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You may be forgiven for thinking that building an entire school out of three-litre plastic bottles filled with sand sounds slightly implausible. However, that is exactly what I was doing just a few weeks ago during my university holidays. Through the charitable organisation GIVE (Growth International Volunteering Excursions), I was able to get involved in one of their ground-breaking projects that seek to aid community development and provide sustainable environmental solutions to some of the world’s poorest countries.
Along with twenty-five other GIVE volunteers, I spent nine days in the remote Nicaraguan village of Jiquilillo—pronounced ‘Hi-ki-li-yo’—mixing cement, laying down bottles, rendering walls, and digging a deep hole for the septic tank. In the 1990s Jiquilillo was plagued by a series of natural disasters, including a tsunami in 1992 that laid waste to six blocks of the village, and Hurricane Mitch in 1998 which put pay to any attempt at rebuilding the community. As the village is currently home to approximately 135 families, each with four or five children, the need for a school, staff and teaching resources cannot be underestimated.
When my companions and I were not hard at work, however, we spent our time swimming in the gloriously warm Pacific Ocean, playing soccer with the locals and relaxing in hammocks as we watched the tropical storms. One particularly memorable day, we even climbed to the top of an active volcano and sandboarded down the other side. Not bad for someone who isn’t a born thrill-seeker!
The second half of my trip with GIVE took place on Little Corn Island in the Caribbean, a tropical paradise far off the beaten track and as yet unspoilt by tourism, where I taught the local children how to read and write English. I ate fresh mangoes and coconut bread every day, rode horses around the island and had morning swims in the Caribbean Sea. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it’s not just me that should get to have this experience—you can too!
We have so much in Australia, and I became painfully aware of this in Nicaragua where you can’t drink the tap water or flush paper down the toilet. If being able to see the difference you’re making to a community is important to you, get in contact with GIVE (www.givevolunteers.org) to find out more about the available volunteer excursions. I, for one, will never take a hot shower for granted again.