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Mission of Hope

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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!

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