We were attending a board meeting for the Lending Journey in late 2013. I was a little early, as was Vince, the founder of the organization. Vince is my first cousin. As kids we were inseparable. We are about the same age and lived next door to each other. If you found one of us there was a very good chance that the other was not far behind. We grew apart as we got older. My family moved away and our lives had gone in different directions. The Lending Journey had brought us back to together and I was very much enjoying getting to know my childhood friend again.
The purpose of this meeting was to discuss a new fund raising plan that Vince had come up with. The plan was for Vince (notice I say Vince) to ride across Nicaragua, from the border of Costa Rica to the border of Honduras. The purpose of the ride was to raise money for the Lending Journey, a microfinance organization that provides life changing loans to women in Nicaragua. The ride was uphill. The direction and the incline were meant to demonstrate the struggle of the women of Nicaragua.
Vince suggested that it would be fun if I joined in the ride (apparently my definition of fun is a tad different from my cousins). I asked if he was insane and I told him that there was no way that I was riding 500km uphill in the blazing heat. Vince kept pushing but I think we pretty much left it at that.
That night I started thinking about things a little more seriously. I had gotten involved in The Lending Journey because I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to leave something meaningful behind. The fact was that I was very comfortable donating money and giving a few hours here and there but my comfort zone really ended there. I realized that night that if I was really serious about making a difference then I needed to do more than that. I needed to go way outside my comfort zone and really try to make a difference. It was probably one of the scariest decisions that I had ever made. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the most athletic person in the world. I knew that once I had committed that there was no going back so I called Vince and told him I was in.
On November 8th, 2014 we left for Nicaragua for what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. Between flight delays, organizing rental vehicles and taking a wrong turn in the road, it took us 23 hours to get there. We were hopeful that the challenges that we faced that first day were not an indication of how the trip would turn out.
Over the course of the next 8 days we rode 500km uphill along the Pan American Highway. We rode alongside transport trucks and buses but most importantly we road alongside some of our loan recipients. These loan recipients are amazing women who are all huge success stores. They have come from some of the most challenging circumstances you can imagine but they have not let life beat them. They have taken control of their lives and, with a little hand up from The Lending Journey, they have created successful businesses and changed their lives as well as the lives of their families. Don’t get me wrong, these women still live in what we would consider to be poverty. Their houses are very small, they have dirt floors and the walls are made of pieces of metal and wood put together to create a shelter. They still don’t have a lot but they have created steady incomes and they are happy. It truly is amazing to see the pride and joy in their faces as they talk about their businesses and about how their lives have been changed.
The ride afforded us many wonderful experiences and opportunities. We visited many small towns, spoke at a couple of churches and visited an old age home for abandoned seniors. We prayed with the seniors and gave them small gifts and received wonderful gifts in return in the form of smiles and words of thanks for coming to see them. They knew that they had not been forgotten, at least not on that day.
We ended the ride at the boarder of Nicaragua and Honduras. The last day was the most challenging. The last hill was a killer. It was long and steep, the steepest of any that we had encountered. Vince and Wayne struggled but they were well prepared for the challenge. Yerling (one of our female riders from Nicaragua) and I had a much more difficult time with those last hills. We rode and we walked and we probably thought about giving up but we didn’t. I later found out that all of my struggles that day had inspired Yerling not give up. What she didn’t know was that it was all of her struggles and the stories of all of our loan recipients that had inspired me and kept me from giving up that day. Vince said it best in one of his blogs “Don’t ever think that your struggle is in vain because one persons struggle is another person’s inspiration”