This post was written by Becca Bryant, member of Alpha Delta Pi and student at the University of South Carolina.
This semester, I represented Alpha Delta Pi on USC’s first Circle of Sisterhood Trek through a nonprofit organization called BuildOn. Fifteen sorority women traveled to Nicaragua with the purpose of building the foundation of a school for a community, immersing ourselves in their culture while working alongside the people of the village, and improving the lives of women through an opportunity for education that they would not have had otherwise. My life was forever changed.
In preparing for this trip, I felt excitement and anticipation. I had no idea what to expect but I was ecstatic about the idea of helping people while learning about a different culture. If you’ve been on a trip like this, you know that there is no way to prepare. We could have had twenty more conference calls about the trip and I never would have expected it to go the way it did.
We arrived in the city of Managua on the first day and it was HOT. We could feel the heat almost as soon as we stepped off the airplane and immediately began sweating. We stayed the night in a hostel there and rose bright and early to head to the village of Likia Arriba. The trip to the village was a rough one. We covered ourselves in deet before we left to avoid the bugs and of course put on sunscreen. We rode an old manual school bus with the windows down on the worst roads I’ve ever seen. While on the bus for four hours, we attempted to take in all of our surroundings. We saw young children pushing heavy wheelbarrows, many people on horseback, and PLENTY of stray dogs and cats. There was trash in the road, beside the road, in the fields, everywhere. The villages we passed along the way were composed of straw shacks that appeared to be falling apart. Many had no roofs or partial roofs. As Nicaragua goes through a rainy season for several months out of the year, I cannot imagine living without a roof over my head. We were getting excited about getting to our village and host families but still didn’t know what to expect. We stopped in the last city before the village for lunch and to change cars. We ate mostly rice and beans, then our translators and other staff from BuildOn drove us two more hours on dirt roads through rivers and up mountains to our village. The man driving our car did not speak English so we had no idea how close we were until we arrived and he put the car in park.
When we got out of the car, the ENTIRE village was waiting for us with a huge welcome ceremony set up. They hugged us and kissed us on our cheeks as we came in and couldn’t stop telling us how excited they were to welcome us into their village and how thankful they were that we had come to work alongside them. They sang for us and danced and asked us to do the same. We sang our Alma Mater along with the Star Spangled Banner. Next, we all formed a line along with EVERY adult member of the village to sign the contract. The contract said that we would all work together on building the new school for the village and that the members of the community would sign up for shifts and continue working on the school build every day until it is completed. This usually takes around six to seven weeks. The signing of the contract may have been our very first realization of the severity of the lack of education there. Many members of the community could not sign their names because they could not read or write, and therefore had to give their signature by stamping their fingerprint.
After the signing of the contract, we were each assigned to our host families. This was a bit intimidating as none of them spoke any English and had never even met a person from another country. We all had other girls from USC assigned to our families with us, which I was so thankful for. The family I was given had four children who lived with them. They had quite possibly the “nicest” house in the village as it was made out of concrete. The father was a farmer and the mother stayed at home to cook and care for the children. We grabbed our belongings and started on a long (quiet) walk to their home. When we arrived, the house had nothing inside aside from a few pictures of Catholic Idols handing on the wall. The translators came by soon after and brought us our cots and mosquito nets that BuildOn provided. We used the latrina (bathroom) and checked out the shower that night too. For a fairly shy and reserved person such as myself, I knew this was going to be my first and largest obstacle for the week.
Each night we ate dinner with our families. They showed such genuine happiness, the kind of which I have never seen or experienced before. When the sun went down around 6:30pm, each family was sure to be home and together. Although there was no electricity, they were so incredibly happy and peaceful to just be in each other’s presence. They were not consumed by any type of technology, as we often are, and they really taught me what it meant to be fully “in the moment”. As we sat outside of the house each night in silence, we watched the stars and simply enjoyed the company we had. We laughed with the children and exchanged smiles with eyes that had a million things to say, but lacked the common language with which to say it. Although the language barrier was frustrating at times, it was often refreshing to just be still and reflect while taking in the energy that everyone gave off. In these nights of silence and darkness, I felt God’s overwhelming peaceful presence and the happiness He provided felt tangible. With my host sister Liseth on my lap, I vividly remember thinking “this is what family should always feel like”. Often times here in America we get too caught up in the whirlwind of our busy lives to unplug and appreciate the world and the presence of our loved ones.
Each morning in the village, we woke up around 5am. We prepared for a breakfast of rice and beans, just like every other meal, and cleaned our plates before heading to the worksite. When we first arrived at the worksite each morning, we formed a circle with the community members who were working with us that day. Every day, we introduced ourselves one by one and talked about our goals for the day. Then we all put our hands in and broke on “Likkia Arriba”, “Circle of Sisterhood” and “BuildOn” as a reminder of what we were doing and who we were doing it for. The village members would talk each morning about how thankful they were and how the next Einstein could come out of their village thanks to this collaborative project that they had been anticipating for close to 10 years.
As we worked each day on the foundation of the school, I grew an entirely new appreciation for construction workers. The work was TOUGH, especially the digging. We sweat and got dirtier than I probably ever have before. I journaled during the trip, and wrote that halfway through digging on the second day, I just wanted to give up. I looked up from the hole I was digging in to take a deep breath and I quickly noticed the Nicaraguan people on either side of me, digging tirelessly. I could see in their eyes, in their smiles, in their work ethic—they were SO determined because they knew this would provide a better life for their children than they ever had for themselves. Their faces lit up at the thought of the opportunities their daughters and sons would be given once provided with a basic education and the ability to read and write.
It was in that moment that I fully grasped the impact of BuildOn and Circle of Sisterhood. People from different backgrounds coming together with one mission— providing opportunity. This is something I never had to consider growing up. I always knew I would be going to school and I always knew I could go to college. I never second guessed it. In this village— in my host family— this was NEVER the case. My host mother went to school until the third grade. She could not read or write. They did not leave the village, travel the world, see other cultures, or learn about anything that happened or advanced outside of their village because they did not have the opportunity. Education is SO valuable and I will never take it for granted again. Needless to say, I began digging, painting, and rebar-ing with a newfound passion— one for the children of Likia Arriba.
On our last day in the village, we worked, hiked to a cocoa farm, and then milked cows, prior to our farewell ceremony. The farewell ceremony was set up much like the welcome ceremony. The entire village came back together but the vibe was completely different. Everyone was more outgoing and the people of the village were joking and laughing with us, while the kids were all over us. They wanted to play and sit on our laps and never let us leave. We knew that their parents had communicated to them the significance of our mission and the children felt the love we gave and reciprocated. Again, in this moment, I felt God’s incredible presence. It was all I could do to hold back tears of happiness as I spent time with these children and reflected on the week.
As we got ready to leave the next morning and head back to the hostel, I was struck by emotions I never expected to feel. I wasn’t ready to leave. My host family sat silently in the main room, obviously not ready either. It’s truly incredible the things that can be communicated by a look in someone’s eyes or through their body language. My host sister knew we were leaving and didn’t want to let go. We hugged probably 10 times that morning. My host mom embraced me many times with tears in her eyes that to me, said “thank you”. The love that I felt in that home was so heartwarming and in that moment, I wanted to stay forever. As we packed up the cars and embarked on our bumpy journey back to the city, we all cried for at least the first thirty minutes of the ride. We reflected and leaned on one another and realized how much we had learned and how much love we felt for this village that isn’t even on the map.
In reflecting upon this trip, I could not be more thankful for the opportunity given to me by Alpha Delta Pi and the entire Panhellenic community at USC. I shared this trip with the ABSOLUTE most positive, encouraging, strong, brave and inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Each chapter on our campus was so well represented in this group. We grew so close and I know that I personally would not have made it through without them. I am thankful for all of the chapters on our campus and our incredible philanthropic partnership with Circle of Sisterhood. I hope and pray that the legacy of Circle of Sisterhood will be carried on for years to come here at USC and at every institution nationwide.