A simple question posed by one young girl in a Saturday morning computing class at the Cultural Center has played in my head since we returned home. She asked a small group of us, in measured but perfect English, what are the stereotypes that people in our community have of the people of Managua. She looked nervous as she awaited the response. A member of our group jumped in and told her we expected the people to be friendly and they exceeded that expectation. He told her he would remember the people as impeccably groomed and talented and joyous in their work. She beamed.
I will remember the people of Nicaragua in the kind face of that beautiful young woman and all the people she represents. I expected to fall in love with the smiling, gentle children but I did not realize the impact the adult community would have on me. Each person you meet puts their heart and soul in everything they do. Our scholarship money and support works, if you have any doubt, walk through the center and marvel at the beautiful music, precise dancers, exact seams, and delicious smells. These are not people taking courses to simply pass time or learn a casual hobby. They are grateful learners who are making the most of their lives and sharing their skills with their community. The young adult scholarship students are amazing leaders and the women have become role models of community and grace.
You can’t walk through the center without seeing pictures of Sister Margie and Father Angel, or hearing someone reminisce about them. What you feel is their spirit permeating the daily routine and their vision living on in the generations of people impacted by them. I believe everything they dreamed in their initial plans have come to fruition in the beautiful energy of the people of their “New Dawn”. I am forever grateful to the people of Batahola for their example of doing daily tasks with love and great joy.
In the middle of a barrio in one of the poorest countries in the world, rests a bit of heaven. The Cultural Center of Batahola is thriving, in large part, because of the love that IHM has poured into it. All the treasures donated, carried, stacked and sold at IHM’s garage sales are converted into dignity, kindness and charity by the teachers, leaders and staff at the Center. The generous donations to Project Education and the Get Down with Batahola Dance are transformed into education and hope for a brighter future by the Center’s students. It is miraculous to witness. In this, we are emulating Jesus who turned water into wine.
The faith and generosity of spirit of the people at the Center is humbling. God is never far from their thoughts. They expressed gratitude to IHMs parishioners and to Him who sent us at every meeting. One can see Mary in their gentle humility and quiet suffering. The Center offers courses in practical skills like sewing, baking and cash register operating, but charity, respect for life and perseverance form the foundation on which everything is built.
The group of 14 teenagers and 13 adults who went this year are no different than all those that have gone before. Unanimously, we all felt that we came away with more than we gave. Our hearts were opened, our views broadened and our faith deepened. Upon our return we radiated good will. Though only 27 went, our stories touched 27 times 20. Thus, seeds have been planted for, what Pope Benedict called in his June 2009 encyclical, truth in charity the Love of Christ alive in good works.
There is a miracle happening in Batahola and it is through us, the parishioners of IHM, whom God has chosen to continue His work. As we talk about our trip, we are often asked, Where do you go to church? The Immaculate Heart of Mary. Thanks be to God!
Obviously, before my trip to Nicaragua, I had some preconceived ideas of what to expect. I knew there would be poverty, more than I had ever seen before. I figured the lives the Nicaraguans led were far different from my own life. However, my seven days in Nicaragua taught me so much more than this. Yes, there was poverty, and it was heartbreaking to see how the people had so little, and I have so much. What surprised me was that the people took so much pride in what they had, no matter how few their possessions were. They didn’t dwell on negatives; they saw the bright sides of their lives. I learned so much from the spirited and wonderful people of Batahola. The stories of the people at the Center truly inspired me to make changes in my own self-centered life.
One other main thing that I learned is that I am not that different from the people at Batahola Norte. No matter how different we seem on the surface, appearances, language, and customs, there are certain ties that can bind human beings. I do speak some Spanish, but definitely not enough to understand everything people said. One connecter between us was games. When we simply stood on the soccer field, people seemed to flock from all around to play with us. Playing jump rope, tag, and painting murals didn’t require much verbal communication, but you were still able to get through to people and have a good time with them. It gave me so much joy to see the kids’ faces light up as I made them smile. So in some ways, my expectations were true, but my experience in Batahola went so much further than this. All of the people at the Center, Jennifer, the JVIs, teachers, students, and workers, were inspirational to me. They seemed to ignite something in me, a desire to help others.