Nicaragua trip a life-changing experience for Red Cloud student

posted on April 4, 2012

Tiarra Little’s passport has been getting stamps from some far-flung locations over the past couple of years. The intrepid Red Cloud senior has visited Israel, Cambodia, and Nicaragua, among other locales, and shows no sign of slowing down her world travels.

The Nicaragua trip was the most recent – she returned in mid-March from the weeklong trip. Interestingly enough, Little found out about the opportunity from a friend she had made on her trip to Cambodia last year, whose mother has been involved with outreach efforts in Nicaragua for several years, and who was one of the main organizers of the trip.

The emphasis of the Nicaragua visit, which involved twelve travelers total, was equal parts service and learning. The participating students and adults focused on three primary areas; improving libraries, visiting orphanages, and providing free dental work.

Little explained that the library component had been key to the Nicaragua partnership getting started in the first place. One of the organizers of the trip had made a visit to the country several years before, and discovered that the public library in the capital city of Managua was of very poor quality, and that strict policies on book borrowing made the collection nearly inaccessible to the citizenry. This led to a fundraising drive to both improve the library as a public service, and to open a new library in the town of San Juan Del Sur; the first true lending library in Nicaragua.

Little said that her group took with them 18 large plastic tubs full of books and other donated materials, which the trip’s organizers had arranged with the airline to pack into the plane’s hold. She explained that books in Nicaragua tend to be “ridiculously expensive” under normal circumstances – costing several days’ pay each for the average citizen. She was glad that their visit, which included a visit to the San Juan Del Sur library, was furthering literacy in a third-world country that desperately needed obtainable reading materials.

Another service that Nicaragua sorely lacks is accessible dental care. Little explained that her group also included a couple of dentists, who had the necessary tools to performs tooth extractions, and other basic dental procedures. Because of the rural nature of many of the areas they visited, as well as the lack of infrastructure, Little said that the dentists did not have standard clinic rooms in which to carry out their work. Rather, they would perform the dental procedures on the spot, in or between villages, on regular folding tables, or any other suitable, flat surface. Luckily, their supplies included anesthetics!

The most powerful part of the experience, according to Little, was the visits to Nicaraguan orphanages. Her first reaction to the conditions was one of shock, and she recounted how until a couple of years ago, most of the children’s beds were simply metal box-spring bed frames, with no mattresses of any kind. Because most poor Nicaraguans sleep on the ground, however, Little said that the kids were proud to have had even that much.

Little explained that orphanages in Nicaragua provide an important service, but that they are up against overwhelming numbers. Each orphanage can only hold thirty children, and in order that they can stay within capacity, all kids get sent away when they reach the age of sixteen. While the children are in the orphanages, they are taught basic life skills, and are also schooled in relatively low-status trades, such as how to be maids or laborers. That way, so the thinking goes, they will at least be able to have a livelihood as adults.

Little was shocked to learn how many of the kids live as “feral children” before being brought into the orphanage system. Such children, she explained, have often been abused, prostituted by adults, and kicked out of their homes to fend for themselves. Many are chronically hungry, and it is common for them to be addicted to cheap drugs – particularly glue-sniffing – because it makes the hunger pains go away.

She recounted the story of one little girl at an orphanage that the group visited who was severely introverted, to the point where she never even spoke to anyone. Little and her friend were successful in bringing the girl into a group activity, and she was touched by how amazed and moved the other kids were that this child had come out of her shell for the first time. She said that was when she realized what an incredible impact groups such as hers could make for the people of an underprivileged country, and how seemingly small gestures could have a major effect. It was a powerful realization.

Even though she has only been back stateside for a couple of weeks, Little is already thinking ahead to future travels. She hopes to go back to Nicaragua next year, and take her little sister Shania – also a Red Cloud student – with her this time. (Shania was supposed to go this year, but her passport did not come through in time.) In order to do so, Little knows that she will need to start fundraising all over again. Last year, through various raffles and basketball fundraisers, she and her sister raised the $1,100 necessary to buy their two plane tickets, plus funds to cover extra costs. Little also hopes to go to Switzerland for a couple of weeks with her friend from the Cambodia and Nicaragua trips.

Looking back on the overall experience, Little recalled an exchange with Monique Flickinger, the primary organizer of the trip. She recounted, “She told me, before I left from the airport…She told me to remember everything, and remember all of the progress that has been made. And she told me, ‘Don’t give up on Nicaragua, because someone has to do it. And [the people there] always need help.’” Little said that exchange will stay with her far into the future.

When asked what message she feels that she brings back from her trip to the Red Cloud School community and the reservation community, Little had this to say: “You often hear people say that we need to help the U.S. first. I used to agree with that, but then after I started traveling, I found that I don’t agree with it at all. Because there are people out there who need more help than we realize – much more help, and no one else is going to do it…So if we’re capable of helping someone, even if they are in another country, then why not do it? Because then you are making someone’s life better.”

Little also saw a parallels and contrasts between the poverty of Nicaragua, and the condition of the reservation back home. In Pine Ridge, there is a lot of need when compared to the United States as a whole, but Nicaragua, where many people live on the verge of starvation, is at a whole different level. She asserted, “People talk about how bad it is in Pine Ridge, and it is bad here. But when I come back home, I don’t see how people can be complaining so much. If [local people] knew how it was in other countries, they would help themselves out more. Or they would have more determination to help each other out, and be more willing to lend a helping hand in general.”

Little’s travel experience have clearly broadened her horizons, and the next few years should continue to provide opportunities for her that will form her into the leader that she is so clearly destined to be. She has received a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University, and just this week heard that she has also been accepted to Duke and Dartmouth.

As she prepares to choose a college and leave the reservation and the state for a few years, Little will be keeping Nicaragua in the front of her mind, as she prepares for her return trip in 2013. She will also hopefully find a way to maintain the smattering of Spanish she learned on her trip there. Finally, when asked what she found to be the most surprising aspect of Nicaragua, Little was quick to answer:

“They all hate carrots. Even hungry kids and starving dogs will not touch carrots! And cats…they hate cats.”