelter. Even though our team’s work is only a fraction of what the crew will do in the next few years, I still left a piece of my heart behind when we flew back to the States at the end of our trip.

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Being away from my real family also didn’t mean I found none in Nicaragua. In fact, I’m amazed by how I formed such incredible friendships on this trip. Two individuals stand out to me – sisters, really, whom I found through Dreams2Acts. At work sites, we were a sawing/welding/shoveling/hammering trio, and during downtimes, they were my rock, a sounding board for my personal concerns. They also made me laugh when I felt like I couldn’t smile again, were constantly inspirational and supportive. We even impressed our supervisor Don Felipe, to whom we promised we would come back next year.

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Dreams2Acts is so very special because it brings together those who might otherwise never meet and connect. This trip would not have been the same without the hugs, the conversations, the pairs of hands passing tools back and forth, mixing cement, tying wires, hauling large bricks up an unpaved hill. It was different personalities becoming a team and finding common ground in a cause very dear to our hearts. That kind of drive and positivity hold a lot of genuine power, and for that reason I believe the Free High School project will be successful until its completion.

Through this trip, I gained great friends, a family, beautiful memories. As much as I feel proud of the work that we did, the experience in return did me good in ways I had never expected. It both reaffirmed and bolstered my faith that kindness can carry us through times of trouble; holding onto compassion has been a lighthouse in a recent storm of fears and uncertainties.

This time next year, I’ll be on the opposite coast, in my first term of graduate school. Several of my teammates from this year may also be moving to start the next phases of their lives. Regardless, I have no doubt that our paths will cross again, and hopefully through Dreams2Acts 2016, not only because we believe in this campaign and the work that’s still to be done, but also due to the fact that we have become a real unit. So, in the end it doesn’t matter where we are geographically, or where we move to, because in life, it’s not where we go, but who we travel with.

Can’t wait for next year, Team. :⁠)

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