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Mission of Hope

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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!

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