UA missions group returns to Nicaragua

Mark Hammontree

By Mark Hammontree | News Editor

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Less than a week before Christmas, 22 University of Alabama students said goodbye to the small Nicaraguan village of Trapichito. For some students, it was the last time they would ever see the village and its inhabitants with whom they’d grown quite familiar over the course of a week. For others, it was just a temporary goodbye with the promise of reunion next December.

The 22 UA students were part of the annual Alabama Greek Missions trip, which has traveled to Nicaragua and the village of Trapichito for the past two years.

“Alabama Greek Missions started three years ago, so this is the third trip we’ve done as a group, the second one I’ve been a part of,” said Sarah Elizabeth Tooker, a senior majoring in communication studies and president of AGM. “It really just started because there was a gap, and they saw there really wasn’t a group that connected greek members that were interested in international service work.”

The group was started by members of greek organizations to give students an opportunity to travel abroad and serve others through construction and a vacation bible school day camp. The first year, AGM traveled to Costa Rica but found room for improvement in the structure of the trip.

“Our first trip, we learned a lot, we figured out a lot of things to do differently and we ended up switching companies, so now we travel with El Ayudante in Nicaragua,” said Margaret Coates, one of the founders of AGM who now serves as a grad advisor to the group.

During the second year, AGM began the House-for-Home campaign, which pledges to build a home in Trapichito for every fraternity and sorority house at the University.

“So the neat thing about it is that we really are building a relationship with that one community in Nicaragua,” Tooker said. “That really does convince people who go one year to try to go as many years as possible. Last year we built one house for them, and then this year we actually did two while we were down there, so we’ve done three total.”

Tooker said El Ayudante, which translates to “The Helper,” helps facilitate mission groups like AGM by organizing building materials and providing lodging and transportation. The students stayed at the El Ayudante camp in León, the second largest city in Nicaragua.

“It’s almost set up like a summer camp: bunk beds, outdoor showers,” Tooker said. “Boys sleep over here; girls sleep over here. They gave us all our meals for a week, and they’re responsible for carting us to and from Trapichito. The trip is a great opportunity for students to experience a different culture and part of the world,” Tooker said.

The students spent their mornings interacting with villagers, including almost 100 children, with various activities and interactive lessons. In the afternoons, the students worked together to construct the homes.

“The homes that we build, we actually leave it up to the community to decide which family receives the home, so you really know that the homes are going to the families with the most need,” Tooker said.

Many of the students have traveled to Trapichito both years, and Coates said the relationships among the people of the village and the students have a powerful effect.

“The biggest thing for me is seeing the relationships that form between the people of AGM and the kids in the village and the people that we work with and the people we come in contact with,” Coates said. “This year, people would cry when we left, cry when we got there – it was just awesome to see people forming bonds.”

While AGM was started to give greek members an opportunity to do service work abroad, Coates said non-greeks can participate.

“It’s called Alabama Greek Missions, but that’s just how it started. It’s by no means exclusive to the greek community,” Coates said. “We’re really trying to grow it. One of the officers next year isn’t greek, and he’s done more for the organization than almost anybody.”

Tooker said the organization will hold fundraisers throughout the spring to raise money for next year’s trip.

“To see how happy the people there are, I think that’s pretty incredible for people our age, to put things in perspective, especially when you get home and it’s four days before Christmas,” Tooker said.