Volunteering in Nicaragua – Building a School and Giving Hope

Written By: The Planet D

Today’s post comes to us from my sister Teresa Wilson, a woman I admire for her convictions. When I put out the question in search of people to write about their experiences giving back while traveling abroad,  I was excited by the response. Travelers are a very giving bunch.  We feel compelled to help the communities that we travel through and want to give back somehow.

But I cannot forget there are other people out there that give to less fortunate nations even when they have not stepped foot on their soil in the past. For a woman to pick up and leave her comfort zone when she has never left North American soil for Nicaragua is a testament to her bravery and strength.

Volunteer in Nicaragua

“A small town Canadian girl (yes I call myself a girl even at 46) gets a chance to go to a Central American country to build a school not once but twice! How sweet was that?”

Here is a post about her first big leap into the world to help a small community in Nicaragua, and how it changed her perspective so much that she decided to do it all over again.

Why Volunteer in Nicaragua?

A Child Lends a Hand | volunteering in nicaragua

To exercise this faith I claim to have and to experience life outside this security of home. Walk the walk if you will.

I went in 2007 for two weeks to build a school. At this point in my life I had never left North America.

I overheard a conversation at church about a mission team being put together and I commented that I would love to do something like that. The rest as they say is history.

Who knew, besides God, that that small statement would lead to 2 trips to Nicaragua.

Now I know there will be people out there who will see the God reference and go “Oh no, not one of those” Do not dismiss God because of the actions of people. That is all I will say about that.

It was even better this second time as I brought my 16-year-old son Joey.   We were joined by 10 other people making up our team of twelve.

Volunteering in Managua, Nicaragua

nicaragua volunteering
Teresa Wilson

When we landed in Managua Nicaragua, nothing could prepare me for the heat. 

It was July and it was sweltering as we loaded up our vans with 24 hockey bags.  Each filled with 50 pounds of school supplies, gift bags, and medical kits.

We were driving to Angels Inn, in Managua were we stayed until we leave for Somoto. 

As far as traffic laws go, I would have to say they appear to be open to interpretation. Cars zipped by as our driver weaved in and out of traffic honking his horn. Every traffic light is an outpost for street vendors selling everything from frozen water to cashews; which were delicious by the way.

Slums of Managua

I had never seen real slums before. Homes were made of garbage and street kids swarmed the van when we stopped to see some of the buildings that remain from Managua’s once-prosperous past. 

There is a cathedral with its clock frozen at the exact moment of a December 1972 earthquake.

Yes, foreign aid pours in but it is used to line the pockets of the rich resulting in the country being what we see now.

It has been a battle for the working class of the country. There is a huge gap between the haves and the have nots.

The Volunteer Experience

Nicaragua volunteer experience
At the Orphanage

We visited a few orphanages, where the children were filled with joy and we were uplifted as we took part in their soccer game.  

The hospitals however were a different story and we witnessed the poor conditions that people face each day. 

The line ups and the lack of distraction from the suffering was evident in the faces of the patients.

“As far as helping the locals; We in free countries are showing by example that you have to care for the little guy. Since it is by grace that we are were we are here and not there.”

The people of Nicaragua are in no way under the illusion that they can count on fairness treatment as fair wage, freedom in this very poor country.

Its citizens are undernourished, under-educated, and basically uncared for by the government.

Donating Medical Kits

Hard at Work volunteering in Nicaragua
Hard at Work

We brought our medical kits purchased here in Canada for $575. It was medicine that is close to expiring, but in Nicaragua they eagerly received it and it would be used right away. 

These kits can contain up to $10,000 in medicine which would have been disposed of here as garbage. 

People all over the world in need of medicine and Canada is putting it in the trash.

Although this trip we did notice some semblance of a growing middle class.

What will that lead to?  Let us hope that they don’t follow our lead to simply accumulate stuff to fill their lives.

From the city we move to Somoto; a town close to the Honduras border  with a population of about 30,000.

The street is lined with fresh produce plantains, pineapples, mangos, lemons, limes, and avocados. I was in heaven tasting the rich flavor.

People great each other with warm friendly smiles. It is here that our work began.

Building a School in Nicaragua

Women Carrying our Water volunteer nicaragua
Women Carrying our Water

Just on the outskirts of town, we build alongside the locals, we began to build the school. And man can they work.

It was painstaking work as we stack the cinder blocks by hand. The cement was mixed by hand and carried in pails.

Everyone had their jobs mixing, molding, and laying the bricks. 

The scaffloding was shakey to say the least, but together we got it finished after several days of working in the heat.  

The women brought us water with pails they carry on their heads. Did I feel bad wasting it? Oh yeah!

It was an eye opening experience and I hope that it changes my son’s view on life. He is now looking into ways to help with Habitat for Humanity.

Sightseeing is Part of the Experience

Things to do in montego bay river tubing

We did get to do some sightseeing while we were there.

Just a  Nicaraguan hop skip and jump we went tubing down the river as the walls of the canyon soared 250 meters.

Huge cacti are growing right on the rock face.  Absolutely amazing.  It only costs $5.00 and at that rate, tips can be generous.

The plant life is everywhere and the jungle is lush and green. For this first time traveler, it was an experience to contend with bugs, spiders and beatles.

When it came to the spiders, I really got to see what I was made of.  We survived and I felt so strong. They were the size of my hand, no kidding!

Nicaragua is growing in tourism and I can understand why. Its natural wonders are beautiful. 

We got up close and personal with a live volcano and we went for a canopy tour and zip line over the rain forest.  So exhilarating.

I have never felt more alive in my whole life as I did those 2 weeks. The beauty of it’s land is matched only by the beauty of her people.

Canada is a great country and we are truly blessed to have what we have but we are also blessed when we share. Thinking outside of ourselves is the greatest gift we can give. Praise God and journey on!

Teresa Wilson is a certified natural health consultant. You can visit her website at thewellnessinyou.blogspot.com

If you are interested in finding out more, PAN Missions Canada offers trips each year to help the people of Nicaragua.

From Deb: I love reading this post, because it brings back the wonder of that first travel that many of us travel bloggers have forgotten. That first wall of heat and humidity that hits you when you step off of the plane, that first ride in a taxi through crazy traffic and that first encounter with creepy crawlies in the jungle.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

10 thoughts on “Volunteering in Nicaragua – Building a School and Giving Hope”

  1. Really interesting article guys, even if I only found it now! Nice to get inspired to do some volunteering whilst travelling, I think we’ll do some on our upcoming trip to Myanmar and India after reading this!

  2. I’m traveling to Nicaragua on a mission trip this summer. We are still collecting donation items. Any suggestions for items that are needed the most? Any suggestions for what I need to take with me personally – ie. type of clothing, hat, etc. We’re staying at Angel’s Inn – PAN = Presbyterian’s Aiding Nicaragua. Have you heard of it? Any idea what it’s like? I’m not expecting to be staying at a “hotel” but I also want to prepare myself. As you can see, I’m excited but getting a little nervous.
    I also don’t know any Spanish. Should I spend the next few weeks learning some?
    Thanks for your ideas.

    • Hi Rhonda, Teresas, actually stayed with PAN, I will make sure to email her and have her answer your question. Have a great time, it will change your life and don’t worry about the little things, we travelled through Central America with very little Spanish under our belt. You will have people with you that can translate and you will have people with you to put you at ease. It is going tobe the time of your life!

  3. I am so greaful for the chance to share my experience. You know it does not really matter so much where the act of kindness is done but the fact that the kindness is being done. We live in a great world with great people may we focus on that more. Amen

  4. If people want to come build schools, that’s great. Come have a holiday, see another way of living. No one ever went home poorer of spirit for seeing another culture. Just please, if you have to judge another country use the same yardstick you would at home. Foreign aid that “floods” in lines no more pockets here than diverted tax dollars do in North America. Corruption here is penny ante compared to north america. The government isn’t perfect here but, in the past two years they have improved the electrical infrastructure, raised the national literacy level to 98% or whatever the UN standard is for illiteracy free, paved 2500 kilometres of roads, created a “zero usury program” for small loans and through the “zero hunger program” are working to increase rural family self-sufficiency. The gap between rich and poor is wide but, it’s no more 10 families here than in Canada or the US, and few would count the Kennedy’s, Rockefellers and Gates among the problem. That wealth is concentrated in a few hands would hardly surprise the 10% of Canadian or 12% of American below the poverty line who rely on food banks. You don’t have to leave home to visit extreme poverty. Any aboriginal community or inner city will suffice. There is a large and growing middle class and they do suffer from the same appetites as north americans. It’s sad but not surprising. If you want to help the developing world stop insisting on ever lower prices for the goods they produce. Would you pick coffee all day for less than $5. We’ll they do here so you can have it cheap. Zona Franca’s locate here so they can take advantage of poverty wages so you can have Walmart prices clothes. I don’t know what will turn it around, the developed world will never pay a fair price for coffee. A price that would raise wages. If wages rise here Zona Franco’s relocate to the next country.

    • Hi Rob, Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right. There is corruption everywhere. I agree with you, there is extreme poverty in Canada and the U.S. and your points are right on the nose. Thank you for your insight.
      It is wonderful to hear the great strides that are being taken with literacy, hunger and infrastructure. Thank you for sharing and reminding us all that the gap between the rich and the poor is everywhere and a very big problem in the West as well as the developing world. We all need to teach the ultrarich to take care of their own no matter what the country.
      I still feel that giving, helping and leading by example can help to change the world and open people’s eyes.
      Just like posts like this can spark a conversation and discussion that we can all learn from.

  5. Hey Teresa!

    Fancy seeing this post, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger on a flight in Toronto a couple weeks back, and she was doing the exact same thing in Nicaragua. I believe she was doing it through her university, but said she loved it so much. It seems very rewarding and eye opening. Definitely something I’m interested in getting involved in. Thanks for the beautiful photos

    Great work Dave n Deb on utilizing the Travel Blog Exchange to your advantage. Such a great way to meet fellow bloggers, writers, and travel enthusiasts. Keep up the good work!

    • I too want to get involved in some volunteering soon. This series has been amazing to learn about new experiences. Yes, the travel blog exchange has been fantastic for just this type of thing. I am looking for posts for next week. If you have any similar experiences yourself! Cheers.

  6. Hi Teresa!

    Great post! Nicaragua is such a mystery to me! It’s the poorest of all Central American countries, yet the safest. It seems to me the government simply doesn’t care about the poor and whole villages never get any medications at all. I remember while living in Costa Rica, Mangau (Nicaragua’s Capital) had a 8 pm blackout hour. No more electricity! What kind of place is that!

    Yet, when you visit some of the areas, the wealth of the 10 families that own Nicaragua is disgusting and they do nothing about it.

    It’s amazing, what a resourceful country it is yet so poor!

    Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks Marina. So true, I have seen it time and time again. The rich in countries getting richer and closing their eyes to the poor. We have often said to ourselves what can we possibly do if they won’t even help their own people. I guess it is to lead by example. Maybe if we keep helping, one day the rich in these countries will wake up and lend a hand as well. I am looking forward to going to Nicaragua myself one day very soon.