buildOn Senior Allison Garvey Won’t StopTrying to Change the World

Every year, buildOn seniors submit personal essays to universities in the hopes of being accepted. So many of our students have written about their experiences in buildOn, completing service in the US and building schools with internationally, that this Fall we decided to hold a contest to recognize the senior pride. We’ll be posting the winners right here on the blog, starting with Allison Garvey below. Congratulations, Allison!

My second home is in La Estrella, a rural Nicaraguan mountain village. In a cozy three-room wooden hut, I have laughed with my host sisters as we discussed our boyfriends, played countless games of tag with my host brothers, sung songs with my host mom, and cried out for my host dad to rescue me from the massive spiders that emerged at night.

I fell in love with La Estrella during a two-week stay last February, when I pick-axed, sifted sand, carried bricks, and shoveled cement alongside villagers to build a school. When I returned to the US, I received a photo of the completed school and an occasional phone call from my host family, but I did not feel a sense of completion. I dreamed that I could wake up in my hammock once again with an opportunity to give more to this incredibly welcoming community.

[pullquote]I fell in love with La Estrella while working alongside villagers to build a school.

Three of my closest friends from the trip and I began toying with the idea of returning to La Estrella over the summer to teach English. No one believed my outrageous dream would ever become reality, but the cynicism of others only fueled my ambition. After five chaotic months, my dream came true. On the second day of July, my eyes immediately swelled with tears as I caught a glimpse of the completed schoolhouse for the first time. I was speechless, and not just because of my limited Spanish vocabulary. That night, I fell asleep feeling like I had never left. La Estrella looked the same as before, except a beautiful brick schoolhouse replaced the bustling worksite I remembered.

But after a day or so, I realized that the village had changed. The rainy season drenched the sunny, green paradise of my memories and turned every path to mud. Barely any sunlight glistened over the mountains, and not one night did I see the sky bursting with stars like I did in February. Even the school, which I had proudly worked on months before, did not live up to my expectations. The government provides no school supplies except for chalk – their only supplies are those that we donated.

Volunteering has always given me a sense of empowerment, yet I spent much of the trip feeling smaller and more insignificant than ever. One day, my host family led me up the same mountain that we had hiked in February. Our English lesson that day focused on emotions, and my host brother paused to exclaim, “I am happy!” I asked him why, and he responded in Spanish, “Because I have a new school and a new sister.” I let his words sink in as we reached the top of the cliff and cleared the last of the brush, revealing a gorgeous valley that stretched for miles.

[pullquote]I may never fix all the problems that my host family faces, but it’s important to keep trying anyway.

It was the same breathtaking view that I remembered from the first trip, but my perspective was different this time. I finally realized how much happiness our return had brought to the community. From that moment on, instead of being discouraged by the tiny impact that I made, I celebrated it. When I was younger, adults constantly told me that I could “make a difference”. It took two trips to Nicaragua to understand what they meant. It was hard for me to accept that I may never fix all the problems that my host family faces, but I now understand why it’s important to keep trying anyway.

Anyone who doesn’t see the point of trying wasn’t lying beside me as I fell asleep to the sound of a ten year old boy blissfully counting to ten in English. They weren’t standing next to me as I read a book to a swarm of children inching closer and closer to gape at the pictures of the first storybook they had ever encountered. They weren’t sobbing with me in the car after saying goodbye to the 200 villagers that I now consider my family. I am looking forward to a lifetime of striving to alleviate poverty in communities like my home in La Estrella. I know that as long as I keep trying, I am making all the difference in the world.

– Allison​ Garvey​, attended Connecticut ​Westhill High School​, now attending SUNY Binghamton