I am happy and proud to share a blog reflection from Mariam – a young woman that lives in Toronto. Mariam spent time volunteering in Nicaragua in late November 2017. Her words and stories below illustrate the true magic of volunteering abroad through Unearth the World. And, when I asked Mariam how volunteering through UTW made a difference in her experience, she said the following:

Travelling through Unearth the World made a difference for me as it gave me the opportunity to capture much more of my environment even outside of the volunteer experience. In addition to volunteering with amazing kids, I was also able to take daily Spanish lessons and engage in excursions where I got to see some of Nicaragua’s natural beauty. The experience through Unearth the World was so organized and I really appreciated how supportive everyone from the team in Chicago to the team in La Mariposa were. I felt perfectly safe and right at home. I would do a volunteer trip through Unearth the World again in a heartbeat!

Please enjoy Mariam’s words below…

I chose to do a volunteer trip for the same reason that many do. I wanted to help. I live in Toronto and work in a bit of a corporate bubble. Like many of us, I’ve been blessed with a comfortable life filled with little luxuries only available in the developed world. I constantly found myself at odds with some of these daily comforts. At my core, I felt that I needed to give back.

What shocked me about Nicaragua, prior to leaving, was the fact that it is said to be the safest country in Central America, and yet it’s the poorest. These two criterions don’t usually go together and it wasn’t until I visited San Juan, Nicaragua that I truly understood this statistic. The people there may be poor in material goods, but they have hearts of gold.

When I arrived at the eco-hotel and Spanish school – Unearth the World’s Sustainable Tourism partner in Nicaragua – it felt as if I had just walked into an enchanted world with the fresh scent of the lush forest lining my path. The hammocks outside my room overlooked the lush forest within the eco-hotel and each morning I’d lay in one listening to the monkeys and gently petting the dogs as they helped me bring in my day. I’d be rustled from “hammock-meditation” by the sound of a bell signaling it was breakfast time. Joined by the rest of the residents staying at the eco-hotel, I’d sit down for a healthy and fulfilling breakfast before we each set out on our volunteer adventures.

I chose to volunteer at Reuben Dario (a local school about a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride from the eco-hotel). I volunteered from 8-12am with kids ages 3-6. First Impressions? I forgot that no one speaks English so my first day was a lot of smiling at the teachers with both of us longing to make the other comfortable with our game of basic charades to try to understand each other. I was also a little nervous at the thought that perhaps none of the kids would want to play with me at recess! Turns out, I didn’t have to worry about this. As soon as recess began, the kids flocked to me – each wanting me to play a different game with them. One little boy even insisted on sharing his snack with me (which he proceeded to do each day after that – heart melting!).

I came home that day and threw myself with enthusiasm right into the Spanish classes that Kathryn had kindly organized for me. I had 2 hours of grammar classes with Rosa and 2 hours of conversation classes with Johanna. Both teachers were truly amazing and I went back to the local school the next day with much more confidence, equipped with enough conversational knowledge to keep up with ‘los ninos’.

Leaving the kids was really hard and the guilt of only having a week with them set in as I said my goodbyes. Their hopeful eyes and smiles solidified my commitment to returning to Nicaragua and visiting Reuben Dario.

On my last day in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an organic farm, ‘La Reserva’, which is maintained by the eco-hotel. Not having much of a green thumb, I wasn’t sure what to expect but was very excited when I was told that I would start by helping Ronny (one of the men who worked at the farm) with picking the oranges from the orange tree. The kitchen at the eco-hotel had requested that I bring back 40 oranges from the farm. So Ronny, marched ahead and beckoned me to come as he led the way through the lush forest. Finally he exclaimed, “Aqi, el arbole naranja!” (Here, the orange tree!). Next, I was presented with a sack and told to hold it tightly while Ronny swiftly climbed up the tree and then looked down, smiled and yelled “vamos!” The next 15 minutes were the most comical moments of my trip by far. Ronny proceeded to throw the “naranjas” down at me as I showcased my best circus skills attempting to catch each one. He beamed at me from the tree, his eyes twinkling with amusement. Once the oranges were safely back at the kitchen, I returned to help the other volunteers weed an entire section of the farm and plant the greens.

The farm completed a successful and fulfilling trip to Nicaragua. A trip in which I had set out to volunteer and give back, and instead could not believe how much the country and the people gave me instead. I would go back to the eco-hotel through Unearth the World in a heartbeat. I’m already planning my next trip! Afterall, as Nelson Mandela once said, there is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

About the author: Mariam is a Marketing Manager working for a large accounting firm in Toronto. She has a love for food, music and culture and loves living in a city like Toronto where she can explore restaurants of all cuisines and take in the occasional music festival. A gym junkie with a passion for nutrition and a fascination with the harmony between mind, body and soul, she is currently on a journey to give back and, as a result, stumble across amazing people and places.