1) How did you feel when you landed in Nicaragua?
The moment we landed in Nicaragua excitement flooded over me. It was an early flight from Houston, but the allure of being in a new country, new environment, new culture made sleepiness a thought for later. And exploration and joy an emotion of the NOW! The Airport of Nicaragua was buzzing. Taxi drivers greeting everyone the moment we got through security, and a mixture of locals and tourists fluttering about trying to arrange their next move. Our group was no different. Herding together, we waited for our friends from Feed the Children and away we went. Let the adventure begin.
2) What was your favorite moment you had with a child/mom in the areas you visited?
So many wonderful moments and memories remain in my heart, but the one I will share is from the third day of our trip to El Rodeo. This particular school and community was more developed than the ones we saw the day before, and with that came a sense of pride from the community and leaders who showed us around. Once again, we were greeted off the bus by lines of children, parents, and teachers. Only this time we were received by an overwhelming applause, which caught me off guard. I wanted to applaud them, so we did we all were just clapping and smiling and sharing that contagious feeling of joy and gratitude. The children at this village just seemed so vibrant. When I walked through the path with kids on either side it was the most fun to be able to crouch my 6’0 frame down and give high fives, handshakes and hugs to each child. The connection we felt could only be described as the universal language called LOVE.
It was then on to our routine of handing out fortified meals, educating parents on the power of the vitamins, and distributing vitamins to the children. That day I got to hand out food with Ralph Beitz. While passing out these meals, there was one boy and his aunt (at the time I thought it was his mom) whom I felt quit drawn too. He was very shy to me, but his aunt was super out going and kept trying to convince him to play peek a boo with me. He would smile and then when I came near he would hide behind her. His aunt and I were having more fun playing games than he was.:) But with that our short and sweet connection came to a close when lunchtime was over. We gave quick hugs and off we went. It was time for us to do family visits. I couldn’t get this child’s face out of my mind. He was so sweet and innocent, yet I knew there was something more behind is coy interaction.
As we walked up the hills to the home we were visiting, I realized his aunt was just up a head, and wouldn’t you know it, we were visiting his family. I love these synchronicities in life. We were greeted by his mother and her two other children. The eldest boy was 5 and then Axel, my friend from lunch was 3, and the youngest baby boy was about 10 months. Listening to their mom share with us about her life, and the difference Feed the Children and Vitamin Angels had made was so beautiful. Because of programs like these she didn’t have to decide which child was going to get a meal that day, or a pair of shoes or a backpack for the year. Instead, because the basics were provided, she was able to focus on keeping them in school so they could have a better future than her and her husband.
I was so inspired by her love for her children. I felt so present in this moment listening to her beautiful words. Even though I could not literally understand until translated, I knew her heart, by looking in her eyes and seeing her interact with her sweet boys. As for little Axel, oh boy was I wrong. This little firecracker came alive! He was playing games with us, trying to scare us by pretending to be the greatly feared boogieman “LA MONA.” He would hide behind the door and the pop out and roar!! At the end of our visit, as we said goodbye, I was able to hold her youngest son and sing sweetly to him. Rocking back and forth, looking into his eyes, I will always have his heart in my heart. That was a moment and a connection I will hold dear for the rest of my life. Her children were everything! I love this family so much. Their courage and love have forever changed the way I will love my unborn children, transformed the way I am with my nieces and nephew, and will forever impact my greater love for the most innocent.
3) What differences did you see in the children who had received vitamins?
It was remarkable to see what a difference the vitamins make. From the first village, where distribution was the most recent, to the last village where the children had been the most consistent for the longest amount of time, the face and spirits of the children were drastically different. You could see a difference in their eyes, their complexions, and their attitudes. The children who hadn’t been receiving vitamins for very long where much more distant and reserved, almost seemed scared even. They had more cuts on their skin and a yellowish haze in their eyes. As we progressed to the more developed villages where the vitamins had been distributed at a more consistent rate and a long duration the children had clear white eyes, their skin looked much healthier and they were so open and willing and wanting to play. There was a sense of joy that came through, and their spirits were more alive!
4) What surprised you the most in the villages?
I was very shocked by the lack of not just clean water, but any access to water in the villages. Even the last school we visited where the children were amazing and the most healthy, the biggest concern from the family we visited was how they were going to get water each week. The family home we went to that day was of a grandfather and grandmother taking care of their daughters children. It was so beautiful to hear the grandfather share that he felt as if his grandchildren were his own. And that he would do anything for them. He told us it was very hard to find consistent work. The biggest challenge outside of that was their water access. One day a week from 2am-5am they would have access to a water line before it was shut off for another week. They would have take turns filling up old plastic soda bottle and anything they could. That water would have to last them a week and was used for bathing, cooking, cleaning, and watering their crops. Not just for them, but for their entire extended family of 9. Also, that water wasn’t treated or cleaned either. This was one of the biggest struggles they had to deal with on a daily basis.
5) Anything else you would like people to know about your experience.
Going back through my journal of my time spent in Nicaragua, I am amazed that it wasn’t the hardship and despair that I wrote about, but the joy, love, and overwhelming courage each person had. I will forever remember this trip as a greater lesson to persevere and move beyond what is right in front of me to make the best and most of my circumstances.
It was an honor to serve the amazing people of Nicaragua. I am left with a bit of a whole in my heart that I wish I could be back with my friends, but I feel so blessed to carry their smiles and love with me everyday in my heart! I just want everyone who takes the time to read this to know that anything and everything helps! I used to feel so overwhelmed that I couldn’t make a difference because I couldn’t donate hundreds if not thousands of dollars to those in need, but after coming back from Nicaragua and seeing the difference and change that just a dollar can make, I am blown away.
I would love to encourage everyone to join this movement we have created through Univera’s Serve First. When choosing to take control of your own true healthcare through Univera, you sponsor 4 of these BEAUTIFUL children for an entire year! But if you are like me, and want to do more, you can add any amount, even if it is $1 to your convenience plan and Bill Lee will match it! I am telling you, it will make a difference in the health and the eyes of a child! And because of that we will change the world. I’ve looked in those eyes and I have seen first hand the transformation of health. I will forever be an Ambassador to Univera and now for the children we reach through ServeFirst.org
Thank you Bill Lee, Ralph Beitz, Vitamin Angels, and Feed The Children for granting me the opportunity to share my small world with a greater cause for good. I am forever changed for the better. My heart and mind are open to always choose to SERVE FIRST!~