A Home Can Be Found Anywhere by Mike Ellis

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After completing my final exams as a sophomore at Stonehill College, I eagerly awaited what the next several months held: a service-immersion trip to Chacraseca, Nicaragua with Friends New England, an internship in my home community, and an opportunity to study abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa in the fall of 2014.

Going into Nicaragua I held very few expectations, except that I was going to be hot, and that I was going to have an experience of a lifetime. However, I never quite imagined, and still struggle to comprehend, the immeasurable power of other human beings.

After a week’s reflection, I see how far my expectations were surpassed. In just 10 short days I was challenged, inspired and given the opportunity to achieve. Every day that I was in the beautiful country of Nicaragua I grew in new ways. Each experience that I had with FriendsNE challenged me differently, whether it was physically, mentally or emotionally. I recall looking out the window as we flew into the city of Managua, where I first witnessed the abject poverty that we would continue to see throughout the countryside. This moment provided me with a sobering reminder that I wouldn’t be able to change a country or a community in my short visit. I suppose I never quite recognized the magnitude of this issue in the country I now so deeply love. The emotions and thoughts that I experienced from just looking out a window recurred throughout the week, and they are indeed part of the experience that I still grapple with after my return home. How can I live a life of excess while there are people throughout the world living without access to basic humans needs? I was also challenged physically throughout the week, as the construction left my hands sore and callused. Children at a local primary school left my neck sore after giving countless piggy-back rides, and my legs were sore after exploring volcanoes.

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Throughout the trip, the Nicaraguan community and history, the knowledgeable leaders of FriendsNE and my Stonehill College peers inspired me. One instance where I felt most inspire to affect change in the world was after speaking with a woman in León, Nicaragua, named Doña Rosario. Doña Rosario led the country’s women away from prostitution during the revolution in the 1980s. She assisted women in developing successful businesses and taught them life skills necessary to lead a lifestyle away from the one that once seemingly condemned their futures. It was rare for that time that a woman of a modest socioeconomic background would assist prostitutes, an act perceived as dirty by the public. Doña Rosario shared a moment she had with the women as they prepared to open their business. One woman said to her, “If you are with us, the will think that you are one of us.” Doña Rosario responded compassionately saying, “I am one of you.” This act of solidarity moved me, especially because I come from a society that values individualism and personal advancement over collectivism. I hope to express love and achieve the same civic-mindedness and collective mindset Doña Rosario expressed to her country during a controversial period in Nicaragua’s history.

Thirdly, the service-immersion trip with FriendsNE gave each participant the ability to achieve. Whether an individual’s accomplishment was the development of personal bonds with the people of Chacraseca, or more tangible, such as seeing a house emerge from a field, everyone left with an overwhelming and indescribable sense of personal fulfillment.

FriendsNE, an organization that commands respect from communities throughout Nicaragua, chiefly promotes sustainable community development (lateral development) in the region. Rather than developing the country as a third party with its own resources and skills, this organization seeks to foster national community development by the people for their own country. After further exploring the mission of the nonprofit upon my return home, I’ve come to realize the value in their mission-driven operations. The mission states the organization seeks to work with “impoverished communities to identify pressing needs, network with local and international organizations, facilitate collaboration, and empower individuals to actively participate within their communities.” I can state that the FriendsNE mission drives every action without hesitation. In fact, I witnessed this mission in action on several occasions. The various scenarios in which this played out included facilitating a community meeting to explore local infrastructure options as they prepared for the rainy season, and collaborating with Nuevas Esperanzas, another nonprofit based in Leon, that seeks to deliver safe water to Nicaraguan communities. The organization incorporated nearly all local people in the management of the organization and its initiatives.

This experience would have not been so impactful without the direction and guidance of Mike Cipoletti and Conchita Montes. Mike, an alum of the institution I presently attend (Stonehill College) and also the founder of the H.O.P.E. program that I travelled with, brings a great deal of enthusiasm and passion to his work. Drive around Chacraseca and nearby communities, and you will see this as he beeps at nearly every house and person he passes, or as he holds brief conversations with people when the truck is stopped. The respect he receives from the community is a true testament to the love Chacraseca has for him. Conchita Montes also had a profound impact on my time in Nicaragua, serving as my mother abroad. I still vividly recall stepping outside of the van after my arrival from Managua, greeted by a warm hug from Conchita. Though there was a small language barrier, her love and compassion radiated from her bright smile. Conchita shared her smiles, laughs, thoughts and love with our group throughout the remainder of our time in Nicaragua, something we each treasure upon our return home.

In the beautiful community of Chacraseca, Nicaragua, I discovered a home can be found anywhere, a life can be changed at any time and a family can be created with anyone.


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