Eleven years ago I took a group of 15 students to Nicaragua with three friends from Miami Dade College. We went on a mission to learn about the country and build three small houses we had raised funds for the previous year. The trip altered the path of my life.
The week I was there I cried a good portion of the time when no one was looking. I realized that the rural community of Chacraseca where we were staying was very much like where my mom and dad grew up in Cuba. Without expecting it, every little girl and boy I saw walking in their flip flops and tattered clothes was my mom and dad.
I recalled my mom’s stories of hiding when visitors would come to her house because she lacked shoes and her clothes were old and tattered. I recall stories of my dad working the fields because his dad did not let him go to school past the third grade.
I was shaken by the experience of the trip and came home confused but knowing that I could not just turn away. (Drishti at work.)
When we got back to Miami, my friends and I sat and wondered and used our own experiences in education to imagine some sort of program that would be useful. (On our first day of our trip we realized that housebuilding was not in our talent bag. We were more hindrances than help.)
As we brainstormed, we thought of what we had learned the previous years working with the I Have a Dream Program in Phyllis Wheatly Elementary in Overtown. There, we learned of two people who managed to sponsor an entire class of kindergarteners and provided support for these kids all the way through high school. Mark and Margie Buchbinder put their all to provide educational opportunities to these brilliant children who deserved a chance just like their own children did.
The Dreamers in Overtown were beautiful and powerful teachers.
These Dreamers inspired us to create an I Have a Dream program in Chacraseca, Nicaragua. And just like the Dreamer program in Miami, we put out an open invitation to all families with children starting kindergarten in 2010. No one was left out. Every child who wanted to enter the program was invited in.
We had no idea what we were getting into.
Eleven years later, the Nicaragua Dreamers continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream of a society that works to end racism and ethnocentrism and sees all people as sisters and brothers.
The Nicaraguan Dreamers are graduating high school, speaking English, and entering college. Their achievement is magnificent. (Fifty percent of all students in rural communities in Nicaragua drop out of school by the fifth grade.)
Along the way we have learned that what we started was not a philanthropic project. We were drawn in and transformed just as much as the children and families have been in profound ways.
As I look back now, I know that we offered this opportunity to 32 children and 22 have made it. I wish all 32 could have, but I know that 22 of my mothers and fathers have had shoes, opportunities to learn and be loved, and now have an open door to college.
I have shared this story with my family and many congratulated me on this. I tried explaining to them one of the things I have learned. If we take our ego out of the equation and forgo the desire to control or take the limelight, we can play a role in something good. The size of the role doesn’t matter. I keep learning that no one person does everything. No one person knows everything. Each does what they can at the level that they can. Each contributes the little bit they have.
This last bit of learning is important. We are often made to believe that it’s an all or nothing situation when it comes to service. This is absolutely not true if we relinquish the desire for control and recognition. When we surrender these two things, we can act freely and joyfully.
I’m reminded of the little boy bringing the fish and loaves to Jesus. The common interpretation of the story is that Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves out of thin air. The more miraculous way of looking at this story is that the boy became a catalyst for everyone in that large crowd to share what they could and when it was over, everyone was fed. The miracle was not the fish and loaves. The miracle was the people sharing what they had.
If you are reading so far, I’m writing to you. This project is not over. We have four more years of college ahead. Join me in sharing fish and loaves. Let’s be catalysts together.
Sixteen Soñadores will start college this year. College tuition for the year per student is $500. That’s it!
Will you share a few of your fish and loaves to help Yaoska, Hazel, Neri, Brayan, Christian and the other Soñadores get to college this coming year?
As I wrote earlier, when we let go of the desire to control or stand out, then we can show up and serve. The size of your donation is not what’s important. Do what you can. It will make a difference.
You can mail checks made out to FNE International to 8995 SW 84 Court, Miami FL 33156. (Checks get nothing taken out for processing fees.) Or you can donate online.
If you donate online, identify that you want your donation to go for college tuition for the Soñadores.
Thank you for reading and supporting the work. Join me for yoga any Monday or Thursday night.