International Samaritan is proud of its dedicated volunteers and has always loved hearing their reflections during service-learning immersion experiences. Dr. Page Armstrong, UT Honors College Lecturer and Director is no exception, and we cannot thank her and her group enough for sharing such a inspiring testimony. Here is what she shared with us in April, 2015 on our Facebook page after she returned from Managua, Nicaragua.
UT Honors Service-Learning Immersion Experience to Managua, Nicaragua | Closing Reflection by Dr. Page Armstrong
The Jesup Scott Honors College just returned from its 2015 joint trips to Guatemala and Nicaragua, and I suspect that we are all acclimating to the presence of hot running water and the absence of dirt under our finger nails.
As I reflect back over the trip, my fifth partnership with International Samaritan, there are so many things that I have in my head. First of all, I am incredibly proud of all of you. We may have started the trip as a group of individuals, but we definitely came home as a team of friends. Throughout the week, you all were happy to tackle any job (the dirtier the better); you gave every bit of your energy to loving the kids, and you approached every discussion with minds that were not just open but were also eager to wrestle with new ideas. I am blown away by your compassion and the joy that you bring to everything you do. I think it’s safe to say that we are all a little bit sad not to be sharing breakfast this morning.
There are two things in particular that struck me this year — one that is specific to our group and one that pertains to the experiences International Samaritan has given me throughout the past five years.
As a group, if I were at an evening discussion and had to come up with my “word,” that word would be bravery. I am not sure I have ever had a group of students who were so willing to take risks — not the jumping-off-the-cliff kind, but the much more terrifying kind that involves opening up your hearts and your heads to each other and to experience. It is sometimes so tempting to hide behind our careful facades and to observe rather than enact. You guys tore down those safety walls and jumped right into everything we did with a courage that is just plain uplifting.
I can’t tell you how much I have learned from our discussions and from the honesty you have all brought to everything you did. And, when we walked away from those discussions — some of which got fairly intense — you put aside any disagreements and (judging from the decibel level that made its way into my distant room) had fun being a group of friends together.
I admire all of you more than I can say; you had the courage to create real community.
Looking back from this trip to my first time in Nicaragua waaaay back in 2011, I think about how much I have been given and how much I have learned, both from each year and from the combined experiences. All of it has been powerful — almost to the point of being impossible to define — but what I am the most thankful for is what I have seen illustrated in International Samaritan’s sustained commitment to the children and their communities.
International Samaritan doesn’t just hand out a paintbrush or ask us to build something shiny and new. Instead, they show through their work that they are an integral, caring part of the lives they seek to serve.
They know the teachers and the students; they understand that the cycle of poverty is one that involves the whole community and they reach out to embrace all the aspects of that community as they effect change.
This year in particular, our International Samaritan guide Tania Solorzano was obviously deeply invested in the whole picture. Through her presence, she showed us all that real service is so much more than a new sink or a fresh coat of paint. In her ability to lead and her willingness to share her thoughts and experiences, she taught us that our involvement is a small piece of the very big puzzle that is the fight against poverty.
In a bigger sense, our week of engagement should be seen as one more act in a sustained effort to solve the puzzle and to change the picture.
The fact that Tania was so clearly devoted to her work and to the people we served gave us all a better insight into what it truly means to give. I think all of us were able to dig a little deeper, to see a little further, because of her inspiration.
So [to our] Emilys and Sams, Caroline, Landyn, Marcus, Sydney and Tania, thank you for a great week of fun and discovery, of courage and introspection, and of caring and community. Here’s to a great experience in 2015 and here’s to many more adventures together in the years to come.
— Dr. Page Armstrong, Toledo, Ohio