Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 16, 2001
Youth find hope amidst poverty
St. Albert students spend spring break in Nicaragua
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — They wanted to taste life in the Third World and chose Nicaragua.
After spending two weeks in that Central American country, a group of St. Albert students say they now know a lot about poverty, solidarity, self-reliance and, above all, hope.
"Nicaraguans are poor but not hopeless," said 17-year-old Charla LeBlanc. "They want to improve their lives."
LeBlanc is one of 17 students from St. Albert High School and Ecole Secondaire Ste. Marguerite d'Youville who spent their spring break visiting and working with students, street youth and campesinos in Nicaragua.
The delegation distributed about 40 duffel bags filled with school supplies, toys, diapers and hygiene items among disadvantaged children and youth. They also took three boxes of medical supplies for health clinics they visited there.
Among their many projects, the youth visited an orphanage for disabled children and took them to see the ocean. They also visited non-governmental organizations and schools and participated in cross-cultural exchanges with disadvantaged Nicaraguan youth to talk about children's rights and educational opportunities for youth. And for a few days, the students stayed with campesino families in the rural community of Jinocuao.
Sheena Hobbins of St. Albert High is impressed with how self-reliant young Nicaraguans can be. "At first I was surprised to see so many young people live in the streets but then I was happy to learn how many projects are there to support them," said the Grade 12 student.
She is referring to work and school projects sponsored by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) because the government does virtually nothing for inner city schools, clarified school vice-principal Julian Dicastri, who accompanied the students.
The Institution for Human Promotion, an NGO working with street kids, runs several programs, even school for street kids, but generates its own funds and gets little from the government, he said.
"It opened my eyes to see how much they enjoy going to school," Hobbins said. "This makes me want to be around kids a lot more."
Hobbins, who would like to become a teacher, now plans to join Change for Children, an Edmonton-based NGO, to continue supporting Third World youth.
"Nicaragua is poor but to see everybody happy was great," said 15-year-old Alexander Dube of d'Youville High. "I know my life changed because of all the stuff I saw."
Many families live in small cardboard shacks in a dump on the outskirts of the capital city of Managua, where they find food and stuff to sell. "I was really impressed by that," Dube said. "It made me wonder why we don't help more."
Seeing so much poverty was also shocking for 16-year-old Michael Hartman of d'Youville High.
"Definitely it's mind-boggling to see people live that way," he said. "But I now realize that life is very much the same wherever you live. They have the same problems we have but for them it is a little worse because of the poverty."
The delegation stayed in a hostel in Managua for a few days and then the students moved in with campesino families in the countryside.
"It was totally different," LeBlanc said. "There was a dirt floor where we were sleeping and we only had a sheet blocking us from the rest of the family." Sometimes a chicken or a pig would wander into the house.
But LeBlanc said despite their modest living conditions, people are welcoming, happy and have a zest for life. "Here we base everything on what we have. There they seem to place more importance on the family unit." Nicaraguans also place a lot of importance on things spiritual, according to LeBlanc. "The only thing they have is their faith," she said. "Young people are very involved in the Church, unlike here where young people don't even go to church."
Nicaragua, already burdened with huge external debt and low per-capita income, was badly damaged by Hurricane Mitch in the fall of 1998. About 50 per cent of the population of 4.8 million live below the poverty line and unemployment reaches 70 per cent.
"Wealth should definitely be distributed a little better," said Hobbins. "There are lots of people out of work."
Now students from both schools are involved in a fundraising campaign to help raise the roof of a church and renovate a high school in Jinocuao.
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