This is a very emotional post for me. Every time I talk about my time volunteering in Nicaragua at Project Woo – Surfers as Catalysts for Change, my heart fills with joy, gratitude and love. It was the most intense 6 months of my life.
It was August 4th 2014 when I arrived at Augusto Sandino Airport, Managua. The time was 9pm and the temperature outside was definitely above 100˚F/40˚C.
I was so excited to begin this journey, a chance to change my life. I wanted to find purpose, do volunteer work and also learn how to surf (my dream). Live a simple life by the beach. I found Project WOO doing research on the internet, so I contact them, and after a Skype call with the Volunteer Program Coordinator, Lisa Bisceglia, I just had to buy my ticket and fly over. And that’s what I did.
Project Woo had arranged an airport pick up for me, his name was Alex, he had a big friendly smile on his face and a sign with my name. I tried a broken spanish, but after nearly 30 hours of traveling, my brain wasn’t working properly. I was exhausted. I remember falling asleep in the car, with the windows wide open, feeling that warm breeze on my face. I apologized to Alex and woke up 2 hours later when we arrived in Gigante. Because I got in late, I spent the night at Margarita’s rooms, a local lodge right in the heart of the town.
The next morning I walked to Project Woo’s office (15 steps from Margarita’s) and met Lara Buros, an American woman who was working for WOO as english teacher at the Public School. Soon Lisa arrived and gave me the warmest hug and smile anybody can give. She introduce me to Project WOO history and Gigante. A little later Ali Kala (another volunteer) arrived and they started talking about a homestay situation, by then my brain was already toasted mixing spanish, portuguese and english at the same time. And by that time I would never imagine I would love these 3 women so much.
After all paper work was done and contracts were signed it was time to meet Maria Elena, my homestay mother, where I would spend the next 1 month and half.
Playa Gigante has 4 dirt roads, 1 church, 5 restaurants, 2 hostels, 1 school, 1 main pulperia (little grocery store) and 3 other small ones. We would walk to Maria Elena’s, but luckily a friend of Lisa was driving by Woo’s office to drop some surfboards and gave us a ride. It was 3 minutes by car.
Maria Elena was waiting for me, I could see her face with anxiety and a little nervous, same here. She is divorced and owns a little house very well taken care of. The house has 2 bedrooms, one living room, a kitchen and a small pulperia. She sleeps in one room with her son Andres, her grandson Josué and her daughter Patricia, who was visiting from San Juan del Sur. She showed me my room, around the house, the latrina, the outside shower, the potable water, the well and the pigs. I understood maybe 30% of what she said. Lisa left me in company of my new Nica family and I started my journey in search for purpose and surf in beautiful Playa Gigante.
Let me explain why this area is a surfer’s paradise. South Nicaragua is very lucky because Lake Nicaragua crates offshore winds almost year round, which makes world class waves all day long, every day. Oh, have I mention the non developed gorgeous Amarillo beach, a fast tubular beach break just walking distance from home/work? And an amazing sunset. Ok, now you know.
Back to work talk… Project Woo has a Volunteer Program, where they host groups of volunteers coming mostly from USA, they stay in town for 7 up to 14 days, doing service work for community in education or health field. Sometimes they stay at WOO’s homestay families, or at a local community lodge.
My role was to assist Lisa in these program, make sure that there was a cultural understanding between the volunteers and locals, make sure everybody have their Gallo Pinto ready for lunch, that we have all the materials we need to work, the homestay families are getting paid, the fishing boat is ready to take the volunteers to the ocean, that everything run smooth, that community is happy, volunteers are happy and we are happy.
One of the most important jobs I had to do was to build relationship with community in order to create a better understanding of their needs and culture. Sometimes that means just sit around at Isabel’s porch, play with her kids and listen to her stories. Sometimes is go eat barbecue at Lucia’s while her husband plays harmonica and sing to us. And that’s so awesome and so rewarding.
During my time there we build 2 classrooms and a library area for the public school.
We were lucky enough and had the chance to meet professional surfers and environmental activists Tia Blanco and Cyrus Sutton from Reef team! They came to help us out with the school project. Here is a cool video they made:
We also had a Diabetes Week where we had a brigade of medical students from different American Universities visiting houses in the community searching for cases of diabetes, addressing for treatment and educating people about the second major disease in that area.
Lara started the Chicas Surf Club, the first surf club for girls in Gigante, the goal was to build a stronger self-esteem and empowerment for local girls. As people might not know, Nicaragua is a very sexist country and women are often victims of domestic violence and abuse. We had soooo much fun! Bet they are ripping by now.
And then there was Summer Camp, also lead by Lara, kids were out learning how to surf, making solar ovens, cooking pancakes. So much fun! Here is a recap short video:
I’ve learnt so much.
Learnt how to slow down, how to talk to people and listen to people. How to love a family that it’s not my own. Learnt how useless is a knife when you have tortillas. I’ve learnt to appreciate the simple things in life we take for granted, like fresh vegetables for example, It’s pure excitement when the veggie truck comes into town 3 times a week. Or that one time (in one year!) that the ice cream truck came… oh, that was a happy day.
My understanding of water resources and usage changed drastically when I could see (actually see) how much water I had on my well, and then I had to plan how many showers I could take and how much of dishes I would be able to wash before the water ends. And it ends my friend, because It’s dry out there, In 2014 was 3rd year of draught in Nicaragua. Many days with no water at all.
I prayed for rain.
I stole water (shame on me).
I’ve learnt to appreciate Nature and respect it’s resources. We (and you too) are killing this beautiful Planet… really think about that.
I can’t thank enough to all the people I met in Gigante, my family, my friends, gringos and locals. Forever grateful.
People may say: “Lucky you had this opportunity, but I have a career and family to take care of, It’s impossible to go to Nicaragua and volunteer”. And I agree, not everybody need, or want, or can go all the way to Central America to make a positive change. There are so many other ways we can help. Start recycling at home, save water, plant a tree, eat less meat, or just go outdoor more often and connect to Nature. Do something, anything.