Lessons From Nicaragua: The Service Trip of a Lifetime

By: Maria Requena, Junior


It has been exactly six days since I returned home from Las Penitas, Nicaragua. Six days since I left the beautiful country and its people. Six days since I’ve been surrounded by the sounds of construction, Spanish music, crashing waves, and farm animals. Six days since I have last served. Six days since I’ve been home and have had to readjust to the way we live, after having quickly accustomed to living with the NICAs. I knew the moment I hugged Santos and Alberto goodbye, tears in my eyes, for the last time, that I had changed, and the person who had come to Nicaragua just 10 days earlier would never be the same.

View from the roof of a local church in Leon, Nicaragua

Santos, Alberto, and Danilo were our Fuller Center Leaders. Through NCC Breakaway, a group of 16 of us embarked on an adventure to serve those in need through helping build homes through the Fuller Center Global Builders Program. Santos and Alberto spoke English as best they could, and myself and three others served as translators. I went with little expectations, or perceptions, and returned with the memory of the trip of a lifetime. They were so grateful to have us there, and looked out for us as if we were their own children. They served us probably more than we could have served them, and taught us more than we could teach them.

I learned how to mix concrete, bend rebar, how to build a roof, how to spackle. I rode in the back of a pickup truck, ate Nicaraguan Oreos, experienced the joy of my first and hopefully not last plantain chip. But even more importantly, I learned to redefine community, service, love, and kindness.

Mixing concrete for the walls

Our group helped put roofs on three houses, helped remodel the structure of a sinking home, and built a new house from the bottom up. The Fuller Center requires that the family who will be living in the house help in the construction of it. This gave us the opportunity to meet them, converse and learn about them. I mostly worked at the remodeling house, bending rebar and mixing concrete for the bulk of it. The family there consisted of a nurse, a fisherman, a little girl, and a little babe but three months old. Also custom to the process, community members would come by and volunteer their time, despite the fact that this house wasn’t for them, but their neighbor.

It was with them that I learned and experienced what a loving and kind community truly is. These people look after each other like family, and help each other out every way they can. They are very genuine and caring. After all, they are what they have; there is no apple store in sight, or mall. No traffic lights or stop signs, or even road names. Phones and computers are nowhere in sight. Many people walked barefoot, adults and small children alike. Animals were everywhere; pigs, horses, chicken, dogs, just freely roaming in and out of homes. They didn’t belong to any one person, rather to the community. They accept and are grateful for what they are given and what they have, and likewise, welcomed us into their community without a sweat. They not only wanted our help, but they also wanted to help us, and get to know us. They asked us questions about our lives, and likewise, we asked about theirs. They offered prayers and blessings, and luck in our endeavors. We never ran out of ice water. Never went hungry. We were never forced to overwork ourselves; if we began to tire, they told us to take a break in the shade to make sure we would stay healthy and safe. We came to serve them, but often times, it felt like they were serving us.

Progress on raising the roof

Through this I have learned that service is more than simply lending a hand, or helping a process move along faster. Service, at the core of it, is about caring. It’s learning about the people you are helping, and figuring out how you best fit into their story, not the other way around. Service is gratitude; appreciating everything you have been blessed with, and exhaling it back into your community. Service is learning to love; love those whom you serve as much as you love yourself. They will in return, love you as much as they love themselves, and serve you in your time of need. Service is sacrifice; give up your time, your energy, give up your money, your perfectly clean shirt. Giving your soul with gratitude, knowing and reassured that you are making a positive impact in someone else’s life. Service is kindness, in the rawest form of the word.

I came in, excited for adventure, enthused to learn, energized to make a difference. This open mindset made it perfect to absorb all of the love this community had to give. And sure, it was exhausting work, but at the end, I have returned home with even more excitement, enthusiasm, and energy, to serve. This trip has taught me that there are infinite ways to serve, and I don’t plan to rest until I have explored them all.

Group photo at the end of our build week on the Beach at Las Penitas, Nicaragua

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