Stevens Students Head to Nicaragua on Mission Trip

6/20/2011

Our road to Nicaragua was full of ambition and determination.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we all had the feeling that it was going to be something really worthwhile.

I heard about the trip after a screening on campus of the “The Human Experience” put together by the Newman Association and Alpha Phi Omega.  It is an amazing movie that puts a perspective on the way we live here in America and how blind we are to the poverty and sickness that exists outside of our bubble.  

After the screening, Maureen Madigan, the Catholic Minister of the Newman Association at Stevens, asked us reflection questions about the images we saw in the movie.  Overall, the message was very powerful and students responded with very meaningful answers.  

My decision to see the movie was spur of the moment, but I am so grateful I did because I would not have found out about the mission trip to Nicaragua that Maureen began to explain to us.

Maureen began to talk about the mission trip she had been working on together with a charity called Mustard Seed Communities.  I had never heard of them before, but was immediately intrigued.  She told us there were only four people going so far and more spots needed to be filled to make the trip happen.  

Right then and there, the trip filled up with four more people – Bryan Franklin ‘11, Arik Zeevy ‘11, Sarah Parker ‘11, and myself.  Already going on the trip was Ceceila Williams ‘11, Nicole Patrone ‘11, Herman Saini ‘13, and Roy Wang, graduate student, who heard about the trip through the Student Newsletter.  
We had two months to fundraise $16,400.  Unfortunately one of our members, Roy, found out that he could not go on the trip about two weeks before our flight.  His efforts towards the fundraising were tremendous, however, and we could not have done it without him.  The whole team really pulled through between getting the word out, coming up with creative ideas to fundraise, and following through with all of them.

Finally, the time had come when we all had to depart and catch a 6 AM flight out of Newark Airport.  

We packed up our bags and head off into the early morning….

The past two months all became worth it from the moment we began descending into a sea of lush green trees that encompasses Nicaragua.

Julia, administrator of Mustard Seed Communities, met us at the airport. She is an amazing individual who lives in the Mustard Seed house in Diriamba seven days a week.  She speaks English very well and guided us throughout the entire week.  

From Julia to the caretakers to the drivers, the people of Mustard Seed in this country made us feel so welcome and comfortable; I already consider it a home away from home.

We met the children of Hogar Belen – Diriamba on our first day.  At first, we did not know what to expect.  Some of us were apprehensive because we had never dealt with children with disabilities before.  

When we walked towards the kids for the very first time, Sarita, one of the twelve year old girls with Down Syndrome, came running towards one of our girls and jumped right into her arms without any warning.

It was unexpected at first, but it kind of “broke the ice” if you will.  After only a half hour with the children we realized how innocent they are.  They are simple -  simple in the most wonderful sense. They do not judge us, but embrace us with all of their love.  

We soon learn that every one of the children has a story, which is truly heartbreaking.

These stories range from physical and mental abuse, forced drugs, and rape by biological or foster parents and relatives.  Many of these children have disabilities such as Down Syndrome, microcephaly, cerebral palsy, hydrocephaly, autism, mental disabilities, and more.   Also, they have all been abandoned.

Despite the overwhelming sadness we felt after hearing these stories, the time we spent with the children was more fulfilled with joy and happiness than I could have ever imagined.

After only a few minutes of being with the children, we started to get the hang of it.  They made it so easy! Even with their history they manage to put a BIG smile on their faces when they interact with people. In exchange, we had BIG smiles on our faces.

Through sign language we were able to communicate.  In the face of tragedy, every child living within the Mustard Seed home shines through their pasts in the most magnificent way.  

At the end of the day, they are children just like your own who need the basic necessities to live and grow.  The main difference is that they do not have the same access to resources as we have in America.

These children want to be loved just as any individual in the world.  Love is truly the essence of our being and we cannot move forward without it.

One of the days we were in Nicaragua, Julia took us to La Chureca, the city dump located in the capital, Managua.  There, 1,500 people live, without running water and eating scraps of the garbage food.

Our team visited the elementary school within the dump that has an enrollment of 500 children.  Here, these children are without disabilities, but are dealing with malnutrition.  One can see by their big stomachs and blond hair the signs that they are not getting the nutrients they need in order to develop.

I will never forget the words Julia told us while we were in the dump. She said, “Never give up on your dreams.  Look at the way you live and see what you have.  Do not take it for granted.  When you are having a bad day and are angry or sad, think of the children’s faces here and you will see that your day is not so bad.”

Living in those moments in Nicaragua has changed my life. It makes a world of difference when you can put a smile on these children’s faces.  Being in Nicaragua, showed me how true this statement is for so many reasons.

There is nothing cliché about it.  This is real life.  I realized how exposing myself to this environment makes me stronger in my own daily life.  Mustard Seed Communities instilled the fact that we should never take anything for granted down to the simplest commodity as hot water.  

We live in a bubble that makes us very comfortable. Sometimes we need to seek outside of our comfort zones and test our comfortable lifestyle.  Our lives are something we need to appreciate, for the sake of these children in Nicaragua, because they will never have the opportunities we have.

Take time to enjoy the little things in life, spend time with those closest to you, and have faith so that every individual going through a hard time can pull through.

The Mission Team ’11 to Nicaragua could not have done anything without the support of our Stevens and Hoboken community.  Everyone was so tremendous in our fundraising efforts.  On behalf of our mission team, I would like to thank each and every one of you who contributed to our cause.  Without you, we could not have experienced a trip of a lifetime.