This is a guest post by our friend, Johanna Volz, a senior on the women’s soccer team at Florida International University. Recently, Johanna was invited to travel to Nicaragua with other NCAA Division I soccer players to participate in the Soccer Without Borders program. Soccer Without Borders’ mission is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing under-served youth a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion and personal success. As you will read, Johanna’s experience was incredible, and we’re so glad she had this opportunity and that she’s willing to share it with you all here.
My trip to Nicaragua was by far one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life thus far. I have been pretty fortunate in the fact that I have been able to do a lot of traveling throughout my life, but this trip was entirely different.
For nine days I not only got to explore Granada, Nicaragua, but was completely immersed in their culture. Three of my teammates and I lived with an awesome host family for all nine days. We got to cook with them, play street soccer with the local kids, take bucket showers (a lot more refreshing than expected) and much more. The organization Soccer Without Borders could not have put on a better trip for us, and the 17 other staff members (other collegiate athletes and two professors) were absolutely awesome.
For the first two days we got to explore the city of Granada, have an opening ceremony type of party with the girls, and really get exposed to their culture and different ways. The next five days were composed of two hour soccer sessions in the morning and team building/fun activities in the afternoon. Although my Spanish is not great, I was still able to bond with the girls and quickly see how much they looked up to us. We were greeted with a giant smile and hug every day and constantly reminded by them how much they loved us. The last day of the camp we drove to the Managua in school buses with all of the kids to play the Nicaraguan national team. We ended up tying them 0-0, and it was an incredible experience. The girls cheered for us like we were the US women’s national team and thought we were just the coolest things that hit this Earth. For our last full day we went to an inactive volcano in Granada and swam, drank some beers with the staff and just hung out. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
Going into this trip I was expecting to take a lot away. I knew that these girls were all very poor, in need of strong role models, and would look up to us. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn about myself. Living their life for nine days I got to see what true happiness is. These Nicaraguans did not have much. Some houses were pieces of wood sloppily hammered together with sheets of metal covering them. Very few own a vehicle, computer, or smart phone, but that didn’t matter. Every single person was genuinely just extremely happy to be living. They didn’t need all of the material things, all they needed was each other, and I thought that was so awesome. Everyone looked out for each other — the older girls would ride their bikes with one or two younger girls on the handlebars or holding on to the back.
There were two moments that really stuck out for me during the trip. The first was how grateful the kids were. Many would show up to the soccer sessions in flip flops or ballet flats (hence the reason we brought 50 lbs. of donations), but they didn’t seem to care. One little girl was running around with cleats that were at least 3 sizes too big for her. I asked her if her cleats were a little big and she said “yes, but Cesar gave them to me and I am just thankful to have them” and kept playing. She was just one of 80 kids with the same mindset. The second moment was the last session with the girls. I met a little 7 year old girl named Georgia on our first day, and we immediately clicked. When we were saying our goodbyes, her grandmother came up to me and thanked me at least five times (and said a bunch of other nice things in Spanish that I couldn’t completely understand) with tears in her eyes. I never interacted with or knew the grandmother before that day, but she appreciated what I had done for her granddaughter a tremendous amount.
Our game against the Nicaraguan national team was incredible, and this video (made by one of the girls on our trip) summed up the entire experience very well. This trip made me realize how much we can impact others’ lives in a short amount of time; and sometimes it’s not even directly.
Travel indeed changes lives. Thanks again, Johanna, for sharing your life-changing experience with our readers. Enjoy your week or your weekend, and remember to be happy just to be living!