Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. You can view past posts from the series here.
For the past few days, I have been traveling in the Caribbean side of Nicaragua with WaterAid America. They work in some of the most remote areas of the region to bring better access to water and sanitation.
Since being here, I’ve been amazed at the high level of poverty and near absence of running water all around me. I found out that less than 20% of people in this area have access to basic water and sanitation. We have seen some taps in the urban area of Bilwi that are connected to the municipal supply that are completely dry. I’m told they only get water every two or three days.
At the same time, I’m struck by the absolute kindness of the Nicaraguans I have met. We have spent some time in the much more remote rural communities where many families are pretty well self-sufficient. Here, we’ve had a wonderful translator named Dixie help us communicate with these indigenous Miskitu people in their native tongue.
Traveling to the city is expensive and grueling, having to cross rivers and horribly kept dirt roads. And what I’ve learned from the people in these rural villages is that money is simply not important to them. They seek to earn enough to have the basic necessities for themselves and their families – food, clothes and shoes top the list.
People like Linda, whom we had the pleasure of spending the past two days with, earns money by selling some of the crops she grows. She has also had the opportunity to go through WaterAid’s training program that taught her how to build, install and maintain wells so that she can not only provide access to clean water and sanitation to her village, but also make some extra income for her family while doing so. When we arrived to her beautiful village, Auhya Tara, she was working on a casings for a new well at her neighbor’s house. Like most mothers, when asked what she spends her additional income on, she said her children come first.
In the Miskitu language, the term pana pana means mutual support. Linda sat beside a friend and fellow WaterAid trainee, Jhondra, as they explained how pana pana was important to them. They would share with each other their successes with their new skills and knowledge of water and sanitation. Skills and knowledge that most people in their village did not have. They would also ask each other about certain steps that they might have forgotten and support each other.
I’ve noticed that you don’t see homeless people in Nicaragua. This is because people are always willing to open up their home. It is customary to provide food that your host will prepare for you, as both Linda and Jhondra did for us.
These women welcomed us, complete strangers from different countries, with open arms and without any questions. (And, believe me, we asked them a lot of questions!) Our #WaterAidNica team of four slept in cots under mosquito nets in Linda’s house while we listened to the many animals – cows, pigs, goats, turkeys, roosters etc. – throughout the evening. I brushed my teeth in between a pig, two goats and a large group of cows.
The next morning, Linda and her mother-in-law took us across the river in a dugout canoe to show us their crops. There were beans, cucumbers (which we ate right there in the field), squash, tomatoes and more. Linda’s beautiful granddaughter, Exelia, tagged along. While we couldn’t talk to each other directly because of the language barrier, we communicated through our actions, smiling and helping each other through the thick fields filled with vegetation. As we walked back toward the river, Exelia continued to pick vegetables, beans and flowers, dropping her bounty into a pouch she made with her dress and handing me a few choice pieces along the way. She didn’t speak, and she didn’t need to. Her smile and her actions said enough.
Exelia and the people of Nicaragua have shown me quite clearly that generosity has no language barrier. And it goes well beyond money.