Story posted March 23, 2009
With an award from the Global Citizens Grant Sean Morris '10 volunteered in a rural Nicaraguan village, providing assistance to a community development project intended to benefit the farmers in this region with renewable energy. Faced with overwhelming cultural and language challenges, Sean's transformative experience living and working in the community of this small village provided insight into what being a global citizen truly means.
For 13 weeks during Bowdoin’s 2008 fall semester, I stayed and worked in the rural village of Sabana Grante, Totogalpa, Nicaragua, with a community development project, Grupo Fenix. They provide conservation education, solar ovens, solar panels, and other renewable energy technologies to benefit poor farmers in this region. I believe that my experience in Nicaragua taught me a great deal about myself through the challenges that I faced. More than anything, I was afforded a glimpse at what I believe it means to be humble.
Having arrived at my worksite: Grupo Fenix’s Solar Center of Totogalpa, I realized that my skill set as a student at an elite American college was suddenly worth very little. My abilities to communicate, and my problem solving skills needed to be reset in order to adapt to living in a place where most people didn’t have electricity or running water and the idea of a universtiy education was often too ambitious to bother.
Initially, I had no conception of the right ways to communicate or live a daily lifestyle. In the darkness of my ignorance, I came to know the kindness of strangers – community members offered their guidance without expecting anything in return. My mentors became everyone around me. This included the manager of the photovoltaic workshop in the Solar Center, who, like a father, walked me home from work every day. Don Mauro only had a sixth grade education, but to me, he might as well have been a Nobel Prize laureate, giving a detailed explanation to every question I may have had about Nicaraguan sayings, the history of the community, or rural solar energy in general.
Humility meant deferring to the guidance of my fifteen-year-old host sister as my protector when we went to the local town. It meant trusting a local boy to lead me through the forest to give a lesson in collecting firewood. It meant admitting that I might have worlds to learn from a woman who doesn’t know how to read.
And while it seems like very little in a community that is completely defined by poverty, I’m extremely proud of the work that I accomplished with Grupo Fenix. This included: facilitating a dialogue to help community members develop Mission and Vision statements for the Solar Center; making an informational sign for a composting toilet; teaching a photography class to local children; updating and marketing Grupo Fenix activities on the internet; grant searching; and compiling a 13 page report of Solar Center products and services for local community members. This work, to me, was evidence that I had overcome a set of challenges that had previously seemed insuperable.
While we might be tempted to think that humility means giving more than you receive – for me - truly knowing humility meant realizing that it is possible to receive more from a community of poor uneducated farmers than I could give back with a lifetime worth of “volunteering.” I am deeply indebted to them, and to all of my mentors: Nicaraguans, teachers, friends, and family alike - all people who saw a promise in me that I have come in part to realize.
I hope that this short description of what I took away from my experience helps those reading in a similar way.
Truly knowing humility means realizing that it is possible to receive much more from a community of poor uneducated farmers than I could ever give back with a lifetime worth of “volunteering.”
— Sean Morris '10