Service in Nicaragua creates permanent memories, change

Alison Hessling, along with other TCU students, chose to spend Spring Break on a service trip in Nicaragua instead of going to the beach or partying with friends.

“I will never, to the day I die, forget the memories I’ve made and the people that I met and spent time with there,” the senior speech pathology major said. “Even though they have so little, they’re so motivated.”

Hessling joined TCU International Student Services and TCU Catholic Community in Tepeyac, Nicaragua.

International Student Services and Catholic Community have served five years in Nicaragua, John Singleton, director of International Student Services, said. This year, they reconstructed an old spring so the community could get clean water.

The trip reinforced the important things in life for students, Singleton said. It also allowed students to experience cultural differences.

“I think [service] is important because it reminds us that we’re not the center of our universe,” he said.

The trip showed the blessings students had in the states, Hessling said. Many Nicaraguans needed clean water and a steady supply of food.

In addition, the Nicaraguans might not know what the world could offer, she said. They lacked opportunities to travel and explore.

The students took 17 Nicaraguans to the beach, she said. The drive lasted an hour and half, but most of the Nicaraguans on the trip had never been there.

“They don’t know their potential, what’s out there, what all they can do,” Hessling said. “I think, especially at TCU, we’re pushed to reach our highest potential and encouraged and supported. They don’t have that there.”

The Nicaraguan lifestyle created a valuable experience for the students, the Rev. Charles Calabrese, the Catholic minister at the university, said.

“I think it’s important to live in solidarity with people and to become aware, not only of problems they might be having and ways we can help them, but also to be enriched by them because they definitely have enriched us,” Calabrese said.

Two photo albums on Facebook showed how the trip impacted students, Calabrese said. They were titled “A piece of my heart will always belong to Tepeyac, Nicaragua” and “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Trip members will support Tepeyac throughout the year, Hessling said. Nicaraguan students created Facebook pages to talk with students for encouragement in different situations.

The trip also helped students gain a better global perspective and grow as individuals, Hessling said. She said she enjoyed it more than a week at the beach.

Students gained a sense of accomplishment during the trip because it was project-based, Singleton said. The practical application of service helped students live out the things they studied in classrooms.

International Student Services will continue offering spring break trips in the future, he said. They could add an academic-based service trip in late May or early June, and would work in Haiti or Nicaragua.


Spring Break in Guatemala 


If time permitted, Hailey Sisson would spend a year building houses in Guatemala.

“I would, without a doubt, go back and do it,” the sophomore nursing major said. “I think there’s a need like that in so many places that we don’t know about, which is crazy to me.”

Sisson, like Hessling, spent spring break serving others. She built a house in Guatemala with the TCU Wesley Foundation.

A family applied for the home through Casas por Cristo, or Houses for Christ, she said.

The Guatemalan lifestyle impressed Sisson. They used everything they owned and wasted nothing, she said.

“I knew it would be different than what we have here,” she said. “I guess I just wasn’t ready to see the actual conditions they were in and just how grateful they were for this house we were building them.”

Sisson said she wanted to share every moment of her trip with others. The work impacted her and everyone at the work site because of God, she said.

“I know through that house they see God’s work and God’s people, but that was in one little neighborhood,” she said. “And it’s such a big place that I wish I could just make all of them see that.”