by Rachel Brown

As the sun started its graceful descent into the Nicaraguan sky, the people of El Portillo, the community in which my service team and I were living that week, began to gather on the main road for a protest. They started very small fires on the road to prevent a government official from passing. My team and I watched from outside the school where we were living as more flames began to appear. Yet, the entire protest remained peaceful – no one was hurt, no shots were fired, and nothing became remotely violent.

The people of El Portillo simply wanted the government to understand their problem, which was that they were experiencing a water crisis. The fires they lit were a clever way of demonstrating how they had no water to put out the flames.

Water. It’s a liquid that I have often taken for granted, but the citizens of El Portillo had to carefully ration it to ensure that everyone in their community had enough to drink. Bridges to Community, the non-profit through which we were working, made sure that our team had plenty of water to drink, but even so, our team became water conscious. I drank enough to stay hydrated, but I tried to limit the amount I drank and only wash my hands when necessary. Most of my life, I’ve taken water for granted since clean water is always abundant in my home, but I’ve been trying to be conscious of the amount of water I use since returning to the States.

Learning to be water conscious was only one lesson I learned from the Nicaraguans. The people of El Portillo also realize the importance of being generous, kind, positive, and friendly. For example, when we went to a local bakery to learn how to make bread, the baker gave us so much bread for free, and the bread was delicious. One of the teenage boys in the community gave me several pictures he had drawn to take back to the States. As my team and I were painting the school, the kids were eager to help us in any way they could. As we helped build latrines, the masons were there to guide us. These small gestures of kindheartedness caused me to want to be more giving of my time and energy.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to help the people of El Portillo. I can easily see what a positive impact Bridges to Community has in the area by looking at all the houses they have built for the citizens. Yet, I think the Nicaraguans helped me as much as I helped them.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that I need to take more time to notice things than I have been. At school, I’m usually in such a rush that I don’t appreciate the flowers blooming around campus, the artwork outside of Andrews Hall, or the people in colonial attire walking down Duke of Gloucester Street. Nicaraguans work extremely hard, but they realize the importance of taking moments to enjoy life’s simplicities. Every night in Nicaragua, I would turn my head towards the sky for a few moments before I went to bed so I could stare in wonder at the thousands upon thousands of stars in the sky. I live in a rural area in Virginia, so I thought I had seen lots of stars, but the Nicaraguan night sky surpassed any I had seen in the States. I learned to appreciate a clear nighttime sky more than I ever had before. Nicaraguans are so appreciative of all that they have, from clean water to freshly baked bread to houses constructed by Bridges to Community. Even though I only spent a week in Nicaragua, the community of El Portillo taught me the importance of always being appreciative, generous, and positive, even during life’s dry seasons.