In July 2012, Rich’s Executive Team member Maureen Hurley traveled to Nicaragua to learn more about land reform in Central America. The trip, sponsored by Agros International,a non-profit group committed to breaking the cycle of poverty for rural families by enabling landless communities to achieve land ownership and economic stability, gave Hurley, her husband John and their youngest daughter, Millie, the opportunity to experience life in this troubled country firsthand.
John, who had been part of earlier mission trips to Central America and the Philippines, and Maureen, brought Millie, their youngest of three, hopes of inspiring and grounding the 16-year-old during a week-long trip to the rural village of San Marcos deBelén.
“I’ve been inspired by the stories told by many Rich’s associates who have participated in these types of mission trips,” said Hurley. “Our trip to Nicaragua was an amazing journey for our family and an unforgettable opportunity for our teenage daughter to experience what life is like, unfortunately, for millions of people in Central America.”
One look around the small community revealed much about the life of its inhabitants. The homes are simple – open-air structures with tin roofs. The community has access to a well, but there is no plumbing. Outdoor latrines dot the landscape. There are no toys in sight. Parents and teens work tirelessly in the fields and at their learned crafts. Life for these families is far from easy.
But, first impressions aren’t everything. “What wasn’t evident on the surface was the villager’s depth of spirit, immense hope for the future, strong family values, determination to succeed and overwhelming gratitude,” recalled Hurley.
The 206-acre, 24-family village was formed in 2006 when a group of families approached Agros International with hopes of organizing their own community. The families hoped to earn enough money from land Agros would buy to send their children to school while paying back Agros for the land through their trades.
Since 1982 Agros International has helped families in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Chiapas, Mexico build self-sustaining and thriving communities. The organization works to provide landless, rural, poor families access to agricultural land, using long-term credit and training, allowing families to develop and eventually own an economically sustainable village.
Hurley’s introduction to Agros was a chance encounter. While visiting friends in Seattle more than a year ago, she and her husband were introduced to an individual deeply involved with Agros International. It didn’t take long for the Hurleys to realize that they were intrigued by the organization’s vision to restore hope and opportunity to less fortunate individuals around the world.
“With the aid of donors and partners, Agros International buys plots of land to create a village, selects driven families to live in that village, and then equips and encourages them,” explained Hurley. “During the course of several years, the farmers grow crops to feed their families and to sell in markets. The villagers are determined to change their future and that of their children.”
The group stayed in hostels just outside the village and traveled into San Marcos deBelén daily to build relationships with the villagers, help them plant crops, distill honey and make hammocks, all trades specific to the village.
“The mission trip through Agros was humbling. It was an extraordinary opportunity to experience first-hand the trials and triumphs of these pioneering families,” said Hurley.
“When community partners and contributors visit the village and serve the community by assisting with daily tasks, they earn the villager’s trust, inspiring confidence and restoring dignity. It is this ‘power of presence’ that we hope to achieve when sending donor families into the villages,” remarked David Carlson, Donor Relations National Director, Agros International.
Hurley and her family were touched by the simplicity of the villager’s lives and the way they carried themselves with pride and gratitude.
“The mission trip to Nicaragua was a very enlightening experience for the three of us”, said Hurley. “These people live a much simpler life with very few possessions, yet they have this unbelievable faith and appreciation for what they’ve been given. It made our family re-evaluate the notion that somehow possessions equal happiness.”
Carlson sees this phenomenon regularly. When those who are not physically poor, engage with these communities, they are surprised to discover the remarkable contentment of those who have so little.
“Often the villager’s contentment is veiled initially, but once trust is established the true joys of simpler lives pour out, causing many who visit to re-evaluate what’s important in their own lives,” shared Carlson.
“Our family is grateful for the opportunity we had to travel to Nicaragua through Agros International. However, you don’t have to travel to Nicaragua to be involved in projects like this,” said Hurley. “Similar opportunities to provide assistance to families in need can be found in our backyard. I am so proud of the many ways our Rich’s family of associates makes a difference in the lives of other families by ‘Bettering Our Communities’.”