Nurturing Hearts: A Story of Kindness in Namaslí

By Sergio Matus

I was wrapping up my gear to leave the premises of the school when Sandra, one of the teachers, asked me if I wanted to join them for a meal. It was 10:30 a.m. and I wasn’t hungry, but saying no would have been disrespectful on my part, so I enthusiastically said, “Yes, of course, Thank you!”

Hello, I’m Sergio––buildOn’s impact officer in Nicaragua, and this is a small account of how I was impacted by the children of one of our recently-built schools in a community called Namaslí.

Located in Jalapa, right on the border with Honduras, Namaslí is a picturesque village situated in plains dominated by tobacco farms. Working on those farms is the main source of income for almost everyone living there. It’s somewhat isolated because a river with no bridge acts as a natural barrier that blocks access to the
community. Public transport enters and leaves the community just once a day. There is only a pedestrian bridge that can also withstand motorcycle traffic and it made life easier for us while monitoring the construction of the school.

Once a project is completed, we take donor pictures and videos, as well as interviews to craft the impact stories that will become part of the marketing tools that will be sent to the donors of the project, so that they can see the impact of their efforts. That was my mission that day.

As I was getting my belongings secured on the motorcycle, one of the mothers in the community came in loaded down with pans and bowls, a sight that made the children rejoice. In rural communities in Nicaragua, there are harrowing stories of children fainting from hunger in the middle of class. Fortunately, there is a school lunch program to incentivize attendance and ensure students have enough energy to pay attention during their lessons.

It’s not a fancy meal, but it gets the job done. Rice, beans, tortilla, or boiled green bananas with a cereal-mix drink. Some schools have orchards that use the produce to improve the quality of the meal, but it is not common, and can rarely be available all year-round.

Being a buildOn staff member I was a guest of honor, so I was invited to sit for a while in the pergola that serves as a stage for major school events. I sat on the floor and Sandra told me they had sent for cuajada, a kind of curded farmer’s cheese, to include in my meal. I told them not to worry and that what the children were having was fine for me, but they had already sent for it and would serve me in a few minutes. A couple of kids sat beside me in the pergola having their meal. One was a preschooler named Kendall, and another was an older kid of around 9 years old. I immediately liked Kendall because he started making small talk as soon as I sat down. The other kid joined the conversation and commented on a deli meat that his mom had packed for him in the morning. Kendall just had his rice, beans, and tortilla and I could see that he would have wanted to have something extra on his plate. They also fixed me a plate like his, because the person looking for the cuajada was taking too long to return. Just a minute later the cuajada arrived and Sandra cut a big chunk of it and put it on my plate. Frankly, it was too much for me, and I was going to return half of it, but then I thought it was better to share it with my new mates. So I cut two big pieces of it and gave the bigger one to Kendall because he had nothing extra. He was very grateful, but told me “You left nothing for yourself.” “No son, this is more than enough for me,” I replied. I have the habit of calling boys his age “son” after speaking with them for a while, especially after seeing how polite and considerate he was.

We continued with our meal, more focused on eating than on chatting. When we were nearly finished, a little girl named Karelin Tórres came into the pergola with her plate in her hands, I think to ask one of the teachers for second helpings. Kendall asked her if she had received cuajada and immediately, with a stunned expression on her face, wide eyes, and a tone of disbelief she exclaimed, “I didn’t get any cuajada!” Kendall took the piece still on his plate, broke it in half, and gave it to her. I was amazed. A very young boy, hungry himself, was willing to share what little he had with someone else. What happened next showed me that Kendall’s kind heart was not an isolated occurrence. When another boy approached Karelin and she saw his plate, she asked him if he had been given cuajada. When he said no, she took the remaining piece of her plate, by now the size of a half-inch pebble, carefully bit half of it and gave the rest to the other boy, who happily mixed it with his beans, grabbed a spoonful, and took a bite.

I sat in silence savoring the special moment I was witnessing. These children were giving me THE lesson in solidarity. I was humbled by their actions and captivated by the kindness of their hearts. A cynic could argue “What’s the point of sharing something so small? Neither one will have enough to calm their hunger. At least without dividing it, one will have enough.” Maybe, but when I’m willing to give you part of what I have, despite needing it too, I’m showing you how much I care for you. I’m telling you we’re in this together, your struggle is my struggle, and what I did for you I hope you will do for me. This is our covenant. And that is the world I want to live in.

I finished my meal with a sense of total satisfaction. I thanked everyone and said goodbye to the children. No further words were necessary, as any comment on my part would have been redundant. As I rode my bike back home I kept thinking about it. I admired those kids. How well brought up they were. The great job their parents and teachers were doing with them, and hoping nothing ever tarnishes the purity of their hearts.

“When I’m willing to give you part of what I have, despite needing it too, I’m showing you how much I care for you. I’m telling you we’re in this together, your struggle is my struggle, and what I did for you I hope you will do for me. This is our covenant. And that is the world I want to live in.”

Sergio Matus

Through the years, I’ve had the joy of meeting remarkable people and have heard stories about how their collaboration with buildOn and commitment to working together has uplifted their communities. It gives me immense joy to know that what we do in this organization improves the lives of such good people. Our additional reward is that we also learn a lot from them. They bring meaning to our work. 

And that day, they showed me that solidarity is sharing the last piece of your cuajada with the classmate that didn’t get any.

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