GIVE: Friendships Across Borders (Part II)

Written by: Jacklyn Trzaska


​…He was taller and his hair was longer but his smile was still just as contagious as I remembered. I squatted down next to him and showed him the video we took together just one year earlier. He looked at me and stared for 30 seconds before throwing his arms around my neck and clinging to my side once again.

We looked through our photo shoot from the year prior, laughing at our silly pictures. It was not until he grabbed my hand that I noticed how much his English had improved. “Come meet my family!” He walked me to his mother, his two younger sisters, and his uncle, still clinging to my leg and keeping his strong grip on my hand as if to keep me from fleeing.

Gael’s mother greeted me as she was standing, cradling his baby sister. ​His uncle flashed me the same contagious smile Gael had, taking my hand and shaking it while his other sister grabbed my free hand and clung to my other leg, immobilizing me.

I had a flash back to the feeling I got when I first saw Gael’s home. . .

​Only now, I did not feel sad or sorry for him. In this moment, I realized it is not the home that makes a family.

Gael does not have the newest gaming system.
Gael does not have wifi to chat with his friends.
Gael does not have a TV with OnDemand.
Gael does not even have his own room or his own bed.

However, I do not feel pity for Gael. The happy little boy who lives in a home with no doors, no windows, no walls, no beds, and no toys lives in a home with his mom, his dad, his sisters, his uncle and his aunt. He is blessed. At the end of the day, Gael has family and Gael has love. And because of this love, Gael is happy.

It may appear that the people in Jiquilillo are poor, but they are rich in the sense that they live a life revolving around family, simplicity and happiness; the kind of happiness that is judged not by the belongings in the home, but whom the home belongs to. Regardless of language barriers and cultural differences, the people of Jiquilillo will make you smile, they will make you laugh, they will work beside you, and they will love you. They, too, will become your friends.

Taking trips like the Nicaragua excursion is the perfect refresher.

It reminds us to put down the remote, close the laptop, hang up the phone. It reminds us to go to dinner and actually talk to the person sitting across from us. To fully experience a moment not through the lens of our camera phone, but to live in the moment with eyes and hearts wide open. To fully appreciate all we have, but to not let it be the foundation of our happiness. To make friends from all around the world and to open up to strangers. To let yourself be vulnerable, no matter the situation. To remind our loved ones how much we love them every night we go to bed, every morning we wake up, and any time in between. To laugh and dance and love!

​I try to imagine a world where everyone whole-heartedly felt, and truly believed, that family and love was enough to be happy. I think my time spent Jiquilillo is the closest I have found to that kind of world. I will always be grateful to GIVE and Jiquilillo for teaching me this lesson. I will always be grateful to have had spent the time with Gael, and the friendship and love he showed me. We have temporarily gone our separate ways, like most friends eventually do, but what I learned from his friendship, and the friendships of the 30+ other volunteers in Nicaragua, will stick with me forever. ​

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