Returning to San Juan Yaro, Nicaragua
Leaving is never easy—especially on Trek. After long days working side-by-side with local community members on the construction of a new school and nights spent bonding with host families, the friendships fostered on Trek run deep, and goodbyes are often emotional. This was certainly the case for Aimee Wertepny and her Trek team when it came time to leave the village of San Juan Yaro in Nicaragua.
“Driving away from the village the last day, everyone was crying,” Aimee remembers. “On our ride to the airport, we started asking, so when we are coming back?” Little did Aimee know at the time, in just two years she would have the opportunity to return to San Juan Yaro.
Above: Aimee poses for a picture with her host family in Nicaragua while on Trek in 2015. On the Trek experience, Aimee says: “Your life changes, and so does other people’s lives, and it’s a domino effect of goodness.”
Aimee first traveled to San Juan Yaro in April 2015 to build a school as a celebration of the ten year anniversary of her interior design company PROjECT. Her Trek team was made up of other PROjECT team members, vendors, clients, and her niece and nephew, Alexis and Nicholas. “When I think about that week, I really don’t think about all of the manual labor—and there was a lot—I just remember the faces, the looks, the eye contact, the meals that we shared together,” Aimee says. “It’s been amazing to share this experience with family. It’s truly just an experience that we will always have forever but that no one can really understand.”
“When I think about that week, I really don’t think about all of the manual labor—and there was a lot—I just remember the faces, the looks, the eye contact, the meals that we shared together.”
And it was family that led Aimee back to Nicaragua in 2017, when her niece Alexis returned for a second Trek. When that Trek was finished, Aimee and her lifelong friend Victor met Alexis in Nicaragua, and the three of them rented a car and drove to San Juan Yaro.
Above: Aimee, Alexis, and Victor pose for a picture in Matagalpa at the start of their return trip to San Juan Yaro in June 2017.
“When we went back to visit, it was like the community rolled out the red carpet for us. Everyone was just so proud of what we all did together. And they were proud to show us the school,” says Aimee. “That school is not only changing the lives of children, it will change the lives of their children and generations to come. I think it also instills such a sense of pride and empowerment within the families in the community.”
“That’s what service does for you, that’s the real magic in service—it really makes your soul smile.”
Aimee, Alexis, and Victor spent the day in San Juan Yaro visiting their host families and touring the completed school. The trio brought with them two photo books of their original Trek to leave with the community and a laminated map for the school. For Aimee, returning to San Juan Yaro was so meaningful because she was able to do it alongside Alexis. “I feel so fortunate that I was able to do this with my niece. It’s really priceless,” says Aimee. “And I expect this to be our thing over the course of our lives…I cherish that.”
After spending the day back in San Juan Yaro, Aimee had the feeling that this wouldn’t be her only time returning. “I don’t think that will be the last time that we’re back there, to be honest,” Aimee says. “I came back from Trek with new friends, new family, new connections that I know will last a lifetime. That’s what service does for you, that’s the real magic in service—it really makes your soul smile. You can’t put a dollar value on that. It’s there with you forever. It’s about uniting with your people. As I always say, we’re better together.”
Below: Students from San Juan Yaro village stand for a picture in front of their new buildOn school.