Recorder: "Wider perspective: Greenfield High students return from Nicaragua"

Children climbed through mounds of trash, cheering whenever a new load was dumped as they searched for cans to collect, younger siblings in tow.

Competing with them for the cans were thousands of giant turkey vultures, scavenging alongside as the children in Matagalpa, a Nicaraguan town, searched for six to eight hours a day to earn $2 worth scrap for meal money, perhaps enough for some rice and beans.

It was a scene that a group of 11 Greenfield High School seniors were eager to write home about. Traveling with their teacher, Terri Dodge, many for the first time in a foreign country, it was a moment they didn’t soon forget.

When Mikaylah Rhayne told her parents about the place commonly known as “the dump,” they thought they would see photographs of it on the camera that she had brought with her. But that wasn’t to be the case.

“I didn’t want to whip out my camera and take pictures of the people in the street. I just felt awkward,” said Rhayne, back in Greenfield before the new school year. “I definitely felt privileged.”

“So I didn’t get as many pictures as I actually wanted to. Like my family was expecting to see all the culture in my pictures. They were like, ‘Oh, where are the kids at the dump?’ I was like, ‘I was not going to take pictures of those kids.’ Some American girl coming in and seeing this and being like, ‘Oh wow, I need that.’ I didn’t want to and I couldn’t bring out my camera in front of them.”

The travelers, handpicked by staff at the high school, went through a rigorous nomination process, followed by weeks of prep. They were joined by half a dozen students from Springfield Central High School, and a handful of U.S. students from elsewhere on their journey down to Nicaragua.

While there, they spent their time teaching English to locals, working jobs with the locals like pruning trees and picking up cow feces.

“I hated cleaning up the cow poop, but at the same time, I’m only here for three days and these people are here every day doing this,” Maiya Johnston said.

The students stayed with Nicaraguans at times. They hiked mountains and they tried every type of flavored drink they could find. They lived in hostels and managed to live without cellphone service.

The group had to manage a hiccup out of the gate. Their flight out of the U.S. was delayed 24 hours.

“You would’ve never know that it had bothered them. It was their first obstacle of the trip,” said Dodge, their teacher and the GHS adviser on the trip. “We went ‘wow we have a team here.’”

The students were taking part in a pilot program for Global Glimpse, a nonprofit that has established programs in the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago and New York City. Over the course of the trip, in Global Glimpse’s first year serving western Massachusetts, they had their fair share of other issues. A couple of the students got sick and were bedridden for a short bit. But when listening to the group a week after returning, no one voiced any real complaints, just things they learned along the way.

There were lessons as simple as cleaning dishes or learning to be away from your family to how to survive in a foreign country, particularly one whose language you don’t speak fluently.

They also learned to get over their preconceptions about groups of people, even those just down the interstate.

Before the trip, the Greenfield students had vocalized anxiety about getting along with their Springfield counterparts. By the end though, they were planning sleepovers and trips to Six Flags.

“I was expecting them to be loud and more assertive with their opinions, which they were,” Rhayne said. “But they were also really funny and a lot of deeper than they make themselves out to be. You don’t picture all of the stuff that they have actually gone through with their actual, individual life.”

And the Springfield bunch told the Greenfield students that they thought they would be “stuck-up white kids” or “country bumpkins.” By the end of the trip, the GHS and Central students were all mixed together on their bus, and talking to each other all night in their hostel rooms until being told to go to bed.

They rallied around their personal interactions and around the children of Nicaragua they were teaching. Even educational games were welcomed.

“Seeing how happy it made them by just the fact that we were there playing with them also just kept me going,” Tannin Costa said. “I was like, ‘I don’t really know what any of this game means or what I’m even playing right now, but they seem to really enjoy it so I’m going to keep playing with them.’”

They recognized some differences between American classrooms in Greenfield and those in this part of Nicaragua. In a private school that some of them were in, the classroom was outfitted with a white board, a poster and desks.

Living in another person’s home, Rhayne was reminded of the differences between her home and the one she was in.

“I have ceilings and walls and a wood floor and three levels and a clean bed and a sink and a stove and a microwave and indoor toilet, indoor plumbing,” Rhayne said. “And then just looking around but still feeling the love that they had for each other and the happiness that they shared when eating together.”

It was something the group of GHS students noted repeatedly, that despite the poverty levels they encountered, they typically found smiling faces to counter it.

After all of the bonding between each other and between those whom they befriended in Nicaragua, when they came back, they were ready for American amenities again, checking phones, hitting hot showers and falling asleep on their own beds.

Except they ran into a rude awakening on their way back.

“One of the biggest conversations we had was what did we miss when we were away and then learning about this huge thing that happened — the protesting, the white supremacy and the Nazis,” Rhayne said about the events in Charlottesville, Va. “Coming back into that was hard.”

“You come home back to luxury and you think of all the good things of home, and then you get a harsh reality,” Holly Sears said. “It almost makes you feel bad though. You come home and you’re like ‘oh, I’m back in luxury,’ but like you’ve been in poverty recently, but then you get that political news and it gets us all upset so easily. It is really bad but there’s also a lot of other bad things we were literally just experiencing. It’s hard to see how quick your focus changes.”

With the memories of the trip still fresh, the teens are excited to share stories with their peers when they get back and to recruit the next wave of students who want to go on this trip next year. And for some of them, it was a reminder of bigger goals.

“This whole trip confirmed to me that I do want to spend the rest of my life helping people,” Costa said.

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264