Category Archives: Nicaragua

“To Give What You Never Had” (Feb. ’13)

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 Aaron Roth – – “To Give What You Never Had – Feb. 2013

Hi family and friends, after almost seven weeks in Nicaragua, I headed up to Guatemala to be a part of a teachers conference organized by International School Project ( As part of my position, I’ve been participating in the conference to see how they teach a morals and ethics curriculum based on the Bible to about 500 Guatemalan public school teachers and directors. After this, I will head to Honduras, to continue visiting Christian schools. It’s been a wonderful journey thus far, and part of me thinks I’m just getting started. This email is about an experience I had in a school in Leon, Nicaragua. Blessings, -Aaron

Have you met someone recently that couldn’t read or write? I suppose if you hang out with small children, they get a pass, but I’m asking this question in relation to adults. When was the last time you met someone who was illiterate? It’s probably fairly uncommon for us Americans to run across anyone that has difficulties like that unless we work in education.

Working out of Managua, Nicaragua I have visited many communities where I meet adults that still cannot read and write. It’s quite common in the rural areas actually. In fact, the Nicaraguan government has a campaign called, “The Battle for Sixth Grade” which helps rural schools to keep children in education until at least the sixth grade and hopefully into high school. Apparently, in many rural communities, the dropout rate from first to sixth grade approaches 50%.

How can a nation develop if its citizens lack even the most rudimentary skills?

I replaFeb-13-News-02y that question over and over in my mind when I visit yet another private school and the teachers tell me that when students come from public schools and enter seventh and eighth grade and still don’t know how to read or write. It would be understandable if the children were in primary school, but to pass through seven or eight grades without learning, that’s alarming. In fact, much of the developing world, an estimated 793 million illiterate adults struggle with illiteracy.

Further still, as I have been visiting schools, I have met adults that lack those skills, but what’s amazing to me is that they show a sincere desire to break the cycle of illiteracy when they enroll their own children into a school. But the question remains, how did these adults miss out on education? What happened in their past?

“I couldn’t read or write until I was 16. I just didn’t have the opportunity. No one invested in me.” – Francisco, Director of “Lily of the Valleys Christian School” in Leon, Managua.

Francisco’s school, which was started almost 18 years ago, now serves 450 local children. His school is located in a poorer area of Leon, and meets the needs of many underserved children and families in the local area. Whenever I use the word, “poorer,” keep in mind that Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so while the “regular” areas are economically harsh, the “poorer” areas areFeb-13-News-03 a bit shocking.

Francisco’s passion for education came from his inability to receive even basic education as a youth. When he sees a young child enter his school without basic math or language skills, he seems himself as a young man with desires to learn and grow, just waiting to be invested into. I saw Francisco’s passion permeate the school, just look at this to the right, their focus on character formation. They know that if they aren’t the ones who take a stand in the development of a child, no one else will.

After explaining to me how they are able to provide education to over 450 students with only 10 classrooms in three daily sessions, he shares with me something he’s really excited about: free literacy classes on Saturdays for adults.

It had been a goal over the past 20 years. To arrive at a point in his life where he could receive primary and secondary education, and give back to the community that helped him become the man he is today. What’s even more amazing, is that his private school is self-sustainable and with its income it can serve the poor community with a lower tuition rate, pay for the church’s utility bills, and offer free weekend classes to adults. I’m blown away by the entrepreneurship and servant hood he has displayed, but he wants to show me something that means the most to him. As he walks away he says, “Let me show you what we just achieved . . .”

Feb-13-News-04Francisco comes back with a stack of certificates, newly stamped with the seal of approval from the Ministry of Education. His private Christian school is now recognized by the Nicaraguan government as meeting their national standards of literacy training. I’m flipping through the names on these awards and realizing that with each new name I see, this represents a new life for the individual. For a mom or a dad, they now have the ability to help their kids with their homework, find a better job, and read aloud to their kids at night furthering the beautiful bloom of knowledge in their household.

I look up and he is quiet; he’s humbled by all the names and certificates in the folder. He has helped make a way for twenty four adults to become true citizens of their country. I nod in appreciation, he smiles. We both seem to silently agree on the gravity of this achievement.

Feb-13-News-05I think it’s because we both realize a simple yet incredibly profound thing has transpired. Even though nobody was there when he was a child, he is present now for the children. Even though no one had the money for him to go to school, he has found a way to provide for others. Even though he and his family lived many kilometers away, they found a house closer to the school to provide weekend classes.

Even though he never had, he made a commitment to give what he never received.

He understood the profound journey he had to take and the cost it took to build a bridge across the deep gap of “even though.”

It hits me hard to think about how many times I think about my first response to a challenge or an obstacle is to give up, simply because something stood in my way, or the gap was too far to cross.

I’m so inspired by the people I’ve met who have overcome tremendous setbacks and have responded not with excuses, bitterness or weakness, but instead a positive, affirming, and courageous attitude. I think about the magnitude of such an obstacle – illiteracy – and what it would take to go from learning to read and write at age 16 and then go to school, university, and on to become a director of a school.

That is simply phenomenal.

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (NIV Proverbs 11:24-25)

Skype: aprothwm05

Solid Sense of Direction . . . of Where Things Used to Be

My dad has a good internal compass. I remember as a child he always wanted to know the cardinal directions because somehow knowing that the river was north from where we were staying would help us navigate our family of 5 around in our blue Chrysler minivan. At 10 years old, I thought he was nuts. Now I realize, he wasn’t, and he’d do well driving in modern day Nicaragua.

“Where the House of Jokes used to be. Five blocks toward the lake, two blocks east, 1/2 a block south.”

This is an acceptable form of giving directions to taxi drivers in Managua.

No street signs, no house numbers, no other clear landmarks. Just some strange quasi-cardinal or relational points of reference that will guarantee you will arrive. Seriously. It works every time!

In fact, it became quite clear to me after a while that “magnetic north” here is Lake Nicaragua and not Hudson Bay. Somehow, each person carries with them an internal compass that lets them know which direction the lake is. Consequently, many directions in the capital take the form of using “North” as the Lake whether or not the Lake is North, East, West or even South. People will understand you if you are using the lake as your point of reference.

Roll with it, use it. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not. If you want to get anywhere in Managua, stick to the custom. The lake is always North.

Probably my recent favorite was this: “Where the tennis courts used to be.”

Doesn't look like tennis courts does it? Well, this is where they used to be.

In Leon, as the story goes, about 20 years ago they built a basketball court next to a school. For some reason, it was never completed or never used, so they turned it into some tennis courts. People doubt whether those tennis courts were used either, because now there aren’t any tennis courts. Just this big wall that surrounds the corner. I laughed when people told me that was the proper way to refer to the location, but I trusted them, so in the afternoon after visiting a school quite far from our original destination, I said to the taxi driver, “Where the tennis courts used to be.”

Off we went, and sure enough 7 minutes later he dropped me off where I needed to be and I reconnected with my colleagues.

Yet another point of reference in the lesson of cultural assimilation.

“Education is a Battle for the Mind” (Jan. 2013)

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 Aaron Roth – – “Education is a Battle for the Mind – Jan. 2013

Hi family and friends, I just celebrated my 30th birthday here in Nicaragua during the last week of January. I felt really blessed to be able to hike around a volcano and swim in a lagoon of a volcano crater. Yes, I realize that sounds pretty absurd and possibly like fiction, but Nicaragua is a beautiful country with many volcanoes and natural points of interest. If you feel like celebrating your birthday here, just respond to this email. Blessings, -Aaron

At precisely the moment the money changer was explaining to me where a large evangelical church was located in Granada, a woman and her daughter walked up to him and unrolled a $100 American bill. He pulled out his calculator, performed a calculation of the bank rate for that day and showed her the numbers. She nodded “yes.” Her face was downtrodden and her daughter looked ambivalent. The enormous stack of bills in his hand flipped back and forth as he plucked out the colorful currency from large denominations to small. It sounded like a oft repeated rhythm here on this busy street corner.

She received her Cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) and they walked away. He continued with the directions to “La Iglesia de Restauracion” (The Church of Restoration) as if nothing outside our innocent conversation had transpired.

IJan-13-News-02 don’t know exactly where this local woman had gotten such a large bill, but I think I can connect the dots in this particular situation. Like in many impoverished countries, with the high frequency of tourism and enormous economic poverty, women sometimes engage in prostitution. I don’t want to give you the impression that this is what Nicaragau is like throughout the country or what it should be known for. That would not be true, nor would it be a fair representation to the beautiful countryside and Nicaraguan culture I have come to enjoy over the past month. Indeed, it is a complicated issue, an economic pressure driven by the divide between the rich who are in power limiting free market commerce from taking shape and the desperate poor waiting for more jobs.

According to the UN, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere next to Haiti. Nicaragua struggles with unemployment, poor education, and a weak (but growing) economy. I do believe there is hope on the horizon though, as I’ve met with many churches, Christian missionaries, development organizations, and Christian and Catholic schools. They speak of a population moving out of poverty and the importance of the formation of good character as the nation continues to grow economically.Jan-13-News-05 Progress may be slow, but it is arriving.

I joined a group meeting last Wednesday of an organization called ACECEN (Association of Evangelical Christian Education Centers of Nicaragua) is proactive in it’s approach to changing the culture and the future of Nicaragua through education. They teach teachers how to educate children through learning modalities, technology in the classroom, and creating a curriculum that both imparts Biblical values and lives them out. I began to see what a powerful force education can be here.

Within their network, they deliver their program of training on a bi-weekly basis to schools and weekly to others. Many times they incorporate special subjects like preventing child trafficking throughout Central America in a partnership with Christian Reformed Church ( As you look to the map here on the right you’ll see that there are trade routes running in and out of this part of the country. As mentioned before, the drug trade, human trafficking, and illicit activities are not just problems of Central America, they are found in every part of the globe where there is poverty.

Jan-13-News-04With Edify I have been visiting schools and meeting with organizations like ACECEN to see if they’d be a good partner for Edify as they currently work with Christian schools in Nicaragua. ACECEN “promotes the development and improvement of Christian schools, preparing students to excel professionally based on biblical principles so that they become agents of transformation in society.”

The ACECEN team was receiving this special training to impart their program of educational services to the 150 schools in their network. They will carry this message of justice, hope, and redemption to directors, teachers and students. By starting with the youngest children they are laying a platform to help them understand what is good and what is bad in the world and how to know the difference.

Isn’t it amazing that education can become a weapon in preventing things like the drug trade, child trafficking, and prostitution? It all starts with providing a solid foundation of values and one value that ACECEN continually promotes is that school is a safe place and the teachers are protectors and believe in the students ability to succeed.

I think sometimes we have this image in our minds that the evils present in our cities or in the developing worlds are always shady looking strangers that pluck out kids from their homes and put them up to selling drugs or get them involved in illegal activities. Very often, it’s not a presence or a force of bad examples, it can be simply a lack or an absence of the good ones. The values of culture, whether good or bad, are transmitted in the street, within neighborhoods, in markets, on TV and radio, all play a part in helping to form what is good and what is right in these young minds.

If we don’t help provide good solid examples of strong, loving leadership, children will find examples of it as soon as they leave school. That is what scares me. Haven’t we seen too many evils against children, and worse, youth against youth? There is a real and present battle for the minds of the youth, and I am encouraged to see organizations like ACECEN are out on the front lines loving children and teaching them how to live in this world.
That is our goal with Edify as well. We work with schools to help them provide a better education to their children, better routes to get sustainable employment through vocational training, and bring the hope of a real Savior who came to fight for them and defeat that which is evil.

I believe children need that.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV)

I pray that as you see opportunities to help the most innocent of our society, God gives you a way to participate.

Blessings to you and your families,
Skype: aprothwm05

Sunset Delivery on the Pacific

You know when you were little and you were so excited that it felt like you were weightless? Had a helicopter spotted me on Saturday night, they would have seen a young white male galloping as fast as my little legs could carry me across shore bank to get a better photo. Yulia was giving birth.

Well, that’s the name that Steven and Freddy gave her when I asked.

Initially, I was strolling across the beach adding more digital memories to my new pacific sunset obsession. I saw a young man wave his arms toward me. I speak Spanish, but not Spanish arm signals. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. I guess I missed the 50 pound sea turtle eight feet in front of them making her way up the bank.

Freddy runs up to me and says, “Don’t go towards her, you’ll scare her off and she’ll go back into the ocean!”

He’s calm. I’m not. I’ve never in my life seen a sea turtle outside of Finding Nemo and there’s a behemoth of a sea creature slowly making her way up to deliver the eggs. As were standing there watching her, it’s then I ask the boys what her name was. They didn’t get the joke. So I explained, and assuredly Steven says, “Yulia.” I mean, I suppose it’s with a “Y” here. You find that a lot in Spanish. From Yenny to Yoseph. Seriously, I”m not yoking.

So Yulia is making her way up the beach and I want to get a better shot. I’m not sure who she’s going to let into the delivery room. Usually it’s just family and parents, and as a white dude fresh off the plane, I’m not sure she’s comfortable with me helping her with Lamaze breathing techniques.

I’ve got to get a better shot. And the boys scream at me to not let her see me, because if she does, she’ll scramble back to the water.

It’s then, that I returned to my glory days of the Ukrops 10K. I mean, I was never good at running 6.2 miles, or should I say, without a costume. When I was Ms. Pacman or pretending to release a curling stone for the RVA Curling Team I finished in 1st and 2nd respectively.

I’m sure those boys had never seen such a ridiculous looking gringo bound through the sunset setting sand making a wide arc as to not disturb the hallways of the labor and delivery ward of Gran Pacifica.

I perched up high on the bank and got some photos of Yulia carving out her nest with her enormous flippers. It was then when I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or Richmond, or Broadway, or most shockingly, I wasn’t in the Dominican Republic where I had called home the past two years.

I was on the pacific coast watching a sea turtle preparing the way for 50 or 60 or who knows how many little ones would be making the journey back to the sea in 40 days from the 20th of January.

She started dropping the little ones into their resting chamber; I knew because the boys were squealing and shouting at me to come closer.

They let me take one out to look at it. So beautiful next to the sky.

(Don’t worry, I put it back!)

I just sat there. Motionless. Watching Yulia do what she and the rest of her young mothers club do this time of year. She was huge, and didn’t look to be struggling. The boys said I should feel her shell. That it was as hard as armor. I really don’t remember one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being female. April was the reporter, but now I know I’d write a petition to Splinter to consider Yulia. She would offer much needed grace and elegance to the quartet.

I felt so grounded to the Earth. To witness a sunset. To hang out with two local fisherman. To watch a sea turtle pretend like she didn’t mind the spectators. I looked up and I saw the stars of the sky.

Earth and Heaven and sand and the end of day, the beginning of a journey.

When Yulia was done, the boys thought it customary to return her to the water. I can’t imagine how depleted her strength was, nor how heavy she weighed. The boys squealed again under the weight. I was thinking, “Well, she’s probably a lot lighter now, you know?” They had to set her down to take a break. She kept moving toward the water. They picked her back up and set her back in the cool, calm ocean to take her back home. Steven collapsed in the wet sand.

I thanked my new friends for helping me with my first sea turtle birthing experience. I felt like I needed a cigar to celebrate the birth of 60ish sea turtlings.

I lingered for awhile. Then slowly walked back to the others. Just trying to take it all in.

. . .

How beautiful life can be, how majestic a turtle, a sunset and the sea.

“Feels Like Home” (Dec. ’12 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Feels Like Home” – Dec. 2012

Hi family and friends, sorry this email about December is coming so late. I think we all get super busy during the holidays and for me I was also preparing to go to San Diego with Edify and then onto Nicaragua where I am now. I hope to send out my January newsletter about what we’re trying to do in Nicaragua before January finishes. Blessings, -Aaron

I had a whirlwind tour of the US during my 11 weeks back home. While I spent four weeks on the road in various parts of the country living out of suitcases, it was still nice to be back in the company of friends and family and to enjoy the cold. I’m still surprised we had a white Christmas back home in Broadway with my family. Our Christmas Eve service was almost cancelled due to weather, but we trudged on and made our way to the celebration on that cold, snowy December night. I’m sure the infant Savior of the world marveled at our arduous commute of 45 seconds (we live across the road.)

Dec-12-News-02On Christmas Day I called my Dominican family on Skype. I lived with them in their small home in a ghetto of Santo Domingo for a short bit when I first arrived to the DR, but had visited them every two or three weeks for the two years I spent in the DR. Talking with them on Skype brought back so many memories of my time in Santo Domingo, and though it had only been two months, it felt like a long time since I had been at home with them.

When someone asked me in Richmond where home was now, I tried to modify the common phrase with “Home is where my passport is, and I have no idea where I put it.”

In truth, I knew where my passport was, and when I had to pack for Nicaragua it was in the top-most part of my backpack, like always. But for me, the concept of “home” has been an odd one over the past few years.  I got used to living out of two backpacks, packing, unpacking, saying hello and goodbye so many times that it became much like the stamps on my passport. Show up, say the usual things, and you’ll be able to pass through to the next destination.

Dec-12-News-03It hasn’t bothered me though. When I made the decision three years ago to serve overseas, I knew that I was changing some things that would remain permanent. Having a stable “home” would be a temporary enjoyment and a future plan. What became home to me was a mission, and that’s where I put my focus.

I have kept a journal for 11 years, and much of what I wrote three years ago, consisted of trying to live into the “large arc” of my life story. That is, what did I want my life to be about when it was all said and done. Some things on that list were:

  • To do something that was more about others than it is about me.
  • To put my faith in Jesus into action.
  • To dedicate myself to something I believed in.

Dec-12-News-04I’ve written many times about my belief in the efficacy and strength of what we do in Edify, and what HOPE International does around the world. We have been helping people develop skills to provide more employment opportunities and income for their families, providing them the financial capital to get started, and sharing the hope of a loving God who believed that to redeem the brokenness of this world was worth sending his beloved Son to this earth. (I think it’s always important to point back to the real meaning of the holidays you know?)

More than ever I believe in this kind of economic development. Microfinance is a good thing, and it works.

I knew that the time I was in the States, I would be there temporarily, and in fact, I awaited the day where I could get back “home” – that is, where the mission is, to do good in the places that desperately need it. So when I arrived to the Edify training in San Diego, CA I knew that I was a few more steps closer to home. Seeing my good friends from the Dominican Republic, and the executive leadership that I have come to know over the past few years, was like walking back through a familiar door. These are the people I shared the mission with, anDec-12-News-05d those that I will continue working with this upcoming year.

A teammate asked me if I was worried about Nicaragua, and I said that as long as I had a clean, quiet place to sleep, I’d be fine. “That’s it?” They asked.

“Yeah, that’s usually it.” I responded.

Maybe now, I’ve developed the game plan for this kind of life. By no means am I perfect, but I’ve realized that as soon as I handle the few, crucial details I can focus on the bigger picture. And for me, this is working with Edify to see if we should enter Nicaragua, Honduras, and Peru and help to improve education for children in low economic areas, share the Gospel, and build more bridges out of poverty and into hope like we’ve been doing in Ghana, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic.

Upon arriving into Nicaragua, I was a bit overwhelmed. New culture, new city, new Spanish slang, and a new set of rules. When faced with so much stimuli it can be a bit shocking. I knew I had to keep it cool, because that’s on page one of the playbook. When we arrived to the house in Managua, Dec-12-News-06Nicaragua my host family showed me the room where I’d be staying. It’s separated from the house, has its own bathroom, and is clean.

Even though I’d never been here before, I had the sense that since this is part of the mission, and since this fits with the large story of my life, I knew that I was correct in saying:

“Feels like home.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26 NIV)

I pray that you are finding your way back to the home you are being called to.

Skype: aprothwm05

Nicaragua August 2010 Trip Update

From August 2nd to August 9th I traveled with West End Presbyterian Church (WEPC) to the Casa Bernabe orphanage in Vera Cruz, Nicaragua which is just outside of Managua city. A local church, Verbo, has been incredibly active in and around the area of Managua with new church plants and running orphanages with an awesome organization Orphan Network. You can view my pictures here: Facebook Album.

Pancho, the Caballero – A True Gentleman

In Nicaragua, getting out of bed on Thursday morning was difficult. Everyday, we awoke to sore muscles, but this day I knew we were going to visit La Chureca, the enormous dump in Nicaragua. Emotionally, I didn’t feel ready to visit the dump. I was not looking forward to what I was going to see. I don’t know if it was the impending guilt or shame for living such a comfortable lifestyle,  knowing that the people I was to meet had next to nothing, or that I was probably going to see something that would shake me up inside.

Riding in the back of a pickup into La Chureca my nostrils were assaulted by the foul smells. It was probably the worst smell I’ve ever experienced. Food scraps, soiled clothes, and used toilet paper (since no one is allowed to put used toilet paper down the toilet) get thrown away and everything gets hauled to the dump. Consequently, when the trash workers are burning the heap, you smell everything undesirable. It was extremely hot and humid that day, so I also smelled rotten food and other sun-baked refuse. Birds circled over the heads of the trash workers who wore long pants and shirts and rubber boots. They carried with them long poles that looked like forks and they looked for items of value: clothes, plastics, glass, metals, anything that could be sold or used for their dwellings. People can make a living at the dump, and have been doing so for quite some time.

La Chureca began almost 40 years ago after a hurricane destroyed the homesteads of Nicaraguans. Families began to move into the area because they were able to earn a living picking saleable things from the trash. The government gave some subsidies for housing with the perspective that it was all temporary community – these people would leave as soon as conditions improved. Today there are more than 500 families living at the dump. Families are large at the dump, so 500 families can mean anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people.

A beacon of hope in the area is the local church run by Pastors Ramon and Miriam Baca. Inititally they had it inside the walls of the dump so that it was close to the people living in the community. Recently, they changed the location of the church to outside the dump so that all churchgoers would feel the literal and figurative sense of life beyond the walls of the mountains of trash. We participated in the daily feeding station that the local church operated.

After a short tour of the area, I think most of our group was exhausted from the shock of viewing the living conditions. For me, I know I have never been in a place this bad. I almost feel shame for saying that because what happened next shocked me more than the unsanitary abodes we toured.

About 50 children sat in colored plastic chairs to wait patiently for lunch. They were all smiling and playing with each other. Brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends – these kids were part of a tight-knit community in La Chureca. Despite not having shoes, or clean hands or faces, these kids were still kids.

They took joy in poking each other, putting their arms around the shoulders of a friend, and greeting all the Americans with waves and hugs. I thought to myself, “How can such beauty and warmth exist in such a terrible place?”

As I was trying to process this in my mind, a little guy turned around and started talking to me. I learned that his name was Pancho. Pancho didn’t have a plate with him so I asked him if he wanted to eat. He said that he had already eaten and all he wanted was for me to put him on my shoulders. He walked out from the area of chairs and motioned for me to crouch down. He walked around to my back and began to climb up to my shoulders. I was thinking to myself that those little barefeet were incredibly dirty. I probably had little footprints on my back.

Pancho started to say “Caballo, Caballo!” which means “horse” in Spanish. So I galloped around the yard with Pancho the cowboy – the Caballero – on my shoulders. He was squealing with laughter. I was smiling too. I knew that there is not much I could do for him at that moment except to show him love and kindness.

As I was galloping around, Pancho was saying something to me that I had to stop and listen for him to repeat again. “Como?” I asked.

Pancho said (translated):

“Let’s go to my house.”

“Where is your house?”

“Over there, just up the street.”

“You live close to here?”

“Yes, lets go to my house and say hi to mama . . .”


At that moment I got a big lump in my throat. I felt as though time stopped and everything about this dump, all my perceptions came crashing down. Pancho, the little caballero, did what anyone does when playing with new friends – he invited me to his house to say hi to his mama. I imagined what his house might look like . . . the dirt floors, the rusted metal sheets pieced together to form a wall, broken furniture, holes in the roof, and a makeshift table where he and his brothers and sisters would eat what little food his mother prepared.

I wanted to cry.

How could this little boy with dirty feet, dirty hands, and a dirty face, wearing a shirt that was so old the printed graphic had faded away, be so kind, so full of joy, so much like every other child in America?

See, the most shocking thing for me that day was not that La Chuleca was so dirty and desolate, it’s that there was a such a bright spirit of happiness in those kids, in that community, and in my friend Pancho.

I had to put Pancho down because we were leaving. He said to me that he wanted to ride on my shoulders again. I said, “I’m sorry Pancho. I have to leave.” He said, “Ok.” And then he said something that I couldn’t understand. I wished that I knew what he meant. As I jumped back on the pickup to leave, Pancho came to the edge of the feeding area and waved and said it again. I still didn’t know what it meant, but my guess is that it was an invitation to come back and play, because I still needed to meet his mama . . .