Written by volunteer Taylor Kauffman:
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).
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!”