PLATTSBURGH — The immensity of Nicaragua's suffering didn't hit Eve McGill until she got home.
"I was a dishrag," she said. "I cried for two days."
Emissaries of Seton Central Catholic High School, she and Jamilette Flores flew to the hurricane-ravaged Central American country in December, planning to meet a ship with relief supplies given by people and organizations back home.
With the help of the Managua Rotary, they were going to be sure those truly in need benefited.
They found a country so poverty stricken that almost everyone fit that description.
"They're just existing," McGill said.
She saw an orphanage where babies are left on the doorstep daily. A long line of women sewed for hours on end — outside, with treadle machines.
At a McDonald's restaurant, workers earned 45 cents an hour. "They have to work almost a whole shift to afford a meal," McGill said.
Hundreds waited for hours outside the American Embassy, seeking a way out.
Hurricane Mitch couldn't be blamed for what they saw, said Flores, who grew up in Nicaragua.
With more than 50 percent unemployment, no welfare or health-care systems, poverty is just a way of life.
McGill and Flores visited just one area hit by the hurricane — spreading disease made further travel too risky for them.
That glimpse was enough — families living in tents of garbage bags, the main road to Costa Rica still covered with water.
Newspapers they brought back show even worse conditions in horribly graphic pictures: bodies lined up along roadsides, severed limbs tangled with flood debris.
"I think the thing that hit me the hardest," said McGill, "is that the government doesn't care."
Apathy kept their goods from reaching Managua until after they had to return to Plattsburgh. They are only now being dispensed, thanks to the Rotary Club.
And personal tragedy tinged the trip with further sadness.
Flores' mother, Cornelia Cipriana Leiva, died the day before her daughter arrived there.
But the women managed to distribute 10 blankets sent by the Champlain Valley Quilters' Guild, and they earmarked projects for the money they'd brought.
For $4,000, two single-family homes will be built to replace some washed away by flooding.
McGill and Flores tagged Nino Jesus de Praga School, a facility with 1,500 students in the community of Chiquilistagua as their major project.
Though the Rotary Club is a substantial supporter there, the women said the need is still great.
McGill and Flores counted 78 desks in one high-school classroom. Most of the textbooks date back to 1972. One teacher instructs a second-grade class of 40 children.
From North Country donations, McGill and Flores gave money for a library building and to bring electricity to the elementary classrooms. They left tuition of $100 for each of 10 youngsters.
"Ten new little faces will be there, sitting behind desks," McGill said. "They'd probably never go to school otherwise."
She and Flores left a disposable camera with the mother superior, asking her to photograph those children as well as the progress on the library.
The women need no pictures to remember the suffering they witnessed.
"What was my purpose in going?" McGill thought hard about that on the plane, headed home. After all, they'd had been diverted from their initial purpose.
But suddenly, she knew that their experience was not over.
Now, she said, "we needed to give witness to the conditions there." And, added Flores, to go back again.
"What little bit that we donated to them — they just found it so hard to believe that we, from such a distance, would care," McGill said. "We need to give them that kind of hope, some reason to be."