By Corie Rast, social media coordinator
Nearly every weekday for the past 13 months, I’ve driven to my job at Unbound in Kansas City, Kansas, sipping on coffee and cycling through my regular stress points:
“Ugh, I hope it’s not freezing in the office today.”
“Kinda bummed I only have these leftovers for lunch. I just have … too much food.”
“If this meeting doesn’t go exactly how I want it to go, I’m just going to lose it.”
Don’t get me wrong — I’m lucky and thankful to have the job I do, but I also have a tendency to be kind of whiny and self-absorbed sometimes.
It’s for this exact reason that I jumped at the opportunity to tag along on an awareness trip to Nicaragua with Unbound. I’d been itching for a new adventure for months, and aside from trips to Canada and Mexico, I’d never traveled internationally before. (It’s a personal fact I held close to the vest working alongside some of the most well-traveled people I’ve ever met.)
More than the travel experience, I was ready to see our program in action. In my daily work, I have the chance to read about it, hear about it, even try to write pithy web copy about it, but it’s impossible to fully understand what we do without traveling to the field myself. I needed to see and hear the impact our program was having on staff, sponsors and sponsored members. An awareness trip was the perfect opportunity to do just that.
As soon as I stepped outside the airport in Managua, I realized an important lesson. With the sun basking over me and chaotic and colorful traffic zipping by, I realized … I really should’ve brought a sweat rag. I don’t think anyone could’ve prepared me for the heat that swallowed up our group of 24 travelers that week. It was a first and important part of experiencing what life is really like for sponsored children and elders.
I also don’t think anyone could’ve prepared me for how incredible the experience would be for me. Traveling with Unbound is like traveling with a group of friendly and caring locals as your daily tour guides. We had a chance to see so many different parts of Nicaragua, all while being under the local staff’s kind and watchful eyes.
One of the things we were lucky to experience was an unforgettable celebration called La Gritería Chiquita. Every year on Aug. 14, the city of León commemorates what many believe to be a miracle that took place 70 years ago. Cerro Negro, a nearby volcano, was erupting and becoming dangerously close to damaging the town of León. Hoping to make it stop, people began to pray to the Virgin Mary.
Eventually their prayers were answered, and the citizens of León continue to honor the event to this day. I’d read about the celebration before my trip, but I was excited to take part in it and unsure of what to expect.
“Traveling with Unbound is like traveling with a group of friendly and caring locals as your daily tour guides.”
I stood in the middle of a large crowd that began to gather in front of the giant Basilica Cathedral around dusk. Hundreds of people had come to the middle of the city to hear the bishop start the celebration. The crowd hummed with excitement. Finally, after lots of anticipation, two boys, who were waiting in the tower above us, began frantically swinging a giant bell as fireworks exploded in the sky, and warning sirens blasted throughout the city. A voice ominously poured out over loudspeakers crying, “¿QUIÉN CAUSA TANTA ALLEGRÍA?” (Who causes so much joy?)
The crowd around me cried out, “LA ASUNCÍON DE MARÍA!” (The assumption of Mary!)
And we were off, traveling around various businesses throughout the city shouting, “¿Quien causa tanta allegria?” in exchange for a handful of candy and a “La asuncion de Maria!” in return. The experience was like trick-or-treating on Halloween — a lot of fun.
The joy of that night was easily contrasted with some of the stark realities we saw each day. We traveled to several rural communities outside the city limits, where many families in our program live. It was interesting and important for me to see people’s homes built of tarp and driftwood, or to watch women wash clothes in muddy-looking water on the side of a road.
Working in the Kansas City office, I spend a lot of time squinting into a computer screen, reading descriptions of scenes like this. But even the photos and videos I sift through each day can’t match how humbling it was to see in person. It was when I was standing in a hot and dusty field somewhere outside of León that I made an important connection.
A mother whose daughter is sponsored through Unbound was proudly showing us the herb garden she had started in order to earn an income. A pile of bricks sat next to the makeshift home she and her husband shared with their kids. She explained how her family had been buying and saving the bricks to build a new home. The Unbound mothers group she belonged to offered her support and encouragement throughout the process.
Standing under the blazing Nicaraguan sun, I snapped photos of the bricks, the kids and the mom, hoping to file the experience away as a memory to call upon later. It was then that I heard Wendy, one of our interpreters, say something that gave me chills.
“She says [that], thanks to Unbound, she can see past today and into tomorrow.”
There I was, listening to someone articulate a sentiment I’d been mulling over for a few months prior to this trip, trying to understand. Over the course of that week, my worldview was truly expanded, and it’ll allow me to tell more real and meaningful stories in my daily work. Not only did I become a bigger believer in Unbound, so did my travel mates, many of whom are current sponsors.“Thanks to Unbound, she can see past today and into tomorrow.“ Click To Tweet
It was incredible to be a part of such a compassionate, warm and charming group of people. We all formed a bond in Nicaragua that was centered on the life-changing work the Unbound program does. I look back fondly on the memories I made with them. I also value all the conversations I was able to have. They helped me better understand our community of sponsors and supporters.
It’s so easy to get lost in ridiculous daily grievances that skew our perspective and allow us to lose sight of what’s going on throughout the rest of the world. The truth is, there are inspiring people doing incredible work in beautiful places all over the world, and you need to know about it.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself.