In the summer of 2017 I took the plunge and decided to move to volunteer in Nicaragua… a country I knew nothing about….in a continent I had never been to…. alone. Brave! Without doubt. Crazy? Maybe.
But it was the best decision of my life.
For 6 months I lived in Granada, travelling around on the weekends and having the absolute honour of volunteering for La Esperanza Granada as both the communications and marketing intern and as an English tutor as well.
Who are La Esperanza Granada?
If you have ever looked up volunteering in Nicaragua without doubt you have come across La Esperanza Granada, and that’s probably why you are reading this now!
So what is La Esperanza? La Esperanza is a NGO that works with underprivileged adults and children in the poorest barrios of Granada to improve their education and hopefully their life. La Esperanza meaning the hope in Spanish is exactly what they are trying to provide; hope for a better future.
They do this through building schools for the governmental teachers to use, building and staffing extra-curricular learning centres where La Esperanza’s volunteers work (this is what I did), by sponsoring pupils in the schools to become ‘ayudantes’ (helpers in Spanish) which funds their secondary and university education in exchange for help in the learning centres, and just general welfare projects like sponsored optician and dental appointments, a lottery draw where the best attendance at school wins a needy family a house and cultural events. Essentially it is a really worthwhile cause!
What did I do?
Whilst I was there my official role was Communications and Marketing intern. This involved updating the facebook and Instagram, interviewing people and researching projects to write blog posts about, photographing events and creating promotional materials. I ended up working with a Belgium girl called Stien who I am lucky to still call my friend till this day (shout out Stieny!). I did this for a couple of hours a day in the central office.
In the morning I volunteered as an English tutor in the learning centres for the older children. We would prepare lessons covering vocab from colours and foods to teaching tenses or role-playing waitressing to the kids. The work was very hands on but really rewarding. The ayudantes are here to help the volunteers and run the centres but the volunteers are the ones teaching the lessons.
Though it is unfortunately not an option now, when I was working there La Esperanza, the charity offered subsidised accommodations for volunteers. I ended up in the famous La Libertad house (many Nica’s knew of the crazy house full of gringos). After getting used to the bats, rats AND cockroaches I absolutely loved that house. Whether it be having my afternoon nap in the hammocks, the falling coconuts that gave us free snacks, or some unforgettable parties (sorry Juan Carlos!) it was the time of my life!
So is it worth volunteering?
The Positives of volunteering-
The other workers –
Not only was it great to live and work with other gringos from all over the world, but it was so valuable to live and interact with local Nicaraguans each day. These locals changed from my colleagues to my friends who I still talk to today. I even ended up living my with boss in the end (big up Juan Carlos!). Not only did it massively improve my Spanish, but it helped me understand the country so much more and it was so fun hanging out with them!
Unlike other charities where the cause seems distant and unachievable this couldn’t have been farther from than the truth with La Esperanza. Nothing is quite as humbling as walking through one of the poorest barrios every day to teach, nor as seeing the improvements in the childrens English and their pride in doing well. Volunteering really puts you face to face with all the nuances of poverty in Nicaragua and the complexities in helping to ease it. Without sounding too cliché it is not unfair to say that volunteering with La Esperanza has completely changed the way I see and interact with the world till this day. For that I will always be grateful.
Opportunities I would have otherwise not had-
I saw some of the best things and worst things of my life in Nicaragua. Without doubt most gringos never go into these barrios and I feel genuinely lucky to have been able to experience them and the people that live in these areas (even being invited into their homes). With the reporting I saw incredibly cultural festivals like El dia de los indios that were local-only events. Volunteering in this way really helps you see the country in a different, more authentic way and La Esperanza really encourages this hand-ons approach. It was a truly ‘real’ way of seeing the country.
The Negatives of volunteering-
Though I would for love every volunteer to come with good intentions this isn’t always the case. Some volunteers seemingly worked half-heartedly for cheap accommodation and then complained about the lack of holidays. Though this isn’t that charities fault it was really disappointing to see. This comes about because La Esperanza only asks for 2 weeks commitment from each volunteer. They do this as every volunteer really counts in helping with the effort, but it does have its downsides!
I suppose we all need to be more aware about why we are doing things, especially something as serious as volunteering, and whether we are well intentioned or just want the Instagram likes for a cute photo with local children. However, I’ll save that blog for another time!
Lack of organisation–
Unsurprisingly for Latin America, the organisation is not as efficient as is custom in Western Europe or the states. Being told the centre was cancelled whilst walking to work or taking a while for things to happen was quite normal. This is not just a LEG issue but a general Nicaraguan problem, however once you can grow accustomed to a slower pace of life you’ll soon grow used to it (and becomes less frustrated in the process!)
The elephant in the room….
It goes without saying that I cant discuss this without addressing the recent troubles in Nicaragua. After I left massive protests and unrest in began 2018. With numerous civilians injured and killed many foreign embassies began extracting their citizens from the country fearing for their safety. It was incredibly upsetting to see a country that I loved so much being turned upside down. Even in late 2018 many travellers in Central America told me they had heard of people being turned away from the border. It is officially ok to go back into Nicaragua now, but unsurprisingly tourism (one of the major industries for the country) has taken a massive hit. Not only did this mean the shutting of many businesses but a massive drop in volunteer numbers.
I write this article now not only to give a review of my time volunteering with La Esperanza Granada but also in the hope it may be the little bit of reassurance for anyone interested to go and help the charity out. Without doubt it will have changed since I have been there; the shared accommodations have been forced to have been shut down and there is not the same community of 30+ strong international volunteers. However, in a country beginning to recover I have mucha esperanza for the future.
If you would also be interest in working with La Esperanza in the office, teaching or remotely from home or just supporting a really worthwhile cause I’ve left some links below. Check it out!
If you want to volunteer, donate or just want more information about the charity check out the La Esperanza website- http://www.la-esperanza-granada.org/
https://www.facebook.com/laesperanzagranada/videos/1918078324876597/ — A video of a day in the life of a volunteer
https://laesperanzagranada.blogspot.com/ — the blog which gives more details about everyday volunteer life with La Esperanza
https://www.facebook.com/laesperanzagranada/ — The facebook page with frequent updates of what is happening
https://golokono.com/ (check out Go Lokono, a backpack business started by my flatmates and fellow volunteers in La Libertad, who for every backpack purchased donates a backpack full of supplies to charities including La Esperanza Granada)
And if you are just generally interested in visiting Nicaragua in general check out my other blogs!