Tuesday March 12, 2013

BAILEY T. O’NEILL

Special to the Banner

On Feb. 22, myself and two dozen other members of the Mount Anthony Union High School Interact Club’s delegation to Somotillo, Nicaragua, packed our bags and left the rural town that had been our home for the past five days. We all knew that we were leaving behind people that we had grown very close with, but whom we will likely never see nor hear from again.

On Feb. 22, myself and two dozen other members of the Mount Anthony Union High School Interact Club’s delegation to Somotillo, Nicaragua, packed our bags and left the rural town that had been our home for the past five days. We all knew that we were leaving behind people that we had grown very close with, but whom we will likely never see nor hear from again.

That Monday after we arrived in Somotillo we were greeted several times, the final time being at a party thrown for us where we watched as two young boys and their father played music for us -- the youngest son playing a guitar twice his size and leaving us all awestruck by his talent.

After the boys, we watched a young girl perform a traditional dance -- even pulling Albany Medical Center Nurse Dauren Shoemaker, a member of the delegation, into the dance to participate with her.

After watching the performances we were treated to sandwiches and sodas. Some of the delegation looked at the sandwiches suspiciously while others devoured them -- only realizing later that they were made of chicken, mayonnaise, tuna fish, ketchup, onion and various other ingredients.

We were substantially shorter on supplies than we anticipated the first morning we went to the hospital, as 12 bags had been confiscated by Nicaraguan customs agents for carrying medical supplies.

The hospital was in a much better state than it had been two years prior, on the club’s last trip, but was still far less equipped and well below the standards we have become accustomed to growing up in America. Groups of us returned every day to help the hospital in whatever way we could.

Throughout the stay Dr. Steven Lefebvre, an emergency medical doctor at Southwest Vermont Medical Center, performed numerous surgeries on patients. "They [the surgeries] were a lot of fun. Me and the other doctors could only understand a few words that each other was speaking, so we had to try to figure it out," Lefebvre told us when he returned to the hotel late one night.

Over the next few days we split into groups, meeting with the entire delegation only at meal times (every single meal was served with a side of rice and beans) or at the Hotel Fronteras, which served as our group’s meeting point during the trip.

Throughout the week I was a part of groups that visited a school to deliver toothbrushes and toothpaste -- donated by dentists in Bennington and the surrounding areas -- and painted a mural on a classroom chalkboard.

The trips to the school were the most fun because of how excited the children were to see us. The first day we delivered toothbrushes, a group of students challenged us to a soccer game during recess.

The first half of the game was played by the boys who held the Nicaraguan boys scoreless on their home field before the Nicaraguan girls scored twice to beat our girls 2-1.

One of the tasks that the people of Somotillo asked us to help with was painting the inside of a church. The church was not nearly as well taken care of as the ones students were used to attending; it was a humble building that they used for services and also for town meetings.

The locals brought us rickety ladders that we propped up against walls. We had to buy the paint and brushes for the project, and afterward many of the students who participated in the painting donated their clothes to the people of Somotillo.

The people of Somotillo were very welcoming throughout the trip. It was refreshing for us to see that even with the amount of poverty in the town that the people were still living life happily and were content with what they had.

When our stay in Somotillo concluded we loaded up onto the bus amidst a group of people who had been with us the entire trip; the owners of the hotel and little kids that we had grown close.

My friend Dylan Prazak, who along with McKenzie Krawczyck was the only student who had been on the trip before, said that it was much harder to leave the town the second time, knowing that it would be his last trip but acknowledging that this trip was far more successful than the one in 2011.

The trip was very productive. To my knowledge there was not one person that went on the trip who regretted signing up.

Personally, I am very glad I signed up for the trip; I was able to strengthen friendships with the people I knew prior and start new friendships with people I had only seen in the hallways. I enjoyed having Mr. Dan Lucy with us and believe that he is one of the main reasons the trip was so successful.

The trip was a great experience for all of us; Nicaragua is a country that needs a lot of help, but I believe that I was a part of a group that helped them take a big step forward in just one week’s time.

Bailey O’Neill, a senior at Mount Anthony Union Senior High School, is an intern at the Banner.