Young volunteers reflect on their work
Hilton High School sponsored its third trip to Nicaragua to work on the 4Walls Project this summer. Seventeen students, accompanied by staff and other supporters, raised the funds and built houses for the families of Francisco Jose Lopez and Ana Cecelia Rivas.
Senior Brenna Francisco talked about the emotional difficulty of the trip. She cried when she saw the badly calloused feet of a tiny boy named Michael. He had never owned shoes. She cried at the farewell dinner when she said goodbye to her family and to Alejandro, her translator. “He was wearing sunglasses,” she said. “But I know he was crying, too. We got really close to our translators and told them we will be jealous when another group comes to work!” Brenna said her dad is already saving money so he can return to El Sauce with her next summer. He wants to meet Ana Cecelia Rivas and her family and to build another house.
“The people are so caring, so friendly,” Nicole Bansbach, another senior, told us.
“The kids were super curious and smart. One asked me if I ever saw snow. He wanted to know what snow was like. We didn’t know how to explain it,” she said. “The kids were so happy when they ran into us on the street. ‘Hola, hola,’ they would yell to us.” Brenna talked about Ana’s family business of making manuelitas — cheese-filled crepes, Nicaraguan style — which they sold on the street for a dollar. Ana’s husband poured and fried the batter while Ana prepared the fillings and rolled the crepes. (See the kitchen facilities for making the manuelitas in Ana’s photo below.)
“I loved the mountains!” said Ema Stadtmiller, a junior at Hilton. “Our translator was really interested in building up his English vocabulary,” she told us. “Somehow he needed to know what a rug was. I told him it was a little like a sweater. He was just staring at us and then I remembered he didn’t know what a sweater was.” She said the translators were great. “Alejandro made sure we didn’t get bored in the evening. He took us to play basketball and volleyball. Then these really cool kids just showed up and started playing with us.” Ema has decided to sponsor Ana’s daughter through the Ciudad Hermana scholarship program.
Noah Neale was pretty confident his Nicaragua trip would be a good one. His sister had visited El Sauce and worked on the 4Walls Project twice. “She loved it! From talking to her, I had a good idea what to expect. I wasn’t nervous. I got to practice my Spanish, especially the day we went to Ocotal. I translated for one of the coffee farmers.” Noah liked riding horses up the mountain. He told us the unexpected parts of the trip were the most fun — like the pickup basketball games. “I wish we could have stayed longer and I hope I can go back,” he said. “I want to visit other parts of the country — check out the volcanoes.”
All the kids agreed that the work was hard, but fun. Standing in the hot sun, wetting the bricks was Ema’s favorite job. Nicole’s was mixing the mortar, la mezcla. The mason showed Noah how to spread la mezcla between the bricks. “Then it felt like I was really building,” Noah said. They wished they could have stayed to see the roofs go on the houses. “But at least we saw the walls and windows.”
They were homesick in the beginning, but that changed. “As a group we got really close. We didn’t really know each other before the trip. The hardest thing was leaving. We all cried our eyes out,” they told us. “None of us wanted to go.”