Volunteering abroad was an 'eye-opener'
A Sligo student who spent last summer volunteering in Nicaragua says his eyes were opened when faced with the hardship of some of the locals.
Branán Campbell, a 20-year-old Science student in UCD, travelled to the Central American country with around 20 other students.
"It was mindblowing. I didn't know what to expect going there but what I saw really did take me by surprise. Some things you are prepared for, and others you're not," the former Grammar student told The Sligo Champion.
He added: "My eyes were really opened. Like one of the things I was prepared for was the divide between the rich and the poor. People there seem to be either really rich and then some are really poor, there is no in-between."
Among the things that struck Branán during his time there was the responsibility on the shoulders of teenagers.
"Myself and one of the other volunteers Roisin, went into one of the schools and they asked if we were married and had kids.
"Over there they get married very young and start families very young, it's the norm. So it was strange for them to see people in their early 20s who weren't even married.
"We were staying in a village that had about 200 people living in it, the sort of leader was only 21 and he looked after everyone.
"So when he was away at work, a 15-year-old was left in charge. So if anyone or anything came near the village to attack it then he had to try to stop it. He tackled a rattlesnake one day. Like when I was 15 I was worried about Junior Cert and things like that!" he continued.
Branán spent the bulk of his time in Nicaragua working on a construction site, although he did spend some time in schools.
Acclimatising to the heat and the high altitude took some time, but once he was accustomed to being 800 metres above sea level and working at around 30 degrees, he got settled.
Being there during the wet season meant that there was very few visibly starving around the country, but dry season causes huge poverty in countries like Nicaragua.
Nicaragua relies heavily on coffee exports.
Branán says he would highly recommend volunteering abroad for summer.
"I'd definitely think about doing it again. I might go as a student leader next time, I would definitely recommend it to people. I felt it was a really good way to spend my summer, and I made some really good friends. It's great to spend time with people you might not usually hang around with.
He continued: "As well as that, being involved with the construction side of it I could physically see what I had contributed to when I was leaving."