"Since 1998, 356 high school students have called Granada, Nicaragua their summer home"
I boarded the plane to Nicaragua
unsure of what to expect, lugging behind me two overstuffed travel bags; one of
which was almost entirely filled with sunscreen and insect repellent. I was your
typical American tourist, nervously thumbing through my espanol/ingles
dictionary, double-checking that yes, I had my camera, but still sure that I had
forgotten something essential at home (toothbrush!). On the plane I met some of
the other kids on the trip, but despite my excitement I couldn’t help but fall
asleep. When I first stepped outside of the Managua airport, I was absolutely
stunned. I had heard that Nicaragua was very poor, but never before had a seen a
place so full of life. Towering above me were huge palm trees outlined by a
clear, deep blue sky; around me were the great long leafs of banana trees.
Everything screamed of color, beauty, and life. I would soon learn that the
richness I saw in Nicaragua’s environment was coupled with a great richness in
its people who were vibrant with life, generosity, and unquestioning friendship.
The most fulfilling (and enjoyable) part of my trip to Nicaragua was organizing
and playing soccer with young kids. Although in the United States we tend to
think of Latin America as a place full of soccer and soccer players, in many
places, like Granada, soccer balls are a scarcity, and there are no proper
soccer fields or goals. Naturally, the kids were incredibly excited to be able
to play soccer with us. Granada is pretty popular among tourists, but it is rare
that an outsider will take the time to involve themselves in the community,
especially with the kids, which is why it was so special for us to play with
them, to let them know that they have not been forgotten. I have done similar
programs in Madison, volunteering by playing soccer with elementary school kids,
but playing soccer in Nicaragua was an entirely different experience. Even now,
it’s hard to describe the emotion and atmosphere while playing in Nicaragua.
Every afternoon thirty to forty kids would be at the baseball field where we
would play, excitedly waiting for us to arrive with balls and cones. They would
shout out when they saw us, and sometimes kids would climb over the fence
separating the field from the street to say hi and beg us to give them the balls
first. Then, ball at foot, they would race off, using whatever moves they had to
keep from being tackled. I guess the real reason I was so moved by my experience
playing soccer in Nicaragua was because everyday I was surrounded by joy. It was
the first time in my life that I realized that through the simplest
actions—playing soccer and talking with kids—I could so visibly bring about
happiness within others and myself. I had never had the pleasure of working with
people so enthusiastic and hardworking (playing). Many of the kids played in
sandals or barefoot, but they never complained of the rocky ground or the heat,
they were just happy to be playing, to have some people go out of their way to
do something for them. I plan to return to Nicaragua this upcoming summer to
continue to expand the soccer program down there. As in any city, it is
important to encourage and give to the youth, so they grow up knowing that they
are important. I have spent summers with no plans at all, going day to day
without any real plan, just doing what I feel like, but looking back on it, the
summer I spent in Nicaragua was the most important thing I did for myself, for
learning what I can do, and what I can bring to the world.
Are you considering joining next summer's program? Then talk to one of our returning high school students, just ask us how!