This year my travels took me to Central America surfing the waves of the Pacific Coast from Panama to Nicaragua. The bulk of my trip was spent in a small fishing village in southern Nicaragua called Playa Gigante. Gigante is a small town with around 450 locals.
Arriving in the rainy season in Late October, I was amazed at how remote and cut off the small town of Playa Gigante was. When the rains are falling the rivers are often times chest deep or higher. This inhibits the children of the small community to even make the walk to school. Most children simply didn’t attend school during the rainy season out of fear of being swept away from the rushing currents.
I quickly met an American woman, and Nicaraguan business owner who had just started a non profit in the village centered on community development, education and promoting the arts in Gigante. She told me about her plans to build a bridge so that the community would have the means to cross the river. With Nicaragua being the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere the government was a long way off of building it themselves. It seems like such a basic thing to have in your town, but in an area where the average work wage is $5 a day and half the town is unemployed you can see why none of the locals took it upon them selves to span the 33 feet from river bank to river bank.
Though I had never built a bridge before, I quickly volunteered my time for this worth while cause. I was surprised to find out the project was entirely funded by a young girl’s donation from New York. Ella Harris raised the funds with her Bat Mitzvah money.
With the funds in place we pondered over several ideas on how to construct the bridge. With a limited amount of cable rigging knowledge, I became the project manager and engineer. It was a tremendously exciting project. The other volunteers were fellow travelers, business owners and local fisherman and there children. Acquiring the necessary supplies was one of the most challenging parts of the project.
After six trips to Rivas (our neighboring “city” forty five minutes away), one trip to Managua (the capital three hours away), thirty or so volunteers, twelve hundred dollars (and change), and two weeks of planning and laboring in the hot sun stood the incredible, over engineered and beautifully varnished hard wood suspension bridge. We spent each day troubleshooting, sketching, brainstorming, laughing and lots and lots of digging and shoveling cement. It was a movement, of sorts, towards unifying the two pueblos and moving forward, not only in physical terms of getting to school, but in the movement of turning an idea into a reality. All you need is a little hope, some determination, and some selfless volunteers.
Upon completion, the kids couldn’t wait to walk over the bridge, giggling the whole way. Even we were excited to skim across those hard wood planks, gripping the cable wire while we bounced over the river below.
A week later, a local woman was showing her friends from out of town the bridge, as sort of a tourist attraction. We saw other older Gigante locals walk right over it, like it has been there for years, and every time we see a little student in their crisp clean uniform and freshly shined shoes scamper across, we can’t help but smile and feel a sense of pride.The project was the brain child of the Sweet Water Fund founder Kassidy Mefford. Kassidy started this non profit with the aim of helping educate the locals in a positive direction where they can benefit from the tourism. If you would like to find out more about the Sweet Water Fund or learn how you can volunteer or make a charitable donation check out there web site. http://sweetwaterworld.org/
“The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe”.
– John Walter Wayland