By Samuel Olberding
Major at Washburn: Accounting and finance
Hometown: Centralia, Kansas

group standing on the road

Together, we filled in a dirt road that really needed the attention.

It’s noon as we head down a dusty road to El Limon. We are all excited and ready for an experience/opportunity that we have never had before. I took my first steps into my home stay house. No rush of feelings. No instantaneous shock. This is not what I expected. I was hoping to be blown away by the way these people live, by how they live there lives. Instead of feeling sorry for them and sorry for the way I live, I felt sorry for myself.

El Limon taught me a few things about what is truly important about my life and what people truly need in this world. God satisfied every aspect of their lives, even though none of them made more than a minimum wage worker in the United States. They showered outside with bowls of water and went to the bathroom outside without plumbing. My family had a dirt floor, a 20-year-old busted up bed, a few plastic chairs, and a concrete stove to occupy the tin roofed house.

The thing I enjoyed most about the experience is seeing how people that we would consider impoverished are happy, caring, and giving to one another; a love I had never seen before. If you give your life to God and just live the life he wants you to live, you will have peace. The people of El Limon understood this and reaped the rewards God had bestowed upon them.

The experience filled me with joy and peace. I didn’t find their life hard. I rather enjoy it. I had far less than what I was use to, but it was simpler and easier. We can all learn a valuable lesson from these people — that if you put the Lord at the helm of your life and give him the control, you will truly be satisfied.

I came here to serve the Lord and to help these people. What I realized instead is that they helped me.

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A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet on a wrist

A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet.

Many of us left El Limon with hand-made jewelry crafted especially for us by the children who were our siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews during our time in their community.

The necklaces, bracelets and rings were meticulously strung with Lagrima de San Pedro. Known in English as Tears of St. Peter, the Lagrima de San Pedro seeds were gathered near the river by the hundreds.

After measuring our necks, wrists and fingers, the children worked quickly to clear the seeds of their internal fibrous material and string them onto plastic line or thread. In one case, painting each seed in a different design with nail polish was a special group activity.

Today — and for the days and weeks to come — we wear our Lagrima de San Pedro and remember the connections we made and the resourcefulness and ingenuity we saw in action for each of our days in El Limon. I suspect the seeds will be a reminder that we can do what we put our minds to as long as we’re willing to put in the effort.

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Our work is done. When the center’s windows, doors, gate and trims were painted by about 11 a.m. today.

While several students spent time raking the front yard and sweeping the community room, three students helped Teo and Ishmalle, two community leaders, construct a concrete structure around the community water pipes.

The concrete will protect the pipes from erosion-related collapse and ensure access to the shut-off valve for years to come. In the coming days, a lid the two men will construct a lid to ensure animals — or children — don’t fall in the whole.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

After the work was completely finished, several of us walked to Esteli to purchase thank you gifts for our families. Most of us chose treats such as cake, pastries and cookies.

In the evening, the community gathered at the communal for a dance and chance to share our mutual appreciation for the work and hospitality. For some of us trying to express our gratitude was emotionally difficult. For Suzie, the third-time visitor, it was especially difficult. “I have a second family here in El Limon,” she told them. And as she wiped the tears from her cheeks we knew she meant it.

The dance lasted for about three hours and everyone had a great time. It was fun to see the good dancers in the group get down — including Aldo, Lucy and Ashonte especially.

Three rows of people, outside in front of a window.

We did it! The group, after the work at the community center is finished.

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Work went quickly today. The group painted a second coat on each window and prepared the trim on both buildings — the preschool and community hall — for tomorrow.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

While the students and Lucy worked with community leaders at the center, Rick, Michaela and Aldo walked to Esteli to meet with Lillian Hall and her husband, Ricardo Esquivia. Lillian was the in-country director for ProNica when Rick first began Washburn’s partnership with the organization.

Lillian and Ricardo live in Columbia, where Ricardo works as a human rights attorney and activist. Together they operate a non-governmental organization called Sembrandopaz, which translates to Planting Peace. (The information on its website is available in Spanish.)

Ricardo, with Lillian as interpreter, told us about the ongoing conflict in Columbia and what he knows from press reports about private peace talks currently underway.

When we get back to Washburn, Rick plans to discuss the possibility of a partnership in Columbia. He plans to reach out to Washburn’s women’s studies program, the School of Law and others with the possibility of an exploratory trip to develop a program — or programs — similar to our journey in Nicaragua.

By the time we returned to El Limon the day’s work had finished and students were preparing to have lunch with their families. In the afternoon, many students walked to the river for a bath. Others took naps or visited with their families.

We’re getting more and more comfortable with our families and the reality of life here. There is one house in El Limon that is vastly more modern than the others, with a running over-head indoor shower and indoor bathroom. Most of us are using outhouses and showering by filling buckets with water and using a bowl to wet and rinse ourselves. Very different than we are accustomed to at home, but extremely refreshing.

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Work has begun. We’re making improvements at the preschool and community center buildings. The windows — metal bars in rows and columns — were rusting and in need of paint. So, today we sanded them and painted the first coat.

The second coat, and painting the trim, comes tomorrow. We’ll have more time, so we’ll work on the community’s water system. We’ll get the details of that when the time comes.

While we worked on the center’s windows, community members worked on building a more formal entryway to the community center and preschool facility. They built a frame for a gate and mixed concrete for its posts. They mixed the concrete on the sidewalk that Washburn students built last year, without measuring as far as we could tell.

While we’re here the plan is to work in the morning — from about 8 a.m. until noon — and spend the afternoons with our families.

Today, several from the group walked in to Esteli, less than three miles away. Others rested, showered, visited the river or learned to wash clothes by hand. Tomorrow, some are thinking of going back to the waterfall.

We’re all getting more comfortable with our families, and learning to communicate in spite of the language barrier. The Spanish-English dictionary is priceless. Some of us are getting dance lessons, helping in the kitchen or playing dolls with children in our host families, too.

We can’t wait to see with our remaining days in El Limon have in store for us.

Tara, standing in a window, holds the bars with her left hand and scrubs a bar with sandpaper with her right.

Tara scrapes rust on a window.

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We arrived in El Limon this morning and settled in with our families over lunch. Then, we headed for El Slato Cascada — a waterfall in a national protected area. Some of us walked the 3.5 miles from El Limon to the waterfall. The road was incredibly rocky and hilly, but the scenery was worth it. Others took the bus.

Nearly everyone got in the water, and absolutely everyone enjoyed the incredible beauty of the place. This is the dry season so the waterfall is not as powerful as it can be. But the consensus was being underneath it was incredibly refreshing and worth the walk.

A waterfall

La Cascada — The Waterfall

Along the way we saw a few cows, including one on the road with two people who were transporting it. We saw dozens types of flowers, beautiful scenery of the mountains and the transition from palm trees to oak and evergreens. There is so much variety and so much natural beauty here. It is breathtaking.

In El Limon we are split in groups of two or three per home. Six of us — all women — are staying two each with families who live in a compound of sorts, All five families who live there are related. The family’s compound is near the river and near the entrance to El Limon, down a long, rocky road. In addition to the families, there are pigs, chickens, dairy cows, bulls, dogs and cats here. It’s not uncommon for a chicken to walk into the house, but they are shooed quickly.

The accommodations are a bit different in each house. Some of us have running water, some don’t. Some have indoor plumbing, others use a “latrina” or outhouse. Everyone has filtered water for drinking and electricity.

A few things we are learning about Nicaraguans: They bathe every day without exception — more than once if it’s hot; they go to sleep early and wake up even earlier; they value family and are proud of their country’s beauty. For example, the 7-year-old girl Michaela and Tara are staying with knows the names of several flowers in her family’s compound and the fruit from every tree.

Cows walking up the path, past an elderly woman on their right.

Abuela (Grandma) welcomes the cows back home for the night.

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