All of the children, workers, and trekkers on site in Nicaragua

All of the children, workers, and trekkers on site in Nicaragua

by SuzanneClair Guard, Executive Director

It all started when we made the decision to honor two extraordinary members of our
family, whom we had just lost, by building and dedicating a school to them: Bud Guard,
my father, who had recently died at the age of 89, and Don Badenoch, my sister’s
husband who died very unexpectedly of a heart attack the day after Christmas.
To realize our goal, we worked with an organization called BuildOn where my nephew
Skyler Badenoch works as Manager of International Programs. After two years of fund
raising, we had enough money collected to cover the cost of all the materials needed
to build one school. We chose to build the school in Nicaragua (the second poorest
country in the Western Hemisphere) in the mountains near the Honduran border.
Our ‘trek team’ consisted of 12 family members and cherished friends whose task
would be to break ground on the site, dig the foundation, mix cement, make 1,700
bricks using only one mold, twist rebar, paint beams, and haul boulders the size of a
large cow out of the ground and off the site with ropes and muscle as our only tools.
As you imagine, the challenges were considerable: Eating rice and beans for breakfast,
lunch and dinner… actually, it was delicious, especially when topped with ripe
avocadoes and hot sauce; acclimating to the heat and humidity of August while in
a six foot deep hole digging the school’s foundation; acclimating to the freezing cold
that swept in at night from the mountains — especially hard after the sweltering heat
of the days; restraining ourselves from killing the 10 year old rooster that suffered from
dementia and began crowing every morning at 4 am instead of a more reasonable 5
am; communicating with our host families via our collective talent with charades and
some very broken Spanish; learning the methods and procedures of the ‘bucket bath.’
The rewards, however, were endless. We were housed with six different families and
were honored to be treated like family members. Though they had few possessions,
they willingly shared everything, teaching us new meanings of generosity and grace.

Despite living in homes with dirt floors, no electricity, plumbing, or running water, they
were rich with a strong belief in family, God and education.

Among all my special memories, a few stand out in particular:

• Dancing with the entire village late into the night to the music of a drum brought by
David, a dear friend of my father and my brother-in-law
• Waking up to the sound of a broom (actually that dreadful rooster came first)
sweeping a dirt floor, the smell of tortillas cooking and coffee boiling and a family
getting ready for another day of hard work in the fields
• Going to the field to milk the cow for my coffee!
• Hearing the laughter that invariably came with the morning sun. Smiles were always
abundant even though poverty was evident everywhere.
• The children, who held our hands, sat on our laps, leaned against us, thought we
were funny, taught us their games, followed us everywhere, and broke our hearts
with their beautiful gazes of wonder and curiosity. They welcomed us with traditional
songs and dances and showed us their writing and reading skills.
• The women of the village, who were first on the work site and last to go home. The
men left the fields and did the lion’s share of the lifting.

Lessons learned:
• Here is where I really understood the conveniences of my life in New York. I walk
into Starbucks and a minute later walk out with a Grandé. To enjoy a cup of coffee
at home in Nicaragua, you have to gather the beans, pound them with a pestle to
crack the shells, throw the result in the air to separate the beans from the shells,
roast the beans in a frying pan, pulverize them with a pestle, go outside and fill a
bucket of water at the cistern, boil the water on the wood stove, then pour it over
the beans. But that’s not all. Next you have to catch the cow, milk her, and heat the
milk. Whew. By the time you’ve had your morning coffee, you are ready to go back
to bed.
• I suspect the villagers found us peculiar with our bottled water, sun screen, insect
repellent, zip-up sleeping sheets to keep out the bed bugs, bags of clothing, gloves,
cameras, hats, mosquito nets, etc. Somehow these things were unnecessary in
their lives.
• Despite their focus on growing their food, the villagers found the time to plant
flowers everywhere.

All in all, it was a life-altering 10 days. As my husband, Tuck, said in a short statement
to the entire village on the morning we left: “You have often mentioned during our visit
that you wished you had something to give to us….you have….the knowledge that in
many ways you have far more than we do.”

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