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Two weeks ago I traveled with my Builders Beyond Borders family to the small village of Villa Japon in Nicaragua. I spent a mere nine days there with 28 other volunteers (ranging from age 14 to 60) but the people I met and the lessons I learned will stay with me for a lifetime.

I have been traveling and volunteering with Builders Beyond Borders for 6 out of the last 15 years. I started with the organization as a sophomore in high school and continued for the following three years. After taking a short sabbatical from the program during and immediately following college I just completed my third trip as an adult advisor. I’ve traveled to six different developing countries in Latin America and have met many people who have touched my life and changed the way I look at the world today.

This year we worked on building a classroom for the children of Jicarito. These kids currently attend school in the home of one local man, Freddie. Freddie has offered his home up to the children and their teachers so they don’t have to go without an education while a proper school is being built – he currently lives in the bodega near the worksite. Freddie worked alongside us every day, encouraging and inspiring us to keep digging, mixing, and lifting when the temperature crept above 95 degrees. His devotion to his community, as well as his drive and determination were qualities many of us strive for but few can display in such an honorable way. Thank you Freddie for your dedication to your community, our world needs more citizens like you.

In our downtime we also learned quite a lot about the history and education system in Nicaragua from Julian, one of our local guides and a prominent member of the tight knit community. Julian shared with us one night after a traditional dinner of rice, beans and chicken that he had lived through some pretty scary and trying times growing up in Nicaragua. While he had seen more cruelty and devastation than many of us ever will he also shared a story of hope and encouragement. Julian, who is now fluent in English (and a very eloquent speaker I might add), learned his first English words from American volunteers just like ourselves when he was younger. The volunteers that he met as a young man changed his life and his community’s life for the better the way we set out to do this year. Simply knowing our potential impact made the urgency of the work we had set out to achieve seem that much more important.

Leaving the comforts and familiarity of home is difficult to do, and at times can seem frustrating, but the opportunities and experiences it can open your eyes and heart to are well worth it. As our fearless leader, Chris Palmer, always says “You get what you give.” Thanks to my extended Builders family for making this year another memorable one!

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