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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Nicaragua Volunteer Perspective: Taylor Hardman

Written by volunteer Taylor Hardman:

It has been nearly two months since we left Nicaragua, and yet, I’m still clinging to the experience. I was still living out of my suitcase up until two weeks ago. I still carry Nicaraguan Cordobas around in my wallet as if there was somehow any possibility of being able to spend them here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.

I am in what I would call “Denial with a capital D”. Because despite a loving family and a comfortable existence here in America, I would pack up and move to Nicaragua in a heartbeat, and I am sure I am not the only team member who feels this way.

When I was fundraising for this trip, I refused to allow myself to believe that I would not make it. I believed so strongly in what Random Acts was doing in Nicaragua, I would not allow myself to be left behind. I discovered Random Acts just as fundraising for the third and final Haiti trip was wrapping up, too late for me to join. I watched from afar all of the wonderful things that Random Acts achieved in Haiti and knew, even all those years ago, that I would not let another trip pass me by. I think many of the volunteers will agree with me when I say that fundraising the $5,000 to be able to go on this trip, it’s no cakewalk. It’s one of the most difficult fundraising endeavours I have ever attempted. But it meant telling every single person I encountered in the 6 months I was fundraising about this incredible project I was a part of. By the time that I left for Nicaragua, every single person in my life knew exactly why I was taking time off work, off school, because I had spent the last six months talking their ear off about this project, making them believe in it as much as I did. That’s what it takes.

Nicaragua changed everything about the way that I look at the world. I left Seattle on day one foolishly hoping that I would be able to help make a positive change in the community of San Juan del Sur by participating in this project. I should have known then, how much San Juan del Sur would change me instead. How much it would change my perception of kindness, how much I took everything that I have for granted. You do not truly appreciate an unlimited supply of clean, drinkable water—easily accessible from a tap—until you have to purify every drop you can drink. You don’t realize how easy it is to pursue education, even despite the rising cost of university, until you see how far people have traveled and how much they have sacrificed just to attend high school. How long many have had to wait for even the opportunity.

Nicaragua has one of the largest wealth distribution gaps in the western hemisphere. I had seen this before in other countries, on other aid trips, but nevermore has that fact hit me so hard as when I was working in the rural community outside of San Juan del Sur. I was a part of the team building bio-sand water filters so that the people of the community could have a source of clean drinking water. While we were there, we saw the well where they would normally retrieve their water from, not much more than a deep hole in the ground filled with murky water. As I stood there, holding part of the piping contraption that would turn this water into something drinkable, I received a text message.

Let me tell you how it feels to be holding evidence of a lack of ability to provide clean water to the people, and receive a text message, proof of at least a decently complex cellular infrastructure fairly far away from the main city. It burns away at your insides. Yes, on the news, you hear all the time about clean drinking water being a problem in many parts of the world. Always, it seems like it’s happening a world away, as long as it doesn’t affect ‘ME’, it’s easy to file away and not think about it while you eat Taco Bell and enjoy the free Wifi. There, in a small ditch on the side of the road in Nicaragua, I finally understood. Somehow, cellular service had become either more important or easier to provide than the most basic needs of the poor. It both broke my heart and strengthened my resolve. While I can’t do a lot about creating the infrastructure necessary in the government to make sure the basic needs of these people are met, I can care. I can keep going back, keep helping them to build, keep fundraising to both raise awareness and provide support that their infrastructure hasn’t been able to. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what this community needs, but we have to start somewhere.

I’ll be going back to Nicaragua next year. I know this not because I’ve already raised the qualifying money or anything, but because I refuse to allow myself to fail. Which is probably one of the biggest changes Nicaragua has made to me personally. It’s given me the fire and drive to refuse to allow myself to fail. Sure, there will be stumbling blocks along the way, there always are. But I’m not going to let this community down that I’ve grown to care for so deeply. I’m not saying it won’t be difficult. Getting the general public to care about something happening a long way from here is sometimes like pulling teeth. Other times it can be the most rewarding experience you will ever find.

In Nicaragua, we didn’t like to talk about leaving, because it made us sad to know that soon, we would have to leave this community that we loved, and we would have to leave each other, these sisters we had bonded with so quickly. Instead of talking about leaving we would say “Wombat”. So, until next year rolls around, I’ll be here, still telling everybody I know about this project.

I refuse to wombat.

-Taylor

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Nicaragua Volunteer Perspective: Taylor Kauffman

Written by volunteer Taylor Kauffman:

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When people ask me how the trip was I respond with something along the lines of “awesome,” “amazing,” “one of the best experiences of my life”, all of which are true but none fully encompass the way I feel. In fact, it took me so long to write this because I had so many thoughts swirling around in my head, I couldn’t decide which to write about. So, in an attempt to organize my whirlwind of feelings, I figured I’d just start from the beginning:

I found out about the Dreams 2 Acts campaign about two months before the contest deadline. Though the odds were not in my favor, I’ve always loved a challenge and, more importantly, the story of The Free High School really inspired me. So I decided to fundraise. I won’t bore you with the details of my efforts, so long story short, I failed to reach my $5,000 goal. I was terribly disappointed, but satisfied knowing the money I raised was going to a great cause.

To my pleasant surprise, several weeks later I received a notification that I had won the raffle and was welcome to attend the Nicaragua trip in November. I was so excited, not just for the adventure of travel, but because I would meet all of the super cool people who had been involved in D2A (both the recipients of its efforts and those who contributed to it). I expected to see some fascinating things, but I never expected the depth of experience the trip would provide. It left me with an appreciation for a different way of life and a realization of the blessings I have in my own.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was working on the construction of the new campus. There I was, all 5’1” of me, up on the scaffolding, bending metal, welding iron… I can continue but I won’t. Looking back at the photos I quickly realized I felt much cooler than I actually looked. But whether or not my metalwork technique could make the cover of Construction Weekly, it felt amazing to see an idea turning into something tangible, and to know that I was playing a part in that (however small a part it was).

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Working on the campus was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. But another thing that really resonated with me was meeting the people of San Juan del Sur. Before the trip, I didn’t have many preconceptions of what it would be like, but what I experienced was beyond anything I had imagined. The locals were some of the most welcoming, compassionate and hardworking individuals I have encountered. I remember one day in the rural communities a little girl, about six years old, grabbed my finger and dragged me around her house, showing me anything and everything in sight. Though her house was made only of thin strips of wood, corrugated metal sheets, and a large tarp, she was proud to call this place her home. And through her eyes I could see the beauty in it too. Her family had worked hard for what they had and that was something to be proud of. As cliché as it sounds, seeing this reminded me that the most important things in life are the people in it. And thanks to this trip I now have 32 more amazing people in my life.

Another thing that sticks out in my mind is the work ethic of everyone we met. One afternoon, using my broken Spanish, I spoke with a professor and some students of The Free High School. We started out with the basics: favorite school subjects, sports, music, etc. I learned some new things but we also had a lot in common and that was really cool. Then we began talking about Dreams 2 Acts. Suddenly, one of the students who been quiet all afternoon looked up. Still entertaining the young infant seated on her lap, she turned to me and said, “we know we are not entitled to the things we currently lack and we don’t expect them to be handed to us. All we ask for is access to the resources that will enable us to better our own futures. This is what you are doing, so thank you.” I didn’t know what to say (or frankly, how to express what I wanted to say in Spanish), so we just smiled. Hopefully one day I will get the opportunity to tell her how much her and her classmates’ stories inspired me. Education is something I always took for granted, and hearing how these students struggle to take care their families and work four jobs during the week all so they can spend their weekends in a desk… I can honestly say I no longer think lightly of the opportunities I have been given.

There are a lot of articles on the Internet that comment negatively about international service workers. They rant about how volunteers go, take photos of themselves, and leave having never done anything to truly impact those they were sent to help. I can say for a fact this was not the case for D2A. Yes, selfies were taken, and I know my presence was by no means life changing for any of the people we met. But this experience allowed me to put a face to a name, to be able to truly know the people we had been working so hard to assist. Now that I have, I want to take my experiences and spread their stories in hope that others may become as inspired as I have, and help us continue to help the people of SJDS get the resources they not only need, but also deserve.

I could have never imagined all that this trip would be. The volunteers and staff are a truly extraordinary group of people. The 32 of us: strangers (well, at least at first) from multiple countries and different walks of life coming together to help others. The atmosphere was amazing. What’s more, meeting the people of SJDS made me even more proud to say I played a part – however small – in bringing this dream to fruition. I am incredibly honored to have been given the opportunity to work with everyone involved in Dreams 2 Acts; there isn’t a better group out there and I look forward to keeping them all in my life for years to come. Though this leg of the D2A campaign has come to a close, I know there is much left to do and I can’t wait for whatever comes next. Until next time (hopefully) “¡Si se puede!”

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Nicaragua Volunteer Perspective: Andrea Nießen

Written by volunteer Andrea Nießen:

As a former volunteer and fundraiser for Random Acts’ Hope2Haiti project, I went on this first Nicaragua trip with some expectations, curious about how the projects would differ or where they would be similar. Honestly before the trip I thought that no amazing cause would catch me again in the same emotional way as the orphanage project in Haiti did. I knew the new project was incredibly important, but a part of me could not believe that it would make the same deep emotional impact on me… I was seriously wrong! ;⁠)

rea1As we travelled to Nicaragua and spent our time there we all felt immediately that it was a special and very important difference we were making and how incredibly much this was appreciated by the people of San Juan del Sur. Here in Germany, where I live, people take going to school for granted. The kids and young adults we met in Nicaragua see it as a privilege; education as their way out of poverty.

Some years ago Random Acts raised money for a school bus and already this bus means so much to the students over there. One girl told us that before they got the school bus it was often not possible to be in school for the whole amount of time, they mostly could only arrive late and had to leave before school finished because they had to start on their way back home. Now with the bus it is possible to stay at school for the whole day of lessons. It was touching to see how much that meant to her and how thankful she was. I remember that I donated a few dollars back then for the bus project, but with other people doing the same we created a huge difference in her and in other students’ lives. It leads me back to one of the reasons why I started to volunteer. I have always believed that those of us with financial security can achieve so much by being generous to others, especially when it comes to less wealthy countries. There is so much we can achieve together with our wonderful supporters!rea2

Speaking of our destination, Nicaragua is really beautiful. Aside from the work we did and the projects we visited we had time to enjoy and discover the country and connect with its people. Our team was amazing, we made friendships that will hopefully last for a very long time, and we made experiences that filled our hearts and soul.

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Volunteering is very fulfilling. I do this during my vacations from my job, and often people ask me why I don’t go on a usual holiday trip when I’m not going to work. My response is always that I do it because it gives me so much back. Fundraising is an amazing experience, but going to the place you raised money for, working on something with your own hands, getting a special bond to a project is incredible. You really FEEL that you make a difference. You all should try it. ;⁠)

To come to a conclusion: As Haiti did before – Nicaragua has a special place in my heart now. I hope I will be able to go back and see the finished campus, be able to show all our wonderful supporters at home what we all made happen together, and give them the feeling that they really made a difference. You all are such an important part of our work and we could not do it without you.

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