The Life-Changing Lesson I Learned While Volunteering in Nicaragua
“Just move these blocks over there,” said the middle-aged Nicaraguan woman who was our project coordinator. But this was no easy task. There were hundreds of adobe blocks to be moved, each one easily weighing thirty pounds, each one having rough edges that scraped our skin. Not to mention the heat; you could have kept food warm by leaving it in the shade.
So we began. There were ten of us, dressed for work and motivated by jokes and play. We were outside of Managua, Nicaragua, learning about a side of the beautiful colonial city that few people see. On our way there, colonial architecture and urban definition had given way to a desert sprawl of tin shacks and dusty streets; each day here was a struggle for water, for food, for the most basic elements of survival. But a project funded by the Spanish and French governments was helping the community build adobe houses that would better withstand the weather.
We shredded our hands on the mud-and-straw bricks. We hauled them across the barren landscape and piled them on a porch to dry. We shoveled a drainage ditch until our backs screamed and our hands wept. We poured sweat; scarcely had we wiped our brow when it needed another pass. And somewhere along the line we realized something important: We got to leave at the end of the day.
That night we flopped into our comfortable beds in a comfortable hostel. We dined well, guzzled water to counteract our dehydration, took an Ibuprofen for our aches and pains. But the people we were helping, our new friends, didn’t get to leave. Every day was as backbreaking as that one. There was no end to the dehydration. There was always more work; when all the blocks were moved, when the adobe house was built, there would be something else to be completed out under the sun.
That is the nature of community service. For the helper, it is a few days or weeks or months away from real life. For the one being helped, it is a daily truth, the hardships of which are always reality.