The Experience of First-Time Trip Participants

Dee Dee Jones and Julie Blake participated in a PartnerTrip with Federated Church of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in November of 2017. We asked them to talk about their experience as first-timers to JustHope!

Federated Church group loading up at the airport
Federated Church group loading up at the airport.

Tell us a little about yourselves and how you learned about JustHope.
We have been interested in joining a trip with Leslie [Penrose, JustHope's founder] for many years. DeeDee has known Leslie and Steve for about 30 years and attended churches where Leslie was pastoring.

We both have always wanted to travel, but as educators, trips like this never fit into both of our schedules at the right time. We both retired from education, and the timing was perfect. We were both nervous, but really excited. Knowing of Leslie’s sustained work in Nicaragua, assured us we would be in good hands with JustHope.

What did you first think when you landed in Nicaragua?
We were excited and nervous to arrive in Managua, but the sight of

Leslie standing on the other side of the glass with her enormous smile and wave relieved all our worries. Soon after landing we met [our driver] Juan Pablo, had ALL our luggage loaded on top of the van and we were off. Little did we know what a life-changing experience we had only just begun. It was nice to hear Leslie tell us about Nicaragua as we passed sites along the way to Chacraseca. As we entered Chacraseca, the scenery started to drastically change. Something that continues to stick with us is how the nice road just stops… boom and you begin to immediately see the hardships that the people experience day to day.

Tell us about the trip.
We joined up with Federated Church from Ohio. They were so much fun and have become great friends. We had many wonderful experiences while in Nicaragua visiting Chacraseca. Getting to know the beautiful people, visiting with them, learning personal stories, and working along beside them was the main focus of our trip, with some history lessons and beautiful sightseeing tossed in.

Federated Church group learning about the Model Farm
Dee Dee and Julie's group learned about JustHope's Model Farm.

We visited the Medical Clinic and Stitching Hope and helped at the Model Farm. Our group helped build latrines at the San Ramone school and then the two of us spent a couple of hours with the teachers at the Maryknoll school to share experiences and teaching strategies. We had the privilege of attending a Comite meeting with leaders from each sector in Chacraseca, as well as see firsthand how JustHope and the global partnership assists women to start businesses like the hardware store, Iliana’s jewelry shop, and a green stove. We visited a very nice man, Miguelito, who took time share his story about his yucca farm and then took us to the field to see the work involved in harvesting yucca.

So, how was it?
Wearing mosquito repellent all the time was not pleasant. We were worried about mosquitoes more than anything… yet, we never seemed to have a problem with them. We joke, it’s probably because we emitted a DEET field as we move around as a group. We also thought not speaking the language made communications not as personal and although we had wonderful translators, it created somewhat of a barrier.

What we both loved the most about Chacraseca, definitely were the people. They were always warm, generous, loving, and kind. In all of the day-to-day challenges they face, they always took the time to share a smile and a wave. The memory of their generous, loving spirit is what we carried home with us and try to remember each day.

Where did you stay?
The Peace House had minimal but adequate space. It was reminiscent of summer camp and served us very well. We were thankful for the fans in the rooms, especially the bedrooms. Good food, every meal and plenty! The plants were beautiful around the place. Great common room to sit around and get to know people.

Who from JustHope did you work with?
Leslie, Jennifer Payton [Transitional Executive Director], and Marc St. Martin [Director of Partnerships] seemed to keep everything running smoothly, and we knew we were always in good hands which relieved any of our worries about what was in store for us on any given day. Leslie sharing so much history made the trip very educational and meaningful. The translators - Francis, Julio, and Roberto - were awesome. The two of us also spent a day with Istvan [Education Coordinator] at the school where he helped facilitate our time with the teachers. And of course, Juan Pablo, took such good care of us. We were amazed at how he maneuvered the van through the rough roads and busy streets to get us where we needed to be with his gentle reassurance, confidence and beautiful smile.

All the staff does an amazing job. We’re now Facebook friends with several of them and it’s so nice to stay connected.

Did you make any special connections while you were there?
Seeing Nemia each day as we gathered to share a meal was a special joy. She greeted us with such warmth and the biggest smile each day and made us feel so cared for and looked after. Her food was very good and she always had plenty. Our translators who arrived in the morning ready for the day and were so eager to help us gave us a great sense of reassurance and excitement as they helped us communicate with members of the community. Everywhere Juan Pablo transported us we were met with big smiles, waves and handshakes, it was amazing to receive just warm greetings time and time again.

At some point during the week, Leslie explained the term "borrowed trust." Being associated with JustHope provided us, strangers and first-time visitors with immediate acceptance and warm welcomes. It was amazing. The two of us spent a lot of time with Francis as our translator at Stitching Hope and had time to learn her story and about her family’s history and journey from Nicaragua to the US and back.

Upon arriving at Miguelito’s farm, he immediately made you feel like you knew him just by the way he welcomed us with open arms and his infectious smile. He pulled every chair from his porch for us to sit down as he shared his story. He was so generous with his time. One of our favorite pictures from the trip is Dee Dee standing with him, holding his machete after chopping up a Yucca plant.

We loved spending time with Juan Pablo. He was amazing as he would drive down roads that we thought were impossible to travel down. He always had a big smile and we knew we were in good hands with JP at the wheel. He’s such a kind, funny, helpful man and a joy to see each day.

horse pulling a cart
Common transportation in Chacraseca.

There were many heartwarming emotional times throughout the week. At the start of each day during our morning meditation we would reflect on our experience from the day before, thinking about the beautiful people we met, their stories, and the struggles they endure, while at the same time eagerly anticipating what the new day ahead entailed.

The people from the Federated group also made our trip incredible. They were so fun, so friendly and so eager to help us and make sure we were okay and having a great trip. We feel as though we made some lifelong friends from Ohio, and we are so grateful to Leslie for encouraging us to join their group.

As the week began to wind down, it became even more emotional, thinking of the beautiful people we met. We would soon return to our wonderful lives in the US, and they would continue their lives in Nicaragua. We still get emotional thinking about them and wondering how they are doing… are they safe? How are their crops doing? Are the children at the school doing well and are the teachers getting supplies they need to aid in their teaching? How is the Model Farm doing, and did the cucumbers grow? How will things change before we return again? Which people will we see again? We cannot wait to return to see firsthand how our friends are doing and to once again visit to get to know and better understand life in Chacraseca.

The trip changed us more than we could have imagined. The beautiful generosity each and every person extended to all of us forever changed both of us. Seeing the inequities in the world firsthand was impactful. About two weeks after returning and driving down the highway we noticed the grass growing in the fields, the fat cows in the pastures, the fences keeping the cattle in, the cars and trucks on the paved roads…and we thought of the people of Chacraseca. Now, when a meal is left unfinished and tossed into the garbage, we think of the people of Chacraseca. We hold the people of Chacraseca close in our hearts and remain forever grateful for all they did for us and to change us.

Do you plan to return to Chacraseca with JustHope?
We hope and plan to return and would love to focus on working with the teachers and in the schools since both of us come from educational backgrounds. We hope to connect other members of our church more closely to the work of JustHope.

We are eternally grateful for all those who worked to make it possible for us to visit Nicaragua and honestly cannot wait to return!