Brotherly love in abundance was extended by 13 local residents that visited Central America as a part of a 29-person group that recently undertook a goodwill tour to rural Nicaragua. Twelve were from Bedford. One was from Amherst.
The tour, from Aug. 5-12, was presented by Color My World, a Bedford nonprofit with the mission of “leading a global effort to relieve human suffering by providing emergency response relief items and humanitarian services to those in need.” The CMW foundation was formed in 2000 by the Hughes family, of Bedford. It’s aim is to help young people experience service related activities.
The locals who went on the Nicaragua trip included Ella Garvey, 17, of Amherst, and Bedford residents McKenzie Willis, 15, Mattie Soghikian, 17, Lauren Grocott, 15, Maddie Grocott, 17, Griffin Lyons, 15, Will Toon, 17, and members of the Hughes family – Chase, 16, Elizabeth, 9, Noah, 13, and Hillary, 19, participants whose mom, Angela Hughes, and dad, Brian Hughes, led the group.
Those who signed up with Color My World through ColorMyWorldKids.org, visited places in Nicaragua where poverty is the norm. They accomplished a lot, including the removal of 32 bags of fish carcasses, plastic trash, rain-soaked scrap, rotten wood and other detritus from a town beach.
They tended a community garden. They went to the Los Zorros elementary school and served free lunches; meals prepared in advance and sponsored by Color My World. The school had no cooking facility, so the volunteers built a concrete-block kitchen. Then, they painted the building blue and white, the colors of the Nicaraguan flag.
There followed a giveaway of 50 donated solar cookers to local families. The volunteers, sustained on fish, rice, beans, chicken and fruit, also led workshops on how to use solar cooking to make healthy meals. Inhaled smoke from cook fires is of no concern when cooking with the pure heat from the tropical sun.
A stop at Casa Hogar orphanage, home to more than 20 children, led to a festive sing-a-long. Later, an emotional visit to the garbage dump at Chinandega jolted the volunteers. The visitors from New Hampshire observed people of all ages, elders to babies, living in and around the dump. In 1988, families were relocated there after Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America. Two million homes were destroyed. Reports of 11,000 deaths – 9,000 of them in Nicaragua – were broadcast. The volunteers fed the people living at the dump. They played with children whose toys too often are filthy discards scavenged from the trash.
Chase Hughes, 16, a sophomore at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, said the deprivations are not met with anger but with gratitude for life. He said he was proud of the assistance the group provided. An additional conservation project entailed the release of newly hatched baby turtles into the sea. Every kid around watched, delighted, as the tiny turtles loped toward the churning foam.
“I felt the people were humble,” Chase said. “They were grateful for what they have and not upset about what they don’t have. They were happy for every day.”
Chase, who intends to be a dentist, said some people were ashamed to smile at photo time. Few earn more than $5 a day and funds rarely go toward toothpaste. The volunteers eventually gave away nearly 100 pounds of hygiene kits, each comprised of four toothbrushes, two bars of soap, two combs and two hand towels.
Chase noted that visiting the tropics offers many challenges. Mosquitoes are relentless. Bats fly everywhere. He said that, daily, hundreds of crabs the size of his hand hunted morsels on the beach. Seeing the crabs was “cool,” Chase admitted. A sand dollar washed ashore is one of his cherished souvenirs.
“The ocean was very warm like bath water but everyone went into the ocean to cool off,” Chase said. “That was a big thing – to go to the ocean. The trip was a life-changing experience with all the service you do and the joy you find.”
Angela Hughes, Chase’s mother, said that a CMW group is returning to Nicaragua, and also to Guatemala, in 2014. In the past 10 years, Color My World has brought solace to the victims of many U.S. disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. It has sent relief kits to Chile, Haiti and Indonesia after earthquakes there. Hygiene kits by the score went to communities scoured by a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Two years ago, participants extended their range. They took solar cookers and hygiene kits to Costa Rica.
“The perception that people in Central America are lazy is not the case,” Angela said. “They leave at night to go fishing and if you see them during the day, taking naps on their hammocks, it’s because they’ve been working all night. It’s 24 hours to eat and live.”
She said the group’s immersion into a third world environment where there was no clean water for bathing, only salt-water showers, no technology, no social media and no convenience store less than an hour away was “an eye-opening experience.” The volunteers witnessed people living their lives in shacks. Hammocks were beds. The bathroom? Go in the woods.
“The kids who went on this trip were forced to interact with people,” Angela said. “It’s poverty at the lowest level you can ever reach. The kids were nervous there. They pushed through it. It went from, ‘Can I do this?’ to ‘Can I come back, next time?’ I just saw confidence grow every day.”
For more information, visit www.colormyworldkids.org. The Color My World motto is “Search inward, Look upward, Reach outward.”