It’s the end of the visit of CAFOD’s Step into the Gap volunteers to Nicaragua. Here are the thoughts of Kate and Steph as they prepare to return to the UK:
We have seen and experienced Nicaragua in so many ways these past few weeks, and to put it into words is a daunting task.
My reasons for joining CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme at the beginning of the year were: I have been a long term supporter of CAFOD’s work, I have helped in fundraising, been a Young Leader helping out at events such as Flame and done work experience at Romero House. So it really seemed like a natural progression to spend a year out of education expanding my knowledge of CAFOD and learning more about their work in the developing world before heading off to university to study International Development. But over the past 6 months, this year has become less about myself and more about those around me. I am extremely fortunate to spend a year with nine of the most hardworking, dedicated and passionate people that I have ever met. They have truly changed my life in more ways than one and I have been lucky enough to go to Nicaragua with three of them. I can honestly say I have made friends for life.
This trip has really been a dream come true for me. I have witnessed first-hand some of the work CAFOD’s partners do. Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been able to travel to, the scenery is breath-taking with lots of rolling mountains silhouetted by volcanoes, and it is a country rich in culture. But the people here in Nicaragua are truly what make this place so amazing. They are the friendliest people I have ever been able to meet. They have welcomed us into their homes and their hearts and treated us like family. I wish we could spend longer here exploring more of what Nicaragua has to offer but from what we have witnessed so far, it has been truly awe inspiring. And in trying to show you exactly that I am going to share with you some of my highlights.
We were very lucky to meet Fr. Fernando Cardenal, former Minister of Education here in Nicaragua and a Jesuit priest. This man is a true inspiration to all. In his own words he says “The joy of living is to serve, and I have to serve in order to be happy.” Fernando made an oath to God that he would spend his life defending the lives of the poor, and he has done exactly that. Our meeting with him was short, but I left his presence absolutely speechless and spell bound, he is a true reflection of God and what we should all strive to be.
Another person who made a huge impression on me was a young women called Dona Helen, who is someone that ASOMUPRO and CAFOD are working with closely. She has been through so much yet has stayed so positive and strong throughout it all. She is a woman of pure determination and she says that she owes all this to God and her children. She says “Above all I ask of God that no harm comes to my children, and that my children have a better chance in life than me. This is the legacy I want to leave them.”
I have also learnt over this trip the importance of loving one another, this was exemplified in Elizabeth who works for ASOMUPRO, one of CAFOD’s partners out here in Nicaragua. Her family welcomed us into their home for a week, gave up their beds and made a place for us at their table. They went completely out of their way to make us feel welcome, and it was really heart-breaking to leave. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, came from totally different homes and backgrounds, they truly loved and cared for us. I am really excited to go back home and share some of these incredible stories that we witnessed, and I really hope that in the future I can return, and revisit some of the places and people that we have been fortunate enough to meet. I have left this trip completely changed in more ways than one and a piece of my heart will always be in Nicaragua, until next time… Learn more about CAFOD’s work in Nicaragua
I can barely remember getting on the plane at Heathrow, exactly three weeks ago from me writing this, as I come to the end of what can only be described as a trip of a lifetime. The people we have met, what we have witnessed and the communities we have immersed ourselves in are unlike anything I have ever seen before. I have fallen in love with Nicaragua; as a country, with the people, with the language and even with the animals. There are still many places I would like to travel to in the world but I will be returning to Nicaragua one day, hopefully with perfect Spanish next time!
I’ll start with the country, Nicaragua, somewhere many people back home hadn’t even heard of before I came. I myself knew little about it, except where it was. Having learnt about its recent troublesome history since being here, I am ashamed to say I knew nothing of it before. For someone who is not normally a history or political fanatic, it has really struck me. It began when we met Father Fernando Cardenal. A real inspiration to the people of Nicaragua, he has dedicated his life to helping the poor. He had us all speechless as he told us of life here in the ‘80s, and how in some ways life has not improved for many Nicaraguans in the years since. We walked away even more apprehensive about what was to come over the following weeks, but more keen to learn.
The country itself is beautiful; a land full of volcanoes, lakes, colourful towns, natural beauty and infinite skies. However this is not the main reason I’ve fallen in love. It’s the people who live here that make Nicaragua what it is. As a human geographer it’s always the people of a place that interest me, and capture my heart, not the environment that they live in. However I have found that for Nicaraguans, the two are very much connected. For many of the people we have met, they have been dependent on the land for their livelihoods. “Land is life” is one comment that Jose, a man involved with a cooperative supported by John XXIII institute from a community El Caimito, said who then went on to say, “We live by the will of God”. Whether or not they have enough food to eat or sell depends upon the climate that year. God is central to the people’s lives who we’ve met, which is something that I have found quite inspirational. God has a path for everyone and you’ve just got to follow it.
The openness of the people we have met has been amazing. Their willingness to share stories about their life to strangers from a strange land as well as opening up their houses to us is something I will never forget. “Love thy neighbour” is a quote that to me sums up every encounter we have had. The love for each other within families, communities and God has been evident to see.
For me, my favourite memories of the trip are the days we spent living with Elizabeth’s family (an ASOMUPRO technical support worker) and when I spent the night with Jairo and Georgina and their children. Jairo, like Jose, is part of a John XXIII cooperative in El Caimito. It is impossible to ever completely understand other people’s lives but living with them even for a short time is the closest we can get. It also allows for deeper relationships to be made. The night I spent on my own, in a remote community away from the rest of the group, I felt completely at home. This was because I was sharing a room with Georgina and her daughter, people I had only known a few hours but who had opened up their home to me in a way that had touched my heart. The next morning this relationship was made deeper by helping to prepare breakfast and sharing stories about our lives with each other. I can’t bear the thought of never seeing these people again, which is why I must return one day.
International development is a real passion of mine and to have the opportunity to meet CAFOD’s overseas partners and to see their work in the communities first hand really has given me a drive to make a difference in our world. It is clear the positive impacts each partner has made on people’s lives, whether it be empowering women in rural Nicaragua, guiding young people to become leaders or bringing together communities as a cooperative. I can’t wait to share these very real stories with CAFOD supporters back home. I want to finish with a quote from Isabel, a woman who has been helped by John XXIII social housing scheme, “Life is beautiful, you’ve just got to work at it”. I think this is true of anyone living anywhere in the world. Everyone is a child of Christ, everyone can make a difference “one step at a time” (Juan Carlos, ASOMUPRO technical support worker).