Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer Intern Guest Writer: Lucy McGraw
I spent the summer of 2015 in Nicaragua as a Caminos volunteer with Outreach360. It was an incredibly rewarding and transformative experience for me, as it opened my eyes to so much about the world, myself and the amazing, intelligent students I served. As a Caminos, I had the privilege of spending quality time with the students and collaborating with volunteers from around the globe. We had a dance party with the students for International Children’s Day, spent a day exploring the historic city of Granada, and ended the summer by taking the students on a field trip to Managua to see the airport. I formed meaningful relationships with the students as I taught them about the Highland Games in Scotland, or what it means for an airplane to hit turbulence. I cultivated lifelong friendships with some of the other long-term volunteers, who I now don’t go more than a few days without talking to.
The greatest lessons I learned came from the ten principles that Outreach360 teaches volunteers at the beginning of the week to ensure that they have a meaningful and fulfilling experience. There are three that I make a point to carry with me each day.
Serve, Don't Help
This reminds volunteers that the students are not helpless children who need us to impose our values and customs on them to improve their lives — rather they are smart, talented, curious little people who are eager to learn from the volunteers they interact with. It hopes to show volunteers that our purpose is to serve them, to be a stepping stone for them on their life path. It also serves as a reminder to be respectful of the community that the volunteers spend their time in and to try their best to become as familiar with it as possible.
This principle means a lot to me, because I now work as an AmeriCorps member for a nonprofit called Literacy First, teaching literacy to young, low-income students from difficult backgrounds. The elementary school I work in is Title I, meaning it does not always have the funds or the resources to support the students as is necessary. Whenever I find myself wanting to overstep my boundaries or get involved in a situation that can be solved without me, this principle pops into my head, and I am reminded that I can only serve as much as I am needed. Once I take a step back, I am reminded that the work I am doing is purposeful and that the students’ drive, curiosity and eagerness to learn will support them in the ways that the school cannot.
This principle, I think, speaks for itself. It was demonstrated to me throughout my internship by the students we served and through the friendships I formed with other volunteers. The students showed me love by the way they fully embraced me and the new volunteers that came in each week, and how excited they were to participate in whatever lesson we had planned for them, no matter what it was.
The other volunteers communicated love to me by accepting me for who I am, acknowledging how our differences made us a stronger team, and by embracing the students right back. Outreach360 encourages praise in the form of notes written by volunteers who deserve it. I still have each note that I received from other volunteers that summer. One of my favorites is from a fellow long-term volunteer, Virginia Gordon, who is now one of my best friends. It reads, “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you; you made this trip so much better. I really kind of hate writing notes, but I write this to say that I love you and can’t wait to travel the world”. This principle means a lot to me because it serves as a great reminder that the best way to communicate love is to love yourself and let that love overflow onto the people around you.
This Is It
This is the principle that resonated with me the most. It serves as a reminder that we need to be present and live in the moment because this is it; life is happening now. The people in Jinotega embody this principle in such a great way. No one is in a hurry, no one is rushing to the next place or the next thing, everyone is content just to be. People drop in on their friends unexpectedly to have a cup of coffee or to chat. They stop on the street to say hello to their neighbor that they haven’t seen in a couple of days. In Western culture, it’s easy to sometimes get caught up in the rush and to feel like you have to have a plan for the day, the week, the next 5 years. Being immersed in the laid back Nicaraguan culture was the perfect reset button for me, and showed me that everything doesn’t have to be figured out and that I can take things day by day. I now try to live by this principle and try to remind myself that life is short and that I need to take advantage of the present.
My experience as a Caminos changed my life. I cherish the memories, relationships and life lessons that I gained while there. To quote my good friend Jessica Henderson, also a former Caminos intern, “I urge anyone that stumbles upon this blog to not hesitate on an experience like this. It doesn’t matter your credentials or your abilities, all you need is a heart and room to let it grow. Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.”