Dispatch from the Magic Kingdom

It felt like a punch in the gut.

 “When we went to Disney World, watching the fireworks display over the castle, we understood why they call it the Magic Kingdom.”

I pretended to struggle with the words in order to get myself under control with a few deep breaths. I was reading a letter from her sponsor family to Ninoska,* a friend of my daughter’s who’d asked me to translate the letter for her into Spanish.

 “This fall we’ve been entirely caught up in our house remodel, which is the talk of the neighborhood because it looks so different with a changed roof line, all new windows, stucco and new entryway.”

At this point I think I burst a blood vessel from the Herculean effort of not screaming or crying my eyes out.

Ninoska lives in a tin 10’ x 6’ house with her mom, dad, brother, sister and anemic puppy. Their house has a dirt floor, one saggy bed and a piece of string to tie the door shut from the outside.roadside shack home - Jim Brown

“With all that work, luckily we also had time for a little fun! We went to Las Vegas for a week, to Kauai for a week, Cindy went to Disneyland with her church camp and Jeremy went to Wisconsin with his dad for a fishing trip.”

I stumbled my way through the rest of the letter, making jokes about the language so Ninoska and the rest of the 4th grade class that had all gathered around would laugh and not notice how upset I was.

Once I was away from the school I sobbed and sobbed.

The family in California sponsors Ninoska through some organization or other (I don’t know which nor in what way she is sponsored) and they occasionally send letters to her which sometimes are translated by that organization, and sometimes not.

As I read Ninoska her letter, each of this family’s highlights feels to me like being poked in the eye:

This year in California when 5th grader Jeremy broke his collar bone, it was a minor setback in his skeet shooting career, but he still took 3rd in the finals.

This year in Nicaragua when Ninoska’s 5th grade sister Carolina fell off a horse cart and broke her arm, she wasn’t able to get it set right. They had to re-break it and do corrective surgery. Twice. She missed weeks of school and cost her family more money than they had in transport and meals.  She was only able to get surgery at all because health care is free in Nicaragua.

horsecart family - Jim Brown croppedThis year in California, Cindy transferred into public school for high school to be closer to home.

This year in Nicaragua, Ninoska’s brother Memo has to go to high school on Saturdays because his family can’t afford the 75 cent a day transport cost to send him to school every day.

The injustice of this stark contrast between Ninoska’s real family and her sponsor “family” breaks my heart. I cried for Ninoska, for Carolina and Memo, not because they deserve my pity, but because they have a right to their dignity and at the very least I owe them my outrage on their behalf.

And I cried for Ninoska’s sponsor family because but they are so ignorant of everything about Ninoska, her life, and her family that they have no idea how much their words sting. I cried for them because they don’t even know enough to comprehend the vastness of what they don’t understand. – Becca

20150727_071308 other
Me with the 4th graders, laughing so I don’t cry my eyes out

*All names have been changed






  1. Yes, this breaks the heart. The contrasts are so huge and the miscomprehension so enormous. Every person in the United States should travel abroad to find out what life is really like in most places.


  2. Wow! I can’t even find the words to describe my emotions right now, but I have a lump in my throat and and tears are sliding down my face.
    I’ve spent most of my life trying to educate people to create compassion, understanding and love towards others. Some days it is easier than others.
    Thanks for your continued efforts, Becca, and for sharing on your blog.


  3. Sadly we Americans are so sheltered we choose blindness or flip the channel when we see another starving children ad come on. I witnessed poverty first hand when I visited Nicaragua a few years back. Poor, needy, in want… I am explaining the average American. These Nicaraguan people are some of the happiest content people I have ever met. We are seeking the latest toy, they have no idea what an “I”-gadget is! We took pictures and videos and shared it with them, the smiles and joy they had for the little things changed me forever. They have family and that is all they need. They share everything with their family and you never see disconnect like we have. Who is rich?Who is blessed? I choose theirs, not “the American way…


    • Thanks for this comment, Mike. I agree with your sentiment, I, too, think we have a lot to learn from other peoples about “the American way,” but I think it would be a mistake to idealize poor Nicaraguans as happy with their lot. Most of the Nicaraguans I know ARE capable of being gracious, kind hosts and having a laugh, no matter how tough their lives are, and most Nicaraguans share generously no matter how little they have. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of trouble and pain under that smile, and it doesn’t mean they are happy or their lives are easy. Like everyone else, they are just human, and their lives are much more complex than we can understand in a few interactions. You’ll have to come back to Nicaragua again! 🙂


  4. […] rather than being based on individuals. So, for example, rather than getting donors to sponsor a child to give them a school scholarship, we were working with cooperatives to provide stable jobs for […]


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