Summer of 2008, I found myself in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Not entirely cognizant of what I had gotten myself into, I boarded a plane to Managua, Nicaragua with $40 in my hand (roughly 720 cÃ³rdobas). This poverty and crime stricken country was the place I decided to spend my relaxing summer vacation. I traveled to Nicaragua with Ignite International as a translator and volleyball player. This was a remarkable opportunity for me at such a young age, and as a mediocre volleyball player. I had no idea, however, this trip would have such an influence on my life.
After my first week in Nicaragua, a few of the nationals took me to a garbage dump in Diriamba, a town directly south of the capital city. Disgust soon turned to horror and sorrow as I witnessed countless abandoned children calling this very garbage dump their home. Turning to thievery and the lifestyle of gypsies, these children were forced to fend for themselves. Befriending a gang of gypsies was never on the checklist for my life, but was soon inadvertently added to it. Lady and her gang of girls lived in a makeshift “house” of cardboard boxes and paper containers. This was their mansion. While seemingly the sweetest girls I had ever met, I still held close to my bag, and for good reason. Lady had become the leader of her gang of street kids for her incredible skill at pick-pocketing. While no ordinary Nicaraguan has any spare change, tourists usually do. Being the typical “gringa,” I was an easy target. However, I was not robbed of anything but my sense of security and innocence.
I will make no assumptions in saying every person in America is better off than those children at the dump because there are indeed people in America living in similar, or even worse, conditions. Poverty is not a distant evil as I once imagined. It lives in every town, and around every corner. There will always be a family who cannot make ends meet, or a person who gets laid off from their job. The important thing that I learned from this realization is that these people need our help. Service is caring for others, and this means the fortunate should not turn a blind eye to someone in need.
After witnessing what I did in Nicaragua, I will forever be changed. Poverty is no flippant subject. It is not a joke. Being in a third world country showed me the lives of those who do not even have the luxury of basic needs. In Nicaragua, I thought I had it bad. Every day I received 40 cents for working and a gallon of water to either drink or bath with. So, not only did I smell like sasquatch, but I slept every night on a few plywood boards stacked on top of each other with the luxury of a sheet, and my sweatshirt as a pillow. As a sixteen-year old girl who was used to bathing daily and sleeping on a bed, this was literal hell. However, when I thought back to the girls in the dump, I slept peacefully.
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