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Mission of Hope

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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.

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