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February 27, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

By Bonnie Black
Today is A Team's last day on the ground here and we are just about set to put the key in the door and head for home at 4am tomorrow (although it will take us until close to midnight to actually be in Plattsburgh - if all connections go smoothly!).

We had many loaves of bread leftover, so this morning Jim Dumont and Bill Calmbacher took them over to CFC and they were used immediately! We have also completed the boxes for giveaway sneakers, clothes and toiletries to those who so desperately need them. A few of the boxes we took directly to the convent yesterday afternoon so that the very poor we saw on Monday will soon have some clothes, soap and shampoo.

Over the last two days, I made sure to take photos of the various schools and neighborhoods represented on Mission 27:
The Academy of Holy Names team of Kendra Kline, Renee Bean, Betsy Sullivan and Sr. Cathy Kruegler.
The Cliff Haven contingent of Alexa Cosgro, Alex Munn, James Carlin & Bonnie Black.
Alice Robinson, Matt Kennedy and Alex Munn were the Peru School group which raised more than $650 through a coin drive at their high school before coming down.
Sarah Merkel & Sarah Deeb of PHS raised $75 for CFC and they were accompanied by Meghan Ryan on her first mission, too.
Seton Catholic students collected almost $700 from a "quarter drive" at school asking their peers for loose change in the months prior to this mission: Alexa Cosgro, Rachel Daly, Andrea Maynard and Samantha Mulcahy.
Even a group of students who live in the Town of Peru decided I should take them, too, as they are representatives of different schools, but now feel as one.

Individual students who I would like to acknowledge, in addition to those already noted in the daily journals, are Jessica Finnegan of AVCS who raised $1400 from a spaghetti dinner at the Keeseville Elks Lodge a few weeks ago.
Mary Garcia, the first student accepted from Schroon Lake, raised over $1,000 at a ziti dinner in January and has just been recognized by the Soroptimists of the Adirondacks with an award for her promotion of the Mission in her hometown of Schroon Lake with a check for $250 and one for the Mission of HOPE. However, Mary intends to donate the entire $500 to the Mission of Hope. This is just one more example of the widespread impact the Mission is having and also an example of the generally excellent caliber of student that we accept on this mission. Joining her from Schroon Lake were veteran travelers Bill Calmbacher and Beverly Gogola.

Of course, the medical donations drive our work down here and we couldn't do it all without the help of the local pharmacies: Condo Pharmacy, Maggy Pharmacy, Peru Pharmacy and Keeseville Pharmacy - all major donors in responding to our urgent plea for meds.

I would like to correct a misunderstanding about the house which we will be able to use for while here in Nicaragua. Yamilette's sister-in-law and family las signed papers leasing the space to us - rent free - for as long as we would like. Even though we will be allowed to do renovations and perhaps put on an addition to better serve our needs, this is truly only temporary until we can find a proper piece of land and home for us to purchase. We need to find donors who are willing to assist us in the venture - planned for the future.

Our 'wish list' for our next Mission includes:
Batteries (AA & D only)
Umbrellas
Ponchos
Pillar candles (some citronella??)
Small white cups (3 oz)
Safety pins
Index cards (200)
HP inkjet 21/22 (2 combo sets)
Clipboards
Dolly
Paper towels (none in stock)
Scotch tape (only 1 roll)
Printing calculator (for Magaly)
Broom for sweeping courtyard
Golf cart
Mop handles
Brooms
Claw Hammer
Socket set
Hand saw
Circular saw with guard
18v batteries for power tools (Ryobi)
3.5 inch wood screws
long and short outlet screws
Tape measure
4-ft level
Plastic storage containers (13 x 14 x 22)
Vice grips
Tool box
(2) 50-ft extension cords
Calculator for students at Nejapa
Functioning computers for Nejapa and the Orphanage
School supplies for Orphanage
Sports equipment for Nejapa
Stove/refrigerator/silverware for Nejapa
6 long tables for Nejapa
Large cooking utensils for school kitchen at Nejapa

A few statistics on who we serve:
Nino Jesus de Praga is serving 525 students every day in our Children Feeding Children program and about 40% of the school is on scholarship through the Mission.
Nejapa has 50 scholarship students and it is ever-growing as is their enrollment, too.

One of the thoughts we had as we were visiting the poorer barrios and the chapels in their districts is that perhaps there could be 'sister parish' relationships started which could provide the Eucharist to them for the host and wine is very expensive down here.

There were short-term supplies of food for the Juan Pablo II baby orphanage brought on this mission, but we have calculated that is would cost $15 per month to feed one of these young children ensuring that their nourishment at such a young age (birth through 5 years) is met.

So, I now sign off as we are on our way to the internet café to send this and complete our sign-in for tomorrow morning's flight.

I hope to have been able to shine a small light on Mission 27 and all of its events, emotions and happenings. Listen to your traveler - even though they may not want to say too much for the next few days. They made need to process everything a little more and re-adapt to our way of life. Be patient. They will eventually bubble over with stories - their stories - of the impact of what has happened the last 8 days in their lives. And don't be surprised if you start hearing them say, "I think I am going to apply for the summer Mission!"

Farewell from Nica - blessing on all of you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

By Bonnie Black
A bittersweet morning with the Despedida then the departure of the main group. By the time most people got their day started, 9 of our group had already headed home: Roger Patnode, Sarah LeFloch, Morgan Araldi, Morgan Boatwright, Richard Garzarelli, Yamilette Flores, Oscar Flores, Gabby Flores and Kristin Gagnier.

We had our last group meeting of Mission 27 with Sister Debbie explaining many of the logistics of departure after the closing ceremony at 9:30am. A mission-closing reflection/meditation was also given. Then, each of our young people were assigned to fragments of the Nicasa closing process before going out for the final time together in the yard with the students. A few of the adults joined them to assist in each of the projects.

Walking over to the auditorium had very mixed emotions; curiosity to see what the performances might be this time but meanwhile knowing that this is also the final goodbye for this Mission.

It began with the procession of the Church flag and the Nicaraguan flag being brought on to the stage. Sister Rosa greeted the primary students and our group with gratitude for all that the Mission does each time it comes. Sister Isabel then opened with the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Everyone sang the Nicaraguan national anthem (we should really learn this!) and then we turned to face the students and sang ours – for which we received an applause!

The artistic presentation began with 2 of the smallest in traditional costumes doing a folk dance followed by pre-schoolers dancing to a song about Managuan Nights – just like you would see in any nightclub or at a school dance in the US. Eight girls from the Fourth Grade B class came out in traditional costume to perform a different folk dance followed by a group from Fourth Grade A saying a poem, “Tropical” accompanied by hand motions. Diayan, Sarah LeFloch’s sponsored girl from 5th grade, sang “Open the Eye of my Heart” in English.

Then came our turn. Most of our students participated in a rhythmic cadence performance with their water bottles followed by Sam Morse performing an Irish step dance (in sneakers, of course!). A group of our teenage girls them treated the Nino students to a country line dance.

The program concluded with thanks – in English – from an upper elementary student followed by a personal reflection read by Alex Munn. It moved every one of us to tears. He spoke of his experience this past week where he arrived thinking he was “better” than those he would meet…but, that changed within 24 hours of his arrival. He knows now that “the meek shall inherit the earth” and that all are entitled to God’s due process. He told us we need to seek to better ourselves. We are all hoping that Alex will share his reflections in an email to all of us when we get back.

Meg Ryan gave a quick summary for the Nicaraguan students and teachers.

Then, in Spanish, Sister Debbie expressed that their community is very important to us as are they and their families.

Meg Ryan then concluded our part of the farewell singing “Ave Maria” in Latin – what a voice!

Sister Cecelia gave final thanks noting the hope we give for the future of the community. “God is the salvation for all and the Mission brings that hope.”

The flags recessed out and we were all on our way to the main courtyard for 10 minutes of final goodbyes. The secondary school band played quite a few selections in celebration of our week here.

Tears began to flow as Sister Debbie went around giving the ‘2 minutes’ warning and hugs became tighter. We had already loaded the suitcases and chairs on to the yellow bus which James Carlin and Matt Daly rode into the airport. The blue bus took the rest of the group, teary-eyed, tired, yet fulfilled by a week of sharing themselves and their hearts with our family here in Nicaragua.

Monday, February 25, 2008

By Bonnie Black
Well, here it is. By the time you read this, the large group will be in the air on their way back to you. But let me bring you up-to-date with what was done on our last full day as a full group here in Nicaragua.

This morning at our daily meeting, we listened to Celtic Women's "One World." After a week here, the refrain rang true in our minds and our hearts.

So, we were off to complete the rest of the tasks left for Mission #27.

The "basics" of kitchen and bath were still necessities - which will still be on the board for tomorrow, too! Kitchen Crew on the last full day were Paul O'Connell, Sr. Cathy, Eliza Zalis, Katherine Grovine and Jessica Finnegan. BBB was Matt Kennedy, Bill Murray, Barb Harris and Libby Yokum. Of course, whenever done the never ending job of sorting was also on their list, for it all must go today!

The final heights and weights brought our final total to 391 students on whom we now have updated data on this trip - one more school day and we would have been able to do all 500 who participate in our Children Feeding Children program. Bill Calmbacher guided Betsy Sullivan, Emily Palmer, Gabby Flores, Elaine and Kitty St. Denis.

Participating in the CFC on our last day were Sarah Merkel and Mary Garcia. This is a wonderful experience of helping to provide the young students here with their nutritious warm meal, vitamins and milk-based beverage. They are always so happy and playful while talking with each other when they are in the dining room - not unlike students anywhere.

Early this morning a small contingent went to the school in Nejapa to see their sponsored children with Sister Debbie who took the photos of the students: Alison Gratto, Joy Cayea, Bill Calmbacher, Alex Munn, Roger Patnode, Braxton Raymond and Sister Stephanie.

Bill Murray spent some time with Yamilette Flores and the sisters here to discuss the layout of their wiring looking at the potential for wireless here at the school…boy, would I like that (and so would you!!).

Completing the moringa project this morning by planting one at each of the 10 home shelters we helped to construct this mission were Sarah LeFloch, Morgan Araldi, Morgan Boatwright, Richard Garzarelli led by Oscar Flores who, of course, knew where all 10 were built.

Then, once Sarah LeFloch returned, the group assigned to plant the tomato seeds in the area along the wall of the bakery and our front yard with her were Alex Munn, Alison Gratto, Braxton Raymond, Sarah Deeb.

"Hiding" in the clinic doing our semi-annual on-site pharmaceutical inventory were Bev Gogola and Renee Bean. They even had to dragged out for dinner!

We had gathered a group of people who had not gone to La Chureca to deliver school supplies and assess the physical needs in the small mission school where Norman (Magaly's brother) works: Paul O'Connell, Kendra Kline, Alexa Cosgro, Matt Kennedy, James Carlin, Matt Daly, Meg Ryan, Andrea Maynard, Kristin Gagnier, Lynn Grovine, Sam Morse, Bethany Trombley and Alice Robinson.

Our final visit to the Juan Pablo II baby orphanage consisted of Roger Patnode, Jo Morse and Sister Stephanie. She wanted to personally present some of the gifts from her sister in Florida and from Shawn Watson's family and friends given in his memory. Roger returned to do some verification of lead levels on a few of the children.

This afternoon a small group went with Sister Rosa and Sister Cecilia in their vehicle to see two of the close barrios they and Father Jalder serve as their parish. Although we went with rice and beans to one small section and built a house shelter in another, this experience will need time to process in the minds of Sister Debbie, Alison Gratto, Joy Cayea, Jim Dumont and myself. One of the homes we went to (after a woman came up to the car to assure the nuns would stop there) is a small shelter for 17 people: 13 children and 4 adults. At the moment, the mother is in the hospital suffering from complications due to childbirth and the infant is there, too. The children were very typical wanting their pictures taken, so you will see a photo of their dwelling and many of the children on the website. These are truly the poorest of the poor in the barrios we traveled to this afternoon: Salano has 2,000 people one of whom is the 96-year-old leader we met (he said it is women who keep him going!) and we went into a chapel in that barrio that Sister Rosa had constructed; Cedro Galan has 3,000 inhabitants with the church built by Sister Rosa in 1996 which we had an opportunity to see. We did not travel to Monte Verde today, as we are familiar with that barrio in which the Mission constructed a chapel a few years ago which also serves as a community center.

The goal of School-to-school garden project between Lakeland, Fl and Nino Jesus de Praga is coming to fruition. Today, the students and teacher from Santa Fe School planted tomatoes along the wall in the front yard of Nicasa. At tonight's sharing time, Sarah LeFloch mentioned that she has been totally inspired by the ECO projects and her experience on this mission that she will welcome the garden and raised beds that Richard Garzarelli is now planning for his Eagle Scout project. I am sure that Morgan Boatwright and Morgan Araldi will be seen in that garden from time-to-time, too!

Everyone else was in the beginning of shutdown mode later this afternoon as our A Team has only a day-and-a-half to accomplish this task. With the help of others we hope to be able to accomplish it beginning tomorrow morning the fashion we prefer (and not just throwing everything into barrels and on the storage bunks!).

Meanwhile, the project of fixing the severe cracks in the walkway into Nicasa were our cement crew of Paul O'Connell, Alexa Cosgro, Matt Daly and James Carlin.

We started our last evening meeting with a refocusing as it was a difficult day on many levels - small (yet important) tasks and large emotional roller coasters.

"If it weren't for the adults in this group," said Sister Debbie, "this team wouldn't be what it is. A myriad of lifestyles and management styles of work have had great adjustments to their day-to-day life." She then passed out bookmarks, randomly selected by each traveler, and ask each of us to reflect on what it said to us and of our time in Nicaragua. "Some of you may find an instant connection; others may have it revealed months from now," she noted. She then urged us all to put it in our journals.

We then took time to share and reflect on not only today, but the entire week here in Nicaragua.

Sister began telling of the trip a few of us took to 2 of the poor barrios which the Carmelites serve. "It's like an onion - you peel off one layer of poverty and…" We got to see Sister Rosa and Sister Cecelia on a whole new level today and learned why they need one Land Rover as a vehicle: we were basically driving on dried up river beds which become impassable in the rainy season. People came out the vehicle immediately and shared their concerns for their neighbors. Alison Gratto added, "I thought seeing the lice in the girl's hair at the orphanage was bad, but this was worse."

When we went into the second barrio, the contrast was disturbing: on the left side of the road were nicely tended homes and gardens while on the right side there were many casasitas of the very poor as Sister Rosa referred to them. "This is the kind of thing nightmares are made of," said Sister Debbie. "The challenge is not to lose hope - there is much to do. We don't have to change everything about the world at once - just one thing about your life and how you live."

Sarah LeFloch told us that when she was asked to be the point person on this mission for the ECO projects, she had no idea why. This week she has understood the impact of environmental issues on people and the importance of being able to grow your own food here. She has been inspired by everyone she has come in contact with to go home and get on the internet to find out what she can learn and bring it back here.

Bill Calmbacher told us that the Mission will always challenge you as life challenges us.

Kendra Kline told us that according to her friend, Sam, who attends the Nicaraguan Christian Academy, Nino Jesus de Praga is considered in the top 3 schools in the country. This is most likely due to the support from the North Country (and those connected to it who donate to scholarships). Our support allows 40% of the 1057 students to attend. Sister Cecelia had told us earlier that they have a capacity to teach 1200 students.

Alexa Cosgro commented, "I know God is blessing everyone here - they have the most amazing faith. I strive to have that level of faith."

On her trip to La Chureca, Lynn Grovine mentioned that joining the children for recess at the mission school was immense fun. "The teacher of the youngest Pre-K had them washing their hands before going back into the classroom. Kristin helped them dry their hands, too. They were singing songs, learning shapes. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen."

Andrea Maynard noted that everyone seems to find time to go to church. "They have faith in God even though they're placed in hard situations."

Roger Patnode told us that at the baby orphanage the retesting he did today on a few of them still show elevated lead levels. One of the toddler's mother is a glue sniffer and can't take care of him, so he is there. He did environmental testing in the orphanage and that came up negative, so the elevated levels came from his environment prior to being placed there. "It's probably a reasonable place for them to be," he concluded. "The key is to prevent the problems to start with."

Meg Ryan commented on the level of respect that she has noted in her travels this week. "Maybe that is something we can change at home," she said.

A common sentiment about this time in a mission was given by Morgan Boatwright who shared, "I have received so much more than I've given."

Richard Garzarelli has decided that his Eagle Scout project will be to create a Nicaraguan-type garden at Santa Fe School in Lakeland, Florida, with the same irrigation as here at Nino Jesus de Praga. This moved everyone as it has been the ultimate goal to have a school-to-school relationship based on the ECO concepts.

Sister Debbie then showed us what looked like a burr that grows on trees, but when you take the seed out at its prime, you rub the seed between your fingers and you have paprika! Centuries ago it was also used on the face and about a hundred or so years ago, women used it for blush!

We closed our meeting with a prayer by the students based on Ecclesiastes with a treat from the bakery here at Nino that was equipped with supplies and equipment from the former PAFB.

February 26, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

By Bonnie Black
Our day on “our own!” So to speak – we had no work assignments today, except for taking care of our own kitchen and bathroom needs and there was no morning meeting as 37 of us headed to Mombacho Cloudforest at 6:15am this morning in order to get there in time for our 8:30am reservation. The other 9 headed into Managua for the historic city tour. Both groups had lunch out and then met at the Roberto Huembes Market – Yami, Sr. Debbie and Sr. Steph had meetings to attend with Mauricio.

For those of us who have been to the downtown market many times, it was disappointing. A majority of the shops were closed and the lack of electricity didn’t make sense. As I wrote to you yesterday, we haven’t been without this time and it is do to the arrangements the government made last month to prevent the rationing of electricity. A vendor told us that on Sundays they have no electricity after Noon and on Saturdays non until 1pm. Perhaps many of the interior vendors who were totally closed and locked today have just given up.

There was a lot of fun with a competitive soccer game in the courtyard this evening. The children of the village also know that our time is short and were waiting outside of the gate for our buses to return home.

Tonight was our semi-annual Pizza Party with invited guests – a tradition which began after Shawn Watson, Sister Stephanie’s nephew, came on mission (in the ‘early’ days). Last March, he died unexpectedly, but the company for which he worked, Whirley Industries, has pledged to continue the tradition which Shawn had personally paid for twice a year. This special evening meal brings a little of ‘home’ back to our palates (although we love the Nica food!). It tells us that our days are winding down quickly.

Our Leadership Team had a meeting with the Local Council tonight and we discovered that there are two very poor barrios around here which the nuns and the priest also serve. We know that the socio-economic situation here is disintegrating with inflation (exchange is now 19%) and increasing unemployment rate. So many Nicaraguans have emigrated to Costa Rica that the border is now closed for that purpose. So, even though Chiquilistagua seems to be holding its own based on the foundation we have been privileged to have a hand in, and we have begun focusing more on Nejapa, tonight we heard what the priest had told us yesterday: things are in dire shape in the other 2 adjacent barrios that they serve. So, tomorrow afternoon around 1pm, the Leadership Team will drive with Sister Rosa to these areas to assess the situation in order to bring the information back to the full Council in Plattsburgh.

While Leadership was at their meeting, the rest of the group (specifically the young people) began planning their portion of the Despedida which will be at 9:30am on Tuesday.

Tomorrow is our last full group/full day here with much still to do. It seems that so much has been accomplished – and it has – but there always is a sense that much is left undone, too.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

By Bonnie Black
This mission has been blessed with constant electricity – something that the last few mission did not have as a luxury. And luxury, it is. A commodity about which we don’t think, even wasting it at home leaving lights on in rooms or hallways that no one is walking through or having our thermostat at more than 70 degrees at this time of year. Once you live for an extended period of time without electricty – or water – the value of what most of us take for granted increases. So why do we have electricity this time? An agreement was reached in January between the government and Exxon-Mobil which will allow the importation of 10 million barrels of oil a year from Venezuela under preferential payment conditions. Under the terms of the agreement, Exxon-Mobil has agreed to sell a number of oil storage tanks in the port of Corinto to the Nicaraguan state oil company PETRONIC and to buy, process and distribute the oil from PETRONIC (which imports the oil from Venezuela).

Starting our day out with a nourishing breakfast was our Kitchen Crew: Bill Calmbacher, Bev Gogola, Morgan Boatwright and Richard Garzarelli. On call all day long as our Bed, Bath & Beyond staff were Alex Munn, Matt Kennedy, Alice Robinson and Jo Morse.

Our last Rice & Beans delivery was this morning led by Peace Corp volunteer and former missioner, Jeremy Eppler. Traipsing through the local roads with him were Braxton Raymond, Alexa Cosgro, Jessica Finnegan, Meghan Ryan and Sarah Merkel. Meanwhile, Sister Stephanie took care of the cleanup and storage of supplies for our summer mission delivery of rice & beans.

Bill Murray tackled a project that has been on our list for a while – assessment of the computer lab here at Nino Jesus. He and Alex Munn along with Matt Kennedy checked the entire lab and will be able to replace 3 of the broken monitors with those we shipped on the container. He has written a complete report for our Leadership Team back home to evaluate at the March meeting.

Sister Stephanie led a team to the Juan Pablo II baby orphanage to bring the cups and bowls for the orphans that Whirley Industry sent in memory of her nephew, Shawn Watson, a former employee (Shawn, one of our initial mission volunteers died this past year). Sr. Stephanie’s sister, Joan Koson, has donated 18 new teddy bears in Shawn’s memory, too, which were delivered today. Also at the baby orphanage today were Morgan Araldi, Betsy Sullivan, Sam Morse, Elaine St. Denis, James Carlin, Sarah LeFloch and Sister Cathy. Drew & Linda Sabella (Anthony's Restaurant and Bistro) donated cases of powdered formula and diapers for the baby orphanage which were also delivered today.

Rich and Val Shaut, former missioners out in Alaska, coordinated a large monetary donation for Casa la Vida as well as the baby orphanage which have been delivered. And, an anonymous traveler donated $1,000 for the baby orphanage and Casa la Vida which were also presented. Today our team at Casa de Vida, a birthing center in Managua, was led by Roger Patnode. Along with Roger were Eliza Zalis, Bethany Trombley, Katherine Grovine, Lynn Grovine, Matt Daly and Emily Palmer. Emily, our first volunteer from Ticonderoga High School, successfully coordinated a large donation of teddy bears from Vermont Teddy Bear Factory for the Mission which she brought today. She and many of us will be providing "teddy bear" stories back to the company and in return, the Mission will now become a regular recipient of teddy bears from their factory.

Our large project today is working on getting the rest of the cartons from the container resorted for distribution before we leave and assess what can be kept in storage here for our July mission. The Queen of Sorting all along has been Joy Cayea who probably doesn’t want to see a carton again for a long time! You see, she is also one of the ‘tried-and-true’ Wednesday volunteers at MOHTown boxing donations to come down here. There hasn’t been a day since she arrived with A Team that she hasn’t had her head in a box. Most everyone who did not have another assignment this morning assisted her as we trucked boxes around the corner which will be inventoried on Monday.

This afternoon almost everyone headed up to El Crucero to spend the afternoon with the children at the Angels of Hope orphanage. James Carlin brought stuffed animals donated by his son for children at the Orphanage, along with the project gifts of Andrea Maynard that we heard about at our morning meeting. She is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award by collecting $500 as well as rosaries and care packages for the orphanage plus wheelchairs for the Mission’s use at various facilities.

Seven of us continued, with Mel Landers, up to the farm past Jinotepe which they run (Libby Yokum, Barb Harris, Matt Kennedy, Sarah LeFloch and myself). Because Sister Teresita’s rheumatoid arthritis is getting worse, she suggested one of us should drive and Roger Patnode volunteered.

The farm is phenomenal. Although the moringa trees planted in August have not gotten to the stage where it can produce seeds, Mel told them how to nurture the saplings back to health. He also brought along a grafting kit and explained to Sr. Teresita how to do a graft so that they could be producing the apples she wants.

An exciting moment was when we got to see a moringa tree which was only 18 months old – it was extremely tall and was producing seeds! The fruit produced is quite healthy and of large size: grapefruit, oranges, papaya, mango, bananas, onions, avocado, and tangerines. Sister offered us each a tangerine as we prepared to depart and we all agreed the flavor and moisture were both very high. And then our story began! There were vehicular issues and a funny experience at the gas station – best told in first person by those who went to the farm.

Tonight, after 6pm Mass, Father Jalder joined us at the beginning of our meeting. Those who are going to Mombacho Volcano, leaving at 6:15am in the morning, attended the Mass. Father expressed a wonderful sentiment about the work we do here in Chiquilistagua and in Nejapa. Everyone applauded after his ‘sharing.’ Sister Debbie noted that Father felt he had very big shoes to fill when Father Raul and the 4 nuns left last month, but from what we see in Mass and in the community and at his school, he is growing fast into his position.

Clarification was made tonight about Casa de Vida (that’s its correct name). Everyone there is pregnant and the program is focused on helping women with their pregnancy, in childbirth and in early infancy. Everyone there has been raped, abandoned or abused. They have a website which many of us will access when we return home.

Bev Gogola noted that although Kitty St. Denis was not on Kitchen Crew today, she appeared at 6am and asked what to do and then again at lunch – thanks, as the help was needed!

Joy Cayea spoke about the inventory and where everything needed to go after which Sister Debbie told everyone about Joy being a part of a core of volunteers at MOHTown every Wednesday who give up their day off.

Bill Murray thanked his team for their assistance which included Meg Ryan as their impromptu translator when they needed it.

Alison Gratto thanked Sister Stephanie for cleaning up the Rice & Beans for their team, preparing it for storage and use in July.

Paul O’Connell gave kudos to Alexa Cosgro and Matt Kennedy for all of their work on the daily board each evening trying to “grant wishes” to every traveler assuring that everyone gets at least one of their preferences; it seems like most have been able to participate in 2 of their 3 wishes and we still have Monday left!

Alexa Cosgro noted that she feels it is so amazing that the lives of people here are centered an God – and they’re so happy, with so little. And, when a group presented rosaries to those at Mass tonight during the Passing of the Peace, just a little thing made her feel good inside. “It was so amazing,” she said.

Sister Debbie noted, “The very best of who you are, you bring here and this is what they see. At home, there is so much pressure that clouds seeing each other clearly. It is unconditional love – an incredible gift.”

Andrea handed out the bags she made for her Gold Award Project at the El Crucerio orphanage this afternoon. “The second I handed out one, they all came. They opened them and started playing. When I handed out the flip flops…they wanted the pretty, shiny ones.” She had gift bags for both boys and girls with either blocks which could be made into cars or playdough. One of the girls later created a cup and saucer set with hers!

Matt Daly said that one Andrea handed out the gift bags, it changed the entire dynamic of the place.

Jim Dumont and James Carlin toured the physical facility with one of the sisters looking at what needed repair and what projects could be done for a sponsor back home. They both felt that they had been given gift to experience it all. Jim said that all each child has is like a Kindergarten cubby. The place is totally deteriorating but the chapel is in the best condition. Their focus is on maintaining that as it is the focal point of their lives.

Sister Debbie learned at the meeting with Sister Teresita this afternoon that 70 more orphans are coming soon from Bluefields and the money brought from the Seymour family will be used to buy the mattresses for these children.

Rachel Daly shared that the experience in Mass tonight was very different from that at home. She saw people singing joyously, out loud. Sarah Deeb said that the Passing of the Peace here is more open and enthusiastic with hugs and handshakes. Meg Ryan just realized that family is the most important thing in these people’s lives. “I know we don’t always respect our families. Family and religion are so important – it seems like everyone is one big family.”

Betsy Sullivan’s experience at the baby orphanage was similar. The other day when she went she thought the nuns and the children were happy because of what we were bringing them. But, today, when they returned empty handed, they were so warm and welcoming.

Mary Garcia, along with Alison Gratto and Meg Ryan, said that she was impacted by the child she interacted with at the orphanage. “She trusted me so much and didn’t want to leave me. I got to hold on to her – it was so amazing.”

Sister noted that we are coming home to ourselves on a new level because we haven’t had the time or encouragement from others, perhaps, to delve deeply before this experience.

Roger said that gardening is his avocation and they have a small farm…then proceeded to tell, “Three Stories in Reverse” about our experience at the orphanage farm.

At the end of the meeting, Sarah LeFloch passed around the dehydrated sweet peppers and pineapple pieces which the team, with Mel Landers, prepared the other day. Due to the lack of refrigeration here, dehydration would allow the nutrients of the fruits and vegetables to be consumed and there would be less spoilage.

Sister Debbie then presented all with a pineapple tart made by Carla, the woman at the gate in front of the school whose daughter is sponsored by Marty Mannix. She spoke of the Eucharist of the presence of each other and what we shared to eat together. “The way that people walk with us – we lift them up on our shoulders; and we when need help, they are there for us to lean on.”

Tomorrow is our “day off” and we are looking forward to not lifting much or moving things!

Friday, February 22, 2008

By Bonnie Black
This morning we woke up to our breakfast served by Sister Stephanie, Lynn Grovine, Mary Garcia and Sarah Deeb. We had in front of us the most ambitious home building day on this mission’s schedule – 4 homes including the all-women’s crew site. So, first thing after the morning meeting, Oscar Flores and Jim Dumont took out Eliza Zalis, Alex Munn and Bill Murray to build the Sunrise Rotary Club’s shelter. By 10am, the all-women crew of Eliza Zalis, Emily Palmer, Bethany Trombley, Morgan Boatwright, Renee Bean and Libby Yokum jumped on the truck and headed out to build a home for a single mother with two children under 2 years of age.

Keeping us clean and safe at Nicasa were the BBB team of Matt Daly, Matt Kennedy, Meg Ryan and Sarah LeFloch.

Sam Morse assisted Sister Debbie with the photos of sponsored children at Nejapa, and they also delivered a functioning computer and the teachers were elated! The priest asked Sister to take some more digital photos of the students for him and she decided at that moment, that the camera meant less to her than it would to him – so, she presented him with her camera. Afterward, the principal thanked her and said the Mission’s presence in the community has permeated throughout for which they are so thankful. Sister Debbie told them that their spirituality and hope keep us coming back to do more.

We had both a morning and afternoon crew for Rice & Beans delivery which are getting a wonderful experience of meeting the local people and interacting with them.. In the morning it was Betsy Sullivan, Kitty St. Denis, Barb Harris, Kristin Gagnier and Gabby Flores. This afternoon’s crew consisted of Joy Cayea, Alison Gratto, Bev Gogola, Rachel Daly, Kitty St. Denis and Kristin Gagnier. We are putting our fluent translators to work all of the time!

Staffing the Children Feeding Children this morning were Jessica Finnegan and Rachel Daly. Doing the heights and weights, under Bill Calmbacher’s guidance, were Matt Daly and Sarah LeFloch and Matt Kennedy.

Bill Murray spent the morning working on making sure all of the computer parts were functional in preparation for assessing the computer lab.

The tedious work of getting all of the sponsor gifts for both Nino Jesus and Nejapa organized was Libby Yokum – and everything is finally ready to meet the student tomorrow morning at 9am!

Our final morning at the Disability Center was experienced under the guidance of Bev Gogola who had with her Samantha Mulcahy and Elaine St. Denis. More boxes will need to be taken on Monday, but the time they spent there today was bittersweet as they left knowing that the next time Mission of Hope volunteers come will be in July.

Painting continued at San Jose Hospital with Paul O’Connell as crew chief again. Today his crew was Sister Cathy, Braxton Raymond, Richard Garzarelli, Andrea Maynard, Alexa Cosgro and Jo Morse.

We made our initial visit today to San Antonio Nursing Home in Masaya delivering King Pharmaceutical medications and, through Kendra Kline, eyeglasses donated from the Glens Falls region. We also brought packages from the residents at Lake Forest in Plattsburgh for the people here. At Masaya was also Alice Robinson, Katherine Grovine, Alison Gratto, Kendra Kline, Sarah Merkel and James Carlin.

Thirty-one people traveled to the Banana Camp in Managua today and learned first-hand about their plight. Many people tonight have asked for the information we keep on site which was developed over a couple of missions by Cathy and Liz Hill to edify those who begin to learn the story of the social injustice created by multi-national companies based in the US.

We learned at our evening meeting that tomorrow night’s Mass here at Nino Jesus de Praga will be said in Gary Garrand’s name as he is struggling with health issues. Sister Debbie also told us she spoke with Sister Miriam, who was one of the sisters stationed at Nejapa until last month. She told Sister how much they miss us and they wanted to be remembered to us and that they had taken the spirit of the Mission with them up north!

This afternoon Sister Debbie and Yamilette went to the US Embassy as they had heard that there was a program for the distribution of trees to assist with erosion. Right now it is only in Chinendaga, but it is a possible future distribution of trees in our area.

Tonight Bill Calmbacher said that Nica is fast becoming his first home as he will prepare to apply for the summer mission when he goes home.

Meg Ryan spoke of her experience at the Banana Camp and the reasons why they are on strike. Again, they told us they were grateful that we were there so their story can be told to more people. Many people commented that Meg is amazing at translating for she was “on” this afternoon.

Renee Bean thanked Andrea Maynard for having forethought to bring sheets of stickers which many handed out – not only to children, but also to older people who wanted them to remember us. Andrea commented that she will think twice and look at labels on bananas she eats. Sister Cathy reminded us it is now our mission to educate and lobby our own government to make the multi-national US companies accountable.

Betsy Sullivan said her impression was that they are very strong people with a spirit which won’t allow this issue to die. Matt Kennedy learned that they had been there for 10 months and they plan to stick it out in hope to make a difference.

Sister Debbie mentioned, “You are the voice for the voiceless – your words, actions and sharing.”

Jimmy thanked all who worked on the home shelters, especially to Oscar, as all 10 are now completed. On Monday, a group will return to all to plant moringa seedlings.

Sarah LeFloch had noted that the children at the school and in the banana camp interact and act like those in the states. They are still happy and very “typical” of each other.

Lynn Grovine recounted yesterday at the Disability Center which was her first visit. The overall effect on her was that these children are all human beings with something to offer regardless of their differences. “Picking up the children, you can feel them relax and a few begin to interact vocally,” she said. The Jesuit from Nebraska now is Jenna and Lynn enjoyed learning about the children from her. They have a monoprint printing press, coloring books that they trace over and then color; they embroider sheets and pillowcases. Just before they were about to leave this morning, the babies were brought into the communication room and we were invited to join in the piñata celebration. Lynn noted it was a beautiful, wonderful experience. “It made my whole trip,” she said.

Sister Debbie told us the physical therapist at Parajito Azul is funded by the Dominican Sisters of Hope grant in addition to our clinic doctor, Mauricio, Marta and Magaly. Sister Stephanie showed an example of an embroidered pillowcase available for purchase at the center. Bev tolf of the 47-year-old with Down’s Syndrome who took about 3 months to create it; she is the oldest resident.

Morgan Boatwright informed us that the women’s home shelter crew built the home in about an hour and realized that an hour of our time will help this woman and her 2 children for a long time.

Sarah Deeb chimed in saying that she had given some stickers to a young girl in the yard when she was talking with her this afternoon and when the father came to get her. On their way out, the father thanked Sarah. What an experience!

Rachel Daly spoke of the Disability Center the other day, too. There was a tiny girl with an angry expression on her face who was staring into space. Sarah came back a little later and spoke with her – the girl smiled! Sarah stayed and stroked her arm and she reached out with her hand and wrapped it around one of her fingers. Sarah knew at that moment that a connection had been made.

Alice Robinson had been at the San Antonio Nursing Home noting it was well maintained, painted with a relaxing color. There are about 40 residents currently at the facility. Medicines are their greatest need. The building was donated to the sisters, renovated by Japan. Kendra Kline was moved by her experience as she has experience with Alzheimer Disease and was a bit hesitant about the trip. But, after talking (in English) with the residents, she became more relaxed and found many of them interesting. The physical facility is great, but they have other needs. All agreed that the view of Lake Masaya from the veranda was spectacular.

Rachel Daly and Emily Palmer told of their coconut escapades in the front yard – they will all show you their pictures!

Alexa told us that after dinner a group of them were creating a rhythm cadence with their cups and Sister Ligia and others from Diriamba, who were our dinner guests, became intrigued. Alexa tried to teach them, but she said that we were the nuns’ entertainment. They did notice the one driving the truck tried to create a similar cadence on the steering wheel while waiting for the other nuns to get in!

Sarah LeFloch observed how this country would suffer if it weren’t for the nuns and all they do for so many here. The numbers seem so much higher here, but isn’t sure because it may be because they wear habits in Central America and in North America that is no longer the custom for many orders. There are many young nuns, too.

We concluded the meeting tonight listening/singing to Josh Groban’s “Thankful” which rang true for so many in the circle. Everyone has their own copy which many have now placed in their journals.

The weekend is ahead!

February 23, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

By Bonnie Black
Another bright, sunny day here in tropical Nicaragua! Sorry, just though you might want to know that none of us are missing a white landscape -yet!

A lot of interesting things unfolded today as we are now through our complete second day on the ground. What has set in is a wonderful tone and work ethic among everyone here and all have a sense of being here for a while already. The people of Nicaragua are so welcoming and appreciative of what we do…there is great satisfaction for each of us with a dose of humility.

A large group traveled to San Jose Hospital in Diriamba this morning and spent most of the day on a major painting project under the direction of Paul O’Connell: Barb Harris, Samantha Mulcahy, Bill Murray, Alex Munn, Alexa Cosgro, Betsy Sullivan, Andrea Maynard, Jessica Finnegan, Morgan Boatwright, Gabby Flores, Alison Gratto.

Bathroom Crew for the day was Alexa Cosgro, Braxton Richardson, James Carlin, Morgan Araldi, Meghan Ryan, and Mary Garcia.

After finishing their morning duties, Mary and Alexa headed over to the Heights & Weights process. Under the more-than-capable direction of Bill Calmbacher also were Sister Cathy, Renee Bean, and Katherine Grovine.

Early this morning heading to the Disability Center were Bev Gogola, Kristin Gagnier, Rachel Daly, and Lynn Grovine.

In the Children Feeding Children today we had Sarah Deeb and Jo Morse.

Our own Kitchen Crew was Elaine St. Denis, Kitty St. Denis, Matt Kennedy and Emily Palmer.

At Hogar Juan Pablo II were Roger Patnode, Bethany Trombley, Kendra Kline, and Eliza Zalis assessing the development of the young children and doing anemia/lead testing.

Home Crew in the morning was comprised of Oscar Flores, Joy Cayea, Alice Robinson, and Sarah Merkel building homes donated by George and Shirley Moore’s children as well as Ray Petrashune.

The Rice & Beans Crew in the afternoon were: Sarah Merkel, Alice Robinson, Eliza Zalis, Sarah Deeb, and Jo Morse.

The tedious job of Sponsor Gift sorting was ably handled by Libby Yokum who has about half a day’s work still ahead of her tomorrow. Having only partial student names/sponsor names on the envelopes and bags makes the work take a while.

The afternoon home building crew of Oscar Flores, Beth Trombley, Sr. Cathy and Rachel Daly constructed one of the homes donated by the Sunrise Rotary Club.

And, of course, for this mission there was more sorting in the yard!

Yesterday, Sister Debbie and Yamilette Flores met with the Diocesan priest, Fr. Jalder at Nejapa assessing what was needed to create a program identical to the Children Feeding Children at Nino Jesus de Praga. Today, they returned with Jimmy Dumont to see what the priest wanted. Father Jalder had prepared a complete pro forma on five projects: place to set up a reception space for the weekly clinic our doctor holds there, renovate the space for the clinic, have a space large enough for the feeding program, move the administrative offices to a corner of the school allowing more space for the feeding program and one more item. The three of us reviewed the projects and estimated costs and said that we could begin – immediately – on 4 of the 5 projects he had listed. At that point, Father Jalder told them all that this morning at the early mass he had lifted up a prayer to God asking to be guided on how he could fulfill the projects to desperately needed at the school. Being that the Mission had just committed to 4 of the 5 projects, everyone there suddenly got goose bumps, emotionally touched by the story. “He was so humble and sincere,” Sister told us at the evening meeting. “It was quite a profound ‘mission moment’ for all of us.”

Jim Dumont, Braxton Raymond, Matthew Daly and James Carlin returned to Nejapa this afternoon and began demolishing walls to allow the project flow to begin. Sister said at the meeting, “We asked you to be flexible and today was proof of that.” We heard that Braxton, while waiting with the other men on our team at Nejapa for the materials to be delivered, joined a young boy in the schoolyard who was using a balled up piece of paper for a base ball and a flat stick for his bat. The others got involved and some other boys came around and there was a pickup game of baseball….well, at least ‘we’ were pitching to each of them. After our meeting tonight, when the seminarian from Oregon who is stationed at Nejapa came stopped by after Mass, he was given some bats and balls – real ones – to take back for the youngsters at the school. Sister informed the group that less than 10% of the high school graduates in Nicaragua pass the entrance exams to proceed on to university.

At this evening’s meeting, Ali Gratto thanked Meg Ryan for her talents as a translator at San Jose Hospital today. They concurred that it was definitely interesting albeit confusing at first. Betsy Sullivan told us the walls were cracked, the paint chipped, but “just a coat of paint made such a difference.”

Meg said she spoke to a few women in the yard late this afternoon who asked about the differences between the states and Nica. Meg showed them a photo of her family that she keeps in her journal and together they enjoyed laughing and talking for quite a while. Sister reminded her, and us at the same time, “Don’t take this experience lightly. Remember, your mission begins when you return home.”

Mary Garcia and Alexa Cosgro wanted to tell us about their experience at the Heights & Weights station after they finished their morning tasks. Mary helped with administering the parasite meds and, according to Renee Bean who was assigned to the area, the kids in one of the classrooms started throwing paper airplanes to them with notes lie, “She’s ugly,” “You’re beautiful,” “What’s your name?” Bill Calmbacher chimed in, “We drove the teacher crazy!” Alexa then told us that one of the notes had a sole word on in: “sad” and she gave us her interpretation.

Libby offered her thoughts tonight on what an inspiration it has been to be a part of this group. The teens she knows who have come on mission as their type of adolescent rebellion have been so changed by the experience. She told us of her rice & beans experience today and ended with, “I love that kind of rebellion.”

Andrea Maynard expressed the anxieties of her parents she spoke with prior to coming. “Nowhere in the US can you experience this – it’s really emotional. The worry of getting a bug bite is pointless – there are so many more important things.”

Sister responded, “I think it helps us all to reprioritize. It is always such a blessing to me to see the multi-age, multi-denomination rich experience to be able to see the caliber of relationship develop.”

Kendra Kline shared that one of the last thoughts she had on Monday was, “I’m going back to my second home. I’m so excited to return. Nica is a special place for me – the place I love the most!”

Andrea then chimed in saying, “It’s only been 3 days, but I already feel like I’m a part of something here.”

“It doesn’t matter what school you’re from,” said Meg Ryan, “or where you’re from.” She then thanked Alexa for switching assignments with her in the morning.

Richard Garzarelli said, “I’ve been to a lot of different places and summer camp. Thanks to all for making this so much fun.”

Sam Morse noted, “In one or two days here we know each other; we have gotten to know each other so much better than all of the meetings and times we spent together prior to coming.”

Sister responded, “Stripping you of all the extra ‘stuff’ allows you to see and experience the beauty at the core of each of you.”

Kendra Kline thanked Roger Patnode who she felt was amazing with the little kids at the baby orphanage this morning. He took time to explain to her what he was doing and why. With her desire to go into medicine, it made the experience even more memorable.

Then Roger added a little humor followed by a revealing statement. He noted that one of the things to remember when doing a clinic is to pick the youngest children’s fingers first as they don’t cry as loudly! On a more serious note, he said, “We walk into different social environments and we carry subconscious thoughts with us.” In the office back home, he leaves toddlers on their mothers’ laps in order to comfort the child as he pricks the finger. Walking into the orphanage, the assumption is that these children don’t have mothers. So, he and those with him sat them up on a cleared table. Quickly, he moved the children so that they were sitting on the nun’s laps – for they are their mothers. “They are loving toward these children. What we need to remember is we are serving people in the same ways.” He then thanked Bethany Trombley, Eliza Zalis and Kendra Kline for fantastic ‘crowd control’ as well as assessing the development in the children.

Sister reminded us of the saying, “I am where I am supposed to be, when I am there.” She noted that sharing is about living the experience through others as we all can’t be everywhere all of the time while we are here. “Remember, you are not alone on this mission,” she said.

Yami said, “When Eve McGill and I came in December of 1998, she said we should start something. I said, ‘I don’t think we’ll find 10 people to go through this.’ Now we’re going to have 10 years this coming December. We all care in one way or another – coming here, packing, donating. All of the people who are involved and connected to the Mission make me so proud. By destiny, we became Americans. Everything happens for a reason. We are proud of our culture – it is so great to share this with you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

We concluded our sharing time listening to Celtic Woman’s version of “Someday” and us singing “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita” followed by tarts made in the bakery at Parajito Azul as our treat for the day.

Tomorrow has much in front of us before we head into a weekend…an exciting time with our ‘day off’ included!

February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 (2nd edition)

By Bonnie Black
This morning, one of the newest posters Sister Debbie brought with her was "How to Build Global Community" which is hanging outside of the oficina. The first three actions listed are:
· Think of no one as "them"
· Don't confuse your comfort with your safety
· Talk to strangers
The last three are:
· Think South, Central and North - there are many Americans
· Assume that many others share your dreams
· Know that no one is silent though many are not heard - work to change this.
After our first complete day here in Chiquilistagua, these rang very true for most of us.

There were 13 different areas to which Alexa Cosgro and Matt Kennedy assigned people this morning and 5 this afternoon. The Kitchen Crew which kept us all content today began with A Team member, Jim Dumont, assisted by Jo Morse and Libby Yokum. When Jim left this detail to join the Home Construction Crew, Matt Daly rotated in. The team of three kept all 49 people plus a dozen locals on the work crews well fed thanks to Sister Stephanie's menu planning!

The unsung crew is perennially the Bed, Bath & Beyond people - a job no one has listed on their index cards among their top 3 choices, but one that everyone notices and appreciates. Today, Richard Garzarelli and Bill Murray kept the Men's Room and the Office clean while Sam Morse, Renee Bean and Lynn Grovine handled the two women's rooms.

Our first shift at Children Feeding Children was fun for Alison Gratto and Betsy Sullivan - until they wound up washing bowls for over a hundred near the end. Guess that prepares them for future kitchen duty!

Before the young students, Pre-K through Grade 6, went into eat, the Heights/Weights/Parasite Med team gathered the data. Bill Calmbacher, our experienced H/W/P man, led his team of Meg Ryan, Braxton Raymond and Andrea Maynard while they handled three of the classes today.

Experiencing Hogar Juan Pablo II, the infant orphanage of the Angels of Hope Orphanage we work with in El Crucero, were Kristin Gagnier, Emily Palmer, Barbara Harris and Gabby Flores. Although it is situated on a city street, the gating provides complete safety for the toddlers albeit in a very narrow space. The cribs in the second of 2 rooms, are lined up against both walls between which there is no space - a room filled with cribs for the young orphans.

Traveling out to the Parajito Azul Disability Center this morning were Sister Stephanie, Bev Gogola, Matt Kennedy and Alexa Cosgro - all veterans of the Mission with this locale as their top choice. Alexa had never gotten a chance to go and her reaction was, "Wow." Although not sure she would return, she has many memories in photos she took while there. Past missioners know Hector Gomez Rayo, but now we have information which many of you have asked: he was born 11/16/93 and currently is in the sixth grade at Maura Clark School.

Joy Cayea led Sarah Merkel and Morgan Boatwright around to sites which have water containers they received at our Health Fair in August. Collecting water samples, they came back and began the multi-day process of seeing whether the containers have made an impact on the quality of the drinking water for these families. BUT…we have put the water testing project 'on hold' at the moment because we need to reassess it. Last August we distributed 50 containers and provided an educational session on how to keep the water potable; there were also instructions (in Spanish, of course!) on every water container. Today our team visited 17 sites of which only 3 had followed the protocal and were using the water containers appropriately. So, our Leadership must ascertain if it is a question of re-education or do we need to rethink the entire program/process.

First thing after our morning meeting, Sister Debbie, Yami Flores and Samantha Mulcahy took many of the remaining photos of sponsored children here at Nino. Each child also received a one-subject notebook and two sharpened pencils for their studies.

Sorting 500 of the notebooks and pencils - among many other items - was our crew directed by Paul O'Connell: Alison Gratto, Betsy Sullivan, Richard Garzarelli, Bill Murray, Sam Morse, Renee Bean and Lynn Grovine.

Our morning Moringa/ECO team was led by Sarah LeFloch: Kendra Kline, Alex Munn, Sarah Deeb and James Carlin. It was quite exciting for Sarah who has been involved with this project in Lakeland, Florida, to see what the students and Professor Augusto have accomplished in less than a year here on the grounds of Colegio. In the afternoon, the team was again led (around the corner of our building) by Sarah, but her members were Barb Harris, Alison Gratto, Lynn Grovine and Bill Murray. Using plastic bottles, the students of Nino have created a unique type of fencing and raised bed area behind one of the buildings. It is phenomenal to see the inspiration that can come from a seed!

The Home Building crew is led by Oscar Flores and Jim Dumont. This morning they had Morgan Araldi, Jessica Finnegan and Kitty St. Denis while in the afternoon they were assisted by Richard Garzarelli, Betsy Sullivan and Sam Morse. This morning's shelter was donated by the AM Kiwanis Club to which Jessica's mother belongs. The second home built in the morning was donated by David Arado of Chicago. The afternoon team constructed a shelter donated in honor of George and Shirley Moore's children.

The distribution of rice and beans had a morning crew led by Sister Cathy comprised of Mary Garcia, Elaine St. Denis and Rachel Daly following Maritsa, one of our long-time local participants. Others who have been on mission will remember her as the first woman to join the home construction crew a number of years ago; she seemed quite pleased to be adding the rice and beans delivery to what she can do for mission! The afternoon's crew was led by Paul O'Connell and they traveled out quite a ways to deliver their food, rosaries and toys: Matt Kennedy, Alex Munn, Renee Bean, Kendra Kline and Andrea Maynard.

This morning I was pleased to join the CVPH-sponsored students (Eliza Zalis, Bethany Trombley, Alice Robinson, Katherine Grovine) and Roger Patnode at La Chureca - one of the 5 villages inside of the Managua city dump. Roger coordinated this through the Manna Project with which we worked in August doing lead testing. Roger was in the clinic taking samples of infants' blood (all younger than a year) while Beth handled the hemoglobin tests and Alice the lead sampling. It appears about 15-20% of the children are anemic and one of the lead readings was 38…quite high.

I went out with Matt Crozier of the Manna Project who took Eliza, Katherine and I to do environmental sampling. We first went to a school we had passed earlier run by Mision Mundial de Jubileo. They have the Pre-K through Grade 3 in the morning and the older students in the afternoon. About half of the children living in La Chureca attend school here. There were several classrooms, a playground and the manager's office opposite the cooking area. Who should be the manager but Norman, the brother of Magaly Velasquez, whom we know quite well! His English is getting very strong and we were pleased to see each other. He said they are hoping to expand in the near future, including a space for a library. One of the needs they have in the school is a television and DVD player along with educational DVDs (in Spanish) especially for the Pre-K level. He would someday also like to have decorations painted on the wall with a coating of fresh paint, too. We took soil samples from near the entrance, paint samples from the swing set and did a surface sampling for lead on a desk in one of the Pre-K classrooms.

While walking to our next location, Matt explained that the extreme conditions of poverty along with the lack of education have resulted in Los Quinchos being created to help children break their addictions: marijuana, crack cocaine and glue sniffing. The worst problem is the inhalant as it is cheap for them to get and it is industrial strength shoe glue that is sold to the children. They are listless with a blank affect and actually are seen walking with jars in their hands up by their faces. We saw a young boy under the influence who quickly put his jar into his left-hand pocket and struggled to stand up in order to approach us. The effects of the glue on him were obvious, even to the point where his balance was totally compromised. Matt then told us of the child prostitution - 8 & 9-year-olds. Their mothers use themselves and their young girls in this manner to get the various truck drivers to drop the trash closed to their homes. The 'going rate' is about 50 cents.

We stopped atop a high location which allowed us a view of much of this portion of the dump. As Eliza said in her phone interview with the Press Republican just a short time later, "It seemed like the dump went on forever." Matt pointed out the section in which single men live and the portion where one man believes he owns the land and in order to prove it, he has brought in the cattle. The government ignores the situation.

We then went into a feeding area where toddlers play - but people of all ages walk in as we did. There was an older, sickly man there when we stopped to take a soil sample and water sample as well as chip some paint from the blackboard for a sample.

Our final stop was El Hueco - The Hole - which was filled with water accumulated during the rainy season a few months ago. Matt explained this area is filled with homes once the "pond" dries up and the people move out of the hole when it rains again. The water is used for drinking, bathing and cleaning, so we took a sample there along with some soil. He noted that this is the area from which the highest lead levels from August appeared.

Walking back to the clinic area to join the others, Matt told us that the city has installed running water for the residents but the electricity we saw in the homes wasn't legal. A few years ago the city tried to move many of the families into apartments near the dump, but the people stripped the buildings and moved back. These people have their comfort zone although it is definitely not safe. Matt told us that in addition to medical and environmental hazards, there are about 10 killed each year by the trucks coming in and out. About 3-6 of the 10 are kids who get high, go to sleep and the trucks don't notice them in a pile and run over them. The First Lady of Spain recently visited La Chureca and pledged $10 million to Nicaragua to extract the people from this area of the city into safe neighborhoods and place a recycle plant and incinerator in the dump. Matt noted that this situation has existed since right after the devastating earthquake of '72 - that is now 3 generations of families living here. "It is such a humanitarian disaster" was his final remark. The good news is Manna has planted moringa seeds in La Chureca and they are working with MINSA so that once the plant grows, they will use the powder in the porridge they serve to improve the nutritional value for those living in these deplorable conditions.

Tonight's meeting was quite different from last night's as everyone had many thoughts to share. Sister Debbie and Yami learned that a seminarian named Henry, from Oregon, who is completely bilingual, is now assisting Father Jalder at Nejapa. Henry was elated to find out about the Mission and all present knew their was a Greater Power at work to match him with this parish school for his service project! Father Jalder suggested many feasible, practical projects to us - many of which our Leadership Team has been considered in our own minds. The good news is that there are 376 students enrolled this year and there are teachers along with a new principal whose first name is Milagros which means "miracle." Tomorrow there will be an onsite assessment of some of today's ideas.

From Nejapa, Sister and Yami along with Kristin Gagnier and Samantha Mulcahy traveled into Managua passing by the Banana Camp. First timers learned at the meeting the background to this situation which still flies under the radar in the US. Even though the lawsuits in California ruled in favor of the workers over the corporate giants, nothing had been paid to these Nicaraguan workers….are we surprised? No! It appears the strategy of Delmonte, Dole, Chiquita and Dow is to 'wait it out' until this initial generation dies off. There is at least one death a month among the workers from the effects of the chemicals used on the plantations - the same chemicals banned from use in the US since the 1970's. As Sister said, "Check out where your food is coming from."

At the end of the meeting, Sister Debbie asked everyone to re-read three documents they had received at the various pre-trip meetings: Hurricane Mitch, the 14 Commandments of Mission Work and the UN Millennium Goals. Our work is cut out for us over the next few days that we are here.

Then, the energetic Jimmy and James went around and changed all of the lightbulbs to energy efficient "green" bulbs and completed their reorganization of Home Depot…what a wonderful 'store' we now have!

Something happened tonight that got everyone looking in a common direction: at the moon. We experienced a lunar eclipse around 8:30-9pm…another wonder of being here!

February 20, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

By Bonnie Black
Everyone in the large group departed Seton around 3:30am with "You Raise Me Up" as their musical sendoff. Waiting at the Trudeau Airport was peppered with yawns yet no one could really shut their eyes in anticipation of what was to unfold. This is an interesting Mission as only 15 of the 49 have been here before. Sister noted that she was deeply grateful and touched by the flexibility in the airport, especially how well everyone did once they landed in Managua with 82 of the 92 boxes "missing" for a while. One of the AirTransat stewardesses told Sister that this was one of the outstanding group of young people that fly their skies.

Everyone in the large group departed Seton around 3:30am with "You Raise Me Up" as their musical sendoff. Waiting at the Trudeau Airport was peppered with yawns yet no one could really shut their eyes in anticipation of what was to unfold. This is an interesting Mission as only 15 of the 49 have been here before. Sister noted that she was deeply grateful and touched by the flexibility in the airport, especially how well everyone did once they landed in Managua with 82 of the 92 boxes "missing" for a while. One of the AirTransat stewardesses told Sister that this was one of the outstanding group of young people that fly their skies.

In an email sent just prior to Tuesday's departure to past travelers and other volunteers with the Mission, Sister Debbie noted that our efforts this time include all of the following:

  • 1. water testing for a sampling of the sites which received water containers at the Health Fair last August
  • 2. ecological and environmental planting and development of nutritional substitutes, including the planting and harvesting of moringa tress, dehydration procedures for foods and much more.
  • 3. construction of 10 home shelters and repair of others not constructed by Mission
  • 4. medical teams to the baby orphanage, safe house, Masaya nursing home, and the village of La Chureca in the Managua city dump
  • 5. feeding children and providing parasite medicine
  • 6. working with three schools
  • 7. distribution of emergency packs and rice and beans
  • 8. assisting disabled orphans
  • 9. LOTS more...whatever else God asks of us along the way

Tonight, due to the lateness of the arrival of the main group at Nicasa, everyone unloaded the bus and then headed right into dinner - a meal which was consumed with vigor by those who had traveled all night and day! The local women who prepare the Nicaraguan meals for us are always so happy to do so and seem to enjoy watching us satisfy ourselves. We also learned right away that whatever leftovers we had tonight will appear for lunch tomorrow as a team stored the food in containers for the frig.

An orientation was adapted to the lateness with 4 of the 6 stations giving their much-needed information leaving the 2 others dealing with other locations at Nino for sometime on Wednesday.

Although it was dark by 7pm, we held our first group meeting of Mission #27 as the proceedings were of great importance. Tonight was a momentous occasion as formal approval was received today and the legal paperwork was signed tonight at the meeting for the Mission to occupy, renovate and even add to Yamilette Flores' brother's house here in Chiquilistagua. Her brother, Carlos, died from cancer recently and one of his wishes was that the Mission use his house indefinitely. His wife, Mercedes, and their adult daughter had come in from Costa Rica where they have lived for 30 years to make the transition happen. Of course, we will be responsible for any renovations or additions as well as the utilities when we occupy it. Yamilette expressed, on behalf of her sister-in-law and niece who had been moved to tears, that they will be honored that the Mission will occupy the home and Carlos' memory will live on. Sister Debbie acknowledged, "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much. We are proud for you as this will be meaningful for us." She turned to us saying, "A woman who has little has turned so much over to us. This is a far-reaching, long-lasting, life-changing event." The legal signing of the paperwork was then conducted and it will be submitted tomorrow.

Sister then asked how many had been approached in the airport or on the plane because someone wanted to know more about the purpose of our travel…more than half of the group raised their hands. "You shared the story of the Mission by wearing your shirt," she noted and continued, "I even received a cash donation on the plane!" She concluded urging everyone to journal as this week will be a blur before you know it - be attentive, she concluded.

Afterward, the energy still bouncing around in many led to the sorting of meds for tomorrow's ventures as well as the wood for the home building crew. Alexa Cosgro and Matt Kennedy, student representatives on the Mission Leadership Team, spent the rest of their evening working on the assignments for tomorrow.

As we came to the close of the first day on the ground for most, smiles abounded as casual conversation among old and new friends was heard in the bunk rooms and in the rocking chairs in the yard of Nicasa - our casa in Nicaragua for the next week.

A little background on those of us here as part of Mission #27. Each person on Mission commits to a minimum of 6-8 hours of volunteering at home for the mission plus fundraising prior to departure. Over the next few days, as projects unfold, I will update you with how some travelers have met - and exceeded - those goals.

Each area of work over the next 6 days brings with it a variety of challenges, experiences and emotions. As we meet at 7am each morning, our day is outlined for us and we head in a number of directions bright with hope facing the task ahead. By our evening meeting time, we have begun to process and share our day's experiences which inherently have a myriad of feelings embedded within. Sometimes it is hard for me to fully express to you the exact impact of the day, but I will be trying to capture most of what is told in our evening "sharing time."

February 19, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

By Bonnie Black
A Team has had their work cut out for them! Roger Patnode, Joy Cayea, Bill Calmbacher, Jimmy Dumont and Bonnie Black have been on the ground in Nicaragua since Friday afternoon getting Nicasa set up for the others who are to arrive later this afternoon.

All materials for the home shelter projects have been arriving over the past 2 days, so we are ready to build the 10 dwellings beginning on Wednesday morning. About 1200 pounds of rice and beans for distribution are sitting in the kitchen waiting to be packed and given away among the hungry of this area over the next week.

A Team has had their work cut out for them! Roger Patnode, Joy Cayea, Bill Calmbacher, Jimmy Dumont and Bonnie Black have been on the ground in Nicaragua since Friday afternoon getting Nicasa set up for the others who are to arrive later this afternoon.

All materials for the home shelter projects have been arriving over the past 2 days, so we are ready to build the 10 dwellings beginning on Wednesday morning. About 1200 pounds of rice and beans for distribution are sitting in the kitchen waiting to be packed and given away among the hungry of this area over the next week.

A meeting with representatives from MANNA was held the other night in preparation for the visit we will be making on Wednesday to do followup work to our August lead testing in the clinic at La Chureca.

And among all of this, setting up Nicasa in preparation for the “full house” arriving later today has absorbed most of the past few days including the repair of one of the sinks which fell off of the wall on our first day here!

Yesterday, we heard a commotion including the marching band from the school approaching from the main road. The Mayor of Managua, Senor Alcalde, had arrived to dedicate the road in front of the school. We had been astonished at the phenomenal condition of the road when we arrived as it was not only all paved, with curbing, but now has a yellow line down the middle and two speed bumps on either side of the entrance to Colegio Nino Jesus de Praga.

Meanwhile, the majority of the day was spent bringing close to 500 boxes from Caritas to Nicasa which had arrived on a container in mid-January. Sorting into destination locations was imperative as 90 more boxes arrive with the large group later this afternoon.

In the mid-afternoon, Roger Patnode met with a parasitologist from the medical school in Managua to discuss treatment regimens in both countries. She and her med students are willing to look at a future project with our Children Feeding Children students and nutrition program on a regular basis. Something our medical team back home will be very interested to hear!

Around 4pm yesterday, Bill Calmbacher met with half of the 22 women who have been trained by the Nicaraguan Red Cross to be First Aid/CPR responders in the community. Oscar Flores, Jr. translated with the excitement of the women very evident. They thoroughly are enjoying their new roles and have decided to work in 5 teams serving the entire barrio of Chiquilistagua. They are seeking more training in taking blood pressure as well as testing blood sugar levels in the people they see. Mostly, it is children with the typical abrasions and cuts as well as the elderly with blood pressure, kidney and diabetic issues. They applauded Bill and the Mission for allowing them to develop this skill level in taking care of their own. Two of the 22 are students at the school – perhaps a future career?

This afternoon, Roger will be meeting with our doctor, Dr. Lopez who staffs the Nino clinic Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Nejapa on Fridays and Mateare on Monday afternoons.

With the help of the four travelers from Florida, the First Aid kits were sorted this morning as well as gift bags for the teachers at both Nino and Nejapa.

It is my hope to send a note each day so everyone at home can keep up with us – although sometimes it seems we are moving at lightning speed to get it all done before we leave!