In Central Vermont, how closely connected can we possibly be to Matagalpa, a city in the mountains of Nicaragua? As it turns out, closer than you may think.
Planting Hope was founded by Beth Merrill of Montpelier in 2001, after she visited Matagalpa on an internship. The residents of the La Chispa neighborhood, where Merrill worked, when asked what they need most, asked for a library. Merrill went back to Vermont, raised the money, and got the library built.
Since then, Planting Hope has done many wonderful things for not just the La Chispa neighborhood, but cities and towns throughout Nicaragua. The goals of the organization, according to its website, are “enhancing educational opportunities, supporting grassroots initiatives and fostering cultural exchange in Nicaragua and the United States.”
U-32 senior Eliza Merrylees is part of the effort to make these goals an everyday reality. For two years now, she has been an intern with Planting Hope. What does an internship with an organization like this entail? According to Merrylees, a lot! Most recently, she coordinated the Solidarity Craft Fair, which raised money for the organization. She was the one responsible for booking the vendors, as well as managing the donations.
In addition, she writes the Planting Hope newsletter, and sends out regular updates to those involved with the organization. She also describes working with Nicaraguan visitors to our area, saying, “I helped welcome them, hosted two people, and got them to come to our school to present. I translated statements they gave about who they were and their goals.”
While all of this work may not earn Merrylees a weekly paycheck, it pays off in a much more fulfilling way. Every year, Planting Hope takes local high schoolers on a 10-day trip to Nicaragua. In return for Merrylees’ work, Planting Hope will fund her trip there this April entirely.
Merrylees has visited once before. She recalls the experiences she had fondly. “My sisters taught me Spanish slang. They walked me around town. They gave me the best portions of the food. They bought me special gifts. My brother and I played soccer and frisbee in the street. We ate fresh coconuts. I played games with the kids in the community… We played ball games, tag, we sang, we danced, we drew, we read books, we made bracelets.”
Not only were the experiences unforgettable, “Most of the people I met in Nicaragua were amazing! They live in a poor country with a much lower standard of living, but they truly cherish and appreciate everything they have. They’re not mixed up in all that consumerism. It’s so much more about the people and experiences. And that’s something that people here don’t really understand. The Nicas shared everything they had with me. They were so patient and caring… And they had my back no matter what… when this drunk guy was grabbing my shirt while I was walking home at night, they beat him up, and then five guys walked me home.”
Athough much can be said about the travel opportunities it provides high schoolers like Merrylees (and adults as well!), the greatest thing about Planting Hope is its importance to not one, but two communities, thousands of miles apart. Here in Central Vermont, “It brings people from all different backgrounds together to provide time, effort, and financial support for a common cause… In Nicaragua, Planting Hope… has brought the community together, weaving a net of support for children and adults. They now have access to so much more that they didn’t have before.”
Summing up the organization’s mission, as she sees it, Merrylees says, “Planting Hope wants every child to get a good education and support…We want to bring the community together and educate them while also giving them a little taste for our culture. We’re breaking down the barriers and misconceptions.”
For more information on how to get involved, visit plantinghope.org.