Henry Greene is a freshman at Wilton High School. He wrote this article after returning from a week-long service trip to Nicaragua over the summer.

Summer is my favorite season and always goes too fast. In addition to the normal activities of swimming and tennis, this summer I did something that I will never forget.

Last fall, my mom mentioned going to Nicaragua for a week of service with the Wilton Presbyterian Church (WPC). I had visited Costa Rica and Honduras on vacation but had never been to Nicaragua, especially for community service. I was interested in the opportunity to return to Central America and practice my Spanish language skills, but I wasn’t so sure what service learning was about, much less how I could help.

But, my mom and friends in youth group kept mentioning it, and the next thing I knew we (8 adults and 5 teens) were filling out applications and attending meetings for our trip with Bridges to Community. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew that Nicaragua is the poorest nation on the American continents, and questions continued to be raised at home over the safety of going on this trip.

I started to get more excited when we received our itinerary days before we left. In addition to living in the village of El Portillo and building a home alongside the family that will live in it, we would have some opportunity to sightsee. We were going to hike near a volcano, swim in a crater lake, bird watch in a private reserve and check out colonial architecture in Granada. Before we left, I was more excited for these activities than the work we would do in the village, but later I learned that I felt otherwise.

Our first day we explored the capital city of Managua and had a delicious lunch in a traditional restaurant. We met our guides for the week and then completed orientation. The next day we hiked and enjoyed lunch before heading out to the school which would become our home for six days. On the van ride into El Portillo, I noticed the homes were one room shacks built out of rusted metal, scrap lumber, plastic sheeting and dirt floors. Never had I been exposed to such poverty so suddenly.

Matt shifrin, Sonny Kern and Henry Greene (in orange shirt, far right)
Matt shifrin, Sonny Kern and Henry Greene (in orange shirt, far right)

Upon arrival into the school in El Portillo, we were greeted by many smiling children. Immediately, we were invited by the kids to join in the pickup football (soccer) game in progress. I didn’t have to worry about subjunctive tenses, we were already laughing, smiling and connecting.
Next, we all explored our rooms for the week. Our accommodations consisted of cots with mosquito netting in a classroom for five nights. These conditions were uncomfortable for us, but we were amazed that they were still better than the community member’s houses.

We then met Yadira and Evaristo, the grandparents taking care of their two year old grandson Uriel. This was the family that we were building a house for and with. The next four days consisted of mixing lots of cement by hand, carrying heavy cinder blocks, digging trenches, making earthquake proof cables and painting.

It was hard work but everyone pitched in and the house was up. Our talented masons only had to put on the doors, windows and roof, and Evaristo and his family could move into a home that would protect them from the elements and provide a sanctuary for their family. Evaristo works in the fields clearing land with a machete for $6.00 a day, seven days a week. He will most likely work until he dies as there is no social security in Nicaragua.

Working alongside the family and the masons was the best part. I found Nicaraguans to be laid-back, but extremely hard working. They have a great sense of humor and an openness that manifests itself in their love of socializing with whoever happens to be around.

The Bridges to Community volunteer experience is unlike almost anything else I have experienced. It challenged me, confused me, inspired me and ultimately changed me. In eight days, we made a real and lasting difference for a family and community in an impoverished part of the world. But what came as the biggest surprise to me is that when I returned, I found that these eight days made a real and lasting difference for me as well. And my world will never be the same again.

Henry's Mom Margret reading
Henry’s Mom, Margret Green, reading with two local boys
Henry’s Mom, Margret Green, reading with two local boys
Henry and friends mixing cement
Henry and friends mixing cement
Henry in Nicaragua
Henry (far right) in Nicaragua with new friends