By Bonnie Black
Today began just like yesterday - bright sun and no clouds. Although we had high winds from time-to-time, it was a gorgeous day. Our hope was that it would be the same today as we sent a painting team out to Mother of the Divine School in Nejapa at 6:30 a.m. to complete the roof painting and louver installation. That team was hand-picked by Joe Lewis: Emily Bean, Darcy Rabideau, Rich DeGrijze, Hillary Miller, Ashley Thompson, Phil Maynard, Kayla Rabideau and Brad Willett.
The rest of us had our regular morning meeting - our next-to-last for this mission. We wished Kelly Hayle a very Happy Birthday today! We are working very hard at making any last minute accommodations at accomplishing everything in our last two days. Sister is hoping to grant 'wishes' - especially to our first-timers - in these last two days, so some people were pulled off of their assignments for a short period of time. Sister reminded us of the 14th century Dominican prayer of 'where one is, all are' as we began our morning prayer together. Stephen Witkiewicz played a Spanish song about poverty, "A Better World" which talks about singing in a better world, smiling in a better world and such. Sister then reinforced those thoughts by reading from a portion of a poem on our cocina wall by Archbishop Oscar Romero who was martyred while celebrating mass with the poor:
"It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, but beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. ..That is what we are all about; we plant seeds that one day will grow; we water seed already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest."
And with that, we headed out to work today.
BBB today was handled by Alex Fredette, Tom Grue, Kelly Hayle and Rinsha Ballani. Kitchen Crew under Brenda Flynn included Sarah Scardillo, Tricia Giglio and Adrianne Longino.
Off to Parajito Azul this morning were Sister Stephanie, Heather Frenette and Ashlery Goyette.
This morning's Rice & Beans donations were headed by Kasey Garrand: Liz Cofrancesco, Meagan Pelkey, Tom Grue, Jackie Bedore, Connie Tyska, Sonesh Balchandani and Angie Neyer. They were able to give some medical attention at one of the homes and returned for some supplies to go back to another.
Today began the inventory of the various supplies we have: medical, wood, tin, and our Home Depot closet. This morning sorting through the medical supplies and creating lists for future missions were Anthony Garami, Peggy Giroux, Bill Calmbacher and Lou Ann Nielson with a little assistance from Kitchen Crew member, Adrianne Longino. Assigned to cleaning up the yard while doing material inventory were Bev Gogola, Joan Riani, Chris Fisher, Kelly Hayle, Alex Fredette, Kara Hackett, Mary Fredette, Rinsha Ballani and Stephen Witkiewicz. BUT, Sister Debbie pulled Joan Riani and Kara Hackett for a 'mystery ride' - one of their wishes!
After the medical inventory for the First Responders' needs was completed, Anthony Garami went to do a medical outreach along with Peggy Giroux, Meagan Pelkey, Connie Tyska, Rinsha Ballani, Stephen Witkiewicz, Angie Neyer, Lou Ann Nielson and Tricia Giglio. It got them out and about to see the mother of one of the guards who cannot make it to the clinic.
Finishing the electric, mid-morning, at NiCarlos were Tom Grue and Adrianne Longino who got everything in shape so that a licensed electrician can do the final connection to the exterior source.
Late this morning, jobs were broken into segments as a van took off with Sister Debbie for the last drive to La Chureca: Chris Fisher, Phil Maynard, Joe Lewis, Brad Willett, Sonesh Balchandani, Stephen Witkiewicz, Angie Neyer, Rinsha Ballani, and Peggy Giroux.
Joe Lewis and Brad Willett then split from the group and picked up all of the hammocks and chairs from the market and had shrinkwrapping done on the larger ones to ready them for transport on Thursday.
The painting of the mural did NOT occur as we had hoped because the parents of the students had not signed permission slips to allow the students to stay after school. It is arranged, formally, for that to happen tomorrow afternoon at 1pm…we WILL get it done!
So, Emily Bean, Hillary Miller, Rinsha Ballani and Stephen Witkiewicz were reassigned to suitcase prep - getting them all ready for filling tomorrow night.
The clinic at Our Lady of Guadelupe was handled by Anthony Garami, Liz Cofrancesco, Peggy Giroux and Kara Hackett.
Partnering with Dr. Lopez at our Nino Clinic were Connie Tyska, Angie Neyer and Ashley Thompson and they made some interesting observations they will give the medical team when they next meet in Plattsburgh.
Working on the laptops installing the Spanish version of XP was Sonesh Balchandani who is almost complete with this project, so we will be able to give the four we brought down to the key people who need them to sustain the Mission's work when we are gone. Stephen Witkiewicz assisted with the translation - he has been so valuable with this fluent skills all of this week wherever he has been needed!
The afternoon Rice & Beans team were Kayla Rabideau, Lou Ann Nielson, Sonesh Balchandani, Darcy Rabideau, Kelley Hayle, Bev Gogola and Alex Fredette. There will be only one more trip tomorrow for this mission.
Handling the Home Depot Inventory was Kasey Garrand who came across a small black snake that we had the guard come in and remove. Took a while to find it as it had crawled into a corner, but we thought it was in the painting tarps.
The highlight of the afternoon, though, for many here was the distribution of sponsor gift at Nino. Jackie Bedore headed a team of Ashley Goyette, Joan Riani and Bill Calmbacher setting up for the 'event.'
While we were involved with the families, Sister Karla and others from Mateguas arrived! We had many supplies to give them for their school and added some personal items, too, to the cartons that we loaded on their truck.
Our evening meeting started at 6:30 p.m. as we had much to cover. Sadly, we heard the news that Kasey Garrand's grandmother passed away and the funeral will be this Friday, after our return. Sister asked that we keep the family in prayer.
We will start tomorrow with a 6:45 a.m. meeting as the Despedida begins at 7:30 a.m. and will be about an hour. The medical team going to Fernando Velez Paiz Children's Hospital will miss it as they have to be there at 8am.
We centered before our sharing time using the song, "The Tears of God" and Sister Debbie asked us to recall the images of the past week as we listened. Poignant phrases were: "I saw a mother with her children standing near the shelter door hoping there would be a room for one night more. Then I saw a million people poor and homeless round the world and I thought I saw a tear fall upon each one. I thought I saw the tears of God, falling like the rain. Shall we dry the tears of God and come to heal the pain."
Sister followed that by saying we have all been trying to dry the tears of God throughout this week. Today was especially hard as Kara, Joan and she went to the Velez Paiz Children's Hospital - a painful yet poignant moment. They had been through some of the worst part of the hospital in arranging for the medical team tomorrow and they passed a young boy, about 6 or 7, who was screaming as their medical people turned him over on his belly; he was burned from the middle of his back to mid-thigh - all third degree burns. In the hallway, Oscar asked the mother what happened and she said the boy was playing in their neighbor's home and when he ran backwards to catch a ball, he fell into the fire in the cooking area. Kara 'dried the tears of God' by reaching into her backpack and taking out the sports cards she carries and leaned down to him - he stopped crying. She laid them next to his face on the cot and he actually smiled! Someone had reached out to him and gave him hope. That was Sister's 'mission moment' from this trip.
When Sister Karla and Sister Miriam arrived this afternoon, we learned that Sister Karla got out of the bed she has been in for 8 days, traveling 4 hours to be here with us and would be traveling back the 4 hours tonight. She has had dengue and only had a slight fever still (it is not contagious - some of us have had it before).
After that experience, Joan mentioned they saw the seminary on the hill above the poor people's shelters and then the US Embassy and felt injustice in the juxtapositions. Joan gave a little girl a granola bar while they were out and it brought a broad grin to the young girl's face.
There were a lot of tears today, but many of us were drying each other's as they experience the extremes of waste and abuse.
Rinsha Ballani spoke of visiting La Chureca. She saw and understood, but because she has been in such a different world, it didn't sink in right away that it was real. " It is, to this moment, still sinking in," she said. The image she held in her mind of the people around the garbage truck. When our group pulled out of La Churaca, she looked back at the graffiti-written entrance sign that says, "Welcome to Hell."
We take so much for granted and suddenly, after an experience like that and much of what we have done all week, you don't want luxuries.
Anthony asked her if the situations in "Slumdog Millionaire" were real and she said, sadly enough, that those living conditions happen everywhere in India. But to witness for herself La Chureca this morning, it is still sinking in.
Sister Debbie noted that Sonesh Balchandani was also on today's trip and he knew, on some level, what to expect due to his travels in India. He shared stories of Bombay's 'sewer hole' where the train must travel through to get people to work each day and other similar conditions of the poorest of the poor.
Sister noted, "We think we comprehend such conditions until we step into the pictures of what the National Geographic gets award for."
Brad Willett also went to La Chureca and, as a standup comic, he usually tries to find a silver lining in all of his experiences. But, today, this was the first time in his life he couldn't find it. He felt hopeless and saw the experience not just black or white - it was a sea of grey. As they left La Chureca, they saw the campaign sign of Ortega's that says, "Working for what the people want and what God wants." Personal opinions were exchanged on the juxtaposition of the sign and the situation they had just experienced.
Today, this group saw the government's sand mines we had heard about now happening there.
Peggy Giroux said she found a silver lining, though, in the experience of the wind blowing his hat off into a lower section of the dump where he couldn't get it; a little girl who was below passed the cap right back to Brad. Here was a perfect opportunity for the girl to keep the cap and get some money from it, but she was very happy to please Brad.
Alex Fredette remarked that he took a 20-minute video on Saturday when went and he reviewed it today. Although he has read fictitious novels of post-Apocalyptic visions, he was greatly impacted by the personal experience. He reabsorbed what he saw the other day and thought about it as this afternoon he listened to all that the Mateguas sisters have gone through, and heard amazing stories about the Flores family's experiences here. He realizes that the Mission is more than about seeing the negatives and working to combat them, but it is also about the positives and being encouraged by stories of people helping others in need. It is about seeing the negatives, about putting energy and effort into tasks, and having hope - you must have it. He can't put his finger on a specific 'mission moment' but he has found that over the week, it has been amazing. He won't go back home the same person. There has been so much to encourage him. It feels, to him, more like a challenge to get part of it done and then plant the seeds of hope. It can be tackled, given enough time.
Sister reinforced that we will not go back the same as when we came - even the veterans - and we may need time alone to process what we have shared down here.
Chris Fisher had a life-changing experience at La Chureca. He has been planning on joining the military for the past three years and he has decided there is enough pain in this world that he needs to do something for people moving in that direction.
Kara Hackett shared that when they stopped at the bank to make a deposit, Sister explained the Flores' story while Oscar and Mauricio were inside. Afterward, she has now come to view Oscar and his family as an inspiration by coming back here to help their people even though they have been through so much. It has inspired her to continue to return and keep working here.
Joe Lewis said he felt La Chureca looked worse today, from the outside, than it did from the inside the other day. Riding around the city to get the chairs shrinkwrapped, he found Brad quite wise in his observations of the chain convenience stores that are rampant here. Brad views those enterprises as pushing the country backward rather than bringing it forward. Joe said it is throughout other countries, not just Nicaragua, as he hears of it at his work in the prison system. He has heard so many people, from so many places, agree with his thought of a United America even though the various politicians can't seem to work together. Reinforcing that thought, Sister Debbie told us of a third grader who once told her that God didn't make boundaries, people did.
Peggy Giroux said their time at Our Lady of Guadelupe Clinic this afternoon allowed her to notice how great the rooms looked that were painted earlier this week by our team. She felt it was a simple way to bring dignity to the clinic and its patients.
Connie Tyska noted it was a tough day. She thought it was good going out on Rice & Beans and seeing a young man with neurological problems realizing how that compounds problems of poverty. They returned to that family's home with vitamins and nutritional supplements.
Today was Connie's 'mission moment' - she never knew four years ago when she met Sister Karla that they were so close in age. Today, as she was leaving and got in the car, Connie reflected that 4 hours traveling here, to sit for 2 hours talking, followed by another 4 hour trip back home was a lot. When the nuns were driving out, Sister Karla rolled down the window handed Connie the tortillas they likely had planned for their own meal. They are so giving and have so little in tangible things. When we go home and look around our houses - it will sicken us how much we have. That's what the Mission is about - gaining perspective.
Alex jumped in with a short, light story about going to get Phil just outside the gates. Phil went in and Peggy handed Alex the stickers that Phil had been trying to give to the students and immediately it tuned into a tug of war. Chico (the youngest) then came up and grabbed Alex's hand taking the sticker and putting it on his t-shirt then engulfing Alex in a bear hug.
Tricia was on kitchen duty today and wanted to put out there that Brenda is a cool kitchen lady - she is awesome and got a lot done. Sister Debbie affirmed that as she made grilled cheese sandwiches for Sister Karla and Miriam as well as those sitting with them and then a special dinner for the nuns to take back home.
Ashley Goyette shared that she went to Parajito Azul today prepared to be sad, but wound up being really happy. She saw Sr. Steph glowing while she was there - it is so obvious that the children love her and are so excited to be around her. She saw all the stuff that Heather Frenette brought today for the autistic children and how excited the psychologist was to see what she was given.
Connie Tyska chimed in noting that she found out today, in a roundabout way, that today is the anniversary of when Sister Debbie took her vows - 35 years ago today.
Kayla Rabideau gave a shout out to the Nejapa crew for getting the roof done!
Anthony visited his sponsored family today to bring them what he had brought down for them and he was so pleased to see their 15-day old boy - and then discovered they had named the child, "Anthony."
Three young adults were here from NICAYUDA were here at 4 p.m. and met with many of us in the dining room for a presentation about the 2 different pre-schools that Mission began assisting last February with school items. They also brought handmade cards from a few of the pre-schoolers that we will bring back to our Leadership Team which thank us for all we have done for them. They have had what we would call "Teacher Conference Days" with the teachers at the two pre-schools to help them learn about various behavioral and developmental issues among the young students. The teachers get paid, by the government, $25 per month - and one of the preschools is in the teacher's home because the space that was made available is totally unsafe.
Hillary Miller was amazed at how dedicated Norman Espinoza (Magaly's brother) and the other 2 young people are to their own young. It would be easy to let others - older people - do it, but they are taking the future of their country in their hands by working at trying to provide a good start to education. Chris was very interested in the age group they were assisting - helping Pre-K rather than their peers or others close in age. The remarkable thing is NICAYUDA is all volunteer - each of these young adults also has their own job. For instance, Norman is the pre-K teacher at the school in La Chureca.
Tonight Nora's rice pudding was decorated in honor of the Mission with cinnamon and raisins…and we now have the recipe! Someone wanted to know if we would have it made for the reunion (possibly on the 20th-21st) and Sister assured that Nora most likely got the recipe from Oscar's mother, so we could have it. Sister will email us all later in the week with optional dates.
Our meeting was closed with, "I Hear the Baby Crying" which spoke of drying all the tears. "We are all part of one world - I am just like you - so let your hearts be open and reach out with all your love…we are a part of one world, we all can share the same dream - if you just reach out to me, you'll find I'm just like you."
And with that, we closed our meeting on our next-to-last night in Nica.