Over the summer, Collegiate sent 12 students and two teachers, Erica Coffey and Liz Bowling, to Nicaragua to work with Los Quinchos, a local orphanage in San Marcos. The trip, labeled by Señora Coffey as a “learning-service” trip, was intended to teach students about a different culture and a different way of life, all while providing service for the children at the orphanage.
The first stop, Laguna de Apoyo, was a gigantic, deep lagoon, centered over an extended crater, surrounded by lush, leafy, mountains. All of this natural beauty combined to provide one of the most beautiful locations I have ever been to. The hotel we stayed at was built right into the side of the lake, and consisted of many
different houses resembling log cabins, surrounded by plant life, with views of the beautiful lagoon. We found ourselves swimming in the lagoon as often as we could. We stayed in the lagoon for hours, swimming, jumping off of the docks, paddleboarding, and just talking. But we could not stay forever, as we had other places to be.
The next destination was the city of San Marcos, where we would stay for five days. The main attraction in San Marcos was Los Quinchos orphanage, where we would visit with the children every day to hang out, play soccer, and make new friends. Los Quinchos is an organization intended to get children off the streets, especially those who are addicted to the “glue.” “Glue” is a drug that is popular in Nicaragua, because it makes children feel as if they are not hungry. Los Quinchos takes in these children off of the street and provides them with hospitality, education, and a new life.
The walk from our hotel to the orphanage lasted about 10 to 15 minutes, and allowed us to experience the city of San Marcos. We would walk down the city streets, past small houses, stores, and restaurants. We could see all of the pedestrians walk by us, with questioning faces that seemed to read, “What are these Americans doing?” We saw walls covered with old, black graffiti, trucks driving by with 10 people crammed in the back, and Nicaraguan moto taxis transporting people around the city. The final five minutes of our walk was a dirt road surrounded by trees and colorful plantlife. We would know when we finally arrived to our destination when we saw a bright, rainbow-colored mural reading “Los Quinchos” across the center. We would open the gates to the orphanage and walk up a hill toward their housing, while all the children ran down to greet us with excited, smiling faces.
Playing with the children every day made us forget about a language barrier, our cultural differences, and the difficulties in our lives. The smiles on the children’s faces will always be something I remember–smiles of pure joy and no worries. Even with all of the difficulties that the Nicaraguan children have had in their life, they still had wide smiles, and were happy to be playing soccer with their new friends. It was these bright smiles that I will remember most about this trip.
However, we didn’t just play soccer every day. We learned about the things that they do daily, such as soap making or hammock making. We ate our meals at the restaurant that is run by Los Quinchos, where we were able to eat authentic Nicaraguan food and Italian food. We even got to watch a circus, where all the kids were performers. There was dancing, clowns, stilts, hula hooping, acrobatics, and more. The kids had been practicing for the circus for a long time, and were so glad to be performing for us. And we were glad we got to see it.
After five days in San Marcos with the children of Los Quinchos, we traveled to the city of Granada, a more wealthy city with a heavy European influence. The highlight of our stop in Granada was our scavenger hunt, where we walked around the city in groups, looking for specific locations, taking pictures, and finding information throughout the city. This was a fantastic way to learn about Nicaraguan culture and to practice our Spanish. Because we were tasked with speaking to locals, we gained valuable experience in speaking the Spanish language, something that goes beyond classroom instruction.
For our last day, we had something very special planned. We drove from our hotel in Granada to a local beach, where we met Los Quinchos. We spent the whole day swimming in the ocean, playing soccer and volleyball in the sand, and enjoying our final moments with the kids. But as our beach day neared the end, we had to say our final goodbyes. With tears running down our faces, we hugged and said goodbye to everyone we had met. It was difficult saying goodbye, but in the end, we were able to look back at one of the greatest weeks of our lives, and we were happy that we got to spend it with the wonderful kids.
This trip left all the students and teachers with long lasting memories, and one of the greatest experiences during their Collegiate career. EJ Patterson (‘16) said that “It was a life changing experience,” and Mythili Vigneshwar (‘16) described the trip as “amazing.” When asked if she would recommend any younger Collegiate students to go on the trip next year, Kelsey Stratford (‘16) said, “Of course. One-thousand percent.” If you are interested in traveling to Nicaragua, contact Erica Coffey or Liz Bowling.
All photos taken by Erica Coffey and the participants of the trip.
Click HERE to read Ellie Fleming’s profile of a library program in Nicaragua.