When I signed up for the trip to Nicaragua as a high school student at Moorestown Friends School, I knew little about the country or ProNica. Through prerequisitory meetings, the goal of ProNica was made clear: we were going to Nicaragua to learn about the culture and embark on a service learning journey.
The term service learning seemed vague to me. Upon arriving in Nicaragua, it became evident we were there not only to help, but to be helped. We visited different people and businesses and learned about their struggles and goals. We were in such a destitute country but felt an overwhelming sense of positivity. People there were so optimistic and hopeful, and talked about what they did have, not what they didn’t. It was inspiring, to say the least.
I knew we were helping them, not only by buying their products, but by giving them attention to let them know that their work was appreciated. However, I left each and every place and person feeling like they helped me as well. I learned that no matter how tough a situation can be, looking at it positively is always an option.
We also helped build a school for art and music. Sure, we were able to see our progress through each tree we knocked down and each post we painted, but the real reward came not from the physical results of our actions, but from the kindness we received from the students and staff. As we worked, I felt a sense of appreciation for the type of service we were doing. It was not just about getting the job done but about really appreciating the impact.
The sense of urgency that I had previously associated with service work turned into a desire to understand the community I was in and what effect we were having on it. Yes, we built for those students and faculty the foundation of a school, a physical product of our work. But more than that, we gave them an opportunity. That building was an embodiment of the passion, dedication, and love those students shared for music. We were able to see our results not through the cement fillings in the ground, but through the sounds of the music they were playing and the smiles on their faces. We were giving them an opportunity to do what they love, and they were extremely grateful for that. We left the school with a sense of accomplishment, not just in the materialized evidence of our work, but also in helping someone do something they love. Hearing those children sing and play their instruments solidified the fact that passion is just as important as knowledge.
I learned through this trip that just because someone is less fortunate than you does not mean they have less than you do. I discovered that there is always something to learn. I arrived in Nicaragua feeling as though I was going to help people and make their situation better, but I left feeling as though they helped me. We gave them opportunity, but they gave us an appreciation for the little things in life. It was a two-way street, a mutual benefit: solidarity.