by Andreya Cherry
Participant, Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua 2013
It’s strange how you can wake up in one place and fall asleep in an entirely different one. Maybe it’s a house away, as you spend the night with a friend, or a state away when you are on vacation. Or perhaps it is a destination far away- two plane rides, a bus trip, and a boat ride away.
About 3 weeks ago, Mitzvah Corps Nicaragua members woke up scattered across the country. From San Diego to Boston, Dallas to Philadelphia, Seattle to New York City, 17 of us joined together on a mission to change the world. We all came from different backgrounds, with diverse interests and a variety of ages, but shared a similar drive – to practice tikkun olam and help a little town that truly needed our help. A little sense of adventure also helped achieve our goals. As a group and a family we set out to help make life easier for the residents of El Castillo and start a long-lasting relationship between our Jewish community and the town.
To be quite honest, I did not know what I was getting into when I decided to be a part of Mitzvah Corps. Nicaragua was not the place I imagined spending part of my summer, and building a sidewalk was definitely not what I thought I would do. But I am so happy I was given this opportunity and experience to help those less fortunate than myself.
Living in El Castillo for just a few days was an incredibly eye opening experience. There were no cars and no roads, no iPhones and no water pressure. But despite the lack of grand houses and high tech gadgets, the people were happy. Never in my life have I been welcomed into a community so quickly and readily. The children played with us immediately, and our fellow sidewalk-constructors laughed along with us when boots got stuck or cement splattered over previously clean legs. It’s a different life, a simpler life.
While all that is amazing and surreal, it isn’t quite fair to the people. One of the teenage boys our group befriended told us that he “hates Nicaragua, but loves El Castillo.” Living in the second poorest country in the Americas is not easy. When talking to some of the political leaders we learned that while the exchange rate is good for Americans, not everybody has tons of Cordoba (Nicaraguan currency) to spend on treats and toys. Many of the kids dream of visiting the United States. Their opportunities for employment and life in general are limited. Compare to them, we live spoiled lives of luxury.
That is why it is important that we do the best we can to help people like the residents of El Castillo. It is the reason we are commanded to pursue justice and help others. Little 9-year-old Sadie, one of the 1,300 residents of El Castillo, should be able to grow up and do whatever she wants to do and not be limited by her country and town.
So I thank NFTY’s Mitzvah Corps, along with all my trip mates and new friends, for teaching me so much over just 10 short days. I have seen how some people live, and feel like I can change it. I can create an impact in this world. Something that seems as normal as a sidewalk can help families more than I ever imagined. Together, as a community, we all can change the world.
Life is an experience, full of choices you have to make, actions you should take, and things you have to fight through. So take risks. Volunteer for a new program, get drenched in the rain, fall in the mud. Build a community and help the world.