Post-trip volunteer blog: Sarah Burnhope

Written by first-time volunteer Sarah Burnhope:

I don’t quite know what I expected from a Random Acts: Destinations trip, but coming home having found a whole new family was not it. The fandom is pretty tight knit, and I’ve definitely made friends for life there, but there’s something special about literally sharing blood, sweat and tears as you work together to create something. It’s a bonding experience like nothing else I’ve ever been through. There we were, a fairly random group of mostly women, with at least 30 years separating the oldest from the youngest, the main thread stitching us together being the passionate desire to see this thing finished and the potential realised. It was a heady mix of excitement and curiosity, to see if we could work together as a team, and represent our donors to the best of our ability. What followed was honestly one of the most profound weeks of my life. I was worried at first, issues around my qualifying for the trip had made me feel incredibly anxious about fitting in with this group of astounding women, but I needn’t have been. It was like coming home. One evening as we all sat chatting outside, I spontaneously burst into tears as I realised these people would probably be in my life for a really long time. I had never had such a feeling of being loved and accepted and honestly cared for, by so many people all at once. I was immediately hugged and loved within an inch of my life, which only made me sob harder! Every single one of these women you have supported was there, without any agenda, other than being the best person that they can be and I’m proud to be a part of that.

One evening we were invited as representatives of Random Acts, to go and watch a play at the Bario Planta Project (BPP), a non profit set up to provide arts and English language education to local children, supplementary to their regular schooling. Random Acts sponsors their annual performance and it was that we were going to see. Disguised in the form of popular fairy tales, the play tackled issues such as violence, bullying and human trafficking, reinforcing positive messages and ways of dealing with them. The children were amazingly talented and professional and performed their pieces which such verve and joy it was easy to get swept up in them even though I only have a sprinkling of Spanish. One of the students was later invited to perform at the SJdS film festival. The evening ended up in a massive dance party as members of the audience were dragged up to participate and then pizza for all. I’ll never forget the genuine happiness of being surrounded by children and adults glowing with pride at their achievements.

Passion and pride was a running theme for the whole of the trip. Austin and his passion for bamboo and sustainable building practices, the students and their passion for learning and for their beautiful campus, the construction crew and their passion and dedication to getting everything as perfect and precise as it can be. Richard and his passion for leading us off into potentially dangerous but magically weird adventures. Nicaragua is a place where nothing is done in half measures.

Working on the campus gave me what I think is a similar sense of pride. Knowing that there’s a wall that I built, a plant taking root in a trench I dug, a glass bottle window letting sunlight into a building that I helped make, makes me glow with happiness. I learned a lot about myself on this trip. That factor 50 isn’t strong enough, that my fear of heights and edges crumbles under peer pressure and that having the backup and support of people I care about makes me stronger than I’ve ever imagined. If I can raise funds, drag myself to Nicaragua, get halfway up a mountain and help make earth blocks out of dirt, so someone can make a safer stove to cook on, I can do anything I put my mind to. That’s powerful knowledge to have about yourself, and it’s pretty life changing.

Since coming back home, I’ve attempted to put some of that pride and passion back into my local community. I just qualified as am IMAlive responder, and I hope to use that to support fandom, which has always had my back when I’ve struggled. I’ve also started to examine how I can help people where I live. I’ve volunteered for a local forum which tackles issues such as homelessness, rough sleeping and child poverty. I’m helping coordinate kindness activities for my gym. I’ve been asked to go and do a presentation about fundraising in a local school. I’m throwing myself into things in a way I’ve never done before. I don’t want to live my life by half measures anymore.

Sarah was also featured in an article in the Daily Echo: “Profound and eye opening”: Boscombe woman’s trip to Nicaragua to help rebuild school

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