Parksville students got a unique look into the beauty, the people and the problems of Nicaragua during a March trip to the country.
Nineteen students from Ballenas Secondary School travelled with principal Rudy Terpstra and teacher Olivia Hill to a remote fishing village on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua called Jiquilillo to stay at Monty’s Beach Lodge.
Founded by Parksville resident Don “Monty” Montgomery and co-owned by Nicaragua native, humanitarian and entrepreneur Gerry Caceres, the lodge is involved in a variety of community development projects that students took part in during their “voluntourism” trip.
Students Spencer Hancock (Grade 12), Kolby Jack (Grade 11) and Gage Kilkenny (Grade 12) had all been on trips to other countries before, but said the opportunity to not only work on community projects in Jiquilillo, but to work alongside the village people and make an impact on their lives was meaningful to them.
“It’s fulfilling in a way,” said Jack. “I really enjoyed the house-building, the digging of the latrine… the physical labour. You could see what you were doing, and you could interact with the people you were helping. It was absolutely amazing.”
The students helped to build a home for a woman and her family from the Women’s Co-Operative that the lodge supports and partners with. The woman was also working to build the house with them, they said.
Students also taught English at a language centre built through the lodge and at a community centre. When they weren’t teaching, they were learning — to surf, paddle board, do yoga, play volleyball and even toboggan down an active volcano.
“I much prefer the voluntourism aspect of it,” Hancock said while comparing it to other trips he’s been on.
“First of all, it’s sustainable — you’re working on improving those communities, you’re not adding to the garbage,” he said. “You have real interactions with real citizens of that area, and that’s pretty moving. And, with Monty’s, you’re not in a commercial, industrial, same-as-Miami kind of hotel. You are in a lodge… there are cabanas, everyone is in their own room. It’s absolutely lovely, but you are also just immersed into the real culture of it.”
While that meant eating locally caught fish and other foods, and meeting the people, who the students described as being very happy, it also meant the students were privy to some of the community’s problems.
“One of the things that was most influential to me was the way they deal with their trash there,” Hancock said. “They don’t have the infrastructure whatsoever to deal with trash or recycling, but they get all of the plastic bags and bottles that are produced… and the way they get rid of that is just by burning it.
“All over the place, there are piles of garbage burning… and that’s a smell that you grow to… accept.”
It’s something that underscored for Hancock his interest in the outdoors and the environment, and a drive to do something about it.
At the same time, students saw the beauty of the area. Kilkenny described an early morning of paddle boarding during which the sun rose over a volcano. “It’s like the most perfect sunrise you could ever see,” he said. That same day, after a particularly taxing yoga exercise, he watched the sun set from the beach.
“I just thought it was amazing because I was up for the sunrise and I saw this beautiful sunrise, and that same day I was watching the sun go down, and it was just as beautiful.”
For Jack, perhaps the most impactful part of the trip was the happiness of the Nicaraguan people he met there, he said. That’s despite Nicaragua being one of the poorest countries in Latin America.
Terpstra said Ballenas will have an ongoing relationship with Monty’s Beach Lodge, and will look to do more trips there, and hopefully also start a fundraiser to benefit the Jiquilillo community.