1) How did you feel when you landed in Nicaragua?
I was so excited! For one week I get to be part of three non-profit organizations serving humanity, working together, providing a service to improve the lives of so many.
I’ve been to developing countries before, so I knew what to expect as far as seeing poverty, disease, and undernourished children, but his time I was able to see how our health and educational programs are turning into reality and the changes they are making. I was so overjoyed with our first visit to a school in Pueblo Nuevo that is being supported by our contributions. When I saw the children lined up in their clean uniforms waiting so patiently, looking healthy, beaming with big smiles and huge personalities it warmed my heart. Then seeing that they want the same things in their life as our children in the U.S. want, which is to play, be seen and heard, held and supported, I cried with joy!
2) What was your favorite moment you had with a child/mom in the areas you visited?
It was during the interviews with the families I visited. Once we established our similarities: the love we share for our children and making sure they are healthy and happy, we were on a level playing field. Once our feeling of separation evaporated our different lifestyles were not important.
My favorite moments were when we were connecting heart to heart. Given permission to hug their children in their homes and allowing us to ask them very personal questions was beyond a favorite moment. It’s one thing to drive by these villages in a speeding van, it’s another to step inside their world. Seeing the whole person, moms, dads and kids. Knowing whole heartily from being a part of Univera for 10 years now, that donating to Serve First all this time, my family and I have helped these families. Our Univera communities are making a difference, and that feels really good.
One personal moment that I will never forget was the way one of the moms looked at me when she realized I saw her for the sweet caring person, loving mom and wife who embraces her life with all her heart. We both smiled deeply into each other’s eyes.
3) What differences did you see in the children who had received vitamins?
What is evident is the growth difference between the kids who received vitamins in their earlier years and those who didn’t. I was surprised to see some 8, 9 and 10 year olds who looked around 5, 6 or 7 years old.
The majority of children who have received vitamins since early on in their lives were taller, had more muscle mass, and lots of energy. I played baseball with some of the bigger kids at one of the schools we visited and they were strong and fast. I could tell most of them were really passionate about their game. Similar to the kids I played with in my neighborhood growing up in Long Beach, CA. As healthy energetic kids we played with lots of energy, fast and full of passion.
4.) What surprised you the most in the villages?
How comfortable they are with who they are and what they do have. When I stopped thinking about what they don’t have, I felt comfortable with them. What they have is what people who come from a place of gratitude say,” hope, kindness and love.” Their words are “I have a family that I love and we love each other.” “I live with my whole family in a village, we play together, eat together when there is food or water.” “My sister or mom or grandparents take care of my children if I can’t.” One of the parents are with the children full time, no nannies are raising them. No T.V’s to show them what they need to be happy. I saw the kid’s imaginations being embraced, I could see their curiosity being nurtured.
I saw the kids sharing food and stuffed animals with each other, which surprised me, thinking they would behave selfishly having so little. I’ve seen children the same age in the U.S.A. not sharing when they have so much. It seems so true that having too much breeds not having enough.
5) Anything else you would like people to know about your experience.
Ten years ago, when I was introduced to Univera, I heard something about our non-profit called Serve First which spiked my curiosity. Then I learned more about Bill Lee and his vision to end world hunger. I wanted to know how he planned on doing this, because I wanted to be part of this.
Three years ago Renate Lundberg asked me if I would like to find talent within the Univera community and direct a talent show, to raise money for our Serve First program. Last year Ralph Bietz told us that our shows raised more money than any other fundraising event. Because of this, I was asked to join them on the next Serve First trip to Central America hosted by our partners at Vitamin Angels. What a gift it’s been getting the opportunity to both enjoy the process of bringing our talent on stage – including seeing the shows – and then being rewarded by visiting villages we support in Nicaragua. Thank you so much Ralph Bietz and Tana Whelan for inviting me to be a part of this eye-opening journey. I loved our conversations about our past, present, and future dreams and goals. You are both a joy to travel with.
Vitamin Angels, and especially Phoebe Hitchman, your professional leadership was flawless. I felt safe, our accommodations and our food was perfect. Your teams are reaching out into the world with the help of groups like Feed The Children our team of awesome travelers. To everyone in Feed The Children, you have so much passion for helping those living in extreme poverty, you have my full respect. Seeing how your education programs train the villagers to overcome their lack of basic resources like food and water was amazing. You give them knowledge; increasing their ability to survive and thrive for generations.
Last but certainly not least, thanks to our photographers Morgen Loomis and Matt Dayka. My goodness how you capture the heart and soul of those children in a photograph! Seeing you running around like chickens making these kids laugh and feel comfortable was beautiful.
Bob, Renate and Jordan… what fun it was having meals together. And our trips driving long hours on the road stuck behind old pick up trucks piled with people traveling to and from work, while sharing deep and meaningful stories, was truly joyous.
My wish is for everyone who contributes to Serve First to be invited to see firsthand how we are supporting undernourished children and helping to end world hunger. Bill Lee is a true hero; providing nourishment to men, women and children of all nations and beliefs.