2009 PFIG Recipient Cole Bingham

Career Administrator

Cole Bingham
College of Arts & Sciences
Echols: Creative Writing 
2010 Graduation Year 

Internship: ORPHANetwork in Virginia Beach & Nicaragua

Notes on the first week 

I'm writing this smack-dab in the middle of the Gulf, a few miles high, in row 18, seat B, of a Continental Airlines flight to Managua , Nicaragua . I am celebrating my 7th day as an intern with ORPHANetwork, my 6th flight to Nicaragua , my 5th hour of sleep in the past twenty-4, my 3rd donut since waking up before dawn, my 2nd flight today, and my 1st journal entry!

The past week has been a whirlwind of preparations for the beginning of summer trips to Nicaragua. In a few days, I'll welcome 130 eager high school students at the airport, load them onto some tricked-out school busses, and drive them through the city. We'll start at the airport, take a right and some roundabouts, until we hit The Old Highway to Léon. We'll pass the richest country club in Central America, and drive through the poorest slums in Managua : all on our way to Casa Bernabe, an orphanage in Veracruz , a small suburb of Managua . In week, I'll drop them off, and do it all over again.

My experiences so far have been rich—with a host of readings and meetings on poverty and the developing world. On the systems of emotion inherent in orphaned children's lives. On refugee camps and hyper-poverty and disease and malnutrition, and on the strategies developed to combat injustice. I've dreamed and imagined and brainstormed new ideas with the staff.

At ORPHANetwork, we support orphaned or impoverished children. We develop long-term goals for their care, and oversee an in-country operation that stretches from the Carribean coast, down to the Coco River, up through the Pacific, and into the northern mountain coffee plantations.

I've continued to pursue my writing, and have begun to develop a sense of what it's like working for a non-profit, stateside. I'm excited to touch down in Nicaragua , and begin to roll on the details—checking out new locations, finding enough mattresses for the incoming teams, buying enough medicine to cure the worst of the parasites!Tomorrow, I'll be eating with one my best friends down in Nicaragua, a seven-year-old boy named Melvin, and his family, at their casita in Veracruz . It's a huge joy and blessing to be almost in-country, poised to visit old friends, meet new children, and prepare to lead hundreds of Americans as they come weekly. Thanks to everyone interested in my travels and joys! I hope and trust you are having a wonderful summer!

Midway

I flew home from Nicaragua last night, passing my counterpart intern in the air. I daydreamed away the three-hour ExpressJet flight from Houston to Norfolk thinking back over my month as the clouds cannonaded under me like some incoherent 1970’s shag carpet.

I remember three weeks ago watching as the first team of the summer arrived. Our epic disaster, taking two hundred children on a ten-hour search for a volcano that may or may not actually exist. The birthday party we threw for +100 orphans, lit by headlamps strung to the rafters by dental floss to cover the power outage. Moon bounce employment showing up dressed as clowns and bearing nothing even close to a moon bounce.

I remember a ten seat aircraft to Bluefields; a penga ride two hours upriver to Tasmaponi, where fishermen weekly find bricks of cocaine washed up onshore. Pearl Lagoon’s free hospital for a 2 year-old girl with boils.I remember stories like Dayana’s: burned by her parents daily for her failure to earn enough money on the street, her boiled and broken fingers finally beginning to regain movement after ten surgeries and three years in the orphanage. I sat with her outside la casa niñas, watching her sound out phonemes to a Spanish Magic Tree House book, grades behind her peers.

Passing entire days meeting everyone related to a new friend. Then spending all night doing work. Repeat. Hours playing jacks until I could keep up. Updating every child’s biography and sponsorship profile. Weighing each kid. Leading hundreds of Americans in their first experiences with suffering children. Finding new sponsors. Training new leaders. Serving little kids their gayo pinto every day.

I’ve had enormous experiences, from the practicality of explaining financial transparency to a group of community leaders in Vera Cruz, to the utter nonsense of building a three story human tower in head high waves. I’ve written and revised stories and learned a good deal about what it means to seek justice; to hear the oppressed; to care for the suffering.

Tomorrow I will be in an office in Virginia Beach, working another four weeks with ORPHANetwork. I’ll be writing up new stories, scripting new video content, redesigning, reinventing, reimagining. I’ll be readjusting to America and all those little counter-Nicaragua culture bubbles. The shopping malls and the clean water. The sewer systems, the lame fruit, and the Starbucks. Wifi, TV, iTunes, my car. I’ll journal constantly and skype with a few teenage Nicaraguans. I’ll attempt to retain even one-fourth of what I gained down in Central America.

My month in Nicaragua was beautiful in ways I’m only starting to understand, and there’s more on the horizon! How joyful it is to constantly learn and experience life anew!

Muchas gracias para su interés en Nicaragua y mi trabajo! Espero que tienes una semana maravillosa!

Final Reflections

I remember a night, about six days before I left Nicaragua this summer, that I was wandering around the orphanage grounds after everyone else had gone to bed. The orphanage is enormous, and the grounds sprawl from the caretakers’ homes, through a windy forest path to the older boys house, around to the older girls house, through a playground, an organic farm, an office, and on down the road to the little children’s house (in which some caretakers also live). It was past midnight, and I sat and watched the stars outside the children’s house. The youngest orphan, Ana, came out around 12:30, crying, clutching her stuffed animal, looking scared and upset. She climbed into my arms and told me about her nightmare – a monster in the shadows. Despite my best efforts, she refused to go back into her casa, and eventually I gave up and let her watch the stars with me. By 1 in the morning, she was fast asleep in arms, and I had the incredible privilege of carrying her back into the little girl’s dorm, putting her back in her bunk bed, and kissing her forehead goodnight. Buenas noches chiquita.

If my summer had only been that moment, it would have been a beautiful summer. Being able to shelter a little abandoned girl from monsters and shadows. Loving children who don’t get loved.

But it was so much more, too, and for that, it was a summer beyond words. When I was in Virginia Beach, I wrote the biography of a twelve-year-old girl at the orphanage, whose fingers had been broken, and skin burned by her parents when she didn’t earn enough money on the street. Then I read to her at night in Nicaragua. When I was in Virginia Beach, I worked to network sponsors for little boys who really only enjoy playing soccer and goofing around. Then I goofed around with them.

I led Americans through their first encounters with poverty. I read accounts in the Bible like Mark 5, where Jairus pleads with Jesus for the life of his little girl. Then I walked to the orphanage gates and met a man begging us to take his little girl from him, because he couldn’t feed her, clothe her, or educate her himself. Life came alive.

Working on behalf of entire townships of people who can’t fully accomplish the work themselves; working on behalf of children who should never need to worry about when their next meal will come; working on behalf of Americans who learned for the first time that the world beyond their borders was filled with suffering—these were things infinitely bigger and more meaningful than my day to day experiences made them out to be, but looking back on my summer, it was meaningful; profound even. It was absolutely the sort of work I’d love to be doing upon graduation, and absolutely the sort of work I’d like my life to be filled with.

People are called to different arenas of life. This summer has taught me, through some truly majestic experiences, the sort of arenas I’d like to work in. I could have asked for nothing better; nothing more joyful; nothing more exciting and fulfilling and valuable.