The 8th grade students from Westerly High School in Long Beach, California, U.S.A., took a journey 5,000 kilometers south to rural Nicaragua with the a goal of providing a supportive and sustainable impact on the schools in Villa El Carmen. The trip marks the 3rd voyage in which the school sent a group of eager teenagers to lend their support.
The most beautiful part of this experience is that the students are full participants every step of the way. Through the partnership of Angela Smetana, her husband Osman, and the Director of Middle School at Westerly School, David Perram, they’ve developed practices where students are responsible for identifying the true needs of the local schools, the development and design of the project, budgeting of materials, and of course, the sweat and blisters accumulated through the intensive manual labor.
This year, the 17 teens worked with the San Bartolo School. The group spent a few days building raised planters to serve as homes for edible gardens right on the school grounds. No easy task for the group as they had to level the ground, dig trenches, break up rocks, lay bricks, mix cement by measuring it precisely, collect manure, shovel dirt, and plant new seeds. Although a grueling process, the teens worked incredibly well together, and enjoyed taking breaks to speak with the local students, play games, and soak in the beautiful Nicaraguan culture.
Also, while on site, the group repaired blackboards for the classrooms, and painted new outdoor chalkboards so the young children can express their creativity during their free play and snack times.
The experience for the children at Westerly was simply life changing. Since their return, students have commented on countless occasions where their perspectives have changed on themselves and the world. Recurring themes amongst the group are; new found appreciations of helping others, gratitude for the things they have in their own lives, the power of a welcoming community, and the value of a good education.
Westerly School could not be more appreciative of the partnership formed with NGO “Help Them Help Themselves” and Gran Pacifica. We look forward to future visits with open hearts and enthusiasm to lend a hand.