Going to Nicaragua this past Febraury was a life-changing experience. I went with my temple, Temple Shaaray Tefila, and Bedford Presbyterian Church, on a trip sponsored by Bridges to Community. The group I was in was led by, Rabbi Jason Nevarez, and the Church's Youth Coordinator, Kathy Files DiBiasi. We left together from JFK airport to Miami International, where we took a flight to Managua.
Once in Managua, we took a bus to a small, foreigner-friendly hotel called El Raizón in Masaya. We stayed at "El Rai" for a day and a half – climbing Volcan Masaya, zip-lining over Laguna de Masaya, and touring el Barrio Ruben Dario in Managua.
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We then split up, my group going to Las Conchitas, a small town near Masaya, Masaya, and stayed in the school for two weeks before going to Granada for a night. After Granada, we went back to "El Rai" for another night before returning home.
This trip not only improved my Spanish speaking and understanding skills, it gave me a better idea of what kind of world we live in. I'll admit that before this point in time, I had mainly gone on trips to wealthy countries, such as England, Wales, France, Italy, and Canada, and so I had next to no idea what to expect in Nicaragaua. I had gone to China in 2007, but I was fairly sheltered there. In Nicaragua, I was fully immersed in the culture, and the horrors of poverty. But, when I arrived there, I learned something quite amazing. Yes, it was poor. However, to my surprise, that wasn't what my mind focused on, during and after the trip.
What I focused on, were the adorable, dimpled faces that smiled up at me as the children of Las Conchitas helped out with sanding the edges of the tiles for the school we were building and the hard work and laughter provided by the self-same kids who came to help us when their half-school-day was done. What I focused on, was the laughter and smiles that those children brought to our tasks every day. It amazed me that these children were so eager to take such a big part in the work that we were doing – it was impossibly hard, made exponentially more so by having to work in the sun. But these kids smiled and plowed on. And they hung out with us at night in the courtyard in our dorms. We played with them and they worked with us. It was a weird sort of symbiotic relationship.
But that made me realize. Where we come from, you wouldn’t find any kid their age giving up their recess or free time to build their school. We’d say “Let the professionals do it,” and off we’d go. But these kids helped – they really did. And that amazes me. That was when I realized what being wealthy is. Being wealthy isn’t the amount of money you have or how big your house is or what brands of clothes you have or where you go to school, being wealthy is more than that. And, in my definition, these kids are the wealthiest people on Earth. Because being wealthy is being happy, and these kids were smiling and laughing, despite their circumstances. If they weren’t happy, I don’t know who is.
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