It was October of 2007, and it was my first time back in Nicaragua in over 5 years. Since my last trip in 2002, I had completed an MBA program and pursued a number of different endeavours; all attempts to fill a void I could feel in my heart every day. Nothing was clicking and I was truly exhausted, in desperate need of an escape, a vacation of some sort. Instead of packing my bags and heading to the resorts of Cancún, I booked my flight from Boston to Nicaragua again. Little did I know that in just a few years I would be flying that same route at least once a month.
Upon graduating high school in New York in 1995, poverty was already ingrained in my mind. My social studies teacher and mentor, Peter White, first opened my eyes up to the suffering of the poor through a new extracurricular club called Students For 60,000. I spent nights in New York City homeless shelters, volunteered in soup kitchens, worked with immigrant families struggling in communities only a few minutes down the road from my own, and fundraised for the club’s largely regional projects. I even took leadership in running a fundraiser for those affected by the Oklahoma City bombing during my senior year.
It wasn’t until the following summer, after my freshman year at Stonehill College, that I joined Peter on a trip to the community of Chacraseca in rural Nicaragua. I spoke no Spanish, and here I was in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.The moments I hold close from that trip are crystal clear in my memory, everything from the home we built to the families we stayed with, to the time spent in the kitchen sorting beans and laughing with the women cooking for us.
From 1996 until 2002 I stayed involved with the people and projects so close to my heart, bringing my experiences in Nicaragua to all corners of my life. I even founded Stonehill’s H.O.P.E. Alternative Spring Break program with a university affiliated trip to Nicaragua. The program has since grown to include 5 international sites and 10 domestic site locations.
So here I was again, it was 2007 and was back in Nicaragua when the moment came to me. I saw the same projects I worked on a decade before in college, I reconnected with those I created lasting memories with, I hugged those who just remembered my face and eccentric personality. I saw a family in a house where before no opportunity existed, I saw children in schools, and at large a community with incredible potential. Together with other Nicaraguans, I wanted to identify the root causes of poverty and the struggles of living in the developing world. That trip showed me that I was ready to be a part of the solutions.
Now it’s 2013 and I’m the Director and Co-founder of a Boston based nonprofit called FriendsNE. Our projects have already dramatically transformed the lives of thousands of people in Haiti, Peru, and Nicaragua since our inception in early 2011. Through collaboration with so many partners across various fields and networks, we have identified shortfalls in past projects and are making steps toward complete sustainability every day. As an organization, FriendsNE has adopted a unique community-based approach in order to focus on the most immediate problems faced by impoverished communities, ranging from health care and education to houses and scholarships. Bridges have been built between Nicaraguans and volunteers from all around the world, forming relationships that grow and raise awareness of the reality that is global poverty. It is only when people help each other hand-in-hand that we will see a brighter future for all. www.friendsne.org