My trip to Nicaragua this spring was nothing short of inspiring. I really had no time to think about what I was doing as I bought my flight about 6 days before I left for Managua. The thought had been floating in my mind since Craig and I had first talked about his work while attending basketball games in Flandreau (his daughter-in-law is head coach, my sisters play). I had seen plenty of people from around my hometown of Flandreau helping the organization gather supplies, organize, and fundraise for the efforts. I could say the most attractive part of the trip was a chance to help people I had never met in the presence and with the help of people that I have always known. The recurring theme of comraderie paired with service would be constantly present for those two weeks in Nicaragua.
Let me start out by saying that almost everyone reading this attempt to describe Helping Kids Round First's (HKRF) efforts has drawn the long straw. If you haven't been to a third world country, it is almost impossible to understand just how blessed we are to live in the country that we live in. The fact that we are fortunate in this way allows for us to choose to help others. Plenty of the folks in Nicaragua and around the world don’t know what it is like to merely have the option to help others the way we can.
Our day to day operations on this trip would not have been possible without plenty of people back home. Many who have gone on trips before and help with the organization of gear and gathering support are essential to the efficiency of each trip.
Our first stop on this trip was an area in northern Nicaragua around the city of Somotillo. We took 4 vehicles (3 pickups and 1 SUV) with baseball and softball gear for the area's teams. When arriving in Somotillo, there were kids all along the streets walking home from school. I noticed the ones that had juice or water in their hands were carrying it in a plastic bag instead of a bottle. Our interpreter Orvin explained that the bottles were supposedly too valuable, so whoever gives the kids the juice pours it into a plastic bag and keeps the bottle for the deposit. It reminded me of a story my dad told me about when my grandpa was in country school and won playing bingo on the last day of school before Christmas break. The prize was an orange, but he had to wait for the next game to collect, because the winner of that game got half of it. Out of all those Nicaraguan kids on their way home from school, I didn't see one that was visibly sad or upset after a day of living on about 45 cents of value. You can imagine I had an even harder time finding either of those emotions after handing out a couple of Rawlings gloves you can buy for about $70 at Dawby's.
Another stop on the trip was to Johnny Alvarez's baseball academy in Rivas. When Craig described this trip as being "like Christmas" for these kids, he wasn't kidding. Over 20 teams sitting patiently on the field as we drove in and started unloading all the gear. One thing that really stuck out to me today was the women's softball teams. There is no easy way around it, equality for women is rare in Nicaragua, and it was obvious that most of these ladies had never had the equipment or uniforms that were donated. It was becoming apparent that baseball and softball equipment was just half of the gift.
Our last mission on the trip was to distribute gear in a region of the country that the organization had never been before. The east (or Atlantic) side of Nicaragua was, until this year, unreachable by land. In order to get there, you had to drive to the middle of the country, park your vehicle, and then take a boat up the river to the coastal city of Bluefields. Contruction on the road is still in progress, but the road is now passable which allowed our (now two vehicle) caravan to make the 360km trip in just over 7 hours. If you do the math that’s averaging about 31 mph! It was completely worth it. These people call themselves "the forgotten" because of their isolation in the past, and the fact that most of the development in Nicaragua has gone on without them until this recent highway project. The feeling in the group is that we were showing this group of people that we hadn't forgot about them, and we were willing to travel and organize to make sure we got gear to even the most remote and hard to reach kids. The best example of this is when we took a day and went to the island of El Bluff by water taxi. We hiked down the beach and into the town and found people who knew where the equipment would best be used. It was a small school that had no idea we were coming, and the kids were so excited, and also slightly shocked as they saw what we had brought for them. The adults of the school seemed to be the most moved in my opinion. You can tell that they were inspired, I knew that feeling very well by the end of our travels!
The trip changed my somewhat self-centered definition of happiness. I can't say enough about the work that this organization does and am proud to have taken the leap of faith to get my hands dirty. That being said, at the time I left, I was a college student taking minimal credits and had the time to do that side of it. Please consider donating supplies, finances, time, talent, or testimony to this worthy cause!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!