Beat The Streets - New York City Wrestling

Many teens spend their summers at the pool, vacationing with family, or catching up on sleep lost during the school year. Miguel Perez, a senior at Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, spent three weeks of his in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, as part of a team of students dedicated to experiencing Nicaraguan culture first-hand and undertaking critical work in the community. School teachers nominated Perez to participate in the program, called Global Glimpse, on the basis of his leadership, community involvement, and potential for collegiate and career success. Once nominated, he applied to the program and was one of ten students accepted from his school. The trip would be Perez’s first time on an airplane and first time out of the country.

“Getting off the plane in Managua, the capital, everything was completely different,” said Perez. “It looked and smelled different. You could see the poverty. Right away, I could sense a complete distinction between us and the Nicaraguans. They could tell, just by looking, that we were from America.”

The trip, the goal of which is based on the idea that exposure to different cultures is essential for encouraging young people to think and act as responsible global citizens, was divided into differently themed days. Each theme, which started with a seminar followed by the day’s activity, was designed to expose the group to different aspects of Nicaraguan culture; some days consisted of reaching out to the community through service.

On “Living off of a Dollar Day”, for instance, Miguel stayed with a local Nicaraguan family for 24 hours, participating in their daily activities and doing exactly as they did. The family, which consisted of a single mother named Theresa and her twelve children (seven of whom lived with her in the two-room house), had no electricity and no hot water.

“Theresa couldn’t read or write, in Spanish or in English,” said Perez. “She would make one meal a day for the family, of corn tortillas. The house was made of wood, draped with plastic bags as the roof. But she was so happy—they were so happy.”

During “Poverty Day”, the group visited a dumpsite, where the poverty of the region was even more strikingly apparent. “It was literally swarming with flies, and kids were picking through the trash to find things they could sell. It was so humbling. It made me want to take what I have and give it away.”

What is unique about Global Glimpse is its belief in the importance of experiencing another country first-hand without the mindset of critiquing or “helping” a culture. “We weren’t there to look at it from a U.S. perspective,” said Perez. “We were there to embrace Nicaraguan culture to the point where we could actually see how they live, and, rather than trying to judge them, just understand it.”

During their time in Matagalpa, the group undertook several service projects. The first consisted of rebuilding a library at “La Amistad,” an organization supporting trafficked women and their children. Perez and his team built new walls, benches, and railings, developed an entire book system from scratch, and painted a mural on the outside of the building. They also regularly tutored children and young adults, ranging in age from seven- to twenty-years-old, creating lesson plans for them as they helped them become more fluent in English. One day consisted of following high school students as they made their way through the school day. Perez noted the disorganization of the classrooms; students were more than often disrespectful to their teachers and failed to pay attention to the lessons. He attributed this to a disvalue of education in the community.

“They don’t always value education because it’s so time-consuming. They’d rather work to try to support their family. When you’re worried about getting enough to eat, it’s hard to concentrate on getting an education.”

Perez explained his take on the economic situation of Nicaragua compared to that of the United States. “There wasn’t a middle class there. You’re either rich, or you’re poor. The way the economy is, the only way to make a lot of money is by doing illegal things, so wealthy people are often seen as morally worse. The people feel that having less money is more ‘right.’”

Throughout the interview, Perez emphasized the juxtaposition between American materialism and Nicaraguan poverty. “They don’t really look at money as something that they need a lot of. The people there have so little, and they’re so happy. We have so much here and we want more. ‘More’ doesn’t bring us happiness.”

Perez considered the trip to be a humbling and life-changing awakening to the significance of what we place value on. Upon his return, he applied and was accepted to Global Glimpse’s Alumni Ambassadors Program, through which he will help select the next team of students to have the opportunity he had.

His message for the rest of us?

“We don’t need as many things to feel fulfillment as we think. We can live and do so much more with so much less. And this is what can really lead to happiness.”

A couple photos of Miguel, at work in Nicaragua, below. Check back soon for more.

Photos courtesy of Dorian Geiger.

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