Humans of Nicaragua: Wilber’s Story

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” ~B.B. King


I shouldn’t be mean and revengeful, but instead use this as a warning to expats in deciding who to befriend in the expat world. Not all expats are trustworthy or good people. Here is the story.

Theresa hired Wilber to work for her. The first day, she took Wilber out for his birthday, she got drunk, as is her usual, and took Wilber home and seduced him. She was in her 60s, he was in his early 20s. The first time I met Theresa, she was at the Landing bar, drunk and trying to pick up young Nicaraguan boys.

I should have known better, but I eventually became her friend. Wilber is kind and compassionate. He often picked up Theresa at a bar when she called him for a Moto ride home because she was too drunk to walk home.

When I started the Humans of Nicaragua series, Theresa begged me to interview Wilber. He makes a good story, but it comes at a price for Nicaraguans. Too many Nicaraguans are taken advantage of by expats, whether it is sexual abuse by mostly old white men with underage Nicaraguan girls or in the workplace as housekeepers, waiters, gardeners, etc.

Frankly, I should have known better than to befriend Theresa. The rumors were rampant, but I didn’t take heed. Theresa borrowed money from me, and I lent it generously knowing she needed it, but then she refused to pay me back.

When I heard rumors about her stealing the credit card numbers from her dead expat “friend”, I thought it was a joke. Theresa convinced me that she was a loving, kind friend. Now that I look back on our relationship, I should have used my gut feeling from the first time I met her.

I discovered her credit card fraud when she asked me to mule back to Nicaragua, hundreds of dollars of things she bought off Amazon with her dead “friend’s” credit card. She sent me a message and said, “Thanks Simone. I know you would have wanted me to have these things.”

Well, when she admitted that she had committed credit card fraud, I cut off our friendship and reported her for credit card fraud. How could I have been so naive? My Nicaraguan friends tried to warn me. I didn’t listen.

The lesson to learn from this story as an expat is to trust your gut feeling. Just because expats gather in your location, they are not all going to be your friends. I have unknowingly made friends with pedophiles, money launderers, scam artists, and sexual predators. When I have discovered the truth, I have reported them to the proper authorities, but very seldom exposed their dirty little secrets on my blog with the exception of The Anatomy of the Cult Ecoovie. Now that I have moved out of Nicaragua, I can speak more freely.

Expats move to Nicaragua for a variety of reasons and they are not all admirable. Don’t be naive, like me.

Now on to the story….

How does one choose between an education and food for one’s family? It is difficult for me to understand from my secure, economically stable, and knowledgeable world. But, choosing to provide for one’s family instead of going to school is a commonplace decision habitually made in most developing countries throughout the world.

The power of education or the power of family? It is almost impossible for me to imagine that this choice has to be made.  Yet in Nicaragua, it really isn’t a choice for the poor; instead, it is a way of life. Food or education? Medicine or education? Low paid unskilled labor or education? The poor do not choose. That is a myth that I am beginning to understand from living in Nicaragua.

Without an education, it is difficult for me to understand how people function in a literate, high-tech world. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the adult literacy rate is the percentage of people ages 15 and above who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement about their everyday life. In Nicaragua, 78% of the population is literate. Literacy chart comparing 215 countries.

It is almost impossible to imagine what it is like to be illiterate, unable to read or write words, and how terrifying and confusing the world must seem. Five years ago, this was the bewildering world in which Wilber lived. He knew very little about education and even less about the literate world surrounding him.

When Wilber was nine years old, his father ran off with another woman leaving him to care for a sick mother and his younger brother. He quit school and applied for a job as a farm hand on Ometepe Island.

“The farm owner said I was too tiny to work, but I convinced him to hire me because I needed to support my family.” ~ Wilber


Wilber worked on the farm for eight years for 50 cordóbas a day. He gave all of his earnings to his mother. When he turned 18, he went to Costa Rica to find work because he could make more money to support his family. In Costa Rica, he worked in construction and learned how to make cement blocks.

“One day, I went to a bank to cash my paycheck, and I couldn’t sign my name. I felt so stupid and the bank teller made fun of me and called me names.” ~Wilber

He was a 20-year-old increasingly anxious young man, who returned to Ometepe Island to build his young wife and baby girl, Catheline, a new house.

“All my life I saw my grandfather and father not being able to provide for their families. I wanted a better life for my family. I wanted a better house. I have to do better for my family.”~ Wilber

Wilber saw his childhood friends becoming successful. He wanted to learn how to read and write, but he was too embarrassed and ashamed to ask. He told me that he was always worried about not being successful and unable to provide for his family.  He felt like he would never have a chance…but, then….he met Theresa and the greatest challenge of his life began.

“I remember it was my birthday and my first day of work at Theresa’s house. She took me to a restaurant for my birthday and handed me a menu. She said for me to choose whatever I wanted to eat. I couldn’t read the menu and I was too embarrassed to tell her.”~Wilber

Theresa understood immediately. She asked Wilber if he would like to learn to read and write Spanish and she would help him. He wanted to learn, but he felt like he wasn’t capable of learning. He had always been told he was stupid.

For one year, with Theresa’s (gentle and encouraging guidance …see update above) and an Adult Education class that met weekly in his small community, he mastered reading and writing in Spanish and earned a diploma…and the power of education swept Wilber into a new and exciting world.

“How beautiful it is when you know how to read. I can go shopping by myself and not have to ask anyone to read the labels for me.”~ Wilber

Then, Theresa said, “Now… how about learning English?”

“When I started to learn English, I wanted to learn everything. My brain went crazy! I had to learn to relax and go slow, then everything came easier.”~Wilber

Wilber is 25 years old now. He has a wife and two children, Catheline and Angel. He laughed when I asked him how his life has changed.

“Sometimes I can’t believe how I was before. I feel like a new person. Theresa changed my life completely.”~Wilber

Wilber has a good job in the tourism industry on Ometepe Island. I asked him to tell me the best part about working in tourism.

“I meet a lot of people from all over the world. I am so proud. I have a lot of fun now. Before, I felt like a lonely person.”~Wilber

What does the future hold for Wilber? He has many lofty goals. For the first time in his life, he has choices.  He wants to save money for his children’s education because he never had a chance to go to school. He also wants to continue to study English. He is always improving his house for his family. Recently, he added an indoor bathroom and flush toilet to his home…the first one in his community!

in closing his interview I asked Wilber, “What else would you like people to know about you?

“Everything is possible in your life with motivation and choices. If you have someone who tells you that you are smart, you can make a beautiful life.”~Wilber

As a side note, I couldn’t repeat Wilber’s story without tears of joy. He is a remarkable and humble young man. He truly exemplifies the quote by B.B. King. “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

And what a beautiful life Wilber has made for himself and his family. The power of education or the power of family? Wilber doesn’t need to choose one over the other ever again.  Life is good.


21 thoughts on “Humans of Nicaragua: Wilber’s Story

  1. I have so thoroughly enjoyed reading about Theresa and Wilbur, not only because this wonderful selfless woman is my sister, but because everything written is true. I have met Wilbur and loved him from our first introduction. His kindness and willingness to help are just a couple of the reasons I wish I lived closer and could see him every day.
    My Theresa has lived a hard life, but she says there were reasons for all the trials and tribulations she experienced. I’m proud to call her my sister.
    Veronica (Ronnie)

  2. What a beautiful story! And what a loving, selfless woman Theresa must be to take on such a task to change this young man’s life. We need more people like this in the world.

  3. Theresa’s caring and commitment touched hearts and changed lives! If I could wish something for other people in Nicaragua who started their lives similarly to Wilber’s, I would wish them a Theresa who could see the gemstone hiding within the rough rock and took the time to help it emerge as a gift to the person and their world. I don’t know you, Theresa, and only know this one thing about you, but, to me, you have given enough to earn your place in heaven (wherever that may be) in that one, sustained act of kindness.

    • A http://www…how sweet. I hope Theresa reads your comment. She continues to teach Wilber, and I have to say that she is a natural born teacher. She has a small class of English students at her home, and when a topic comes up, like jet propulsion, she shows them a YouTube video, then they discuss it. She is amazing. She taught our lawyer English, and now he has many expat clients.

  4. What a wonderful story! As someone who reads and writes voraciously, I’ve often thought about how terrible it must be not to be able to do one or the other (or either.) I hope sometime to volunteer to teach reading to adults or to tutor children having difficulty.


  5. Wilber gives me inspiration…the belief that a change in my life will be ok!! Family and community will provide. I am honoured to know and love him. Moira

  6. God bless Theresa for her selflessness. And God bless Wilber for his faith in himself and dedication.

    It is hard to see people choose not to go on in school. We see it here too. Many of our neighbors chose to work while one member of the family went on to university. Those that went on to school then come back to the community and help support the extended family. Family and community work together here to make it possible for all to enjoy in part the limited education opportunities.

    Thanks for the heartwarming report. Life is good!

    • Life is indeed good. This interview with Wilber was quite an eye-opener for me. I know many young Nicaraguans who struggle with providing for their families, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to have a heartfelt talk and explore the reasons they are not literate.

  7. Well, I am certainly biased and yet, I feel like I just met him for the first time. Daily he impresses me with new learning and new ideas. His love of learning has not diminished and it was, and is, a honor to provide the encouragment he needed. “We just need someone to give us a little heart!!” Wilber Antonio Barrio Bonilla.

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