Volunteer blog post: 18 days in SJdS

Written by volunteer Brittany Badami:

This summer I spent eighteen wonderful, exhausting, difficult and amazing days in San Juan del Sur with one of my best friends Deidre Slingerlands and her roommate Steve Green. This trip had been but a pipe dream created on the roof of Villa Mikonos this past February. Staring up at the stars Deidre and I felt invincible as we planned and dreamed about our return to the city and to the school that held our hearts.

This summer trip was supposed to be dreamlike and life changing, I planned on working hard every day, soaking up the sun and just basking in the wonders that have always been SJDS for myself and my fellow Random Acts delegates. The return to SJDS had been hard won through personal battles, family tragedies, and so much more. But we had a fierce determination to return to the place we felt at home once more and to live with no rules and fulfill so many great things with our 18 days together.

But like it usually does, life doesn’t listen to your plans.

The first 9 days we were hit with almost every bad scenery you could imagine; sickness, sun burns, injuries, and dehydration to list a few. But through all of these negative situations we worked to see the light and make the best of the time we had. For every bad moment we were gifted with kindness from the locals and strangers we had never met and could never repay. For every moment of misery we were gifted with a unique glimpse into the life around the city.

Parade in SJDS video

When I was struck down with an intense flu within 12 hours of arriving in SJDS I couldn’t believe my luck and wasn’t sure how I could handle being so sick so far from home. As it happens a local man helped my roommate, who spoke no Spanish, find medicine and all of the supplies I would need to get better. Without his guidance my trip and all of our plans could have been cut short or my illness could have taken a turn for the worst when the closest hospital was three hours’ drive away.

When my roommate was injured at the beach the locals rushed to her aide hailing a taxi who drove us to the medical center and translated our panic and questions to the nurses on site then drove us home expecting no toll to be paid and just helping because it was the right thing to do. The medical center who treated my friend without charge and with great compassion who guided us to take care of her and calmed our racing hearts. Through every moment that could have been a disaster or any situation that could have taken a dark turn we were surrounded by kind compassionate and patient people who asked for nothing in return. The number one thing that I learned about the residents of San Juan Del Sur is their sense of selflessness and community.

(Not our best day)

But even with such a rough start for the three of us the visit to SJDS had really just begun. As many days that we could, weather permitting, we visited the build site and worked alongside some of the men who had been there from the very beginning. These familiar faces that came to feel as much a part of the school as the walls and the roof above.

(The first day of construction, November 2015)

When we first traveled here we were introduced to a group of hard working but shy individuals who took time out of their busy schedules and grueling work to guide us in making our very own mark on the school. Hard working souls like Bladimir who came off intimidating and unapproachable became our right hand and close friend with a witty personality and an amazing singing voice that serenaded us through our work days. Mainor the shy but kind man who helped us learn Spanish while making us feel like we are a part of the team and teasing us like family, though I will never forgive him for throwing the giant terrifying spider in my face. Don Felipe the father figure of the group who was always so diligent, gruff but kind and would show considerable patient when it seemed like we were causing more work than we finished.

Overall every single person on that build site became a sort of quasi family to us and helped the three of us continue to weave our love and dedication into the foundation of the school.

(The teachers, builders and RA delegates)

While we were there we visited the school while it was holding classes and were reminded why these buildings and this project are so important. It is easy to see all of the pictures of the construction site and to see the beautiful building and think that the project is completed and a success. But the real reason we raise funds, spread information and put literal blood sweat and tears into this project are for the students who attend the school.

There is such wide range of people attending the school and so many more that will be given their first chance at a formal education. This is one of the only schools in the entire country that will allow pregnant girls to continue their education and will even allow parents to bring their children into the classroom when finding childcare is difficult. The mindset of the school is that no matter what hardship or wall you hit they will be there to support you through it and help you better yourself by any means necessary.

While visiting the classes we met with and interviewed students and teachers from all ranges of life. They told us their stories; about their families their hardships and the dreams for their future. In each one of our conversations with the students, they spoke about how the school has affected their live, and how the new school buildings have helped them feel ownership of their own education and their future.

Meet the Students of the Free High School Video

Over all these buildings are so much more than simple buildings. They are the foundation for a better future, they are a chance for those who may have been cast aside or lost, they are hope in the truest of forms.

“With education, you put yourself up.  Without education, we are going to stay all of the time on the floor. We never improve in the life” ~Alba


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