The children attended school for only half a day. After the teaching time was over, they walked home along dusty, rutted roads or went to the program at NicaPhoto, which provided a safe place for them to do homework, take art or dance classes and other activities. Even martial arts classes were offered for older students, all of whom were girls. For some, their only food for the day was the mid-day meal at NicaPhoto. Most of the students knew nothing about growing vegetables until they worked in the community garden and shared their new knowledge with their families.
One afternoon, we took a walking tour around Sonrisa de Dios and saw where many of the children and adults we had met, lived. I had never seen such dire poverty. Most homes were just one room, covered with thick plastic with dirt floors. Many had no latrine. Running water was available only recently and we were proudly shown the water meter that led to each person’s home. Previously, they had to walk a good distance and fill buckets with water every morning and then carry them home.
One woman, mother of three children whose husband had left her and gone to Panama, had no job and no money. We listened to the sad tale of her circumstances and felt genuine affection for her, and appreciation for her help at the worksite. Our inclination was to write a check to help her get a real house, and not live in the black plastic shack. It was gently explained to us that such a step would not be good and might easily backfire, causing her to be resented and have others feel jealousy towards her. Life can be so much more complicated than it appears, especially when outsiders, like us, use our own life experiences to judge what we could do to help.
We learned so many things from our week in Sonrisa de Dios. Every one of us realized how much we have, no matter what our personal circumstances. We are truly fortunate, compared with the people we encountered, who are easily as smart, kind, hard working and interested in bettering themselves as any American.