A Second Homecoming
Nicaragua. There’s no place on earth that has inspired, crushed, expanded, and reshaped my heart more. What a grounding experience and joy to return, to breathe and walk in Nicaragua again after four long years away. Revisiting our NGO partners, getting to see so many of the kids we love and serve, and reconnecting with friends from as far back as 2005 who treated us as family from our first awkward and unsure moments – it was truly a humbling and tear-filled second-homecoming. We’re grateful for this opportunity to return, to dream and grow our capacity serving vulnerable children in the La Chureca trash dump community through education.
And so we begin 2023 – what we’ve dubbed internally as “a year of tangible things!”
ILEANA’S SCHOOL OF HOPE
Our Nicaraguan partners told us in 2016 they dreamed of having a primary school. We bought land in 2017 and welcomed our first first grade class into a temporary classroom. We added second grade in 2018. In the years since, we added grades and used every imaginable temporary space, tent, and structure – both indoors and out – to reach full enrollment at 184 students. In 2022, we received our official land title, just as we celebrated our first graduating class of 6th graders!!
With land title in hand, we met in April with a group of architects, engineers, and skilled tradespersons (EMI) to distill years of hypothetical ideas and sketches into a new campus masterplan with nine dedicated classrooms, a library, computer lab, and arts studio. It was surreal to watch this long held dream of a new Ileana’s School become a reality (complete with 3D renderings!). The new buildings will be ready for the 2024 school year.
HOLDING BACK THE OCEAN
When I first saw La Chureca in 2005, it felt like an ocean of sadness and chaos. Seeing people, children, animals, and trash co-mingling and competing for space. In 2013, it was cleaned up and closed, and all of the families living and working there were re-settled outside the dump. Now in 2023, it looks like the ocean has grown heavy again, and the walls designed to hold it back are starting to heave and give way.
Refuge. That’s what makes Ileana’s School of Hope more than a school. It is a safe haven. An island of peace and calm where kids can grow, learn, and write their own stories.
Now in 2023, it looks like the ocean has grown heavy again, and the walls designed to hold it back are starting to heave and give way.
FOUR WORDS + SACRED TEARS
“I feel safe here!” These four words were the loudest of our trip. In the 5th grade class, a student raised her hand and looked at our team with a huge smile. She said in Spanish, “Thank you for our school. I really like it. We really like it. And, I feel safe here!” It knocked the wind out of me, and BIG tears started falling, the ones you can’t wipe away. It took me a few minutes to recover. The kids were smiling at me, some laughing. But these tears felt sacred, like they might be watering something. It was both heartwarming and a gut punch. As much as I was bowled over by what she said, why should a child ever have to say, “I feel safe here”?
Evelyn Murillo is a long-standing friend in Nicaragua who has dedicated her life to serving children. She works for an organization that offers hospitalization, care and reconstructive surgery to children who have suffered extreme burns. After years of offering counsel and encouragement, it is my distinct honor to introduce her as part of our board of directors!
Lina Morales, just finished her first year with LLM in Nicaragua building our community engagement. With her expertise she is spearheading new monitoring and evaluating systems tracking LLM’s impact across student performance and community strengthening metrics.
There’s the work we do, and then there are the relationships we’ve made along the way. Now, as we look ahead to a complete campus for Ileana’s School of Hope in 2024, we see the outcome of this intersection on the horizon. We look forward to celebrating the successes, collaborations, and investments of the Love Light + Melody community!