If I were to use one word to describe my 9 weeks in Nicaragua with FNE International, I would choose GRIT.

Grit was the energy and dedication that I saw in my colleagues, whether it was conducting medical research in Chacraseca to improve Diabetes treatment outcomes, constructing efficient brick stoves for families experiencing poverty, or helping a young disabled man get the wheelchair he needed to move around his own house.

Grit was the determination I saw in Rebecca Hervieux, when she was breaking bricks with a machete on the side of a steep barrio in Matagalpa, driving through rough country roads on the way to visit families in need of resources in Chacraseca, or when she was wrangling 12 young kids and planting all sorts of interesting plants at the Nino Feliz special needs school’s new sensory garden.

Grit was the realization when we were interviewing families in Las Penitas that there was so much need and so much work to be done, and feeling the energy and motivation to complete it. We walked through the neighborhoods, and talked to an old woman who lived in a shack with walls made of tarps, old flags, and black plastic sheets. She cooked food for her, her blind and mute daughter, and her grandson off of a table stove, with fumes and smoke from the wood coming into her house and her lungs. She had no way of making a decent income and had to walk through thick, dangerous brush to reach their latrine. Yet through all this, she maintained a hope that change would be coming. I heard the communities’ pastor take her aside after we talked about what FNE could do to improve her family’s life, and say “see, this is how God does his work, little by little in small changes that make big differences.”

In Chacraseca, I taught preschool with Profesora Blanca Rosa, and in between teaching the differences between triangles and squares, blue and green, and the numbers 5 and 6, I realized that some of the children there didn’t have more than one notebook, and many had no crayons to color with at home. When a young girl came in repeatedly without completing her homework, Profesora took her aside to help her because she realized her parents probably didn’t have the time or the educational capacity to teach her at home. When a handful of children couldn’t color their shapes at home, FNE staff brought by crayons that were given out to the children who needed them. Childhood was still just as playful and thriving, but the size of the barriers loomed- resources were scarce and everything was precious. Being able to go to the library in Chacraseca to help buy craft materials for the next week’s color lesson meant that Profesora didn’t have to search high and low for material for her students. It also meant that her students could go somewhere safe and calm to read a new book, build a new craft, or simply feel welcomed. It meant that she could do her job better and set her students up for success no matter the barriers their families will face. Sitting and waiting to ride the bus back to Leon with Profesora Blanca, sharing stories and laughing about life, I realized that this woman dedicates her energy, her time, and her own money to seeing these children learn and grow up with good morals. That was grit right there.

Through all of these and many more experiences, I realize that FNE International is the kind of organization that really understands the people that they serve. There are many organizations that go into communities without truly listening to the people who live there. But at every turn, programs and projects were constantly evaluated to determine whether they were truly achieving the goal they set out to achieve in the beginning. And when things needed to change, the staff and volunteers and community partners did not respond negatively, but renegotiated and made new plans to best help the people of Nicaragua.

My summer working with FNE International changed my life, and as I am beginning my journey of obtaining my Master’s in Social Work here in the United States, I carry the lessons learned in beautiful Nicaragua into every interaction. I remember to use the grit I discovered in myself, and I am determined to return and utilize my own skills to further the healing and growth that FNE International fosters. I can’t recommend FNEI enough to those around me, and I have nothing but love and respect for the wonderful staff and community members that I worked with there. I’ll miss being in Nicaragua but until then it has left its permanent mark on my heart.