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Mission of Hope

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August 21, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

By Bonnie Black
This morning Roger Patnode left us at 4:30am, in order to catch his early flight home. For everyone else, the morning began with Marty’s famous pancake breakfast in order to have enough sustenance until all were processed through at the airport – about 6 hours later.

Then, all bags and suitcases and chairs and hammocks were lined up and placed on the bus when it arrived around 6:45 a.m. Children were in the yard early today as they, too, knew this would be the last hour of seeing everyone who had been a part of their lives over the past 10 days or so.

At 7:15 a.m., we headed down to the auditorium taking our designated seats in the front. A six-piece band was playing which livened the feeling in the hall. When the students began filing in to music (reminding many of us of ‘assembly days’ in elementary school) we stood to recognize them. Once all of the students were inside, most standing around the perimeter and in back – with preschoolers at the front of the stage – Sister Rosa began with a prayer, then the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by ours….which we all sang as we turned and faced the students.

The desperdida began with a recitation by a first grader and then two older girls came out to perform a folk dance. Two very young children, a boy and a girl, demonstrated one of the other folk dances in their native costumes, too – how adorable! After a quick musical interlude, a group of third year secondary girls and four boys performed another folk dance. After seeing the national dance troupe perform, we appreciated seeing these versions which had similar costumes and movement. Then, something we have not had a pleasure of experiencing: two fourth year secondary girls came out lip-synching to “Bright Eyes.” Quite a performance with much emotion included in their miming! The final selection was a medley of tunes from “Grease” to which the fifth year secondary students danced and jived. Something to connect directly with their North American friends which draw a loud round of applause from us as well as the other students in the room.

We then took to the stage and Sister Debbie had a few final words interpreted by Joe Lewis. Finally, Liz Chaskey and Danielle Hamilton led us in “Come Into My Life” which we sang for all of the students and staff thanking them for our time spent here.

We then filed out, having just a few last moment in the courtyard with the younger students before boarding the bus. This was the time of tears for many knowing they would most likely not be back to Nicaragua as their college years were either starting or coming to an end this spring. Adults, too, were moved for this has truly become our second home whether it be the first or the fifteenth mission. As the bus pulled out of the yard, the windows were open and hands were waving to all left behind.

Around 10:50 a.m., we received a call from Sister Debbie telling us that everyone had just been processed and it looked for their on-time departure. In unison, they thanked A Team which was followed by: “We have water, we have lights, we won’t be with you tonight” as a heart-warming chant (not!!). Their spirits were high as they readied to return home to families. Mauricio told us later that the plane finally got off a little late at 1:30pm.

A big thanks goes out to all of the point persons for this mission:
Oversight: Sister Debbie, Oscar Flores, Mauricio Flores
Local Transportation: Oscar Flores, Marty Mannix, Sister Debbie, Mauricio Flores
Medical: Roger Patnode
Container Disbursement: Diane Crosier and Oscar Flores in consultation with the medical team
Construction: Marty Mannix
Kitchen/Food: Sister Stephanie
Publicity/Photos/Email: Bonnie Black
ECHO/Environmental: Judy and Marcel Charland
Daily Job Assignments: Sara Fredette and Darcy Rabideau
Rice & Beans: Jordan Donahue and Jenn Stitzinger
Education: Julie Fredette and Dan Ladue
Housekeeping Management: Diane Crosier and Bill Calmbacher
Water Project: Marilyn Knutson
Lead Testing: Roger Patnode with Elle Rathbun and Kayla Rabideau

For those of us on A Team (Diane Crosier, Bill Calmbacher, Marty Mannix, Dan Ladue and me) the beginning of a few days of work began. It will be filled with various types of tasks: final distribution of donations including one of the generators to San Jose Hospital to allow their operating room to function without fluctuation in electricity for machines and lights, going to Caritas with Sister Ligia to begin the distribution of the donations allocated to San Jose Hospital from the container items in storage, meeting with Sister Rosa and Magaly Velasquez, finalizing the passive solar water system at the Disability Center, visiting the home shelter to deliver a photo of the donor and take a photo of the family in front of their new dwelling, taking the inventory of everything in Nicasa and then storing it all. It will take us not only today but also Tuesday and most of Wednesday to accomplish this. We will be on a plane departing at 6:50 a.m. on Thursday bringing Mission #25 to closure.

Thank you for letting me be your eyes and ears on the ground for the eighth time. Nicaragua and the people of Chiquilistagua will always be a part of each of us. We will share this all, in our own ways, over the coming days and weeks. When we begin to talk about our experiences, we are processing all that has occurred. Many lives are changed as a result of mission – both here and back home. Yes, we are not the same people who left a couple of weeks ago. But, we are changed for the better. We are connected with our world and those who are not as fortunate to have the conveniences and the luxuries that we have been born into. Yet, we are all human beings needing recognition, love and an outstretched hand. I hope you have enjoyed this walk with the Mission of Hope into the wider world during Mission #25. May God bless us all.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

By Bonnie Black
This morning, we were up at the regular time even though we didn’t have work chores to do. But, our Kitchen Crew of Cathy Hill and Connie Tyska prepared breakfast choices.

BBB was handled by a few volunteers for none had been assigned this duty for our lasta day; this is a ‘must’ regardless of the day’s focus.

Today was our last morning meeting and, as tradition, it became our final prayer, too. We began with the women in the small bedroom reciting ‘Padre Nuestro’ for us all followed by thoughts on one line of the prayer (“Thy will be done on earth”) as our time in this country and on this mission comes to a close. Many have asked for a copy, so they will be receiving it once back home. Its focus was how to process all that has come flooding at us during this time together and ways to carry forward the work done here once we return.

We then had a group photo – something that had been scheduled prior to this day but, due to work commitments could not occur with one or two missing. Sister Stephanie then had everything out for us to make our sandwiches before we boarded the bus for the day.
We all headed to Mercado Huembes for a few hours of shopping. A good number of us had been caught in the storm last Sunday and never were able to visit a market, so for many this was their moment to acquire a little ‘something’ for those back home. Then, we headed to Diriamba - just Sister Debbie and Sister Stephanie returned home.

It felt like a school field trip: packed on a bus unwrapped homemade sandwiches which had our names or initials on them, sharing thoughts of what we had just experienced and looking forward to our next stop.

We headed just past Diriamba to Jinotepe where Sister Ligia from San Jose Hospital met us. She had arranged a tour of a coffee processing plant for us. The owner, Manuel Geverra, and his manager Calisto Lopez, guided step-by-step through the entire process from the time a farmer or coffee plantation worker brings his box of freshly picked beans and pours it into the hopper to the time when the beans are selected by grade and bagged. It was all quite interesting with many enjoying the large turtle swimming in one of the water reservoirs!

We learned that this plant has been operation since the early 20th century, changing hands many times due to the constant fluctuation in the commodities market. Manuel’s father took the plant over in 1953 and his family has been operating it ever since that time. There are three regions in Nicaragua in which coffee is grown: Pacific, Centro and Matagalpa. Here in the Pacific region he told us is grown the best beans! His manager guided us through most of the process explaining the process as we walked throughout the front end of the plant, out to the drying yard and back into the preparation succession. There are large ovens which burn wood to create the steam to run the machinery when they are in process. Their season begins as early as October 20th when the first red beans are brought in and can run through January. If there is too much rain, the beans drop from the plant and the season may be shorter. Beans are delivered to this plant from as far as Caterina.

There are two bins holding 12 tons of beans which are filled by the farmers and, once filled, the beans are passed through a slot at the bottom and brought up a conveyor belt into a machine that sprays water on them and shakes the beans to remove any outer dirt. The beans then pass into a tank that is filled with collected rain water. Those that float to the top are considered poorer quality while those that sink to the bottom are the best. The best beans are then brought up a conveyor belt and out into the drying yard. It was immense! Probably three or more football fields in size. Manuel showed us the three water reservoirs where they gather the rain water, the largest tank being 45 feet deep and shaped like a V at the bottom. The risk with this tank is that local children sometime get into the plant at night and play around it; over the years a few have fallen in and drowned as there is no way they can get out. They guard dogs in the yard are released at night so that children are not as tempted to enter. Manuel noted that water is so important for all of the people of Nicaragua as the aquifers are deep and the rainy season must provide the ground with sufficient water to sustain them throughout the year. He said there is contamination, though, from the rivers that effect the aquifers.

It is in this drying that the beans are spread out and shoveled by workers. This rotates the bean so assure that all sides are completely dry before returning for the final steps of the process. Manuel pointed out a Sebo tree just past his property line. These trees used to be in abundance in Nicaragua providing shade for coffee and other fruit to grow. It was a very productive time before the early 80’s when a disease was brought into the country from Brazil which began killing the Sebo tree. This resulted in small yields as the coffee plant was exposed to direct sunlight for many hours a day. A new variety of coffee plant was introduced which is resistant to the negative effects of direct sunlight. The Sebo trees were removed due to the disease, but some poor management resulted in more cut down than necessary. The temperatures due to the deforestation created a climate 15 degrees warmer than it had been for centuries beginning in the 1980s. The varieties of birds and monkeys have disappeared due to this change, too. Manuel feels it is due to this bad management that the environment has been negatively impacted in this entire Pacific region resulting in lower production that in the past. He said that people cut the trees for firewood and he would like to see some controls put into place to prohibit random felling of trees. He noted that it is truly a problem throughout Central America and not just in Nicaragua.

Back inside, we saw the machines (made in Syracuse and other parts of NY) which separate the size of the beans; the finer the bean, the better the coffee. As Manuel said, it is searching for ‘the perfect bean.’ The elevators take the beans up from the drying area separating the beans into different qualities. He took us into the former sorting room where all of the beans were sorted by hands into the various qualities. He told us that in a year when there is a good harvest, they will process about 44 million pounds of coffee beans!

At the end of the tour, we saw the boxes into which the farm workers will place the beans they have picked. In a good year they will be paid 8 cordobas (about 30 cents) for the filled bin….but only if there are ‘good’ beans in it. If there are any green (unripened) beans in it, there is a penalty and the worker could get only half that amount. In the 1980’s a farmer would be paid 3 cordobas for the bin and last year’s rate was 6. Manuel said a good worker can fill 25 of these bins in a day when the harvest is at its peak. The dexterity of the thumbs is what is important and many times children and women are used in the fields as they can adroitly select only the ripened beans leaving the others on the plant to take their time in ripening. These boxes are about 25 pounds when full.

When the tour was completed, we unloaded much of what we had in the bus into the two small trucks for the hospital and then followed then back into Diriamba to deliver the balance there. After unloading it all into a front storage room, Sister Ligia took those who were interested in a tour of the facility. Even though some of us had been there before, we saw the expansion near the emergency room entrance and we pointed out to others the various pieces of equipment that came from the PAFB hospital.

It took about an hour to return for the final hour of courtyard play – everything from soccer to braiding of hair. At the same time, Roger Patnode, Marilyn Knutson, Oscar Flores along with Magaly Velasquez and her husband and nephew, prepared the rest of the water containers for distribution to the families who had been asked to come. We accomplished the distribution of a total of 40 containers after a short educational message by Oscar and Marilyn. About 20 of these are to the people who volunteered to have their kitchen faucet and outdoor spicket and water holding tanks sampled on previous missions; the balance went to families who did not. With these two groups in place, our next mission will test those families to assess their drinking/cooking water situation.

Just around 5:30pm, as promised, the delivery of pizza arrived. This ‘last supper tradition’ was continued in memory of Shawn Watson, Sister Stephanie’s recently deceased nephew, who provided us with this slice of home for many missions. He worked for Whirley Industries which has been so generous with the health kit containers for many years. In Shawn’s memory, Whirley provided the funds for this wonderful end to our mission. The sisters from Nejapa were the first of our invited guests to arrive, then Nora and her family along with Rosa (both of our dinner cooks), Martha, Inocencio and his daughter, Magaly and her husband and nephew, and we began to enjoy our meal and time together. Sister Karla proudly showed us her can of pepper spray which she now carries with her – and they thanked us very much. Prior to heading into dinner, Jordan Donahue presented the sisters with prayer books in Spanish which she had brought with her. Just around 7pm, we lost power! So, Father Raul (who had just arrived) left the headlights of his truck on so we could see each other a bit better.

The sisters from Nejapa were so pleased when Joe Lewis brought out his recently acquired acoustic guitar! Sister Karla began to play and the other sisters joined in singing a few contemporary hymns which some of us have heard in English in our church services at home. Then, we began an impromptu sing along that grew into sixties folk songs! The ‘good-byes’ were very poignant and emotional for we all recognized that we would not be seeing each other again the next time we return to Nejapa. They will all be moving on to another appointment in January, before the next school year begins. During this final hugs and tears, Sisters Rosa and Cecelia finally arrived. They had been with their religious leader for most of the day and were finally able to come over to us. Having almost a box of pizza still left for everyone here at this convent, they took the box and a bottle of soda to eat in their dining area.

Tomorrow morning most everyone leaves immediately after the desperdida - farewell – presented by the students…a time we all cherish even with its acknowledgement that another mission has come to a close.

August 20, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Our last day of solid mission work as a large group began with roof painting at 6:30am this morning - it was nice to see the water trickling out of the faucets along with electricity, too, all day long!

The painters spent over 4 hours until they ran out of paint. It was told later that Darcy Rabideau “motivated” the team of Jordan Donahue, Jenn Stitzinger, Liz Chaskey, Kayla Rabideau, Lauren Recny, Karissa Monette, Danielle Hamilton, Joe Lewis, Shawney Bushey and Bailey Rabideau. Not quite sure what that meant, but they got the job done!

Our kitchen crew of Mary Fredette along with Judy and Marcel Charland got everything rolling early providing those painters with sustenance before painting and then made sure the rest were ready for the day ahead. Our lunch was well-prepared leftovers and the perennial peanut butter and jelly as we are now “eating down” the refrigerator.

BBB was handled by Marilyn Knutson, Connie Tyska, Bill Calmbacher and Abe Munn. The guys, especially, have it down to a science as the 9 have had multiple ‘opportunities’ this mission to do this task. Make note of this mothers and wives!

At this morning’s meeting (there were two held consecutively in different locations due to the 12 on the roofs) Diane Crosier had us each select a word from a bowl. Whatever word we chose is the one we are to focus on for the rest of this mission and when we return home. Another journaling opportunity!

Our final task at Nejapa today was painting the exam room used by Dr. Lopez each Friday for our clinic. Christine Gehrig, Elle Rathbun, Abe Munn, Dan Ladue and Sue Black had a bigger job in front of them than we estimated, yet got the job done painting the room a green and mango combination which is actually quite nice – and Nicaraguan.

Beverly Gogola and Brenda Flynn finished up the preparation of the vitamin containers. We wound up with only 196 of the 525 needed, plus we do not have enough vitamins that will not expire before November to put into the containers, so this year we will not be able to provide the vitamins for each child at the end of the school year in early December.

Today was the time to allocate suitcases and assign chairs and hammocks for transit on Monday. Diane Crosier, Julie Fredette and Nancy Scanlan handle all of that as well as getting the remaining donations in the inside courtyard sorted for pickup by the various organizations early in the week.

Out at the Disability Center today was Marty Mannix and Dennis Kaufman who, with a few trips to the hardware/plumbing store, have almost completed the passive solar hot water project so desperately needed for the therapy.

Sister Debbie spent much of this morning with Oscar and Mauricio Flores at the lawyer’s office and then off to the Women’s Aid Center to deliver the two children’s rockers and the last box of donations. She said the children stared at the little rockers and waited until they were invited to sit on them. She didn’t have her camera with her, so we must imagine the pleasure evident on their faces. The director expressed to Sister that the Mission has given her and the young women hope – and for that, they are grateful.

Then, they went to look for a replacement vehicle for Mauricio so that he will be able to appropriately handle the Children Feeding Children deliveries and the rice & beans deliveries to La Chureca (plus all kinds of other tasks he does continuously for us). Much wear-and-tear has occurred on his taxi over the years and our Leadership Team voted to take fund from the sale of a donated vehicle and put them toward a portion of the cost of a new “used” vehicle down here. It will most likely be diesel, 4-wheel drive, double cab with a liner in the pickup bed. We are close to making a decision.

Sister Miriam told Sister Debbie today that last night was the first time they had slept peacefully since the break-in. They are so thankful and grateful for what was facilitated by the mission.

Sara Fredette finished her work on the databases – and she is quite happy about that!

All other hands were on deck to prepare for the first communitywide health fair scheduled for 2pm this afternoon. The creativity of many shown, but Kasey Garrand’s invention to illustrate lice was amazing! This is one for which you will need to see the picture – it will be worth a thousand words.

When Sister Debbie walked into the Health Fair this afternoon, she was overwhelmed with emotion. When the mission first came to Chiquilistagua, hundreds would press against the gates of the clinic door to be seen for they had not received basic medical care in years – if ever. Now, we have the clinic operating Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2pm-4pm here at Nino, Fridays from 2p-4p at Nejapa and on Saturday mornings at Mateara from 8am to 10am. The people know they can count on medical care as they need it. So now this prevention, the next step in medical care, was a success. Almost 200 people attended with adults getting their blood pressure taken, everyone receiving information on lice, one and two-year-olds and pregnant women receiving lead testing, a table demonstration with models for breast self-exam, distribution of water containers to the families whose water was tested on previous missions, a handwashing station, a dental hygiene station with giveaways and brushing/flossing demonstration courtesy of Dr. Michaud’s office, giveaways of cough syrup and acetaminophen, a moringa information table with the “experiment” results to show what a seed can do, along with the giveaway of personal hygiene kits. As Sister said as she observed the goings on, “The adage says it all: If you build it, they will come.”

Sister Rosa spent almost the entire time there, getting her blood pressure checked, learning about moringa (where she spent a LOT of time), checking out the breast self-exam information and learning about the water container project. Through Jeremy Eppler, who came with his girlfriend (Indira) who is a medical student, Sister Rosa expressed that today’s Health Fair was one of the best things that has happened to this village. And, this afternoon, in the middle of the fair, came high winds with the torrential downpour. This children ran inside the dining room from playing outside where they had been enjoying the various games and activities.

Tonight we each had a treat made by Carla for dinner: nacatamales. Nacatamales are a meal usually made for Sunday brunch after Mass comprised of rice and beans, sometimes with chicken, in a corn paste wrapped in a plantain leaf and boiled. There were both ‘regular’ as well as the vegetarian variations available.

This evening’s meeting was moved to the seating area in front of the clinic as there was an evangelical preacher and band who had begun just before our normal meeting time and we truly could not hear each other speak (they lasted until 10:30pm!!). Once seated, Sister Debbie began by telling us she views Oscar as a model for his village on all levels. He is true to his people even in incredibly stressful situation. She reminded us all that if it weren’t for the Flores family, we would not be here – there would be no Mission of Hope for us to experience.

Oscar told us that when they moved to United States, they wondered how they would do without family around as in Nicaragua everyone is so close. The first encounter he had with snow was on December 5th, in Syracuse. They initially felt lonely as there was a language barrier and they did not have the same traditions. Pat and Eve McGill were their neighbors and began to open up the community of Plattsburgh to them. Their first December was sad but wound up happy as they felt the support of the community and the wide arms it has. On Christmas there were 54 gifts for their family – in Nicaragua the tradition is just two, so they were quite overwhelmed. Even though, at first, they didn’t have family in the North Country, they now feel that everyone is as much of their family as those here in Chiquilistagua.

Sister Debbie then thanked all of the ‘point’ people for this mission as well as the A Team which still has days of work ahead of them. She noted the Leadership Team representatives on the ground (Sr. Stephanie, Oscar, Marty Mannix and I) are fewer than usual for a mission trip yet, we try to never lose focus of what the Mission of Hope is all about in the various daily decisions which must be made.

As we shared our last few experiences with each other, Sister Stephanie told us that Adrianna (Parajito Azul) will be returning to San Diego as she is winding down her two years here at the Disability Center. She told Sister that when a group of Canadian acupuncturists came they spoke of the young boy without a brain stem who many of our current and former mission people remember. They told Adrianna that he needs lot of physical contact, especially being held, so what we do when we come is so important to him and other children.

Marty shared that what he and Dennis accomplished today ranks in the “Top 3” of his mission experiences. He noted the 3 moments on mission which have impacted him the most were (1) the time we voted to establish Children Feeding Children initially for all pre-school through Grade 3 children (it now serves through Grade 6); (2) when we received word from Rotary International that the Matching Grant had been approved for the 150 latrines in this barrio; and (3) today’s passive solar hot water system functioning. He said it was exceedingly rewarding when he and Dennis ran tap water up the hosing and when it came out it was 15 degrees warmer – and it isn’t even all completed yet! Marty will return Monday morning to finalize the system.

Jenn Stitzinger took pleasure in telling us that the all-women’s crew yesterday literally built the home from the foundation up. When they arrived, there was the trough, but none of the cement blocks had been cemented in place. So, they started from scratch and built the entire structure. She gave kudos for all of the hard work the “Adirondack women” did.

Shawney Bushey took great pleasure in telling us about two little boys who really got into the dental hygiene today. They came back to the table to learn about flossing hands on. They were eager to show the adults who stopped at the table how it was done – quite the up-and-coming dentists!

Sister Debbie thanked Roger Patnode for making this Health Fair become a reality and all of the youth who coordinated games for the young children who came out to play once they had visited the hand washing station and the dental hygiene table. She felt that this was a giant step forward – a dream come true – to see the level of trust the community has in the Mission of Hope by attending this fair. After all, this is truly a different kind of experience for most of the residents and it was a trust in us that made it comfortable for them to attend.

Marty Mannix thanked the Nejapa paint crew of this morning for the perseverance even when it seemed the task was a bit more than what they had bargained for.

Bailey Rabideau noted that the visit to the banana camp workers had her thinking about the fact that the two large bags of rice and beans which we donated would only feed the residents for a day. But, she then came to the realization it DID feed them for a day. It was intense and rather disturbing to hear what the leader had to say. Then, many at the meeting joined in the discussion and clarified for those who didn’t go, just what we learned. Oscar noted that in a village north of Managua there are sugar cane workers who are dying before the age of 35 – all of kidney failure. Many questions are left unanswered and it is up to each of us to educate ourselves more and spread the word to others.

Sister Debbie concluded with asking each of us to think about our successes this mission and our challenges which may lead us to doing some things differently. Before Dan Ladue closed with a reflection, she told us the background of Oscar Romero – a martyr and priest in El Salvador in the 1980’s. She strongly recommends that we view the movie, “Romero” which will speak to us now that we have experienced the mission (PSUNY has two copies in their library for viewing there or for loan if you are a PSUNY student or staff member).

Dan told us of his first impressions of the Mission of Hope when he arrived which included a Rice & Beans experience; and then of his Nejapa Clinic experience yesterday. Tonight he had taken a walk to a home dwelling with a couple of people (he had not gotten an opportunity to be on a crew and wanted to see what many others were talking about). He spoke with the woman for whom it was built and, although he was almost aghast at living in that situation, she expressed how happy she was with the structure and what a difference it had made in her life, in just a few days. These experiences have resonated with him and he has drawn the conclusion that doing something is better than doing nothing for, at least, something brings hope. He then read to us the poem which we have hanging on the kitchen wall – something that many had not taken an opportunity to read and process; it was written by Oscar Romero a short while before he was killed.

Liz Chaskey and Danielle Hamilton closed the meeting with a song, “Come Into My Heart, Lord” which we all decided should be what we offer up as part of the farewell for the students on Monday morning.

Tonight, as suitcases were assigned and a small amount of straightening up occurred, we looked forward to enjoying tomorrow and to returning home on Monday.

August 19, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

By Bonnie Black
We heard that some of you have been experiencing extreme weather conditions with high winds and rain, too, including the prolonged loss of power. Our thoughts are with you as well as the people of Peru, in that village about 100 miles from Lima that has been devastated by the 7.9 earthquake. As of this morning, there were 500 known victims, but Sister Debbie had been in communication with their congregational center and was assured that the sisters living in that location were still alive.

Bright and early this morning, Joe Lewis was assisted by Dennis Kaufman as he created stakes from the broken lumber for today’s ECHO raised bed projects at Nejapa and Nino schools.

Jordan Donahue accompanied Oscar and Mauricio Flores as representatives of the Mission in Masaya this morning for the funeral of the nun who died from cancer this week This sister was the mentor to Sister Ligia with whom we coordinate our services and donations at San Jose Hospital in Diriamba. What was remarkable about the experience, Jordan said, was entering the narthex where the elderly, who are the wards of the sisters, were sitting and laying on the ground for they cannot walk nor walk around by themselves. These are people in dire need of wheelchairs. Once inside the sanctuary, she said that the church was filled with flowers, many of which were taller than she. The deceased’s brother gave the eulogy and the singing was beautiful accompanied by an older man in a wheelchair who sat at the keyboard playing throughout the service.

With much to do both on and off campus on our next-to-last working day, our Kitchen Crew pulled double duty on some tasks, yet we were well taken care of by: Bill Calmbacher, Sue Black, Christina Gehrig and Kasey Garrand. It was quite similar with our BBB staff, too: Shawney Bushey, Bailey Rabideau, Marty Mannix and Dennis Kaufman.

Around 7:45am, the team to do lead testing at the Nejapa school headed out under the direction of Roger Patnode: Dan Ladue, Elle Rathbun, Connie Tyska, Cathy Hill and Danielle Hamilton. Roger told us later that “we’re on a roll when we do the leads!” There was wonderful support at Nejapa with mothers in attendance, too, which allow for an easier and more comforting environment for the children. After this morning, he said that most of the testing is completed.

We shared the results with Manna this morning which showed a few children at La Chureca with elevated levels of lead which are of concern. They are going to follow through so that the child is seen in the clinic there and is followed with the doctor.

Our ECHO project began at the Nejapa school, too, with Mel Landers of ECHO meeting them there. Caesar Augosto and Magaly Velasquez also joined our team of Judy & Marcel Charland, Marilyn Knutson, Julie Fredette, Kayleigh Garrand and Abe Munn. Worm beds were established, seeds planted in bags of dirt, and moringa seeds tilled. There are high hopes that with the nurturing of the Nejapa students who also observed, this will be quite successful.

This was the last day at the Parajito Azul Disability Center for Sister Stephanie, Beverly Gogola and Brenda Flynn. They brought with them a mission t-shirt to present to Adrianna, the Jesuit volunteer there, who is ending her tenure in January. We will not see her again so we thought it would be appropriate to thank her for all she has facilitated for us with this small token of our appreciation.

Our last home shelter for this mission was, as is tradition, constructed by an all female crew with Joe Lewis and Inocencio Velasquez as foremen. The hammers were wielded by Darcy Rabideau, Lauren Recny, Jenn Stitzinger, Kayla Rabideau, Nancy Scanlan, Karissa Monette and Diane Crosier (as were the saws, pole diggers, etc).

Off to the airport with the chairs to be wrapped for transit (again!) were Dennis Kaufman and Liz Chaskey. She noted that “Shrinkwrap Charlie” in the Continental Airlines entry remembered them from the other day and was very service oriented providing carts for them to unload and then reload all of the rockers. He also provided some manpower to assist them. They made a stop at the plumbing hardware store to pick up the remaining parts for making the passive solar hot water a reality at the Disability Center this mission.

An integral part to the future of this mission is gathering the data and preparing the outcomes for grant applications and reports. It has fallen mainly on the shoulders of Sara Fredette who, with nary a word, has daily spent hours at a table in the kitchen entering heights & weights, results of lead testing and also the clinic inventory. Beyond the call of duty!

This afternoon’s ECHO project was at Nino with Mel, Caesar, Magaly, the Charlands and Diane Crosier with Sue Black. Again, worm beds were established and Caesar completed a water irrigation system for the seed beds. A few of the Nino students were around to observe, but Caesar is a teacher here and will have follow through on this project continuously.

One of the most significant experiences of this mission was the visit to the agricultural workers who are living in protest near the National Assembly in downtown Managua. Nineteen of us (Joe, Bailey, Kayleigh, Jordan, Lauren, Jenn, Christina, Elle, Dennis, Liz, Karissa, Shawney, Kasey, Darcy, Danielle, Kayla, Oscar, Sister Debbie and I) were guided through the camp by one of the 12 leaders, Sergio Garcia, of which two are women. The 12 members of the council represent banana workers (25%), sugar cane workers (25%), electronic product workers (ie-batteries, etc.) and 25% represent other workers including coffee and fruit workers.

Only the healthy heads of the various families are living in the camp at this time (4-10 people live in each tent) while most of the families remain at home as the 100 mile trek to and from their homes in Chinendega can be handled only by those well enough to do so. He believes there are only 8-10 children in the downtown camp at this time. The death camp in Chinendega still exists, but most people are dying daily in their own homes. Sergio said that there is no better cooperation from MINSA – they feel MINSA is no help at all in their plight as people are worse off than before. They are trying to reach an agreement for free medications and land because all of the previous agreements were broken when Ortega was inaugurated. They decided to return to an encampment outside of the National Assembly, to be visible in their current attempt to meet with Ortega to solve the problems of the broken agreement. Sergio told us that Dole is taking leadership on this issue as they had a meeting on May 28th, but no agreement or payment came as a result. They are again being told by Dole that the pesticide used has no detrimental effect, yet it is the chemical which usage was band in the US in the 1970’s.

Sergio said the Nicaraguan political leaders are guilt because when the United States banned the pesticide, the Nicaraguan leaders did nothing about holding the chemical companies and the agricultural companies responsible in this country. Other Central American countries did hold the companies responsible for changing their processes and those farm workers are not suffering the prolonged exposure as are the Nicaraguan workers.

So what will this mean for the future generation? The leadership council has decided that if government does respond within 15 days to their appeal for discussions, they will go on a hunger strike as they did two years when we were here. They don’t want to create violence because it is not the common citizens’ problem; it is the fault of government and big business.

The rice and beans we delivered will feed the camp for one day – a small stone in the water, but hopefully it will help a bit allowing them to continue making ripples.

Sergio believes the same chemical is being use under different names such as chloropan. He noted one of the chemicals they use on the plantations is found in polyester shirts! There are different chemicals being used with the same side effects that nemagon had. He thinks the chemical companies are continually changing the names of the chemicals so no one can find the source of their illnesses.

Our last Rice & Beans crew of this mission trekked out this afternoon with Magaly into hilly regions: Beverly Gogola, Brenda Flynn, Sara Fredette, Abe Munn and Julie Fredette. Evidence of the recent harsh rainfall was throughout with gullies and potholes filled with water everywhere.

This afternoon, we conducted our semi-annual clinic at Nejapa and, again, the organization of the sisters was quite evident. They had people’s names with assigned numbers and the process was quite smooth for Roger Patnode, Cathy Hill, Connie Tyska, Nancy Scanlan, Dan Ladue, Bill Calmbacher and Joe Lewis. Sue Black and Julie Fredette joined in as they were at Nejapa to meet newly sponsored students. Prior to the clinic, Roger met with Sister Miriam providing her with three lice combs along with an educational tape on lice treatment and prevention. He also noted that we were lacking a variety of medications, especially antibiotics, which he will communicate to the medical group at their next meeting back home. The curtains used gave a sense of privacy which was lacking when we provided the clinic in February.

Dan Ladue informed us later that the security system was completely installed by this afternoon which is a relief to so many.

Jordan Donahue filled in for Sister Debbie, taking photos of the 15 newly sponsored children for whom the sisters had the names, grade and age noted on their paper for the photo. How organized!

Our last painting crew in the classrooms at Nejapa got their work done in record time: Jenn Stitzinger, Karissa Monette, Kayleigh Garrand and Danielle Damilton.

A not-so-lovely job was accomplished by Marilyn Knutson who removed labels from the recycled vitamin bottles which Magaly had saved for us. On Saturday, the labels will be attached for the supply of vitamins for December and January while the children are not at school between academic years.

This evening we had an option, instead of on Sunday, of attending a baseball game or a fundraiser held by the Managua Rotary Club to benefit an orphanage where they volunteer and provide donations. Those who went to the baseball game started out by having their tickets stolen right out of the hand of Luis, our driver. He had thought it was one of us who took them and we all watched in shock that this happened. But, then, it is a metropolitan city filled with poor people….much like what we could experience in the states. So, everyone forked out another $2 each (yes, you are reading that right) for their seats along the first base dugout side of the field. The “Boers” competed against another Nicaraguan team for a score of 7-1. There were only about 150 people in attendance, scattered throughout the stadium which holds thousands.

The other group which traveled into town while a few remained at Nicasa, attended the Pena Artistica Rotaria function with music, singers, poetry and a nice array of talent. We had to leave by 9pm in order to be “home” by curfew, but the 11 of us thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment (and air conditioning and running water with toilets you could flush).

We are in countdown mode now, as I am sure you are, too. Much of tomorrow will be in preparation for our Community Health Fair as well as the start of the breakdown of Nicasa readying for our departure. We all miss all of you very much even though our time here had been quite productive. We have recorded in our journals our impressions, our questions, our thoughts for future reflection – some with you, some to be processed individually at first. But, one more day of work before our last day of play!

August 17, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Another day and more rain! So what’s new? It’s not the fact we have no water nor electricity; it’s not the fact that we are without the ‘conveniences’ we are used to at home. Sister Debbie reminded us that we did not sign on to be comfortable; this is not just a ‘trip’ to Nicaragua. This is a unique mission in many positive ways even though the ‘bare necessities’ we usually have are not part of this specific sojourn together.

At this morning’s meeting we heard that we still do not have the generators as the release process changed after Mauricio got to the airport! We’re working it again today. Sister Debbie also told us that one of the sisters at San Jose Hospital succumbed to cancer this morning around 6am. We decided we will have representation at the funeral to b e held in Masaya tomorrow. We also were told that there was a 7.9 earthquake in Peru and we held them in prayer, too.

One of the goals of Mission #25 was to assure that the ECHO projects began to take place. Yesterday, as you know, the seeds planted at the Orphanage farm in Diriamba yielded 3-foot tall trees flourishing in the sun. Today, Judy and Marcel Charland trained Marilyn Knutson, Kayleigh and Kasey Garrand and Mary Frenette in the values of the Moringa tree. They went to Nora’s house and planted in a different area in hopes that it will take and by February we will see 3-foot tall trees upon our return. They also conducted an experiment by collecting water from a puddle in the street and putting it into two empty soda bottles. Into one they place a moringa seed that had been squished to expose the inner seeds. Within a few hours there was a remarkable difference already occurring. If all holds true, within 24 hours of the collection we should see clear water with the residue drawn into the seed and the seed settling at the bottom.

Homes built today were our next-to-last two for this mission: a third donated by St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Constable and one donated by Darcy Brunell in memory of her recently deceased husband and firefighter, Steve Brunell. Because Darcy Rabideau and Kayla are good friends with the Brunells, they were on this crew along with Joe Lewis and Sue Black who are members of the Constable parish.

Over at Caritas this morning we had a crew feverishly working under the direction of Diane Crosier and Oscar Flores: Bill Calmbacher, Jenn Stitzinger, Lauren Recny, Bailey Rabideau and Abe Munn. Everything was completed sorted in preparation for distribution with much returning to Nicasa for pickup by Our Lady of Guadelupe and also the Angels of Hope Orphanage, both of which came to pick up their donations this evening.

Meanwhile….the kitchen crew of Nancy Scanlan, Sara Fredette and Liz Chaskey not only fed us breakfast, but made a wonderful pasta salad including chilled bowls and the ambiance of relaxing music! Something cherished by many who came in from a morning of work for a respite.

Oh, yes, and our creative BBB crew (Dan Ladue, Roger Patnode, Jordan Donahue and Danielle Hamilton) accomplished their tasks with the limited water supply we had. Of course, collecting the water from the containers we place out in the rain allows us to have water that can have bleach added to it for flooring washing, etc. Great inventiveness!

This morning we were not able to participate in the Children Feeding Children program as it was not held due to the lack of water to prepare the children’s meals. We are being told that the water main breaks should be repaired within a day or two. So, we offered two jugs of our bottled water to the kitchen for tomorrow’s preparation so that the children do not go without for a second day. That left Jordan Donahue and Danielle Hamilton without morning assignments, so we split them between Sister Debbie and myself. Well, in the long run, although Jordan got to sit in air conditioning for 20 minutes with me at the internet, she actually drew the short straw when it came to having an experience.

Danielle told us tonight that she saw a caring and compassionate side of Sister Rosa and she spoke with Sister Debbie and Sister Miriam at Nejapa today. Sister Rosa disclosed that they could empathize as they, too, had suffered break-ins prior to installing their security system. Danielle and Sister Debbie joined Father Raul, the sisters at Nejapa and Sister Rosa as they met with the security system representatives touring the school, church and community center. It was a larger irregular perimeter than originally thought, so the system people recommended 5 sensors instead of just 3 like here at Nino. The cost came to $833, but throughout the day Sister Debbie received pledges from travelers here totaling $250, therefore making the net amount to cover with future donations at home the $583 as originally approved by our Leadership Team here on the ground. Danielle was impressed with the stark conditions of the convent where the sisters live. They told her that they will not live any better than the people they serve.

Going into town, Sister Debbie and Danielle were taken by Mauricio to an army surplus store where they purchased pepper spray for the nuns’ use. This spray not only will temporarily cause eye irritation, but it also leaves color on the face so the perpetrator can be identified more readily. When handing the sisters the 7 cans of spray later, Danielle said she could actually hear a sigh of relief. Perhaps they will sleep a bit better starting tonight. Tomorrow, around 9:30am, the security system will be installed, so they should truly be able to sleep starting this weekend.

This afternoon, our Nejapa classroom painting crew was Abe Munn, Shawney Bushey, Kasey Garrand, Julie Fredette, Jordan Donahue and Bailey Rabideau. We are making great headway there and hope to have it completed by Friday. Well, even if not completed, it will be our last project day there, I believe, so whatever we complete on Friday will be the last painting for this mission at that school.

Liz Chaskey and Dennis Kaufman went into the city to join Sister Debbie at the Huembes Market to pick up the chairs and take them to the airport for shrink wrapping. When all was said and done, they arrived at the airport 5 minutes after the gentleman named “Charlie” had departed for the day, so this will be added to tomorrow’s tasks again.

During the afternoon, the water containers to be distributed on Saturday to the families whose water we tested in the past were labeled by Marilyn Knutson, Kayla Rabideau and Elle Rathbun – although a few others sat down to join them. That’s just the spirit we see in this group as a whole!

The focus of many of us has been the opportunity to meet with our sponsored students and families which was held at 1pm in the school’s dining room, as usual. The rain began just prior to the beginning while everyone was enjoying the band and drill team practice in the courtyard. Then, the heavens let loose! I have a few pictures which everyone who gets the CD set of pictures will have of the rain pouring into the dining room from the roofs and the wind blowing it in further. Through it all, we met our families, exchanged letters and hugs and smiles.

Prior to this evening’s meeting, the youth (high school and college) were asked to do two things: choose a representative to go to the funeral in Masaya tomorrow with Oscar and to create a list of at least six to sojourn to the banana camp in the afternoon. They were asked to rank in priority order who should have the experience. One of the criteria was to determine who would take action back home or at school as a result. Taking action such as only buying organic bananas at the store, talking with food service at the college to have them either purchase organic or not have bananas available, etc. Social action/justice committees in high schools and colleges could be educated about this situation, too. So, the group came up with their list based on their discussion. The limitation of transportation could play into whether all could go tomorrow or a small group, so it was necessary to go through this process.

Sister Rosa provided some pillar candles and matches so that our evening meeting could have some light. She also informed Sister Debbie that the school will present the desperdida from 7:30am to 8:30am on Monday immediately prior to our main group’s departure for the airport at 9am.

Today we learned that Dr. Zamora of Caritas who has been holding a weekly clinic in the Las Guerreros and El Trapiche region will not be able to continue as they do not have medicines. After discussion, we decided that the medicines about to expire in the last quarter of the year will be routed to these locations in order to continue the medical clinic. Cathy Hill will accomplish that in a couple of hours tomorrow. We also agreed that many of the stuffed animals could also go there for the children seen in the clinics.

The sports equipment which we had on the container will be distributed to the San Jose Hospital in Diriamba for use by the youth in that region.

Sister Debbie told us of a situation that Magalya had informed her of yesterday when they were going over scholarships. A girl who had been sponsored at the school no longer attends because her mother died recently and her father is using her as a surrogate wife – in all senses. She now is at home taking care of the house and her younger brother and sister (who is still in school). Sister and Magaly both revealed that each had been thinking of a ‘safe house’ for these young victims of rape and domestic violence. When they realized that, they talked about the concept further. It seems that the Local Junta would like to have one inside Nino to assure complete safety for the young women. So, Sister asked why they haven’t told us and Magaly said they thought it would be too expensive. Well, Sister asked that the Local Junta present a proforma to us to see if this mutual dream could become a reality. It might be something which grants might cover in addition to individual donations for the construction and the ongoing operating expenses.

Bill Calmbacher shared a gift he received from his sponsored family: a large picture of himself back in February of 2005 which had been enlarged and mounted on a wooden board and shellacked. It will hold a special place in his home as well as his heart!

Diane Crosier mentioned that the pools which will be used for the ECHO planting tomorrow have truly been a blessing while we have been without water….but, the Nejapa paint crew said it was the torrential downpour as they were returning this afternoon which provided them with their shower. Dennis Kaufman added that he was amazed at the gushing of the water, almost instantaneously, in the culverts along the roads in Managua and coming home on the Old Leon Road. The overflow caused debris to be pushed onto the main roads and, when the rain let up, the garbage and hazards were strewn across the roadways.

Cathy Hill shared her impressions of La Chureca yesterday which she expressed as surreal. She felt it was a hellacious place – almost as if it were a movie set which could be exited back into the ‘real’ world. Yet, this IS the real world for the thousands who dwell and work there. Sister Debbie then asked, “If the Lord hears the cry of the poor, will we?” She noted that she and Mauricio observed a woman dressed in black picking through the trash next to buzzards which were sitting next to a cow that was foraging through the garbage. Mauricio said, “Here in the dump, they are all friends.”

Brenda Flynn was appreciative of the great week they have had at Parajito Azul. Today they saw 30 lines of freshly laundered sheets and clothing – totally spotless. Something that she will keep in mind the next time she or anyone else complains about the laundry to do for the 12 residents they care for at work! Beverly Gogola noted that Christina Gehrig spent time yesterday working with the handyman at the Center as the instructions for setting up one of the pieces of equipment were only in English! She even guided him as to what tools to use; Beverly said that she felt very proud of Christina’s efforts.

Marty Mannix praised the group for their resourcefulness and their resiliency which have been amazing for these conditions which are more than Spartan. Then Sister Debbie told us that is looks as if the weekend will have all electrical restrictions lifted – but I will believe that when I see it! But, based on that information, we will invite the sisters here and the sisters at Nejapa to join us for pizza on Sunday evening when we return from our last excursion of this mission. Thanks to Whirley Industries, for whom Shawn Watson worked before his unexpected death this past March, we will be able to continue with the “last night supper” as we did in the past when Shawn personally covered the expense.

Marty noted that he had the honor late this afternoon of bringing three crates of stained glass windows to the sister in Nejapa. Carol & Jim Dumont, who had been here in February, provided these from a church in the Malone area. Marty noted that Jim had packed them with great love and care, sparing no expense. To see it really there, take the cover off, and raise it up to show the sisters was an emotional experience for him. Sister Miriam asked who the windows were for and Marty told her what came to mind at that moment: the windows are for the sisters, trusting and knowing they will find the perfect home for them.

Sister Debbie then noted that she found out today that all will be leaving in January, so our pizza dinner on Sunday will be the last time we will be with these sisters here. “If it is God’s will, we will be working with them again,” she said.

Judy Charland told us that she spoke with Jeff of the Manna Project about the moringa potential to help the people in this region. It is quite possible as Manna is the intermediary between the people and MINSA. Jeff had never heard of the moringa concept and he took information to study. Manna’s focus is education, so Judy is hoping that Manna might be able to be a moringa seed powder distribution center in the future. She is excited about all of the possibilities she has seen unfolding over the last few days and hopes this will filter up to ‘higher levels’ within the country.

There will not be a meeting tomorrow night, as 10 are attending the Managua Rotary Club’s fundraiser for a local orphanage at the Holiday Inn, but tonight we closed saying the “Serenity Prayer” in unison.

August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Our morning meeting was less than 15 minutes as we had much to do, quite early. Going to La Churaca was a small group to deliver 5 boxes of CMMB medicines for the clinic there as well as conduct contemporaneous projects: Judy Charland & Marcel Charland (for the moringa project), Roger Patnode with Kayla Rabideau (for lead and anemia testing) along with Liz Chaskey, Cathy Hill, Sara Fredette, Dan Ladue, Kayleigh Garrand, Karissa Monette. They met up with the Manna Project volunteers to coordinate the lead and anemia test group for 1 to 8 year olds. Manna runs an educational nutrition program for families in this section called “La Chureca” which accepts children due to poor nutrition assessments and requires their parent(s) to attend sessions on proper nutrition for the family.

La Chureca is the local term for the section of the Managua Dump officially called the Los Martinez Barrio. There are approximately 190 families in this section – about 1000 residents, 53% of which are under 18. It is northeast of the city and receives 4.5 million tons of waste according to a University engineering study. The decomposing of the trash attracts lice, rats and mosquitoes which contribute to the health problems. The burning of the trash contributes to the respiratory illnesses and parasite as well as other contagious infections abound. Not only do these families have medical issues and live in squalor and poverty, but they are also marginalized by society. About 25% of the population has a 4th-6th grade education but the vast majority receives none at all. There is a central school there with about 200 students ages 4 through 15. Families work 24 hours a day processing the trash with various families assigned to designated areas. In April of 2005, there was lead and anemia testing done on 16 children with 2 being negative for either, 11 in the mid-range for lead and 3 in the high range. This morning our team drew 40 specimens and hope to have another 15-20 specimens by this evening from the clinic. If any test is high, we will re-test those children in February. Meanwhile, there will be a public health investigation (or at least the clinic will try to investigate environmental issues such as where their family works in the Dump (collecting batteries?) and where their house is located (old paint cans around it?) and where are they in relation to the actual burning and dense smoke.

This morning, while waiting for the Rice & Beans truck to take them out, Bailey Rabideau and Jordan Donahue taught themselves how to juggle! But, alas, the truck came and they need to join the others: Dennis Kaufman, Marilyn Knutson and Julie Fredette.

I don’t believe I have mentioned it yet, but the parasite medications we are giving the young children during our trip are donated by King Pharmaceuticals. This morning more children received the medications and were measured and weighed by: Nancy Scanlan, Joe Lewis, Darcy Rabideau, Danielle Hamilton and Jenn Stitzinger.

This morning’s Home Shelter crew built a second home donated by Beekmantown Central School and one provided with funds from Barbara Gordon and her grandson, Jordan Guay, and family: Connie Tyska, Lauren Recny, Shawney Bushey and Kasey Garrand.

At Parajito Azul Disability Center all day were Beverly Gogola, Brenda Flynn and Christina Gehrig. They stayed long enough today to see Hector, a favorite of all of the travelers who have been there since the beginning. He suffers from osteogenesis, but is an intelligent young man with a good sense of humor.

Our Kitchen Crew for today was Mary Fredette, Abe Munn, Sue Black and Elle Rathbun. Feeding our 38 for breakfast and then almost 50 for lunch each day keeps our staff quite busy. You see, we also feed the locals who are on the home shelter crew, too.

I can’t forget our BBB crew that each day winds up with more and more to do, due to the water situation. They spend time in the afternoon, while assigned to other projects, as the bucket brigade bringing it into the bathrooms and into the kitchen to supply us all with enough with which to cook and at least give ourselves a quick wipe with a facecloth. The way we are looking at this shortage is – everyone’s got the problem! We were told that this entire region is having water issues, although we know there is water in the cisterns. It is limited at the convent, in the school and in our Nicasa even though the cisterns have water. This morning, Sister Rosa even had the local fire department come to fill two of the cisterns. The fire department charges $40 per cistern and is finding themselves in this ‘business’ due to the water situation throughout the region. Today’s BBB crew was Julie Fredette, Darcy Rabideau, Jenn Stitzinger, Dennis Kaufman and Joe Lewis.

Donations were received today by San Jose Hospital from Diriamba. Oscar Flores met their truck this morning at his brother-in-law’s house to advise in the loading of CMMB donated medications into the truck for the hospital. Sister Ligia came the other day to get some of the boxes from Nicasa and will return to make use of the medications which will expire before our return in February.

Later in the morning, Diane Crosier and Bill Calmbacher went to the Red Cross and to Caritas where Sister Debbie met them with Mauricio Flores. Diane, Bill and Oscar remained there in one of the buildings all afternoon (there are also two containers filled with our last shipment). They returned around 5:30pm with two pickups filled with boxes which will be more intensely sorted here for donating to local hospitals and clinics.

There were two homes constructed this afternoon: One donated by Kay Papin (Mary Fredette’s sister-in-law) in memory of Francis and Anna Fredette. Francis was Mary’s father-in-law and Kay’s father; he was a carpenter. The other home was donated by Rick and Linda Pickering in memory of her father Marcel Bechard who also was a carpenter.

Sara Fredette had the assistance of Abe Munn on the data entry this afternoon while she also ran the tests from the lead and anemia samples taken this morning at La Chureca.

A painting crew headed out to Nejapa school this afternoon to do a few more classrooms and the clinic area where Dr. Lopez sees patients on Fridays: Julie Fredette, Judy Charland, Jordan Donahue, Shawney Bushey, Kayleigh Garrand, Dan Ladue and Bailey Rabideau.

Our chalkboard painting crew in the upper primary classrooms at Nino today were Lauren Recny, Dennis Kaufman, Kasey Garrand and Jenn Stitzinger.

Our afternoon Rice & Beans crew got out a little late due to no transportation, but they kept their spirits up while waiting and journaling. Finally, they departed at 2:15PM with Magaly (who occupied herself with office work)…Darcy Rabideau, Roger Patnode, Connie Tyska, Karissa Monette, Kayla Rabideau, Liz Chaskey and Joe Lewis.

Late in the afternoon, Cathy Hill and Marilyn Knutson resumed the inventory of the medicines we brought, allocating them to the various designated locations in the courtyard for pickup tomorrow and Friday.

Sister Debbie has a request from the Archbishop to provide 50 or more latrines in the Las Guerreros and the El Trapiche region; Bonnie and Marty will be contacting Rotary International to see if 10 of the 150 under the current grant approved for Chiquilistagua could be constructed in that area instead. He also requested that we consider building 50 home shelters in this higher elevation as people are subject to the cold. Sister will be looking into this possibility further.

The good news she got today is that the generators are being released and Mauricio will be bringing them to Nicasa tomorrow.

When talking to Father Raul at Nejapa, he told Sister that they are considering a professional security firm rather than a ‘local’ hire. This would cost more, but he and the sisters believe it would be more secure in the long run. More on this over the next few days as it develops!

Late this afternoon while home crew and rice & beans were still out – as was Nejapa – those of who had returned to Nicasa decided to take advantage of the downpour by grabbing shampoo and conditioner using the rain pouring off of the roof to freshen our hair – and sometimes even more of ourselves!

After dinner when the rain increased and there was thunder and lightning in addition, Sister Debbie decided that after Mass, everyone could enjoy a night to themselves rather than trying to hold a meeting. So, the cards were broken out and many people enjoyed their flashlight lit spaces in groups of 2 to 6 people. Others journalled or sat in small groups in the dining room, their bunk rooms or in the foyer. Just near 7pm, a group of locals with guitars came over and joined Joe Lewis on his newly-acquired handmade guitar for a light evening of song which was enjoyed by all – while Darcy Rabideau and Sara Fredette planned the duty board for tomorrow. I have been remiss in not noting that these two have done phenomenal work every night, completing the task in less than 2 hours. Speed team!!

Hasta manana!

August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Each morning and evening we begin and end our day with a prayer or reflection to focus us on the true purpose of our mission projects and time with the Nicaraguan people. This trip has had many people bring favorite poems, prayers or songs that are aligned with everything we do here and at home. This morning we began with a song by Shawn McDonald, “Take My Hand” which seemed to hit home with many…courtesy of Kayla Rabideau and her iPod!

Our capable kitchen crew of Dan Ladue, Dennis Kaufman, Lauren Recny and Danielle Hamilton pleased all and nourished us with papaya along with the ‘regular’ watermelon and oranges. We lack nothing in the food area based on the planning of Sister Stephanie coordinating with Mauricio Flores each day. And in the evenings, Nora and Rose (two local women) prepare our dinners which have been night-after-night of delicious main dishes. Yes, for those of you who have traveled with us in the past, we have had Nora’s rice pudding! Tonight, though we had an added treat: Carla’s empanadas with pineapple filling.

“Bed, Bath & Beyond” is beginning a second rotation for the men as there are only 9 who reside here, so Marty Mannix had Roger Patnode pitch in to help him along with Sara Fredette. Nancy Scanlan and Liz Chaskey handled it for the women.

Due to the much needed upgrades to the infrastructure of the electrical grid here in Nicaragua to meet the current demand, the rolling outages were instituted. For the most part, the hours are consistent with what is announced each week, but today we lost it 10a-2p as well as 5p-10:30pm. When thinking about the economic impact of fuel, whether it be for keeping the electric generators going or cars, here it is about $5 per gallon….so much more than the ‘average’ Nicaraguan can budget. Imagine, as we gripe about $3.20 a gallon, that we were making about $300 per month; would you even bother to have a car? And we can count on our electricity even though there are rising gas prices at home.

This morning began with what became an encouraging trip to the Orphanage Farm up in Diriamba. Judy & Marcel Charland, Oscar Flores, Sister Debbie and Mauricio Flores saw what a seed can do: grow to three feet tall in a matter of months! Their time spent at the farm was exhilarating for all. Even Mauricio is ready to plant this week where all of the seeds had not taken at all on his property. At tonight’s meeting Judy said that in January she had said, “It will be a very happy day in my life when I stand in Nicaragua and see a moringa tree growing.” Today was her happy day! Most of us have heard this project called ECHO and Judy explained that it is an acronym for Environmental Concerns for Hunger Organization. It was begun about 20 years ago by Dr. Martin Price who brought moringa seeds from India to Haiti. She and Marcel have met Dr. Price in Florida and were inspired to carry the “seed of life” through the Mission of Hope to Nicaragua. Three of the nuns and a few of the local men along with the older orphans on the weekends work the farm. They have 12 different crops growing including corn, many local fruit (which, thanks to Oscar, they were able to identify), vegetables, banana, pineapple and more. They were also impressed with how clearly they could see the other side of Mombacho from the farm.

The water situation is that water is almost non-existent except for drinking water. Although, we found out today that we are having to go farther in toward Managaua for the bottled water as we have purchased too much locally and the store needs to save some for the locals. So, this afternoon the kitchen crew ran a bucket brigade attaching our hose to the sink in the CFC dining room and siphoning water off bucket-by-bucket to our large water barrels. Sister mentioned that there has never been a mission trip not only the length of time of this one, but one which has encountered as many hurdles in the lack of electricity and water in addition to the torrential rain.

We continued with our Heights & Weights this morning: Nancy Scanlan (who keeps those children loving those parasitic med tablets!!), Bill Calmbacher, Sara Fredette, Kayleigh Garrand, Liz Chaskey and Bailey Rabideau. In addition, this morning we added in the lead and anemia testing: Roger Patnode, Kayla Rabideau and Elle Rathbun. Most of the afternoon, Sara Fredette spent entering the data from the morning’s classes.

Getting near the end of the Nino Clinic inventory were Cathy Hill and Connie Tyska; still one more half day is needed and it should be done.

Our morning Home Shelter crew was comprised of Darcy Rabideau, Joe Lewis, Julie Fredette, Christina Gehrig and Mary Fredette building one for Beekmantown Central School and another for Franklin Academy High School staff and students.

Rice & Beans had an enjoyable trek through the countryside bringing food and toys to residents: Marilyn Knutson, Jenn Stitzinger, Abe Munn, Diane Crosier, Shawney Bushey, Elle Rathbun and Kasey Garrand.

A large contingent went to the Angels of Hope Orphanage this afternoon – in the pouring rain! That resulted in the children and us playing along the side of the main building under the roof and also inside the main room and entryway. The noise level of the joy shared between us was higher than usual when we can be out on the playground and throughout the grounds. The clinic side was taken care of by Roger Patnode, Cathy Hill, Bill Calmbacher, Nancy Scanlan and Connie Tyska aided by translators Joe Lewis and Dan Ladue. Danielle Hamilton was ecstatic to see the dresses made by her mother, delivered on past missions, being worn by so many young girls! We were not only greeted with a song, but just before we left they sang “Father Abraham” which, when we recognized it, allowed us to join in – in English! And, as customary, a version of “Auld Lang Syne” was sung as we departed. Bailey Rabideau was the best hand-clap-gamer we had and she learned a few new iterations to add to her repertoire. Shawney Bushey was passing out barrettes keeping many of the little girls enthralled. Later, she tore a page out of her journal and made it into a paper boat watching the kids float it down a gutter of rushing water. Bill Calmbacher and Nancy Scanlan were triaging everyone with Nancy processing Madre Teresita first. When she asked her to stand on the scale, Madre removed a rosary from her pocket. Then Madre looked down and found more to take out of her pockets! As Nancy said later, women in many cultures react to a scale in the same way. Cathy was seeing the nuns and Connie was dispensing meds with Dan’s able assistance. Later this evening, Joe shared that Roger tried very hard to speak Spanish directly to the young children and was amazed at how he, himself, could easily become a doctor: show some concern and say, “Take 2 Motrin every 4-6 hours and some Tylenol cough medicine once every 12.” Seriously, much of what was seen was respiratory distress due to the ‘rainy season’ conditions, so most everyone did indeed need the same recommendations. We also brought many of the CMMB over-the-counter medications to leave there along with 6 or 7 boxes of toys for the children. Nicky Lundy had donated two light blue denim hats from Essex Pediatrics, hoping to have us give them to sisters at some time during this mission. The hats were brought today and two sisters were readily found. One was in a darling red dress and another in a royal blue dress. The youngest was 2 and a half and her older sister was 4. They are new residents at the orphanage and were totally inseparable, even when the youngest needed to go in to see Roger for her cough, her sister was with her, holding her hand. I have many photos of them for Essex Pediatrics, but the youngest is so forlorn and almost disheartened – and not even three. These were definitely the two girls who needed to be found to wear the hats.

Our afternoon Rice & Beans crew sustained pouring rain while they were out and came back quite soaked: Abe Munn, Jenn Stitzinger, Kayleigh Garrand, Mary Fredette and Kasey Garrand.

This afternoon’s Home Shelter crew tried to dodge the rain, unsuccessfully, too, as they built another dwelling donated by George and Shirley Moore’s children: Jordan Donahue, Diane Crosier, Marilyn Knutson and Karissa Monette.

Before the meeting tonight, a Wonder Team of Plumbers went to work to free up one of the women’s toilets which had stopped working midday. Marty, Diane and Cathy created a plumbing snake and the ladies took it in to the bathroom. Their yield? Toilet paper (which is a no-no down here due to clogging drains) and….a fork!!

At this evening’s meeting, Sr. Debbie said that when they visited Our Lady of Guadelupe today they were told that the Mission of Hope “has saved the clinic” there in Managua. We were thanked for all of the assistance we have given to the small clinic which receives no governmental support nor any from Caritas as they are “too small.” Sister also told us that, in theory, the generator should arrive by midday tomorrow. Well, we’ve heard “manana” almost every day for over a week now…we will see if Customs and Caritas can get it released tomorrow.

Judy mentioned that she was impressed with Oscar’s knowledge of the various trees and plants they encountered while at the farm today. She believes we are now filled with possibilities of projects such as school and community gardens both in Chiquilistagua and Nejapa which all are part of our objectives of introducing self-sustaining ways of life. She saw possibilities of solar power for the farm in addition to the old boat engine they currently use to power the irrigation system.

Tonight we heard that due to the lack of refrigeration, the Monday ‘meal’ at CFC is milk, a roll and the vitamin. If the women were to prepare it over the weekend, it would spoil, so the warm meal is only Tuesday through Friday at this time. We decided we will give one of our refrigerators to them, on loan, when we leave so Monday will also be the nutritious warm meal as we have intended.

Sister also told us that it should cost about $588 to install the security system and 3 sensors at Nejapa. Leadership Team on-site met after the evening meeting and decided we could, on faith, go forward with this safety concern hoping that between those here on Mission and those reading these notes at home we could come up with donations to cover this expense.

At the meeting today with Madre Teresita at the Angels of Hope orphanage, Sr. Debbie discovered that they have established a second facility in Managua for the infants. Due to the temperatures in El Crucero and the respiratory illnesses the youngest get at most times of the year, they made this decision a short time ago. So, residents in El Crucero are usually over 2 years of age.

Connie shared that she had been reflecting on her initial moment with Sr. Karla on Friday and her entry to the Orphanage today. In each case, she recognized the nuns and they her; Connie noted that we are more than a fleeting moment in their lives – we are making an impression and are welcomed upon our return every time.

August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

By Bonnie Black
This morning around 4:30am many were awakened by the intense pouring rain. We are sure the weather is why we are seeing many more 8-legged creatures on this trip than normal in Nicasa…even the spiders want to come in out of the rain and dampness!

Thoughts were expressed over breakfast about the families we know and wondering how they deal with this season of harsh rainfall. After all, with just dirt floors how do they handle the flow of water through their dwelling?

But, it was dry enough by 7am to hold our morning meeting in our regular place outside, rather than everyone in the dining room as we had to last night. We also know that for this week, we will not have electricity from 5pm to 10pm. Union Fonseco is being true to its word that the outages will be scheduled and announced ahead of time. It does allow for planning for after this morning’s visit to Caritas, Sr. Debbie heard that will not have our generators today but……..manana!! That becomes “we will believe it when we see it.”

Today’s creative kitchen crew were Jordan Donahue, Shawney Bushey, Marilyn Knutson and Kayla Rabideau. I say “creative” because for lunch we had “Sister KaDenJo” greeting us – a decorative watermelon!

“BBB” had the ‘expert’ handling by Sara Fredette, Darcy Rabideau, Kasey Garrand and Bill Calmbacher. With only 9 men on this mission in their bunk room, and two people a day assigned to the task, you can see why the men will become ‘experts’ in this area!

Our first day of home shelter construction included two homes this morning built with funds from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Constable both of which had Joe Lewis and Sue Black on crew who are members of that congregation. They were joined by Abe Munn, Elle Rathbun and Dennis Kaufman.

Early this morning sister Stephanie and her crew of Brenda Flynn, Beverly Gogola, Christina Gehrig, Kayleigh Garrasnd, Kasey Garrand and Danielle Hamilton traveled to Parajito Azul Disability Center.

Working on our Nino Clinic inventory this morning were Cathy Hill joined by Connie Tyska and then they headed to the ‘sorting area’ of Nicasa in the afternoon to segregate specifics meds for certain clinics later this week and other meds for the area hospitals with which we work. They continued on this task for the rest of the day.

Diane Crosier and Darcy Rabideau were assigned to Children Feeding Children but the cook told Dan Ladue that we weren’t needed today. So, we will find out why to determine assignments for the rest of the week. So, Darcy joined the crew doing the heights and weights: Sara Fredette, Dan Ladue, Liz Chaskey, Nancy Scanlan and Julie Fredette. Not only were we measuring and weighing, but we also we dispensing the parasite meds – fine chewable tablets with a water chaser! All but one of the young children consumed the tablets well, especially with Nurse Nancy making a game of it and handing out stickers.

This morning’s Rice & Beans group was Bailey Rabideau, Mary Fredette, Bill Calmbacher, Lauren Recny and Jenn Stitzinger.

Meanwhile….Roger Patnode, Judy & Marcel Charland went to Yami’s brother’s home (Carlos is his name) to sort the meds delivered there a couple of months ago. They were extremely organized color-coding all of the meds for destination/purpose.

Reflexing to the needs of the day, specifically the delivery by ANF of the CMMB donated meds, Roger Patnode had a mini-crew of Julie Fredette and Jenn Stitzinger who whisked their way through that job!

This afternoon’s home crew was again led by Joe Lewis who was joined by Kayleigh Garrand, Danielle Hamilton, Kasey Garrand, Nancy Scanlan and Bailey Rabideau.

We were able to finish the chalkboard painting in the secondary classes today at Nino under the more than capable hands of Darcy Rabideau, Lauren Recny, Abe Munn and Mary Fredette.

We are trying to assure that the data entry on the heights and weights are recorded on computer daily, so Sara Fredette has taken on that yeoman’s job assisted today by Liz Chaskey and then Karissa Monette. Liz was taken to travel with Marty as his interpreter to Aquatec near the airport to investigate the final parts for the passive solar heating at the Disability Center.

Meanwhile, when they were done on their data entry for today, Sara and Karissa continued with the sponsorship gift list for Thursday, when we will meet with our families.

Jenn, Shawney and Jordan assisted Diane in further sorting materials and brought the school supplies for Nino over to the convent which released space for more meds!

A major meeting today among all of the vested parties on the ECHO/Moringa project was held at Noon. Attending were Judy & Marcel Charland, Diane Crosier, Sister Debbie, Oscar, Mauricio, Magaly, Mauricio Jr, Caesar Augosto (a teacher from the school) and Melvin Landers of ECHO. We had funded three of the local people (Mauricio Jr, Magaly and the teacher) to attend a conference in Managua during July on the entire concept.

At tonight’s meeting, Sr. Debbie gave us the full details on the robbery at the Nejapa school the other night. It seems that they do have the guard we have been paying for, but have him on 12 hours shifts, so that means he is there alternate nights. Friday night was a night without the guard and the police believe it was locals who knew there wouldn’t be a guard on duty overnight that night. The robber climbed over a fence and tried to pry the bars off the windows and when he wasn’t successful, he then jumped over and slithered into the courtyard. He entered and grabbed Sister Miriam, cutting her hand as a warning. Then he opened the door and let in his accomplice who had the gun. It was all covered in the newspaper this morning. Sister Debbie, in discussions with Father Raul this morning, learned it would cost $55 per month to hire a second night guard. She told Father the Mission would cover it ‘on faith’ that someone on this mission or another at home would step up to the plate to cover the expense. She also brought up the information on a motion sensor system which Sr. Rosa recently installed here at Nino. Noting that the sisters here also keep pepper spray with them, Sister Miriam nodded her head that they would like those, too. Sister Rosa is pricing the alarmed sensor and she will assist us and the sisters in Nejapa to become safer.

Liz then told us of the social stigma and bias she encountered at the plumbing store when she accompanied Marty as a translator. She expected it might be toward us, as Americans, but she saw it from the young men who worked behind the counter against Jairo. Yes, he wasn’t dressed in a white shirt and he didn’t gel his hair as they did, but they treated him as if he were invisible when she pointed the young men toward Jairo to follow him to the car.

At the Disability Center, Brenda was impressed with the residents and said it was fantastic to work there today. Sr. Stephanie mentioned that the girl who first smiled at Matt Kennedy in February is now all smiles and looks healthier even playing ball today! Beverly thought the physical therapy was very well organized and the entire staff was so gentle and caring. “It’s more than just a job to them – so different from home.” Danielle said her trip today was one of the hardest things she has done in her whole life and told us of her encounter with a young child in a crib – or so she thought. She sang and the child smiled and seemed so happy with such a small thing she was doing. She was subsequently told the child is 15 years old and spends most of the time in the crib. You could see that Danielle was intensely touched when she said that “beautiful things are going on there and we need to keep it up.”

Mary was touched on her Rice and Beans outing by an old lady who hugged everyone. Jenn piped in saying the woman was so happy saying that we were from heaven – emotions explained it all.

Sue found that the first home we constructed today was situated in filth and horrible conditions, yet there was a little boy who was so happy with so little. She was impressed by a local young woman worked extremely hard on construction all morning. Sue noted the second location this morning was so clean by comparison. She still wondered at how people can live as they do. Bailey added that at the second house the woman offered chairs for them to sit in and food! Her impression was that “people with nothing will give you everything they have while people with everything give nothing.” Quite a mature realization.

On a humorous note, Kasey told the group that he finally found the spider he has been looking for – in a jar, caught by a 7-year-old young girl in Monte Verde where they were delivering beans this afternoon. The father told him that a spider of that size can kill a cow. One of the young men had a good command of English and when asked how he learned it, he said he would continuously watch a movie with Madonna….and he thought that Nancy looked liked her!

Joe informed us that he has found that trees here are shorter than those at home – or should I say, his forehead determined that fact! No scrapes, no bruises, just a little tender.

Jenn said while they were walking down the road with Rice & Beans, she saw a guy in a truck who passed as she was taking pictures of children. He stopped and said, “Take a picture of me – I am the milkman!”

On afternoon crew, Kayleigh told us that one of the young women helping to build felt a little faint and Bailey guided her to sit. Nancy checked her when the woman said her head and neck hurt. After a conversation with the woman and her mother, she may be a victim of domestic violence. The mother was adamant that this new home was only going to be for her daughter and grandchildren – the father was NOT going to come back and live in this dwelling. Bailey felt the grandmother was set in her ways, but insistent that her daughter and children would be the only ones in the home.

She then told us of one of the crew member who asked her if she could change one thing about the world, what would it be. She turned the question on him and he said it would be the injustice of humanity.

Karissa told us that one of the home construction crew used to live in Houston making $12/hr in construction. He told her of his apartment there and how he lived, but he longed to return to Chiquilistagua to be happy. His father had told him when he was young that “a word of English was a dollar in your pocket.” He agreed with his father’s maxim, but enjoys life here better.

Danielle was a bit taken aback by Inocencio on the home construction site when he asked her what she thought of Nicaragua and the living conditions. She responded, “I don’t know what to say.” He told her that it isn’t because they want to live this way, it’s just the way it is. “We are not lazy. A lot of people need to hear this.”

Cathy informed the group that she thinks of Nica a lot like Mexico and sees hope. About 20 years ago when her family visited an area similar to Chiquilistagua and Managua, they saw living conditions quite similar. But last month when she returned, it looked a new and vibrant. Sister Debbie reminded us that Nicaragua used to be the single most prosperous country in Central America but earthquakes, natural disasters and civil war still have a choke hold on political life and that’s why things are as they are. Yet, through it all, the Nicaraguan people are friendly, welcoming and hospitable.

Sister Debbie complimented the flexibility and openness of this group. She reminded us that this is the longest mission trip in the 25 which have taken place and she urged everyone to be journaling and to write the questions that come to mind. We shouldn’t worry about having the answers – they will come in time. Ask questions knowing there may not be answers yet.

As we sat in darkness, we all looked at the sky filled with stars. Another satisfying day filled with wonder, joy and a gamut of emotions.

August 13, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

By Bonnie Black
The kitchen staff satisfying the early risers this morning were Darcy Rabideau, Karissa Monette, Joe Lewis & Christina Gehrig. I say, “early risers” because it was Sunday and, in theory, we get to sleep in a half hour longer. But, no! Most everyone was up and ready for breakfast before 6am (our regular time). They were all raring to go as this was one of our “free” days.

“BBB” was handled quite ably by Joe Lewis, Roger Patnode, Kayleigh Garrand and Kayla Rabideau this morning and there wasn’t much else as we were gone all day.

Before Mass this morning, Sr. Debbie had the wonderful opportunity of meeting with Nora and baby Allyson to present them with gifts. Much of what was given was donated by Whirley Industries of Florida in memory of Shawn Watson, Sister Stephanie’s nephew, who died quite unexpectedly this past winter. Shawn had been on an early mission and his family supports 5 students’ scholarships here at Nino. Through Whirley, the mission has been able to provide the home health kit containers we take out on medical home visits and what we will be giving away at our Health Fair next weekend. Whirley is not only staying committed to the Mission, but wanted to support a very young child through the completion of high school. It was decided that baby Allyson would be the recipient of Whirley’s generosity in memory of Shawn. They are committing to a monthly stipend to defray medical costs for Allyson’s next two years of life and will step up to paying for a complete educational scholarship for Allyson here at Nino – from preschool through graduation. They also provided a backpack for each of Allyson’s siblings and other small gifts.

After Mass, a small group headed out on the City History Tour which began with lunch at Maria Bonita where Jeremy Eppler and two Nicaraguan doctors (Indira and Athena) joined us for lunch. Roger Patnode stayed behind at the restaurant to discuss with these doctors their education, their focus and the possibility that they might be interested in working with us on the upcoming clinics at La Chureca and at Nejapa. The others headed off to Huembes Market for a couple of hours shopping in candlelit stores which were going to close early due to the electricity situation – or so we were told until we found other parts of the market using their electric lights without any problem! Confusing, to say the least. After the market, Joe Lewis, Darcy Rabideau, Kayleigh Garrand, Kayla Rabideau, Christina Gehrig, Karissa Monette, Roger Patnode, Beverly Gogola, Brenda Flynn, Shawney Bushey, Mary Fredette and I began our tour. I believe most people enjoyed it, learning much about the reasons why Managua city (and Nicaragua, as a country) is such a divergence of the “haves” and the “have nots.”

The rest of the group (except for Marty who stayed “home”) had begun their adventure at 8am heading to Mombacho National Park – a cloudforest which, today, was socked in and did not yield the views normally appreciated by climbers of that volcano. Not only were there some problems mechanically, there was also much rain which they hit partially down the volcano. They had, luckily, stopped at Katerina Market on the way there as a few people were able to spend the cordobas burning a hole their pocket! This time, instead of the entire market being open, there were only 4 stalls; quite a disappointment, but they knew they were eventually headed to Masaya Market. But, that was not to be! The torrential downpour which lasted a couple of hours created roadway situations requiring a detour for them. The delay changed their timing for eating and going to the market, so they only ate and were not able to enjoy get to Masaya. But, Sister promised them at tonight’s meeting that they will be able to go to Huembes Market later in the week. Anote on the restaurant: it was next to a place which had monkeys. This allowed for faces to made on both sides of the wall!

At tonight’s meeting, were heard both funny and heart-wrenching stories of the last two days (due to the theatre last night we did not have a meeting). Sr. Debbie started the sharing time noting that this afternoon, when coming home in Mauricio’s car, they came upon a naked woman walking in the road. Mauricio told them the woman was homeless and mentally ill – “no family, no help.” When Sister asked him why there wasn’t a place for the woman to seek care, he noted: “Government all talk, no action.” It is remarkable to know of the safety nets we have in the US and how this contrasts. Mauricio concluded with, “Hope never; die in alley.” This struck a chord in Sister reflecting on what we have, and expect, from our government versus what exists here and in many parts of the world for the mentally ill.

Reaching out to others to share, Jenn Stitzinger and Shawney Bushey told of their experience at the Aid Center for Women. Shawney said it is the only private center in the country aiding rape victims who are pregnant. Not only can women stay there through their pregnancy, plus 3 months post partum, but they also can return for counseling as needed. Shawney went on to say that they observed a 13-year-old who was pregnant and had been thrown out of her parents’ home due to her condition. She said that she looked about 8 and, when they were handing out the toys to the young children, they could see her looking longingly at the stuffed animals. Then they had the realization that they were looking at a facility which can take care of only 12 young rape victims at a time and that they leave 3 months after giving birth. Jenn chimed in noting they were told there are 2 public shelters but only this one private shelter in the country. There are 2 rooms which have 5-6 beds in each room plus one crib. In a city of 1.3million, how can this be sufficient? This coming week, we will deliver the 2 small child’s rockers to them which are at Nicasa (due to the fact they could not come apart on our February trip).

Brenda Flynn said she learned a lot of the history today but what struck her was the children at the market. Then her heart was reached more when she saw the kids in the streets and how they looked. It was agreed, though, that the children wanted their pictures taken and, as Karissa noted, they want to be noticed, recognized and acknowledged.

Sue Black told us that the rain did inconvenience them on the bus from Mombacho, but looking at the homes of the Nicaraguans, where the rain was pouring through, she realized how being on mission was beginning to affect her.

Roger informed us of the discussions he had with the two Nicaraguan doctors and the experiences he had Friday and Saturday with Dr. Lopez observing the Mission of Hope’s on-going delivery of medical care provided by the Mission of Hope. These two doctors are interested in participating in the clinics we have scheduled for later this coming week and, in that, he saw the growth and evolution of the Mission to care provided by Nicaraguans, for Nicaraguans. He complemented the medical team at home – wherever they live – who created such a solid base and allowed the original clinic concept to develop into the delivery of medical care of today; he noted, “They have done the right job.”

After a few more personal examples of sharing the evolving connection among some travelers, Marty guided us to this coming week. He said, “You can be overwhelmed by the need. But those of us who have been here a while know the long-lasting impact of the Mission in the country.” He noted that although we all will have to respond to the need in front of us, we must try not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need. “You are here – you are making a difference. We have learned from our mistakes and we know we are a delivery conduit for those who want to help but can’t – corporations as well as individuals. You carry that message; you make it happen for people here as well as people there.”

Sr. Debbie draw upon those statements noting that 736 travelers came before the 38 of us all making a difference through a spirituality based on hope, compassion and justice. We then closed our meeting with Sister reading from the Millennium Prayer with many in the room understanding it on a difference level after what they have experienced so far.

By the time you read this, we will have all begun our work week at a higher intensity – as long as the rain will hold off. But, we have much to accomplish and even if it does rain (after all, it has always been considered the “rainy season”) we know that we must do what we need to do. It will be filled with accomplishments and projects but, most of all, for us and for the people who welcome us here to their country, it will be filled with justice and hope.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

By Bonnie Black
The plans for this morning was to have our roof painting crew with brushes in hand at 6:30am, bright and early, in order to get their job done before the mid-morning sun became too much. But, Mother Nature foiled that – in a big way! Not only did it pour for close to 2 hours, but it was on and off most of the day…until the sun shone at 2:45pm. This put a big crimp on our plans because so many tasks were based outside.

Our kitchen crew (Brenda Flynn, Beverly Gogola and Kayleigh Garrand) kept everything running smoothly even with most of us around Nicasa all day long doing tasks other than what was planned.

Our “BBB” crew of Bill Calmbacher, Christina Gehrig, Marcel Charland and Elle Rathbun did their best to keep everything clean and sparkling throughout the downpours.

This morning, though, a few planned projects did occur. Roger Patnode, Connie Tyska and Dan Ladue joined Marta and Dr. Lopez at Mateara for the regularly scheduled clinic at 8am. What we sometimes to refer to as the Refugee Center, is comprised of fishermen’s families who were displaced as a result of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. They did not return to their coastal homes, as they were gone and much of their land had been totally eroded. Their hope was, by staying, that they would be able to make a better life for themselves and their families. In reality, the young children are vulnerable to the darker side of life as their mothers spend long hours each day at the sweatshops down the road, as do their siblings who are at least 9 or 10. We perused the grounds of the secondary school where only those with “enough intelligence” are admitted. The primary school is about half a mile down the road where the younger ones go. We met a 13-year-old girl – who looked about 9 – who informed us that she and the others walk to the primary school each day. They then spend the afternoons and evenings around the area.

Meanwhile, back at the Nino Clinic, Cathy Hill had Mary Fredette and Sue Black as her inventory helpers today. There is still a bit left – about 2 hours – to complete the thorough screening of stock as they had no electricity to allow them to see in the back room!

Rice and beans delivery – our first of this mission – got off to a slower than expected start due to the rain, but the team of Marilyn Knutson, Abe Munn, Nancy Scanlan and Julie Fredette did get out with Magaly Velasquez to a few homes in the area. The team was mainly comprised of new volunteers so this was a wonderful initial experience for them.

“Mr. Fix-It” around Nicasa today was Joe Lewis who tidied up a few electrical and mechanical odds and ends so that things are now functioning better….thanks, Joe!

Painting crews for the afternoon were able to do their assigned jobs as they were all inside: Nejapa classrooms and finishing the chalkboards at Nino. Sara Fredette was crew leader at Nejapa with her team of Marcel Charland, Marilyn Knutson, Abe Munn, Elle Rathbun and Dan Ladue. They took some very nice “before” and “after” photos presented by “Vanna” Elle! The chalkboard crew – who had to sit and watch paint dry due to the humidity – was led by Connie Tyska: Nancy Scanlan, Bailey Rabideau and Christina Gehrig.

The roof painters (Joe Lewis, Jordan Donahue, Danielle Hamilton, Liz Chaskey, Karissa Monette, Jenn Stitzinger, Kayla Rabideau, Dennis Kaufman, Shawney Bushey, Lauren Recny & Mary Fredette) joined the others assigned to sorting the suitcases and the boxes. Diane Crosier tried to keep everything organized and efficient in the sorting process, but the downpours would bring everything in the process to a screeching halt for prolonged periods of time. Her morning crew of Judy & Marcel Charland, Bailey Rabideau, Bill Calmbacher, Sara Fredette, Elle Rathbun and Christina Gehrig was patient and attentive and became a blend of other teams held up from their assignments due to the rain. Throughout the afternoon, Diane welcomed assistance from anyone not able to their assigned tasks.

Mid-day, Sr. Debbie, Oscar, Shawney and Jenn went to the Managua Aid Center for Women to bring them dresses made by Danielle Hamilton’s mother along with personal hygiene items for the young women, most of whom are rape victims and are now pregnant. It was a moving experience and one that answers a request by Archbishop Brenes on our last trip. On the way back, they took a short stop at the (extremely small) City Zoo…cages with a few exotic birds and such.

Among the items which were stored in Magaly’s office were a few wheelchairs – a we had a brigade bringing them over to Nicasa for sorting! One, though, went to Ismael Ramirez who is 75 and has been unable to walk for a long time. His disability, which includes complications from diabetes, has not allowed him to leave his bed and therefore work. A portable commode as well as a wheelchair, chucks and Depends were brought to his house – quite emotional for all present. Ismael literally had tears of joy running down his cheeks. His wife wiped them away as his hands are also seized and not functional. She lifted him into the wheelchair and took him outside. He was looking around (although he had a large cataract in his right eye) and began weeping again. We were assured they were joyful tears – overwhelmed by the gifts brought to him. It will certainly be a large change for everyone in the family. A joyous moment!

Tonight, we had an early dinner (grilled chicken) before getting dressed up to attend the annual Nicaraguan Folk Ballet. This performance was of a higher technical level than the one we saw 2 years ago – excellent dancers – including a number which included many young children! The lights, the costumes, the music and the dance all blended together in an evening of pride of their country’s heritage. Just prior to the performance, we stopped at the Tiscapa (Somosa Palace) National Park for an overview of the city pointing out many of the sites that some will see on tomorrow’s City Tour.

Although we arrived home late, the energy from the performance kept most up to around 10:30-45 our time…but, with the later breakfast scheduled for Sunday morning, we will probably make up the difference in “lights out” time.

August 12, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Our first full day here was packed with mostly “around the house” activities and projects which prepare us for the coming week throughout the region. Our kitchen crew today was comprised of Sr. Stephanie, Julie Fredette, Jenn Stitzinger and Bailey Rabideau - they were able to please all 38 of us! Our “Bed, Bath & Beyond” staff kept our bathrooms and floors and facility quite tidy and clean all day long – which is a challenge when dealing with 95 degree+ heat and close to 100% humidity. Tonight, around 7pm, the rolling thunder and lightening finally resulted in a downpour which lasted about 10 minutes. Many people ran to get their shampoo and body wash and joyfully romped in the inside courtyard getting cooler than they had been since arrival and a bit cleaner! The electricity is staying predictable, but we were without water except for a few hours in the morning again. Bucket “showers” are the norm and we are all quite tolerant of the conditions, heat and humidity.

But let me start you out at our first morning meeting. We learned that only 1 of the 17 suitcases arrived last night which meant that Oscar, Mauricio and Sr. Debbie would spend most of the day at the airport with Mariellos and Javier from MINSA waiting for the suitcases and then inspecting them one-by-one. Before they headed out to the airport and the rest of us “on assignment,” we ended the meeting with the “Prayer for the Millennium Goals” set by the UN as worldwide aspirations to achieve by 2015. Reading all 8 goals which were printed on the reverse of the prayer hit home – they could be titled the “North Country Mission of Hope Goals” as they are so close to our mission and objectives.

Early this morning a fantastic crew headed over to the secondary school to paint the roof on one section. We had 3 crews of 4 people who rotated 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off allowing everyone to get the job done – as far as the paint would go. There will be more paint bought for the morning as we want to finish this project on Saturday morning. Tonight Marty thanked this crew in particular for their attention to safety and their painting techniques. Darcy Rabideau led her team of Shawney Bushey, Danielle Hamilton and Lauren Recny while Dennis Kaufman guided Liz Chaskey, Jordan Donahue and Sara Fredette. Joe Lewis had Karissa Monette, Kayleigh Garrand and Christina Gehrig with him on roof during their stint. It was pointed out later that Darcy had achieved notoriety for the paint designs on her shirt and shorts!

What could have been a tedious job was handled with ease in the courtyard this morning: sorting the suitcases which were here. Diane Crosier led her team of Nancy Scanlan, Kasey Garrand, Abe Munn, Sue Black and Mary Fredette into the types of medicines and other items – general categories. The crew continued in the afternoon, still under Diane’s guidance, comprised of Brenda Flynn, Liz Chaskey, Christina Gehrig, Shawney Bushey and “nurse” Nancy again.

The inventory of the Nino Clinic was guided by Cathy Hill along with Connie Tyska, Beverly Golgola and Brenda Flynn. They weeded out anything on the verge of expiration as we will be restocking with medicines which will last until our next large trip in February.

Roger Patnode instructed our CVPH-sponsored high school students (Elle Rathbun and Kayla Rabideau) with a CDC training video on anemia and lead testing via finger pricks. He then had them practice on his fingers learning how to use the lancet and the pipette and then read the results. They will be putting this into action on other fingers come Monday with the youngest students here at Nino when they are measured for their height and weight.

Judy & Marcel Charland were assigned to harvesting seeds from the nimb trees on the Nino property. Nimb is a natural pesticide for the vegetation which be planted near them. They found 35 trees growing in the area nearest the basketball court and they are thinking of fencing it off for future moringa planting. It seems, though, that we have arrived a bit too late to harvest the seeds. Last trip, Marilee Patnode had suggested we harvest the seeds in late July or early August – on this trip – but we are here later than ever before and we missed the opportunity as the pods had already opened and dried. This afternoon they traveled to Nejapa where they spoke with Sr. Karla and saw many possibilities – including a section near the end of their basketball court, too! So what had begun as a morning of confusion about the “harvesting seed” assignment turned into one which ended quite hopeful. Judy had just been reading a quote by theologian Thomas Mertoin which said, “Keep still and let Him do some of the work.” She knows now that there was a greater purpose to their initial assignment today as finding solutions to hunger that work seem to be unfolding with what will become known as the Moringa Project.

Nejapa was also the destination for Cathy Hill and Connie Tyska who provided exams for the sisters and for Roger Patnode who brought the informational handouts to Sr. Karla for distribution to the families regarding the anemia and lead testing we want to do next week on their 50 youngest students. While we were there, we were privileged to observe not only their drill team and band but also a dance lesson which was being given by a gentleman who is part of the Ballet Folklorique. Sr. Karla told us that a few went to the presentation last August and met him and now this year he has kept his promise to come to the school to teach the high school girls some of the traditional dances. He was a joy to watch – so fluid!

This afternoon we also had a crew sorting the building materials in preparation for the 13 home shelters we will build naxt week: Marilyn Knutson led her crew of Kayleigh Garrand, Elle Rathbun, Sara Fredette and Dennis Kaufman; Joe Lewis led Kasey Garrand, Kayla Rabideau, Lauren Recny asnd Karissa Monette. The third mini-crew was led by Darcy Rabideau: Abe Munn, Jordan Donahue and Danielle Hamilton.

As we opened tonight’s meeting, Sr. Debbie told us that the Mass which had been going on during our dinner hour was an anniversary mass for the woman who had been part of our CFC since the inception. She died right after we left here last August of a sudden heart attack. If we had known, we would have gone as Mary Fredette had chosen to do. Thanks for representing us all, Mary!

She then noted that all of the suitcases are now here, recalling the “events” they went through today getting them to Nicasa. On Saturday, they will be sorted first before getting the many boxes stored in Magaly’s office over to sort for distribution next week. Then she told us of taking Mariellos home this afternoon, as she didn’t have a ride from the airport. Sister was quite unnerved when they stopped in front of a habitat not much bigger than the guard’s stall here at Nino. As Sister said, it didn’t seem much more than the space in the shelters we build for the poorest of the poor. Mariellos, remember, is a high ranking government official in the Ministry of Health. She lives with her sick mother and her 3 children one of which is her son who was recently married and having his first child in December. When Sister asked her if they knew the sex of the baby, Mariellos replied that it doesn’t matter, as long as the baby is healthy. She noted that clothes for the child are needed as a stroller would be wonderful. We will look to see what we have on the container to meet her needs before we leave but, if not, we will work at obtaining them for her when we return to the North Country.

Marty remarked how everybody stayed very flexible today which made it all work smoothly. He noted that Bill Calmbacher and his crew of three women (Mary Fredette, Beverly Golgola and Sue Black) started on time, had all of their materials in the classrooms on the first trip and there were no hitches accomplishing their goals painting four blackboards.

We closed our meeting tonight with a song by Lori True: “What Have We Done for the Poor Ones” which resonated with everyone.

Most everyone was in bed with the sheets pulled up before the “lights out” at 9:30pm occurred. Another good night’s rest as we look forward to our second day and a trip to the Ruben Dario Theatre tomorrow night for the annual production of the Nicaraguan Ballet Folklorique.

August 10, 2007

Late Thursday, August 9, 2007

By Bonnie Black
Well, everyone except Oscar arrived at Nicasa by early evening. Yes, there was a hold-up at the Managua airport due to 17 suitcases not making the flight (they came in on another American Airlines flight at 7:30pm) and also because a random check of a suitcase resulted in a medical item being found in it which was not on the packing list. So, MINSA (according to regulations) had to then take each suitcase and process it individually. Kasey Garrand, Marcel Charland, Sr. Debbie, Oscar and Mauricio stayed with the initial suitcases until they were all processed by MINSA at the airport. Kasey and Marcel arrived at Nicasa around 4:30pm leaving the others to await the flight. Meanwhile……

Roger Patnode had gone to a 1pm meeting at the American-Nicaraguan Foundation and his driver had car problems on the way back. So, around 4:30pm, Marty Mannix took another driver out to ANF to get Roger and who should drive in behind them but Mauricio and Sr. Debbie and Oscar! So, Sr. Debbie returned to Nicasa at that point, leaving Mauricio and Oscar to return to the airport for the arrival of the next AA flight and wait through the process of the suitcase audit by MINSA.

All seemed quite excited to finally “be here!” After a quick bite to eat prepared by Diane Crosier, everyone had a half hour or so to just relax and rest (although there were 4-5 who took a soccer ball and headed to the courtyard to play with the few children who had come.

After a brief orientation by Marty Mannix, Diane Crosier, Bill Calmbacher and me, some people were playing with the children while others were seated in the front yard when we were joined by two members of the Managua Rotary Club who arrived to be part of the upcoming press conference which we heard about yesterday from Inocencio. The president of the club, Rudy, was quite informative about his coffee and pineapple plantations and the agricultural situation in the commodities market right now. He offered to give us a tour of the plantation just down the road about 10km from us one afternoon. I think a lot of people seemed quite interested.

A little after 4pm (before Sr. Debbie had arrived), a reporter and videographer from Presnsa ALM arrived along with Ramiro Silva Gutiewez, a member of the National Assembly. This would be like Charles Schumer or Hillary Clinton coming to a Mission meeting in Plattsburgh! Sister Rosa began with a prayer and Inocencio spoke to the gathering: all of us who were at Nicasa along with the 13 families (yes, almost every member) receiving a home shelter this mission and the 45 families who have received a latrine courtesy of the Rotary International Matching Gift program among the Rotary Clubs of Managua, Plattsburgh and Bergen-Highlands-Ramsey (NJ). The reporter interviewed Inocencio, Sister Rosa (who spoke of the immense impact the Mission has had on the school and the barrio), Gunther Hewig (a Managuan Rotarian) and yours truly. I think I got stuck with that job because of the other three, I knew more about what we have done and are planning to accomplish on this, our 25th Mission. The reporter also interviewed an elderly woman who has been assisted by the Mission. We have been promised a copy of the edited package to bring home. What a great gift we can use to help spread the word to foundations and various donors!

Our dinner tonight was prepared by Nora and Rosa who have been our cooks for quite a few mission trips. The food was delicious and eaten by everyone who left the dining hall quite satisfied. We are looking forward to a number of ‘home-cooked’ meals by our chefs extraordinaire!

Tonight, after the power returned, many were found reading or playing cards while Darcy Rabideau and Sara Fredette got right down to creating the assignment board for tomorrow. Without classes (due to the Santo Domingo holiday) we will be able to accomplish two major painting projects here at Colegio.

We are now ready for Mission #25 to begin…..and I will write again tomorrow evening, sending a note along in the morning.

August 9, 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Editor's note: For a technical reason that we haven't been able to solve, the "Continue reading..." link at the bottom of the intro to this journal entry isn't working correctly. To read the full journal entry, click on the date (Thursday, August 9, 2007) at the top of the article. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

By Bonnie Black

Upon A Team’s arrival Monday night around 10:30 (12:30am your time) we opened the doors to Nicasa to find not much there! It seems that there had been a dental clinic held in multiple rooms and new painting of all bathrooms and bedrooms. There were only 3 bunks in the men’s room, 3 in the women’s small room and 4 in the larger room. Also, every room was locked as new locks had been put in prior to our arrival. Quite a surprise! But, primary on our minds at that time was to find the mattresses and the suitcases with the linens; nothing was where we had left them. So here we were near midnight playing “Huckle, Bucklel Beanstalk!” Soon, we found what we needed and our heads hit the pillows. No trouble falling asleep, though.

In the morning, we found the bunkbeds had been stored on their ends against each other in the CFC dining room. We did not relish going to get them and dragging them over, so we asked Mauricio to find out if some “fuerte muchachos” could do so. Around sunrise on Wednesday, 10 of the missing 15 bunkbeds were dragged (yes, literally) to our front yard by the guards. Sister Rosa promises the rest will be moved by strong students no later than Thursday morning.

Then, there was a water main break on our first morning of work around 10a.m. which caused us a bit of consternation until it returned late morning on Wednesday. Setting up Nicasa without water kept us using our creativity; luckily, we had filled a couple of the water buckets and boiled some water prior to the unexpected outage.

Under the new electricity rationing plan defined by Union Fenosa, the Managua area is not affected by loss of power from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM. From 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM, Managua is exposed to blackouts in order to provide electricity to the other departments. This schedule guarantees businesses and the government to run normally during the morning hours, and also gives time for the commerce sector to "comply" with the afternoon blackouts. Blackouts in our area are not to exceed five hours. BUT, A Team discovered that we lost power on Tuesday around 2:30 (as expected) but it did not return until after 8pm. They say that energy cuts will not be applied during the weekends because the energy demand diminishes considerably. But, we will see!

Delivery of all of the home shelter supplies arrived on Wednesday even through the rain which fell periodically. Of course, raining here is about 3-5 minutes followed by bright, hot sun almost instantaneously…all contributing to the humidity this time of year.

Diane Crosier and Mauricio went to the markets and have our cocina well-stocked for the main group’s arrival (it also means we can have more than toast for a meal!). Actually, we were good to ourselves and decided rather than another meal of either ham and cheese on toast or the other choice of cheese and ham on toast, we splurged and went to El Eskimo Restaurant for dinner on Tuesday evening. Quite a nice meal, including salad bar and dessert with beverage for about $16 including tip.

Roger Patnode spent much of the afternoon bringing the database of the heights and weights up-to-date on a spreadsheet. All of the data from February is now in existent and we will use that as we proceed through our semi-annual assessments early next week.

All is ready for the arrival of the main group today around 11:30 at the airport. Once everything is loaded on to the two buses (one for passengers, another for suitcases) they should be at Nicasa around 1pm or 2pm. An orientation will occur for all as always there are just a few differences from trip-to-trip. Then, at 4pm, the television station will be here to interview Inocencio about what the Mission does for home shelters and members of the Managua Rotary Club will be joined by our Plattsburgh Rotary Club representatives on Mission regarding the Rotary International Matching Grant Privy Project. Of course, Sister Debbie will be here by that time and available to talk with them, too. Although the meeting with the 13 families receiving their shelters was at 3pm yesterday, they will not be obtaining their foundation materials until this afternoon – the photo op!

This afternoon, Dr. Roger Patnode will be meeting at ANF with various local agencies, also NGOs like we are, joined by Oscar Flores when he arrives. Projects and philosophies will be on the table for discussion.

Much is already lined up for all to do over our extended time in the country. I will do my best to keep you all up-to-date with our daily activities – even if you don’t receive a message each day, know that I will be making daily journal entries to send…sometimes two at a time, if necessary.

I look forward to being your eyes and ears on the ground here in Chiquilistagua, Nicaragua, for the next two weeks. Hasta manana!