Alumni Spotlight: 3 Lessons From My Time in Nicaragua

By: Camilla Kusec

Year travelled to Nicaragua: 2004
High school: St Augustine C.S.S (Brampton, ON)

My most memorable moment from my trip to Nicaragua actually came a few years after the trip. One my teachers, Mrs. Gomes had gone back to the same community we had been to on our first trip and my host family sent back a letter for me. It was such a surprise - I couldn’t believe that they remembered me, and it meant so much to hear from them. I still have that letter.  

The lessons I’ve learned from my time in Nicaragua weren’t instantaneous. In fact, the impact of that trip has revealed itself in different ways over the years.

Those ten days have shaped my politics, my travels, and who I’ve become personally.

I remember Mr. Heffernan handing out a sheet on Nicaraguan politics and history during one of our preparation sessions. I was overwhelmed by the information because it touched on something I was only starting to realise was important to me: inequities that exist in our society at home or on a global scale. I was 15 and had a vague sense of injustice, but Nicaragua is what made it real.

I learned about corruption and poverty, but also community building, solidarity, and resistance. I wound up majoring in Political Science and I’m happy to be part of the Latinx community in Toronto.

I’ve had many more experiences since then that have deepened my interest in politics and my commitment to equity, but it did all grow from that initial spark of interest in a handout and Mr. Heffernan’s stories. 

Another way Nicaragua has impacted me is in my pursuit of seeing and travelling around the world as much as I can. I haven’t really stopped moving since Nicaragua, and while I have never gone on another social justice project, it’s interesting to reflect on how I usually seek out work while I’m traveling so I can spend more time in each city or country I visit. I think that comes from what I learned in Nicaragua, which is that getting to genuinely know the community and region you’re travelling to is so important. Meet locals and stray from the typical tourist spots as often as you can.

I think what is important in our world today is to support opportunities for us to grow as more compassionate beings with an openness and understanding that extends to people in different communities across the globe.

Finally, I know that going to Nicaragua has shaped how I’ve grown as a person. I have a dear friend who coordinated social justice projects for post-secondary students, and I challenged him on the value of these trips. My friend agreed that many of the students who take these will return to Canada and live the same lives as they’ve always had. But he challenged back: does that matter? Even if you’re not suddenly woke, even if you go back and never involve yourself again in social justice projects again, you can’t erase the experience of working with others, meeting new people and challenging yourself in every way possible to see things in a way so different from your daily life. That stays with you.

These trips are important because they dismantle fears and stereotypes. It encourages us to listen, to be patient, to observe and to be unafraid. It creates friendships across borders, across cultures, across faiths.

Given the chance, I would absolutely participate in the experience again. Also, as a secondary teacher with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board, I know I may have the opportunity to visit Nicaragua in a different role.  I would love to go back to Nicaragua as an educator and be able share this experience with a new set of students, colleagues and local community members. While I admit, I’m still working on listening more and putting fear aside, our trip to Nicaragua has made me a more open person and that is the greatest impact the trip has had on me. These trips make a difference. To the communities you visit. To the people you work with. To you.