"It is hard to know how to talk about an experience like this. It is hard to put into words what this trip meant to me. It changed me in a way. It came at a time my life when I needed to be reminded. I needed to once again come face to face with the poverty that is so great in the world and to be irrevocably moved by it to the point of making changes in my own life.
My hope is that in sharing this story, people will become more aware of issues like these around the world. And, maybe, just maybe, someone will be inspired to do something, start something, or donate something. The need is so great in the world. And, unfortunately, we can never out-give it. But, we can certainly be a part of trying. Every kind gesture or dollar donated really does make a difference."
Here is the journey of dozens of Nicaragua volunteers + 18 Americans + 12 families in need:
I visited Nicaragua through my friends who started a group called CRAD in NYC. They partnered with a company called Journey in LA. And, Journey teamed up with Techo (means "roof" in spanish) in Central America to make this all possible. It was a large effort of all three organizations coming together to build 12 homes in a village outside of Grenada, Nicaragua called El Panama. A group of 22 Americans all from either New York or LA, met in Managua and teamed up with local Nicaraguan volunteers to build together for two days. Here is our story:
Unfortunately, in the days leading up to the build, Nicaragua was hit with a tropical storm on the east and a tsunami warning on the west. There was such a substantial amount of rain that the community we were supposed to build in had significant flooding and mud slides.
The families were without access to tv or weather reports, but they knew that we were coming to build their new homes the next day. Many had already torn down their make shift shacks to make way for their new home, meaning they had survived the night outside in the tropical storm with no shelter.
Everyone involved from the families to the volunteers were wanting this build to happen. Once we received the final verdict that the build would in fact continue as planned, no one was more excited then the children and their families. For many, they were about to be first time home owners.
The families we were building for were in need of emergency shelters similar to the one seen in the picture above. This means that the families were currently living in conditions that were deemed unlivable. Their homes were nothing more than a few pieces of scrap material and a few tarps. Essentially, they were living in an informal, make-shift small shack with very little access to resources like sanitation or clean water.
The build happened to be up in the mountains, volcanoes, and jungles of Nicaragua in a village only accessible by a small dirt road. Nearly all of the people in this community were farmers of pineapples, bananas, or passion fruit.
Throughout, the build, when this father wasn't showing us all up with his construction skills, he would go out into his groves and pick us pineapple to serve us a snack. It was thank you.
The build itself took two full days. Most of the materials are pre-fabbed off site which allows the construction to move along quite fast. The family determines where they want their new home to be located. Then, the build begins and volunteers do everything from digging for pilings to laying floor joists. In this case, the dirt was largely volcanic basalt crystals and not sufficient to build on requiring significant digging to satisfy the structure. This process alone took up the entire first day.
DAY TWO KICKS OFF:
Day two is without a doubt the most exciting day for the families. The walls start to go up and suddenly everything becomes so real.
Then, while special craftsman install the roof, volunteers install windows, doors, and hardware along with a partition wall. This is arguably one of the most important components in these projects because it hopefully fosters privacy and separation between adults and children, mainly young girls (Read More HERE).
After the main components are built, just like that the home is done. Women start to sweep away the construction remnants as the men pack up the tools. Even porch chairs are set out ready for the neighbors to come by to see their new homes.
Finally, a key ceremony takes place. I can assure you, there is not a dry eye in the house. It is incredibly moving to watch a family receive a key for the first time. To look on, as someone explains to them how to use a lock and a key is truly gut wrenching. We all have so much to be grateful for, even the safety of a lock and key.
The families with the help of a translator then share their gratitude to the volunteers. We all felt deeply humbled by this part of the experience. How can they be thanking us when we felt that we didn't do enough. It is hard to accept that kind of thanks. The kindness and gratitude of these families rocked us all to our cores.
All I can say is that not a day goes by that we shouldn't be grateful for what we have. And, no matter where life takes us, it is so important to never forget how most of the world lives. I know that for me, I feel a great sense of responsibility to the things i have seen and experienced. But, if you have made it this far in the article, then too are now responsible to what you know.
We can never out-give the need that is so great in the world. The hope is that we all stay vigilant and aware of this need and never become de-sensitized to it. And, no matter where we find ourselves in the world, it is important to give back whether it's in our own communities or in others of great need. Find ways to get involved and be a part of the conversation of change.
"Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world."
Please visit www.techo.org to find out how you can be a part of other builds happening around the world. If you aren't able to donate your time in travel, please visit the website where you can donate and help to fund more future projects!