While saying our goodbyes on the last day of classes, I recognized a young girl from a grade 7 class I had taught days before. I remember seeing love of learning in her aura, and she reminded me of myself when I was around her age. While saying goodbye to her, I told her to stay in school as long as she could, and to always feed her hunger to learn. She smiled when she saw my tears roll down my cheeks. The she extended her pinky finger out to me. The sacred pinky promise was made, and now I was crying even harder. Realizing that this little girl, who leads such a different life from mine but still has that passion to learn imbued in her excites me, yet saddens me knowing that opportunity is the only difference between my life and hers is a hard thing to accept. Not knowing what will happen in her future is even more frustrating. I wish, for her, that she knows that what really matters is how we use what we are given, rather than relying on what we are given. Hopefully a pinky promise between the two of us will help her remember that.
We often mention experiential education as being an important component of a Study education. This trip to Nicaragua is a perfect example of such. Students are seeing, tasting, dancing, feeling, living Nicaragua. This experience allows them to learn about the reality of Nicaraguan villages through all their senses.
Connections are created by letting students interact with their environment. and more importantly, with the people around them. Over the last week, I have observed our students create connections amongst themselves and with the students from the Diria Institute. It always amazes me to see how quickly and how intensely they do so. We often say that feeling connected is what feeds our growth.
My favorite part of our days in Nicaragua is the processing reflection that we did every night. This has been an emotional 10 days that have triggered a lot of reflection. This emotional process is a privilege that you can only get through experiential education. In Canada, we take experiential learning for granted. During our 5 days in Diria, I had the chance to help teach science classes. Not all students are given the gidft to be allowed to “play” as they learn. Learning 10 question and discover their “own” answers is an option that many Nicaraguan children do not yet have.
The most impactful moment for me on this trip happened on the Friday before we left. For the final assembly, myself and four other girls had to practice a cultural dance. During a certain part of the dance, we had to complete some of the moves with a partner. I had a hard time the first couple of days doing it and I felt bad that my partner had to deal with my mistakes. Her was a rather serious person and his expression was blank most of the time.
Then Friday came.
The dance went perfectly and I was extremely happy that I did it with little to no mistakes. But what made me happier was seeing my partner smile at the very end. We had finally made a connection without any words and I don’t think anything made me happier that day.
There were two moments on this trip that are to me, forever lasting memories. The first was probably one of the most difficult memories of my life; saying goodbye. I don’t think I can write about it, because it is still a blurry memory I need to morph into something I can read, understand and make a permanent part of me. The second memory was when Gabby gave a polaroid picture to an old man at one of the homes during the work experience. It took a moment for his eyes to fully grasp what he was receiving, but when he did see it was a picture of his smiling face, a picture that could remind anyone to be grateful for the little things we have, his eyes lit up. He carefully tucked it into his shirt pocket and said these few words that made me realize how much love there is in this world and how infinite possibilities lie in a hopeful smile: “I will put it under my pillow while I sleep.”
The Granada Market was the experience that impacted me the most on this trip. It was the first thing we did in Nicaragua and the chaos was so overwhelming. There was dog food next to clothing, next to raw meat. Dogs and children roamed and the heat was intense. This was our first taste of the poverty that was to come.
Sitting on stage the day of the final assembly, dressed in a yellow traditional Nicaraguan dance dress, I looked out at all the kids, who, in only five days had gone from being new faces to new best friends. Something I thought a lot about during my time at the school was the incredible sense of community that the people of Nicaragua all share. They never failed to share to this camaraderie and warmth. Upon our arrival at the Institute every morning, we were greeted by smiling junior school kids and our senior buddies that had come to the school just to be with us in the morning. Guys walked around the halls with their arms around each other. Little kids smiled at us from their classrooms. All this despite the language barrier and cultural differences demonstrates just what an inviting ambience we were surrounded by. This was especially noticeable during the last few hours after the final assembly when we were all in a frenzy of hugs and pictures.
One boy named Danny had asked me for a picture. After he took my wrist and put a few bracelets on it. When I thanked him, he undid the cross around his neck and put it around mine, then thanked me. This gesture in all its gentleness, is something I won’t ever forget. Another girl gave me the bow out of her own hair and when I couldn’t take it, she asked “why?”. Just the fact that to them, giving a gift is such a simple and common way of saying thank you, is what really touched me and made me discover the value of community.
I found it difficult to write this final reflection on our trip to Nicaragua. How do you take ten days of visual and emotional stimuli and weed out the ones that resonate the most for you? I’m still not sure that my words can do justice to my experiences in Nicaragua but hopefully a portion of what I am trying to say will come through.
For me one of the most impactful moments of the trip was when the first group of students I was teaching started to say “Tssszt, Teacher, teacher”. It was that moment when the students became engaged in their learning and wanted to share with me the results of their experiment, to explain what they thought had caused the result and in some cases, just to smile at me in pride. A wonderful feeling when a classroom full of students gets excited about learning.
Another impactful moment for me was when the students who were given glasses realized that they could clearly see. The expression on their faces is something I will never forget. And finally, every day I was amazed by the generosity of the people we encountered. So many of them have so little but they were always trying to share it with us. It was truly a humbling experience and one that I will never forget.
As I was making a fool of myself practicing the traditional dance we would perform for the assembly, I started to hear laughter, and turning around mortified, I noticed two girls sitting directly behind me – pointing at me and smiling. I didn’t give much thought to them until the oldest of the two, Megan, came up to me shyly, dragging her friend Sofia with her by the hand. Naturally, I asked them the few questions I knew in Spanish and learned that Megan and Sofia were 8 and 5 years old respectively. Suddenly they began to ask me questions in rapid fire Spanish and I had to have Julia translate for me. Apparently, they wanted me to teach them English and looking at their eyes full of hope, I knew I couldn’t refuse. From then on, I became friends with these amazing children, who were very patient with my bad Spanish, eager to learn whatever English they could, and very happy to talk to someone who would listen to their string of endless questions, their aspirations for the future and the pride they hold in their hearts for their family, their school and their country. I was very happy to have met these two children who helped me understand the importance of the scholarship(s) The Study provides to the school. Because in reality, these people have everything they need to achieve everything they want in their hearts, but what we do is provide them with the opportunities necessary to see them done. And just as Angelica gave me her earrings after I complemented them without hesitation, we should do the same and give them all we can give to those who are in need – because there is no doubt in my mind that they would do the same for us.
Thursday afternoon, I was pulled out of the dance lesson to help teachers hand out adjustable glasses and explain how to use them. The look on their faces at the exact moment that the words on the board became clear, is one that I will never forget.
Angelica was the most generous person I’ve ever met. After not knowing how to speak to her (limited Spanish), she took off her bracelet and gave it to me. I was shocked at her kindness because it’s something I’ve never experienced before. On the last day, I gave her two bracelets, thanking her for showing me something new. We hugged and she thanked me for being me. Without having known me, she believed that I will become successful.
Learning a cultural dance involving hips and me is never a good idea. So when we started to learn the dance, it was clearly obvious that I did not have the steps down. After about an hour of struggling, a young boy showed me the steps while everyone else was practicing with the younger kids. I thought it was so sweet that he took the time to teach me without even speaking a word to me. All the people here are so kind and generous.
My most memorable moment was seeing Candallaria’s brothers jumping up into their clothes that were hanging on barbed wire. They were having so much fun but had no idea how dangerous it was.
My buddy, Milenia, gave me a card on the last day that we spent at the Diria Institute. It was two pages long and it described how much she loved the time we spent together and how she considered me to be one of her best friends after only five days. She said, “I don’t usually make friends or trust people easily and in such a short period of time but with you it was different. I will remember you forever and I hope you remember me too.” I will definitely remember this trip, the card and Milenia forever.
This trip has changed my view of the world and my perspective on life in just a few short days. I have learned about poverty and positivity. I have reflected on the perilous state of democracy in certain countries. I have seen the juxtaposition of rich and poor like never before. I have seen first-hand the importance of education on life.
It seems impossible to synthesize all of this into one single “most impactful” moment. There are so many that make the cut. Instead, permit me to tell you about a feeling.
Our second day at The Diria Institute, I taught a group of grade eight student with my teaching group. They were eager to learn and excited to participate. As I looked into their eyes, I saw their potential. I felt deeply linked to these children … and in that moment I knew – everyone deserves a chance.
The last hour at the school is when I had my most impactful moment. During the gift exchange, on stage, my buddy opened my gift that was full of goodies but she immediately went for a necklace I had put inside. It was half a heart. She looked at me confused. I then showed her that I was wearing the other half of the heart. She started to cry and said “this means no matter what happens, no matter where we are, we will always have each other.”
Seeing our most recent scholarship winner’s home was by far the most impactful memories of this experience for me. Not only was it essentially just a room with tin walls, but Candellaria had four brothers, just like me. I realized in that moment, how grateful I am for my life. Although it was difficult to see her living conditions, there was also a certain pride in knowing that we were possibly changing her life and her family’s life for the better. The whole trip was impactful, but I will never forget Candellaria’s home.
The most impactful moment for me may seem quite simple but to me it was everything. My buddy, Ivette, handed me a letter our last day and there was one thing she wrote in it that stood out for me. It said, “Misha, despite us not being together and how far apart we are, you will always be my best friend.” And that truly touched me in so man ways.
I will get on a plane tomorrow and leave Nicaragua but the memories I made will forever be saved in my brain. One of the most impactful memories I have in Diria, was when I was leaving the closing ceremony. Some lady tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. She turned out to be my buddy’s mom. She said “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Shayla.” I left feeling confused. What did I do in 5 days that was so great? After a time of reflection, I realized that the mom must have been thanking me for the advice I gave her. Even though she thought I did so much for her daughter, I feel like her daughter did a lot for me. Just the simple conversations had a big impact on the way I look at things.
Their smiles, the warmth of their hearts, their arms widely open to us strangers, their generosity, their sensitivity, the spark of intelligence in their eyes, the love coming out of them … These people and the way they see life definitely impacted me the most.
Even though the kids at the Diria Institute had so little, they always seemed to be so happy. They were so genuine in their kindness and smiles that it made me happy. There was a boy in a grade 9 class that we taught on the second day who constantly had the biggest, widest smile on his face. His smile is one I will remember forever. The people that we met welcomed us, either to their homes or to their school with such warmth that we already felt like we were a part of something, even though we barely knew them. They were so eager to share and give everything they had. An example of this that struck me the most was when we were about to leave school for the last time, a girl that I had gotten close to over the week came up to me and tried to give me her bracelet. It was a bracelet that I had noticed her wearing everyday and it looked very precious. I could not accept the gift because it was too much. I didn’t want to take it away from her. The gesture brought tears to my eyes. The kindness, the willing to give and share their warmth and most of all, their genuine smiles and happiness will remain with me forever.
My impactful moment was an image I took. I felt that it captured the beauty of the country juxtaposed by the tremendous poverty.