Andy Gee is sixteen years old and a senior at San Leandro School in San Leandro, CA. He was one of 3 students who received the Matador Travel Scholarship and traveled to Nicaragua this summer with a non-profit organization called Global Glimpse.

THIS SUMMER I WAS GIVEN a wonderful opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with a group of diverse and talented high school students from the Bay Area. The Coro Exploring Leadership Program and Matador provided me with a scholarship to participate. We traveled to Nicaragua with Global Glimpse, a non-profit program that provides low-income students the opportunity to travel abroad and experience the world.

This was my first solo trip out of the U.S. traveling with students I had never met before. I was excited about this trip because I wanted to learn more about different cultures and have a better understanding of the world. Throughout the course of the trip, many of my opinions and perspectives about the world were unraveled time and time again. This trip opened my eyes to how the world really is, with real life issues that I was able to experience firsthand. This experience has pushed me to my physical and emotional limits and helped me grow dramatically.

As I got onto the plane at San Francisco Airport, I was not sure if I would make it through 3 weeks. When I arrived in Nicaragua, I felt out of place. It was hot, humid, and uncomfortable. I saw things like damaged roads and trash everywhere that bothered me because I was not used to it.

We learned a lot about the history of Nicaragua and interviewed many locals in Leon. The program had a lot of activities and challenges for us to help us understand the world.

One of the challenges that I faced on this trip was to walk in the shoes of a Nicaraguan. This challenge required me to live on a dollar a day. Throughout the course of 24 hours, I had to take bucket showers, eat only rice and beans, have no access to electricity at all, and work on a farm helping our host, Arturo, with tasks like weeding the land with machetes. Half an hour into working on the fields, I was sweating and panting. To imagine Arturo working four acres of land with his son everyday, really woke me up of what we take for granted at home such as running water and food. Even though this experience wore me down physically, it really help me understand how life is in Nicaragua.

The one experience that completely changed my life was going to the dump. The dump is a landfill where people search for recyclables to sell in order to support their families. When I arrived there, I was completely disgusted with what I saw; adults and teenagers, even kids were digging through mounds of freshly dumped trash from the garbage trucks. There were flies everywhere, the smell of composting garbage was overpowering, and people scattered everywhere trying to make it through the day.

We interviewed Maria, one of the group leaders in charge of the dump. She told us, “Life is very hard here in Nicaragua; we work everyday from 5 AM to 1 PM looking for recyclables to sell to support our families.” There were no worker safety regulations or safe working conditions. Their minimum wage was based on the amount of recyclables they could find and often their wages would be one to two dollars a day if they were lucky.

They ate the food that they found as breakfast, lunch, and often took food back to their families. I was overwhelmed by what I saw; yet I found the motivation and the inspiration to help communities such as the on at the dump. As I left the dump, I had found a new meaning to poverty. This experience really woke me up from the dream that I had of a perfect harmonious world, and showed me the real world is not perfect, not well off, and not easy. I had thus gained a new perspective on my own life.

Instead of complaining about things that I did not have, I am now thankful for the things that I do have. While I am sitting at home complaining that my computer is too slow, people in Nicaragua do not even have computers of their own to use.

I learned an enormous amount about life and disparities in wealth, education, and housing from this experience. It made me think more about others and my community. This trip showed me firsthand of the pressing issues affecting the world right now, allowed me to walk in the shoes of a Nicaraguan, and inspired me to do something about the issue of poverty.

Coming home from this trip, I am more conscious of my surroundings and I am beginning to use the experiences that I witnessed in Nicaragua to improve the lives of others. It motivated me even more to become a stronger community activist to create and initiate more projects that better the community. I witnessed things that I would have never imagined to see in my life before. This experience allowed me to look at the world through a different lens.

We also did a lot of community service in Nicaragua. We taught students from the age of 12 to 38 English. It was really fun and really inspiring to see all the students learn and use what we taught them. We also had to create our own community service project that helps the community. Our project was to create signs that remind people to throw away their trash and attach them to garbage cans. The other group projects were translating myths and legends to English for the Myths and Legends Museum and a map of the Central Market.

Personally, after visiting a lot of organizations and talking to a lot of people, me and another Glimpser took the money that we fundraised and donated it to Las Tias, a organization that keeps kids off the street from working and provides a day care for the parents.

Aside from constantly learning, I also had the time of my life in Nicaragua. I met a lot of great people including our program coordinators, Miguel, Lester, and Morena. I have developed lifelong relationships with these amazing people. We climbed an active volcano, Cerro Negro, swam in a volcanic lake, Laguna Asososca, and slept in a haunted prison for my birthday. We had fireworks on the Fourth of July, watched the World Cup finals, and explored the city on our own. This trip gave us the freedom to explore and experience the world with our own eyes.

Traveling is such a beautiful thing. It allows you to break out of your shell and learn about the world. You experience new foods, places, and cultures. There are amazing people out in the world that you meet and develop life long relationships. It is really fun and allows you to learn a lot about yourself. If you have a chance to travel, take it and you will not regret it. Once you start to travel, it becomes such a thrill that you don’t want to stop.