From an outsider to being part of the family
By Claire Lavery, Business Development Manager of Vamoos
In the summer of 2014 I travelled to Nicaragua to spend three months living with a local family in the hills of the northern region of Somoto, volunteering on a water and sanitation project in an extremely rural area. I've always been drawn to adventure and sought out ways to push myself, which is why I decided to sign up to three months without a phone, running water or flushing toilets.
Before going, I hadn't really thought about the experience in practice. I knew that I would have no contact with the outside world for three months, restricted access to electricity, would have to walk to a well to collect water and use a long drop instead of the luxury of a flushing toilet; but until I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere and stripped bare of basic of luxury amenities, I hadn't let reality sink in.
I moved into my mud hut, divided into two parts by a plastic sheet that I shared with two of my host siblings (among other random family members and the largest hornet I've ever seen) and another Nicaraguan volunteer. I was no stranger to volunteering in a foreign land, but I was instantly struck by the isolation, as my Spanish was still very basic and my host mother had no teeth - a truly challenging mix!
In a typical Western fashion, my expectations of how I would fit in with the community was probably one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. I had rather naively thought I'd be welcomed with open arms, instantly accepted and encouraged to get stuck into our work. The reality, however, was entirely different. It took weeks of regular visits into family homes to be acknowledged and to crack into the community on even a basic level, as the village had previously hosted volunteers and were quite antagonistic to another group. On a personal level, the feeling of rejection was acute and I felt unable to complete the work we had come so far to do. On top of the difficulties settling into our homes, the added pressure of being so isolated and stripped bare of what we consider basic amenities, I really struggled to push through. However, with a lot of hard work and a substantial amount of sweat and tears, myself and my team managed to push through these barriers, the self-imposed, perceived and actual ones.
I learnt so much that it is often difficult to put into words. On a personal level, these three months changed the course of my life and my entire view of myself and others. From my community and host family I learnt the most; that those who have nothing can still be so willing to share has inspired me to be kinder and more considerate every day since then. The compassion and love that they gave to each of us is something I try and emulate going forward. I learnt the importance of being present, of taking time to check in with myself and others, and that there is still so much to left to discover!