The sight of a high school volleyball team in Nicaragua practicing without a net stayed with Jackie Moore, a WCU adjunct faculty member in the School of Teaching and Learning, and her daughter, Kayla Moore, who were there last year with a group from Webster Baptist Church. The team had one volleyball and no uniforms or other athletic equipment. “It hit me,” said Kayla Moore, who played volleyball at Smoky Mountain High School and will join the Milligan College team this year. “It was so different. We live in a place where there are carts full of balls and uniforms galore.”
So when the Moores returned to Jackson County, they met with then-WCU volleyball coach Manuel Concepcion to tell him about the experience and see if there was anything that could be donated to the team in Nicaragua. Concepcion and soccer coach Chad Miller agreed to help. “We had equipment within the program that we were no longer able to use, and we thought instead of throwing it away that we could give it to others who could benefit,” said Miller.
The Moores pulled together about eight balls, an assortment of equipment and two sets of jerseys and practice uniforms. Aware of the unreliability of the mail system in Nicaragua, they were afraid to ship the items and held onto them until Webster Baptist Church’s summer 2011 mission trip to Nicaragua. To their delight, they connected with one of the volleyball players not long after their arrival because she had been asked to serve as the interpreter. They learned that on the same day they arrived, the girl had made arrangements to borrow a computer to try to ask for sponsors so their volleyball team could acquire equipment.
“When she saw what we had brought, she responded with a part-laugh, part-cry,” said Jackie Moore. “She began texting the players and the coach.”
The volleyball equipment was not the mission team’s only tie to WCU. The team worked with 2006 alumna Stephanie Schutz Estrada, who serves as a full-time missionary with Globe International in charge of short-term mission teams in Nicaragua. The trip was coordinated by WCU alumni Carrie Hachadurian, administrative support associate in WCU’s Writing and Learning Commons, and Frank Hachadurian, a technology support technician in WCU’s Office of the Registrar. Both had traveled to Nicaragua in 2010. Among the 12 participating mission team members were Moore and WCU students Alicia Fowler, a freshman from Cullowhee; John Luke Carter, a junior professional writing major from Webster; Kyrie Carlson, a senior nutrition and dietetics major from Vero Beach, Fla.; and Corey Benfield, a senior health and physical education major from Catawba. They came back with a new perspective.
While in Nicaragua, they led villagers from Citalapa in Vacation Bible School and such activities as singing songs in Spanish and English, skits, clowning and parachute games. The prizes for their soccer tournament were WCU jerseys. They got to know people in the village and saw their lean-to houses with dirt floors and no electricity. They helped repair a school in a place where the number of people who complete primary school stands at just more than 25 percent.
In a question-and-answer session with women of the village, Jackie Moore was asked if she had one of the things that a person cooks on indoors. She confirmed that she did, described her smoke detector and demonstrated the noise it makes when she burns her food. “They laughed so hard, and they couldn’t believe men would grill. There, men don’t cook,” said Moore.
Benfield said he was moved to see the soccer players in the village racing to pick up the ball after a play to keep it from getting dirty. He was surprised by the strength of the community and how they all applauded and congratulated the winners of the contests. He also was struck by how people came and followed the members of the mission team. “They don’t want you to leave,” said Benfield.
Fowler shared how impressed she was that so many came to a rainy hot dog cookout in which they gave away hundreds of hot dogs, chips, cookies and other items. “It was pouring rain – not cats and dogs, but horses and cows,” said Fowler. “Even under the shelter we were under at the school, we were getting soaked.” The food line was long, yet even after receiving food, the adults waited until every child had a hot dog before eating.
On the last day, the group held a bicycle race and gave away two new bicycles to the winners.
“Bicycles are important in the village. They mean a person can get a job outside their community. A bicycle represents a better future,” said Carrie Hachadurian.
Benfield concurred. “To us, it’s just a bike,” he said. “But, to them, it’s everything.”