Nicaragua changes my world – literally…

I’ve always found inspiration in the developing world where the pace is slow and the people have so little. Usually it’s the strength and resilience  in the women that I admire the most. However on a recent trip to Central America I have been changed forever by a group of children – many of them teenagers!!  In fact the most respectful, thoughtful , smart, gentle and happy teens I’ve ever come across.  Not a lick of attitude amongst them!  “Who are their parents?” you ask. No parents, just an amazing organization and a lot of love and structure.

As many of you know each summer 2 girlfriends and I embark on an adventure with our kids.  The goal is to connect our kids with kids in need in the developing world.  We choose a country, identify and connect with a specific orphanage and engage our kids in a meaningful project to support the kids in need. We then travel to the orphanage to facilitate true connections and cultural exchange between the kids.

Last year we travelled to an orphanage in The Sacred Valley of Peru (click here to read more about our trip to Peru) and this year we have just return from Nicaragua where we’ve had another life changing and meaningful experience.

We chose an orphanage for 275 abandoned/abused children near Rivas, Nicaragua called NHP (Nuestros Hermanos Pequenos/ Our Little Brothers and Sisters).

They were short of dairy cows to provide milk for all the children so our kids decided to try and get their community behind them to help them collect ‘quarters for cows’.  With the help of the community including kids from the local middle school we raised almost $4000.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived at NPH in Nicaragua. They had graciously offered us accommodation at the orphanage. There were a total of 17 houses each accommodating 25 kids and 3 supervisors – our house was the 18th.  With 7 single beds in a row, we rigged up our mosquito nets, killed a few scorpions and joined our kids in the excitement of what looked like a huge sleepover.

For 6 days our kids were completely immersed in their world – they ate together, attended school and participated in activities. I love how language is no barrier for children. We conducted some English classes, spent time in the special needs classroom, played volleyball, created art together, did pedicures with the girls, danced, played and feel in love.

The children at NPH Nicaragua were an incredible inspiration to us all. They were the most respectful, kind, caring, loving, thoughtful and happy little souls despite their sad and often tragic family circumstances.

We would sit on our front porch and watch the small boys (aged 6-11) in the house next door hard at work cleaning their houses, mopping the floors, washing the dishes and taking the trash out according to the chores they were assigned to for that week. We witnessed no complaining or hard feelings that they were expected to do chores. They would take pride in showing us through their house where shoes were neatly stacked and clothing folded perfectly. Unlike my house, there were no towels left on the floor or toys shoved under beds.

After completing art projects they all happily cleaned up ensuring every scrap of paper was picked up. They took initiative to sweep the floor and wipe down tables. We didn’t see kids finish their art project and move onto the next thing leaving the mess behind for someone else to clean up.

At meal times they would wait patiently for their food always waiting for everyone to be served before saying a prayer of thanks and eating. Never did we hear children complain about what was being served for dinner and never was there food left uneaten on their plates. There were no snacks in between meals and often lunch was served late in the day, but we never heard anyone whining that they were ‘starrrrving’. They would automatically clear their dishes after their meal – no reminders, bribes, rewards, praise or pocket money involved.

There was not one instance that I can recall that we didn’t get a huge smile, hug or a polite ‘Hola’ when we walked by each and everyone of these children. The teenage boys blew us away with their polite, respectful manner, their love and care for the younger kids and their keen interest to engage us in conversation. No ‘too cool for school’ attitudes, no air of entitlement and no eye rolling from these teenagers.

It made me think so much about the way I parent my own children and how the very things that we feel so lucky to have in our society are often the very things that are creating the spoilt and entitled attitudes that we see in our children. The way we make their lives so easy, everything we do for them and the multitudes of ‘stuff’ we buy them.

So I came away from Nicaragua with 3 principles stuck on my fridge, my bathroom mirror and in my office. They seem so simple and blatantly obvious but I have to admit I’m dropping the ball in all 3 areas and am determined to start cracking the whip for the well being of all involved.

1.If I continue to do things for my kids instead of insisting they do it themselves, I will create lazy children.

Often I find it’s easier to simply pick the towel off the floor and hang it up rather than gathering the kids, figuring out who used the towel and asking them to pick it up. Same with toys left around the house, plates not cleared away, toilets unflushed, lunch boxes not emptied, dishwasher unloading (I’ll stop there). Logic would tell me that I’m not only creating a mountain of work for myself but ensuring that it will happen again and again and again. The result: crazy mama, lazy kids.

2. If I continue to give them so many options I will create fussy kids and picky eaters who complain

Man, am I the biggest victim of this one. I have always had picky eaters. Actually let me rephrase. I have created the most picky eaters because I have always offered them so many options. It’s like a 5-star restaurant in my house “You don’t like lasanga, well how about….. “  I have a close friend who also has 4 kids. It’s one meal for everyone, you get dessert if you eat your dinner and if you don’t, you go to bed hungry. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what great eaters her kids are.

3. If I continue to buy them unnecessary ‘stuff’, I will create entitled and ungrateful kids

I don’t consider myself to be a parent who lavishes their kids with the latest and the greatest toys. They only receive toys on birthdays and Christmas and often have to save up for something they really want. However, in saying that they still have sooooooo much crap that is unnecessary which is really obvious after spending time in a place like Nicaragua where life is simple and ‘stuff’ is absent.

Unlike you’d expect when visiting an orphanage, I did not feel sorry for the children at NPH. I felt sorry for their parents who are missing out on these incredible spirits. I didn’t feel like ‘saving the world’ for them by finding a way to get them out of Nicaragua and taking them to a better life in America or Australia. NPH are providing them with a loving family/community, a solid education (including college), Christian values, structure and responsibility. It is so clear that these children, who have been abandoned from their own families, are growing up to be exactly what I dream of for my own children – to be positive, loving, respectful, grateful and compassionate citizens who will leave the world a better place.

I take my hat off to you NPH – you have taught me so much and have inspired me to become a better parent.


When you put the intention out there, it’s crazy what life brings….

On the day I left Nicaragua we had an offer on our house in Chicago and within a week it was sold. After a long night of discussion with my husband about the next chapter in our lives, we have decided to put all of our ‘stuff’ into storage and spend the rest of the year in Nicaragua. We have rented a 3 bedroom house for peanuts, enrolled the kids (and myself) into language school and rented an office for my husband who will run his business from there and commute each month back to the US.

The gypsy spirit in me is shining brightly and I am feeling grateful that my husband is open to this kind of adventure. We are excited to live a very simple but beautiful life in Nicaragua where the kids will explore jungles, learn to speak Spanish and experience living somewhere that may be economically poor, but rich with culture and new perspectives.   We cannot wait to be back with the children at NPH and be a part of their lives each week. Stay tuned for updates on our life in Nicaragua.

To read more about our life in Nicaragua –


  1. Hayley Bracewell said...

    I am already posting your 3 principles onto my fridge. Brought tears to my eyes.

    Aug 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm
  2. Tammy Highfill said...

    Ditto Julie!!! The experience is so wonderfully articulated here. Will look forward to blog updates from NICARAGUA!!! You know I will be thinking of you all hanging out with the NPH kids on weekends. Awesome.

    Aug 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm
  3. kathy goding said...

    What an amazing experience not just for you but for your kids. Absolutely incredible and I take my hat off to you. I too am already posting your 3 principles onto my fridge and I will be rethinking how I parent my 4 kids.
    You are a true inspiration.

    Aug 31, 2011 at 11:19 pm
  4. HipMum said...

    Thanks Kathy. I appreciate your comments.

    Aug 31, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  5. Robin Ellard said...

    Wow! That’s such an eye opener, well done for this. So many excellent observations and comments.
    Keep updating on the experience when you get back there.

    Sep 01, 2011 at 12:29 am
  6. Rachel Denning said...

    This post was beautiful! Are you in Nicaragua now?

    I was given this link from Chuck Allworth from Friends of the Orphans, I’ve been communicating with him about visiting the NPH orphanages in Central and South America. We are driving with our 5 children from Alaska to Argentina. We’ve lived previously in Costa Rica.

    If you are still in Nica. we would love to meet up when we come through (probably spring 2012). I can tell by reading your post that we share many of the same values!

    Sep 02, 2011 at 12:10 pm
  7. HipMum said...

    Hey Rachel – We arrive in Nicaragua on September 8th. Can’t wait to meet up with you and follow your journey.

    Sep 03, 2011 at 8:48 am
  8. Cally said...

    You have left the states as of today and been thinking about you all day. Even though I’m sad that my hipmum is not here, I respect you more for the education and perspective that you are giving your children. This job as a parent is short lived and more than anything you are following your spirit in life and exactly where you are meant to be with your children. xoxo, Cally

    Sep 08, 2011 at 2:49 pm
  9. Michelle DeCola said...

    Julie, Julie, Julie!

    Oh my goodness!

    When you said there was a lot going on…you weren’t kidding!!!

    You are so courageous and brave. You are also so generous and willing to take risks that require you to trust yourself.

    I loved hearing everything you discovered about these children. And, how you found a way to deepen your understanding of the culture and what your family can learn by living there.

    I’m in awe of you and your husband for joining together and making this happen. I look forward to hearing about your time there and everything you are being taught. I know your readers will be learning from your experience too.

    Much love and support to you and your family.

    love and peace-Michelle

    Sep 14, 2011 at 9:55 am
  10. Dr. G said...

    When I was young my parents had a poem on our refrigerator called Children Learn What They Live.

    Your children are learning the best of what compassion and immersion have to offer.

    Kudos, and I’ll be following along!

    “See” you on Wednesday #mothersunleashed

    Oct 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm
  11. Katy said...

    I am the mother of two adult children. How I wished I had your wisdom and courage “back then”…

    I’m enjoying everything you are writing and all of your experiences!

    Oct 21, 2011 at 11:53 pm
  12. Wendy Jones said...

    Hey Julie,

    So happy to have reconnected after all these years! The Murgon school days seem like a lifetime ago. I guess they really were!

    I just wanted to write and say what a beautiful, grounded and giving person you are. You obviously are a blessing to every life you touch. This world needs the love seeds. Keep planting them Julie, you are an inspiration and an angel.

    Wendy x

    Nov 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm
    • HipMum said...

      Thanks for your beautiful words Wendy!! I’m touched!
      So nice to reconnect after ‘a couple’ of years :)
      Really looking forward to a having a coffee together next time I’m in Brissy.


      Nov 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm

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