The experience in Nicaragua was unforgettable. We played soccer with a Jinotegan team, went grocery shopping in a market, and enjoyed dinner with host families. For me, the best part was becoming close with Nicaraguans. From children like Reynaldo or Alec whom we played with, to teenagers like Jennifer who we could relate to, or adults like Victorino a role model who gave us support, the people were the key to making this a true learning service trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. – Rebecca Lowy


When I got home from Nicaragua and faced the challenge of readjusting to my life, which I had been blissfully separated from, my friends and family asked me about the trip. I gave various enthusiastic responses, frequently just saying “amazing” or sometimes going more into depth, describing experiences.

I told people about our work, digging trenches to lay pipes for potable water for people’s houses. I explained how our group worked with VISIONS, AVODEC, and the locals of Chauite Grande to bring tangible and necessary life improvement. I was flooded with memories describing some activities we did after work: visiting a collaborative pottery workshop; exploring a beautiful coffee farm on horseback; having dinner with a family of Jinotega; dancing at a discoteca. The group itself had the kind of dynamic, positive attitude that added ineffably to all we did and discussed.

When I reached a new level of connection with someone in my group based on some mutual experience and understanding or broke through the language barrier, creating a bond with Nicaraguans, I found myself in moments that truly made the program special. All we did was magnificent and unique, but it was what we felt that was priceless and in many ways indescribable. – Meredith Ruskin


My experiences with BJ in Nicaragua have taught me that community service is a tool for cross-cultural interaction and development of personal bonds with diverse people. The citizens of Chauite Grande did not need our manual labor, only our financial support. However, providing emotional support to physical structures gives special meaning to the water system we built. Those tubes, spouts, and dirt trenches full of red ants represent, to me, a strong connection between American Jewish teens, and a village of Nicaraguan farmers. We were humbled by the lives of our newfound friends, and they were inspired by our contagious enthusiasm to build a more comfortable life. – Jacob Lowy


Only the Chocolate Stains Remain
Abby Schneider

After three washes, a really strong
Detergent, and four scalding
Showers, I seem to have defeated
The dirt that colonized every crevice
Of skin and clothing. Pestering
Us, it tickled our eyes and danced
In the tilted lights of evening
As it enjoyed clogging
All our supplies to quickly
Besmirch the remnants of our hygiene.

The clothes return to the shelter
Of the closet, to the silent
Places only reached when steamrolling
Through stale sweatshirts
And embarrassing hand-me-downs.
The quick dry synthetic pants and $20
Work gloves will patiently wait
In hibernation till the next time
Travel takes us to where cold water
Is a delicacy.
Where the days end when the sun
Fades and nightlife consists
Of telling stories on cement floors
As we graze on plantain chips.

There, the dirt honors
Him, who shatters the rock
We couldn’t budge. Unwinding
Itself in his bare hands
and wrinkles, it defines him like
The rings of a tree. Etched
in his cheeks it fans
out to his temples
And sidles behind his ears.

VISIONS in The New York Times