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.
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.
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.
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. :)