In our twenty years we have had the pleasure of hosting many, many volunteers and delegations. In fact, we have hosted 670 volunteers for short stays and longer stays…the longest stay being 18 months. We have hosted 163 delegations with over 2,500 people in those groups.
Until 2003, all the volunteers and delegations stayed in our home and we got to know them very well. We shared our space, which was sometimes extremely limited...like with the first Bucknell Brigade in 1999. They had 36 members! We were all packed in like sardines, vying for bathroom time and getting to know each other…maybe more than we really wanted to!
For our very first delegation in 1995, we sat down with them each morning and said, “Well, what would you like to do today?” We had no help in the home for cleaning and cooking. Folks slept on beds in the corridor that we had bought for them. There was little space for them to store their stuff and we had to warn them to hide their toothbrushes because our Daniel, then two and a half years old, loved to clean the floor with toothbrushes. The slaughter house was 20 feet away and they listened to cows die nightly…several of them gave up eating meat.
Until 1999, we transported our volunteers in the back of trucks or in an ancient ambulance-style Land Cruiser. It was not uncommon to have to push the trucks to get them started or stop suddenly for a flat tire. But in 1999, Highlands Presbyterian Church, from Maryville, TN, brought us the yellow bus. Many, many delegations rode the yellow bus and wrote their comments on the ceiling until this year when we had to retire the poor thing.
In 1999, Becca came as a college student and naturally started organizing the volunteers. When she came back in 2001 she developed the volunteer coordinator position. Things have changed. Though having people in our home made for positive learning situations for volunteers, as we and our children aged, it was becoming more and more difficult for us.
Becca and a nurse, Jane Thomas, who was volunteering in 2001, suggested we build a space for volunteers. We started construction on the volunteer dorm using only designated gifts. The first delegation in the new building was the January Bucknell Brigade in 2003. They not only inaugurated the dorm, but also poured the floor for the second story for longer term volunteer space.
We feel that an important aspect of our work is the education of those in wealthier countries. It is important for the First World to understand Nicaraguan history because it intertwines so much with U.S. history. We, from the First World, need to understand that how we spend and invest our money affects the poor here. We had to learn this, too. We have speakers now for groups and volunteer coordinators to put things in context for them.
It is also extremely important for people from wealthier countries to put faces on the poor. When delegations see the poor working harder than they have ever worked…when they see mothers and fathers with their children struggling to get through the day….when they see children being open and loving with them, then and only then do they begin to understand and make changes.
The most important work volunteers do is inside them…to look, listen, learn, feel,smell, and taste poverty...and then change.
• Tile and paint the upstairs of the dorm...awaiting funding.
down to #GivingTuesday on December 2nd, we’re highlighting the CDCA’s
accomplishments over our 20 years in Nicaragua. Follow our countdown in
this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. Help us keep doing more by giving $20. Our goal is to raise $20,000.