Firsthand account by Sara Schlageter
The image that has come to my mind most often since I visited Nicaragua last fall is that of a photograph I took in a neighborhood outside of Jinotega. It was in one of the communities served by New Life Christian Academy. Meal-A-Day has helped them pay the salaries of their teachers and assisted them with paying for vehicles. They use these vehicles to pick up their students from their homes. One of the neighborhoods they make daily trips to is a community of houses made out of tarps, wood, and other pieces of scrounged materials. There isn’t any water, plumbing, electricity or government services of any kind. This community of at least 50 structures is built next to a dump filled with burning garbage. These families look at the garbage that is brought in and recycle and sell the salvageable parts. Everything else is dumped over a cliff and set on fire. We visited as the sun was setting and watched as young men walked over the piles of smoldering garbage, through clouds of smoke, as buzzards hopped along beside them. It looked like a scene of the apocalypse. Nevertheless, it was a community with parents who love their children, and people who help each other. New Life Academy is teaching these children to read and write, do math and use their minds. They’re bringing a little bit of light and love into this dark place.
One evening we ate dinner at Hogar Amiguitos. Bruce and Joanie were sitting with Joy (the director at the time), and some of the staff, talking away in Spanish about, what I’m guessing, was the business of running the home. I took 5 years of Spanish in school, but hadn’t studied, or spoken, Spanish in 12 years. As one might imagine, I understood very little of what they were saying. I remembered my high school Spanish teacher telling my class once that we had the Spanish skills of a kindergartner. I looked around the room and decided that maybe I should talk to someone else who also had the Spanish skills of a 5 year-old, an actual 5 year-old. This little girl and I had a delightful conversation about our favorite colors, names, ages, and whether or not we had brothers and sisters.