“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B.White
It’s been a week since I’ve been back from Nicaragua. The withdrawal is real.
A couple of weeks ago, most of our Artbound team, ambassadors and friends travelled to a remote Nicaraguan village to build classrooms and arts programs, which we funded via Creative Deeds1. Our partner Waves of Hope is a charity started by three awesome Canadians who built a resort and a high school in El Manzano and continue to have a day-to-day impact there.
The infamous People Mover™
With our days starting early and finishing late, we rarely lacked action. On typical days we awoke at 5 or 6am, attempted an early surf, downed a quick breakfast and went2 to the school to begin work before the sun was at its highest.
36 degrees Celsius felt like 45 on some days but didn’t stop us. We dug, dragged, chopped, cut, cemented, heaved and ho’ed all week long to clear the way for the classrooms. One day, we even chose to spend an extra hour smoothing out gravel and dirt so that proud mothers can wear heels to the graduation ceremony (happening this week). Around a beach bonfire one night, Jamie from Waves of Hope called us the hard working group he’s seen — a deserved pat on the back and mental salve for our chapped hands, bitten ankles 3 and aching backs.
Post-lunch, we either did more work or spent time with the students. We helped with art sessions, taught the kids basic English and met the five teachers we hired for after-school programs. Two will teach music covering over 8 instruments: keys, strings, percussion and wind. Another two teachers will instruct a versatile range of dance classes. And the gem of the lot, a storied local artist, Salvador will be the visual arts teacher — stay tuned for a video interview where he speaks of tough decades being an artist in Central America.
We spent evenings at the charming Tapas & Surf relaxing as best we could; discussing the days events, Chess, Scrabble, lazing in hammocks, and sampling local fare (Pinto Gallo is rice and beans, the national dish, and Toña is their impressive local beer). After dinner, we shared our favourite parts of the day whether hilarious or touching and by the end of the week, our ritual caught on with our new local friends joining in.
Things were going to plan until Hurricane Otto struck the opposite coast.
Attempting our usual swim to wash away the day’s dust and grime one evening, three of us walked a few hundred metres into the ocean and were still only knee deep. Suddenly eerily dark, perhaps impacted by the earthquakes a few kilometres away, we got back to shore to find our team on high alert listening for tsunami alarms and checking phones nervously. The earthquakes had hit the west coast and were getting closer. We had the People Mover on standby for a trip to an elevated “safe” zone cut into a mountain, where we’d take refuge with a few thousand locals and travelling surfers, if needed.
Luckily, it passed, and we were back to work a little later the next day.
Before more on the community, here are some of my favourite moments from the trip (hover over/tap for captions).
Waves of Hope and the Coco Loco resort ensure they hire locally, the only exception being teachers from bigger cities when local expertise is lacking. Admirably, they directly hire teachers (despite government opposition to this practice) so that wages aren’t skimmed by slippery bureaucratic hands.
What stood out most to me was how tight-knit the community in El Manzano is. It went beyond obvious interaction – smiles, a physical playfulness 4 and warm eye contact all come naturally. At the school, a few kids skipped their entire recess to lend a helping hand where they could.
The kids helping out.
There is a glue that exists here that goes beyond words. During our twice-daily trek to the school, our driver(s) would stop for every student we passed en route to the school or back home, saving them a long, muggy walk. With minimal standing room, the kids squeezed in with us or stood on the bumper, confidently holding on as we swerved through trees, potholes and livestock. (The jury is still out on whether this is more or less safe than a King St. streetcar in rush hour).
Then, there were stories that were more layered. On our way back one day, we dropped off a little girl who skipped up a dirt road with two buckets in hand. I asked Lester (our de facto ambassador, who was raised in El Manzano) what the buckets were for. He explained the girl’s aunt cooked for the school daily, aided by whatever money the neighbourhood could scrape together, so that kids who couldn’t afford a daily meal and snack were still able to eat. It’s the ‘small things’.
Our week came to an end far too quickly and the Artbound crew dispersed – some returned to Toronto together, others to Art Basel in Miami and a few continued their Nicaraguan love affair in another town. We have been in close contact with the Waves of Hope crew and will provide constant updates via email and social, as the build and arts programs flourish.
I write this update to thank, to affirm, to inspire, to infect you with the inner smile we were lucky to experience and leave Nicaragua with. If you’ve supported us, volunteer with us, or are considering it, know that it all counts. In a big way. Your hours, dollars, energy and social media love may just be ripples when they begin but there’s no doubt they align and then crest into beautiful, meaningful waves, to make an impact.
Artbound has a big 2017 in store – more trips, more charity projects, more events, an ever expanding volunteer team (do it), ambitious5 tech growth (kind of my thing, if you know me), and some great partnerships to announce. If you’d like to feel some of the warm and fuzzies I’ve written about, it’d be great to hear from you.
Thanks for reading,
PS. Here’s a glowing time-lapsed sunset and those rippling waves I mentioned.6