America is a place like no other. I was born and raised here, but my curiosity leads me to search. I wondered what life would be like without the amenities and protection of the States. I wondered if the grass is really greener on the other side.
In my junior year of high school, an opportunity presented itself to travel. My curiosity led me to the sign-up sheet. Months later, I spent a week in Ometepe, Nicaragua.
My school has recently started a program that encourages the students in the junior class to travel to Ometepe, Nicaragua and spend their spring break volunteering at an orphanage. It is a large sacrifice to make, especially because that is valuable time to visit colleges. I do not have an ounce of regret regarding my decision. The relationships and experience I gained were well worth it.
At the orphanage, my first challenge was to meet and get to know the young girl with whom I was specifically paired. We all sent letters and Christmas gifts before our trip in late March. I knew a little about this girl, but not enough to feel like I knew her. I have studied Spanish, but I did not know how well I would be able to communicate with her. Meeting her was difficult, but a smile and a hug can go a long way. I immediately felt a connection. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized she is just like me. She loves to smile, help with the younger kids, and she is shy. She comes out of her shell when she is with her friends. She never laughed at my poor Spanish, and she made a great effort to help me communicate. By the end of the week, she was calling me a best friend. I cling to this memory. If I did nothing else in Nicaragua, I was able to encourage a shy thirteen year old girl. Although, observing her encouraged me to be more like her.
When I was working at the orphanage, I was embarrassed by the example these children set for me. I have been raised in a family that embraces hard work. Money does not grow on trees. I learned this fact of life very early. I have never seen children with such a solid work ethic. Every morning, they did their chores. Every day, the older children helped the younger children. Every meal, they let our group eat before themselves. They did not complain. I was trying to learn how to act selflessly, and they acted as if it were second nature to them. I was blessed by their unconditional kindness and perseverance.
I value my experience working with the CICRIN orphanage (Nicaraguan Christian Children's Center) because of the personal challenges it presented. I had to set aside myself and focus on the children. It could no longer be purely about what I can get out of it. It transformed my attitude into something I have always wanted it to be.
I helped in Nicaragua, but my ultimate memory is the strength and hope of children who I was hoping to encourage. I love them and am so grateful for what they taught me. I helped paint their kitchen, helped with meal clean-up, helped at the local church and high school. I do not feel warm and fuzzy because I can say I helped orphans. I helped, but I am most proud to say that they taught me that it is unimportant if the grass is greener on the other side.
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