…Originally written January 23rd 2017…
If you know me, you’ll know that I recently lived and volunteered in Nicaragua for 3 months and I won’t stop talking about it. If you don’t know me, I guess you’re lucky in some ways because I haven’t bored you with stories yet, but that’s about to change. I experienced so many amazing moments and made so many memories that I just needed somewhere to share them …mostly for my sanity so that all the thoughts in my brain don’t make it explode.
Let’s start at the beginning with how someone like me who has never even been outside Europe ended up living in Central America, in rural Nicaragua for 3 months. I’m a very very indecisive person and of course after graduating last summer had no clue what career path I wanted to take. In all honesty, I just wanted a break from everything, from education, from essays, from dissertation writing, from England. I wanted to go travelling, to escape it all. But that’s a very expensive dream. Somehow I discovered the International Citizen Service (ICS), whether it was from a random email or through an online advert I have no clue, but thank goodness I found it. Only £1500, living abroad for 3 months and gaining experience in development (something I need if I wish to work in International Development in the future). It sounded perfect and so I chose to volunteer with Raleigh International – they were the only organisation on ICS’ list I’d heard of before and they worked in sanitation and hygiene, in Africa, Asia and Central America which seemed like a good fit for me. The interview went well, I got placed on a WASH project in Nicaragua, the training event reaffirmed how perfect it sounded, I managed to fundraise the £1500 in 6 weeks and then I was off to Nicaragua. Madness.
WASH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Before going I really had no idea what I’d be doing other than the obvious fact I’d be taking part in one of Raleigh’s WASH projects in a rural community, living alongside a host family, working with people from the UK, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, working to encourage behavioural change surrounding water uses in the community, sanitation in the household and personal hygiene. In what way we’d be helping I wasn’t sure of at this point.
Week 1 and we’d been placed in our team, Charlie 3, and told where we’d be living for the next 12 weeks, La Sandino near the town of Rio Blanco. In our little Charlie 3 family were our 2 fearless leaders, Mirna (Nicaraguan) and Ali (British), then 1 Nicaraguan, 1 Costa Rican and 7 British volunteers, plus our 2 lovely community volunteers from La Sandino.
Our goal at the end of the project was to help in building 14 latrines, 1 tippy tap, 1 grey water filter and 1 vegetable garden. Also to host 8 action days, a women’s group, a youth group and visit the local school. Additionally, we also delivered 3 types of training – FECSA (familiy, school and community health), CAPS (La Sandino water committee) and E-WASH (entrepreneurial water, sanitation and hygiene). Alongside the ‘work stuff’ we also hosted fun events such as painting a community mural, pizza nights, quiz night, bonfire night, river visits and 2 movie nights (one successful and one less successful due to lack of electricity). Every activity, day, event, session, etc. designed by us to inform the community and families of La Sandino on various WASH related issues. The amount of leaflets, invitations and posters we made was ridiculous, but all worth it!
No entiendo Español
Nicaragua, Central America, SPANISH speaking. Yep, all capitals because before going I was completely clueless on anything Spanish and was most worried about the problems this language barrier might cause. The only language I knew little to none of was French, thanks to my poor attention span in GCSE lessons, but despite that it actually helped slightly with recognising similar words for the basics such as food. Thankfully I was placed in a host home with our Costa Rican volunteer Maria Paula who was bilingual and could help both me and David (my other roommate and fellow Brit). As hard as us Charlie 3 members who didn’t know Spanish were trying to learn and pick up as much as possible, in the first few weeks it was still tricky. I felt so guilty relying on those who knew Spanish to help me all the time, I remember feeling like such a burden and wishing I could do something to thank those who helped me for the incredible help they gave me (Ali, Mirna, Jen, Katherine – gracias para todo, te amo chicas).
I was trying my hardest and constantly learning more and more each day, but it wasn’t until week 4 when Maria Paula made the decision to leave that my need to speak Spanish rather than just recognise a few words became very important. I had to seriously start absorbing as much as I could, I ended up asking more stupidly basic language related questions than I care to remember. I’m sorry to everyone that had to deal with my terrible accent and pronunciation for so many weeks, I promise to get better. The person who made fun of me the most was my little brother, Osmanny, he just found it funny, especially because he knew much more English than I did of Spanish and he’s only 11! He became my own personal Spanish teacher very quickly, and I in exchange helped him with his English homework and taught him the proper pronunciation (mainly adjusting the American English accent he’d been taught). Through our (not-so) weekly language lessons, Osmanny’s teachings and the extremely hard work of the people who knew Spanish who helped us all, I managed to understand the basics, could talk to my family and hold a short conversation with the Nicaraguan volunteers. If I hadn’t made it my mission to learn as much Spanish as my brain could absorb in 12 weeks I wouldn’t have become so close with my host family, Nicaraguan/Costa Rican volunteers from Charlie 3 and the other teams and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to be as involved in our action days and presentations. Ahora, yo entiendo un poco español y yo soy mucho orgulloso de me!
Raleigh ICS and Me
I could ramble on and on for hours, maybe even days, about how amazing Nicaragua was and how much I loved everything. But the most important takeaway of it all for me was that it helped me to finally decide on what my next step will be. Ever since I was first considering going to university I knew I wanted to study Geography and then go into International Development, but after a 10,000 word dissertation and too many essays and exams to count I was nowhere near willing to put myself through all that for another year. So I decided to apply for jobs, it didn’t go so well, still isn’t going so well now. But now I’m certain I want to work in International Development, so I need the experience and knowledge that the masters will give me. Working with Raleigh in a developing country 5000+ miles away from home built my confidence up to the stage at which, as hard as the masters may be and as little as I might believe in myself at times, I decided that I was willing to do it (sooner rather than later as well, before I change my mind again).
The bonds I made with people out there and the new family I gained, its all irreplaceable and I will honestly treasure it forever. I couldn’t imagine having spent 12 weeks away from all that was familiar to me with anyone else. To the girls that I shared practically everything with within the first week of knowing you, thank you for letting me be my weird self around you. To my roommate who put up with me every night and listed off every US state and NBA team with me, thank you for dealing with the crazy lunatics with me. To our two fearless team leaders who took care of us for 12 weeks, thank you for always without fail being there whenever I needed a hug (or you needed a hug) and being willing to talk about anything and everything with me, I don’t think I would’ve made it without you both. To my host family, my new mum, little brothers, father, brother, sister and their little baby, thank you for opening your hearts and home to me, for helping me when I was sick, for loving me like I was your own, I am forever grateful. Thank you to everyone who made this experience the most amazing thing I could’ve ever taken part in.