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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
This was my favorite day. My group visited a rural community to build EcoStoves and BioSand water filters.
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.
She was really upset when it was time for us to leave. I was, too.
Day Seven, November 26th
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
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.
You can also watch Dreana’s videos below: