Thanks to those of you who are following along with my Nicaragua reflections. I hope you'll continue to read along and comment when you feel you have something to contribute, because I certainly would love to hear your feedback.
Yesterday I shared some of my burden for what I saw in Nicaragua. Today I'd like to share about two bright spots on our trip – two organizations that have different aims, but share a common name. When we scouted out our trip to Nicaragua, we had already committed to helping out one organization called Nica HOPE. When we starting investigating places to stay, we were referred to a place called Villa Esperanza (which in Spanish means "village of hope").
On our first Monday we met with Deanna, the founder and director of Nica HOPE. It was Deanna who took us to La Chureca and began the process of making connections between us and the school where we spent most of our week serving. Nica HOPE is an organization that is making a huge difference in the lives of the children in and around the dump community. They provide school feeding programs at the two schools where most of the kids from the dump attend; they offer backpacks, uniforms and other school materials as an incentive to keep kids in the schools; they provide after-school programs where the children are taught other skills that will be useful as they seek to find work outside of the dump; and most importantly, they provide a ray of hope for these children – the chance to break the cycle of poverty.
We were privileged to meet not only Deanna, but several others who work at Nica HOPE, both Americans who have been serving there and Nicaraguans who are now being employed by the organization. The spirit of cooperation and passion for what they were doing was very evident from the start. Deanna was getting ready to take an extended sabbatical, but it was clear from our brief day with her that others were in place who would be able to carry on the work while she is gone.
We were introduced to the director of the school, and began our preparations to serve there for the week. I think often on missions trips we tend to measure our effectiveness based on the size of the projects we pulled off. In that sense we didn't succeed. We cleaned and painted two bathrooms. Big deal, right? There is not a church on the school property, or a medical clinic or even some new rooms for the school. But for me, all the sweat that went into the project paid off when on Friday, as we were finishing up I met a young woman looking into the girls' bathroom that we had just finished painting. In my best halting Spanish I asked her what she thought of how the bathroom looked. She told me that she had been a student here as a little girl, that she remembered what they looked like, and that it was like they had been given new bathrooms. I could see a sliver of hope in her eyes.
Each night when we finished our work with Nica HOPE we returned (after a brief stop at Cafe Latina for an iced latte) to Villa Esperanza. Villa Esperanza is a mission of Forward Edge International, and is doing a great job reaching out to girls who are caught in the dump cycle of poverty, and are often at risk for sexual exploitation as I described yesterday. The Villa currently houses 16 girls (with plans to add 8 more) who have come out of the dump with the permission of their parent or guardian. Eight girls live in a house with one house mother. These girls are receiving an education, are learning what it's like to live with responsibilities for themselves and others, and are getting a chance to live a new kind of life.
The staff at Villa were exceptionally hospitable from the moment we arrived. From our cook, to the directors, to the crew working on the grounds, we were never without a friendly smile or another opportunity to practice our Spanish. But really the jewels of the Villa were the girls that are being served. Many of them have stories that we could not even begin to imagine, and some of them have deep hurts that have not gone away. But, once again, I think the eyes tell the story. There is hope shining out from them, the possibility of a future that is different from their past.
This hope, this possibility of a future, this opportunity to know a different tomorrow – this is the work of the kingdom of God. I, for one, am glad to have had the experience of seeing hope in action. It truly is a beautiful, holy thing.