Posted by: justinknabb | April 12, 2013

Volunteer reflection: Making our dreams come true

By Christine McQuade, Villanova Univ. Chemical Engineering ’13

Villanova students in Waslala

Lesson #1 when traveling to Waslala: When you search for directions from Managua to Waslala on Google Maps, the result says it will take around 3 hours driving to get there.

Clearly Google has never sent anyone to confirm this!

The other students and I have a good laugh about the ridiculousness of the Google-calculated ETA as we completed our 8 hour bus ride on mostly unpaved roads that took us to Waslala. As I was sitting on the bus heading to Waslala for what would be my 3rd visit, I reflected on how I got to this point in my life.

It all started my sophomore year when my roommate asked me if I was applying for an engineering service trip. I had not given a break trip any consideration prior to that moment, but since I had nothing better to do over break, I decided to submit an application.

I had no idea what to expect on my first trip to Waslala, and I certainly did not expect to fall in love with the community after being there for only one week.

I could tell you all about the engineering work we do, but all of that great information is located in the Water for Waslala Annual Report.  If you have not seen it already, I highly encourage you to check it out. For this post, I would rather tell you about the experiences I have had and the people I have met in Waslala.

There is something magical about Waslala, Nicaragua.

I could spend hours gazing at the night sky. I have never seen that many stars before; it is absolutely breathtaking. (By the way, did you know the stars in Orion’s Belt are known as the three little goats in Nicaragua?)  Waslala itself is a breathtaking region.

The beauty of Waslala endures, but unfortunately, so does the lack of basic needs and plight of its people.

Villanova students in WaslalaWater for Waslala is a wonderful organization and if you are reading this blog post, odds are you want to help bring water to rural communities because you understand the importance of this cause. My goal is to help transform your thinking from becoming attached to the cause to becoming attached to the individuals of Waslala.

I will never forget on my first trip when we were helping to construct the intake to a water system and one of the community members said to us, “Thank you for making my dream true.” It hit me in that moment how much our presence for just one week meant to these people and the impact it had on their daily lives.

When I arrived on my second trip, I was greeted by Virginia Leiba, someone I spent some time working with the year before. I did not expect her to remember me as we only spent a few days together, but she gave me a huge hug and kiss when she saw me. In that moment it was clear that Virginia remembered me and that meant a lot to me.  Even though we had only spent such limited time together a year before, it was touching to know that time was meaningful to both of us.

Villanova University has a beautiful relationship with Waslala. It is always amusing to ride around the center of town and see Waslalan after Waslalan wearing Villanova t-shirts and Walk for Water shirts — evidence of the close relationship between the two communities. I had learned too that after Hurricane Katrina hit the United States in 2005, the community in Waslala wanted to send money to the US to help because of the close relationship they have with the Americans at Villanova. To me it is a true testament of the amazing character of this community. These people do not have running water and electricity, yet they donated whatever amount of money they could to help others in need.

I have so much respect and admiration for the people we work with in Waslala. The 40 yr civil war in Nicaragua was very active in Waslala and after spending time there, you learn how it had a huge impact on the lives of its people. Most of the people we work with on water projects were involved in the war in some way and each has his/her stories they carry with them. One person in particular is a true inspiration to me: Denis Taleno.  He worked construction starting at 12 years old and when he was 14 his father enlisted him in the war. Now, Taleno has dedicated his life to providing water to his community. It is amazing to see his passion for improving quality of life.

Going to Waslala has helped me define who I am as a person and what I want to become. It has given my life direction and my education at school a purpose and meaning.

My professors are amazing, but there are things I have learned from Waslala that I could never have learned in a classroom. Villanova students collecting lab samplesCommunity is a critical part of Waslala and they have taught me a lot about the importance of community in my life and being there for others. These water projects mean everything to the people in Waslala and they trust in the relationship between our two communities.

The profound words of the community member I had met on my first trip still ring true today: “We are helping each other make our dreams come true.”

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