by Rachel Warner

It is hard to put into words the experience I had in Nicaragua with Outreach 360 because it was such a positive one.  Not only did I make a difference in the lives of people in the community, but they continue to have an impact on me.  Outreach 360 is an extra-curricular learning center in Jinotega, Nicaragua that teaches Spanish literacy and English language acquisition.  Attending school in Nicaragua is only for half of a day and so for the other half, kids at the center opt into this program.  When we worked there, it was their winter break but they continued to come with enthusiasm because they truly love learning.

Going to Nicaragua has been so impactful because I have gained a better understanding of the world.  At William & Mary, we tend to have intellectual discussions and an understanding of world affairs.  However, experiencing another country provides a unique dynamic that cannot be understood just through taking classes or having a conversation about something one saw on the news.  The culture, the spirit, and the values cannot be experienced remotely and experiencing these first-hand helps one gain a unique perspective on what goes on in other countries.

Something that I have taken away both years on my trip is how relaxed the environment that we are working in is.  Don’t get me wrong- the people are some of the hardest-working and dedicated people I have ever seen in my life.  They want to provide their children with opportunities and work to better their country.  They inspired me to work harder when I was there and continue to inspire me at home.  However, when we are working, it is not stressful.  I’m not saying the work isn’t challenging: we have to create engaging and fun lesson plans that will keep children entertained, while thinking on our feet and communicating effectively.  However, nobody was ever thinking about all of the things we were missing at home.  We didn’t use technology which provides time to truly connect with people.  I know more about the people on my trip than some of my friends, because you live in the moment and make the most of the time that you have.  Outreach has 10 principles that they encourage you to reflect on throughout the week.  One of the ten that stood out to me was: “This is it”.  So often I become so concerned with all of the tasks in my planner that I forget to enjoy doing them.  Working with Outreach reminds you that you only have a certain amount of time.  You should make the most of it and focus all of your energy to helping others.  It helps provide opportunities to a community but also makes you happier and more invested in the lives of others.

The second biggest lesson I learned was the importance of making an impact.  Another one of Outreach’s principles is “It’s not about you.”  Although you develop leadership, communication, and time management skills, the focus is on the community.  The goal is to make the best lessons for the kids and make sure that they learn.  Just going for a week makes it hard to see the impact that we are making.  Maybe you have a lightbulb moment with a kid when they finally understand the information, but that does not happen to everyone.  Going back for the second year, I was amazed to see how much they had learned and how intelligent they are.  These kids want to learn, which again continues to inspire me at home.  I have been given the opportunity to learn and so I need to make the most of it, just as these kids had.  Being able to see the impact that has occurred reminds me that these students are being granted opportunities.  They have visited the University, learned about different jobs in their communities, and are being told that these paths are possible.  They are learning new skills and are learning to love school.  Outreach’s slogan is to “release the hero within” and through this program, the kids are able to become their best selves.

Even though I was only with Outreach for two weeks, those weeks build up.  “You are Outreach 360” is a slogan that is commonly repeated throughout the week.  Each influence that you have on the community, no matter how small, adds up to something that is greater than all of us.  Service in any regard is like that.  Even though we do not always see the impact or seems as though we aren’t making one, every action is important and matters.