Over the past few weeks, I have been asked multiple times in scholarship and organization applications to describe a time in my life that completely changed my perspective or allowed me to find my identity. As I have reflected upon this question, one experience always come to mind. I have come to realize how one of the trips that I took to Nicaragua, allowed me to find myself and widen my perspective on this life and the way I live it. To fully understand this impact, I have written about the journey I took when I was sixteen years old.
In November of 2014, during my junior year of high school, I took a trip that changed my life. I had the opportunity to travel to the country of Nicaragua to help build a church for the village of El Porton. My team consisted of about twelve people. We set out from Kansas City, the Monday before Thanksgiving. When we hopped on the plane that would take us to Managua, Nicaragua, none of us knew what was in store for our lives in the next eight days. However, we figured that we would be helping the people of El Porton.
Life in El Porton was very simple. This village was located up in the mountains about an hour and a half away from any city with electricity and running water. That’s right, we didn’t have any running water for showers, flushing toilets, brushing teeth, cooking, and so on. Nor did we have electricity for the small hut that we lived in. The hut was a small cement structure with a main room, and two small bedrooms. The kitchen where all of our meals were cooked was outside the back door. We had no air conditioning so every night we had to open up all the windows and doors to let enough cool air in. In with the air came many creatures that would get to stay with us every night. Although, we didn’t have all of the comforts we usually had, it was one of the best weeks of each of our lives.
We had been sent to work in El Porton because they needed to expand the church in their community. Our work consisted of mixing cement, carrying bricks, filling the bricks with rocks, and putting up the new walls. I did get in on some of the hard labor, but I was also asked to help with the kids that came pouring in to see us, the white people. Much of my time was spent outside, in front of the church, playing ball, and coloring with the kids. They absolutely loved spending time with us. I remember being pulled every which way, and hearing, “pintar” and “pelo” meaning “paint” and “ball”. With my limited Spanish capabilities I was able to communicate very little with these kids, however they tried their hardest to get me to understand them. Sometimes, even though I tried, I could not understand them. I could see frustration in their faces. There was one little boy, Yodani, that never gave up on me.
Yodani was eleven years old. He came to our worksite every day to spend time with us. If we were actually working on the church, he would come up and work right there with us. If I couldn’t understand what someone was saying, he would play charades with me until I got it right. Before I had to leave to go to my home for the night, he would always run up and give me a hug. Yodani was one of the smartest, most caring kids I have ever met. He made an impact on my life.
I remember one particular afternoon I was sitting with Yodani looking at the Spanish to English packet we had brought. He wanted to learn English, so that he could one day become a translator for groups like ours. That day he had brought some of his friends to come see us. I would say we had around twenty young children playing ball, coloring, and trying to learn English. All of them came over to Yodani and I, and sat down on the ground and around the bench. Right then and there is when I felt led to share my faith with these children. I pulled out a book called “Cristo me Ama,” which translates into the American song “Jesus Loves Me.” After spending about forty-five minutes learning and practicing the song, these kids performed it for my whole team. Sitting there and listening to these kids sing their hearts out in praises for my savior brought tears to my eyes. These kids who I had just met, had changed my life and my perspective. I looked at Yodani who was singing as well, he just looked at me and smiled from ear to ear. My heart was filled with undeniable joy and love.
Before I had left for the trip, my life was not fulfilling me. I did not find joy in my day to day activities. I was not thankful for everything in my life. Getting up in the morning felt like the most terrible thing in the world. I had an absolute terrible perspective on life. Going to Nicaragua and spending time with these kids, was exactly what I needed to open up my eyes and kick me back into shape.
Preparing to leave the village of El Porton, I was faced with many tearful goodbyes. These people had taught me what it is like to be truly joyful and grateful in life. I had so many more worldly things than they did, yet their hearts were so much happier. They showed me that you don’t need things to be happy; you just need family, friends, and a savior. As we were driving away, I turned around. I saw the kids that I spent so much time with, chasing our vehicle. At that moment, I cried. I cried tears of happiness. I cried tears of sadness. I cried because my perspective of my world had changed. I cried because I knew that I was changed. I went into that week thinking I would be the one helping the people of El Porton, but really they were the ones that helped me.
Nev Schulman once said, “Life experience is what defines our character, even if it means getting your heart broken or being lied to. You know, you need the downs to appreciate the ups. Going on the adventure or taking that risk is important.” Let’s choose to take part in impactful experiences. Ones that challenge our perspective, find our identities, and define our character.
2016-2017 Kansas FFA Treasurer