Four and a half years ago, in January of 2013, I went on my first trip to Nicaragua with COE as an occupational therapy student through Concordia University Wisconsin. To say the trip was life-changing doesn’t quite do it justice. There has to be a less cliché way to express how you feel about something that will forever change the type of person you are and strive to be- but unfortunately, the words escape me. I guess you will have to go on your own trip and see if you feel what I mean! My first trip rekindled in me a passion for service that has always been in my soul, but in an entirely new way than I had felt previously in my life.
I went on my second trip to Nicaragua in May of 2014 not long after graduating from occupational therapy school, and returned as an OT helping to supervise OT students from Concordia. Once again, I was overcome with feelings of awe for the incredible people who call Nicaragua home- people who were so grateful for what felt like even the littlest ways that we were able to help them. When I returned from this trip, I sought out ways to become more involved, beyond just the occasional time that I was able to travel down to Aposentillo. This desire to become more involved on a long-term and ongoing basis led me to my current position on the Board of Directors. It also motivated me to finally take the step of a sponsoring a student throughout their education through Circle of Empowerment’s Student Sponsorship program- a decision that had been in the back of mind for almost a year and a half.
Two months ago, I visited Nicaragua for my third trip. Now immersed in my career as a pediatric occupational therapist, getting away for a week to travel to Nicaragua was more difficult- but it was an important commitment I had made to myself that I had to fulfill. This most recent trip was entirely different than my first two treks to Nicaragua, because this time I understood, and was a part of, the day-to-day operations that are necessary to keep Circle of Empowerment running smoothly, both in Aposentillo, and back in Wisconsin, where our Board is based. It can at times be difficult to imagine the humanity and reality behind the situations and needs that we discuss regularly at our Board meetings- but being face-to-face with the people we serve, it becomes so delightfully apparent how dire our work is.
Of all the ways that Circle of Empowerment and Aposentillo have made an impact on me, there is one that will always stand far above the rest. When I first started sponsoring my second grade student through Circle of Empowerment, I enjoyed the pictures and letters from him, even though my own Spanish skills are subpar. I got excited when we talked about the annual school shopping trip to acquire all of the supplies for our sponsored students, or when Meg sent us pictures of the annual water park field trip. I knew that my monthly donation was making a difference- but I couldn’t quite feel it yet. This May in Nicaragua, at around 8:30 PM on the last night of my stay, I was finally able to arrange a ride to the home of my student. I can only imagine how disoriented and confused he must have been when an American showed up at his house out of nowhere on a school night! When I introduced myself and told him that I was his sponsor, I received the most genuine hug I have ever had the pleasure of receiving. The conversation that ensued in which I was able to learn about my student and his family was incredibly impactful. My heart was bursting just being in the presence of this family who cared so much about their young son and was so happy to see him succeeding in school. He was- is- such an energetic, happy, dedicated young man who loves soccer, biking, and writing, and who will undoubtedly go far in whatever path he chooses to purse. The ability to play even a small role in his life is the biggest honor I have yet had. I no longer just think that my $8 a month is going to a good cause- I can feel it in my heart.
The stories I could share about my trips to Nicaragua and the student I sponsor could fill many more pages- but, if I laid them all out here, what reason would you have to connect with Circle of Empowerment and learn more?!