to be young

Last Saturday morning, PDs and summer volunteers packed up and headed to Lake Xiloá for the day. We were prepared to be babysitters and lifeguards, waitresses and flotation devices. It wasn’t a trip for us; we’d planned an outing to the lake for the mothers and children in Manna’s Child Sponsorship program in La Chureca.

Over 70 moms and children boarded the two huge school buses, excited (and a little apprehensive) to arrive to the lake for a day of swimming, sun, and relaxation. As summer volunteers handed out bag lunches and sunscreen dollops, these young mothers prepped their children for swimming (by stripping them down to their underwear!). And the three hours that followed were like a pool party I’ve never seen. These small, brown kids ran along the banks and splashed around in the gentle waves, many completely submerged in water for the first time in their lives. Monica and Blanca crawled all over Sarah Lynn. Josué dolphin dived for hours, making his mom way too nervous when he’d do flips and handstands in the surf. Milton tossed the football around with Brian and Drew. These little Churequeros got to be children for the morning, carefree and able to play and frolic in a cool, safe place. And at the end of the day, their bodies were probably cleaner than they’d been in a long time!

More striking than the joy of these children, though, were the light hearts of the young mothers. Many are parents to multiple children and are still teenagers themselves. To see 18- and 19-year-old girls slaving through daily life in La Chureca to provide for their babies and to maintain their home is both heartbreaking and inspiring. But to witness these young women playing in the lake, tackling one another, tossing their children, playing tag… was remarkable. Many would set their squirming toddlers on the sand and ask gringos to watch them, only then to bounce out into the cold water and spin around in freedom. Their lined faces and hard eyes were lost in an innocent opportunity to be young and untroubled for just a few hours.

As a general rule, Nicaraguans cannot swim… so maybe it sounds crazy that we took almost a hundred friends to the water. But it was a day of immense joy (and sunburn) for all. And no one drowned!