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Mission of Hope

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Monday, February 15, 2010

By Bonnie Black
All of Mission 35 has finally arrived! But, let me start at the beginning …

Last night, with a delay on the flight coming in from Atlanta, we wound up with all 21 scheduled for the evening getting on to a yellow school bus with all of their luggage. Sister Debbie rode home with Yamilette and Mauricio while Sister Cathy was my companion as I drove one of our rental vans from the airport to NiCasa. Our scheduled driver was ill, and if we hadn’t picked up the van by 9pm, we were not guaranteed to have it by mid-morning. So, I have now added ‘van driver through downtown Managua’ to my Mission resume!

Upon their arrival, Joy checked in their suitcase numbers, Marty guided them where to put the suitcases until morning, Bev had juice/iced tea/water along with bananas available for snack (some flights only had provided pretzels – which is more than the company that A Team flies!). Roger and Bill handled the men’s room orientation, Samantha and Rachel the women’s small room, Diane and Alysia for the larger room. And the neatest thing was the welcome sign that Samantha and Rachel had created between the time I left for the airport and got back! It said it all, “It’s about time, Mission 35!” And we worked with that concept the rest of the day.

Time….something that we have so little of, yet so much of, in many ways. Although it took 4 days for everyone to arrive, we set the tone today with much getting done.

The morning groupings were made up of the A Team and those who arrived last night – so that means 31 people had their assignments bright and early. The kitchen, under the guidance of Bev, was staffed by Rachel Daly, Megan Harris and Alex Fredette. A real treat for the early risers was warm pancakes and syrup – the leftovers of yesterday’s breakfast which Bev creatively made fresh.

Our morning meeting began at 7am with everyone getting an orientation to the process of the meetings and what lay ahead for the day. Roger opened with reflections from the book, “Letters from the Desert.” It focused on the power of love in our lives: “Love alone is not a problem for (s)he who lives it….It is love which must determine one’s actions…the meeting point between heaven and earth, between God and humanity.”

A Team – now part of the main group, did their last duties in explaining the Assignment Board and then taking everyone on an orientation to Niño Jesus de Praga. Anyone who has been here before saw the difference with the new access through the rear of the high school and the new roadway from the Leon Road to the new entrance – or what will soon be the new entrance to the school. It’s a long story! But leave it to be the Carmelites and the priest of the area are defining their territories. We are quite blessed to already have in place a new site for our Mission which will be able to avoid that ‘politics.’

The orientation of the Niño campus was held immediately after the meeting before everyone set out on their assignments. As always, there are changes and we reflexed to what was evolving during the day. For instance, when the flight from Houston was an hour late in arriving in Managua, that posed a problem for making it farther afar on Rice & Beans. But, we asked if it could be done within walking distance and proceeded to do that.

But, I am getting too far! You want to know what your family and friends have been doing….

Let’s start with the most essential jobs to keeping everything: Kitchen and what we call, ‘BBB’ for Bed, Bath and Beyond (our tool closet is also called ‘Home Depot’ and our office supply space is ‘Staples’).

In the kitchen, under the direction of Bev, was Rachel, Alex Fredette and Megan Harris. They have been responsible for feeding all of us our breakfast and lunch today along with 13 home crew builders from the community. They also assured that all of our supplies were brought over to the dining hall for the dinner that the local women make for us.

BBB for the first day was James Carlin and Zach St. Louis along with Alexa Cosgro and Michelle Oberding.

Although Parajito Azul Disability Center was on the day’s schedule, it didn’t occur due to a transportation issue. We needed both vans at the airport for the scheduled arrival of the rest of our team, so having to leave Chiquilistagua by 11am, it made no sense to only spend 1.5 to 2 hours at the site for our first day there. It’s back on the schedule for tomorrow when we will have the transportation needed. So, the 3 people scheduled for that site (Roger, Bev and Sister Cathy) fell right into doing assisting others in their tasks.

James & I met to review the Community Development plans for this mission. It’s great to have another person reviewing the information and helping to decide what is feasible and what will need to be postponed until the summer!

We began our Heights and Weights program here at Niño with the Pre-K through Grade 2 students. Bill along with Adam Oropallo, Michelle Oberding, Amanda Garami, Rebecca Belton and Molly McConnell accomplished it all this morning – great work team!

Not far from them was Sister Debbie with Magaly Velasquez taking the remaining photos of sponsored students here at Niño.

Joy and Diane were again up at NiCarlos’ working on specialized sorting for the medical distributions remaining.

The notebook/pencil project continued with Alexa Cosgro, Brian LaTulipe, Samantha Mulcahy and Zach St. Louis twisting their personal pencil sharpeners and strapping them to a new notebook for all of our sponsored students. Together, with what was done before the main team arrived, we had 400 done before lunch!

Our Home Crew this morning, under the guidance of Marty, was composed of Nancy Cronin who sponsored the first house built this morning for Claudia Jessenia Narvaez of the barrio Solano. Others on the team were Megan Harris, Caitlin Houle, Rachel Oberding and Greg LaTulipe. The second house was built in honor of Bishop Cunningham and the crew was representative of members of Roman Catholic churches in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. This second dwelling was built for Francesca & Manuel Berños also of Solano.

In the Niño Clinic this morning at our Women’s Health Clinic were Kathy Camelo, Karen Case, Janine Palermo and Alysia Privrat. Of the 19 scheduled, about half showed up, so they offered screenings to the kitchen staff at the Children Feeding Children program we run here and a couple of their friends.

This afternoon when no patients arrived within the first hour for our Women’s Health Clinic here at Niño, the assigned medical crew of Kathy Carmelo, Karen Case and Janine Palermo (along with translator Rachel Oberding) joined Joy Cayea in restocking shelves with medicines at the Niño Clinic.

At 2pm, Alysia Privrat drove over with Dr. Lopez and Marta to our Nejapa Clinic to observe the process in that location. With her fluent Spanish, Alysia was able to ascertain what occurs, in what order, at that location on Mondays and Fridays.

Over in the shade of the front yard this afternoon, Caitlin Houle, Rebecca Boulton and Molly McConnell were whipping along with the notebooks when they were joined by many who were either waiting to go out on Rice & Beans or were in a ‘holding pattern’ on other assignments. It was great to see such camaraderie on the very first day!

Sister Cathy was the point person for the sorting of student gifts this afternoon and was assisted for a while by Amanda Garami and Molly McConnell. It was great to see Nancy Cronin and Siohban Norton and Patrick Daly jump in later so that the first round of checking off and alphabetizing the gifts was completed. BUT – this is the first step of about three.

This afternoon, after the rest of had piled into the two vans to come ‘home,’ Sister Debbie and Yamilette took Barbara Dobilas on a ‘mystery ride!’ What that means is that she was taken in the truck with them and shadowed what they did the rest of the afternoon.

Our second Home Crew of the day had Marty along with Alexa, Eliza, Adam and Zach St. Louis returning to Solano building the first home of the afternoon for Maria Esther Rocha in memory of Zach’s mother, Julie St. Louis, donated by Mark Wahl, a long-term missioner and his uncle. The second was built in Chiquilistagua for Kenia Delgado by Seton Catholic students.
In the front yard were James and Greg who prepared the wood for the shelves which will be put up in the Our Lady of Guadelupe Clinic’s pharmacy within the next 2 days.
Suitcase sorting began in earnest this afternoon with Roger, Karen, Joy and Diane moving the medical supplies with the help of Nancy Cronin and Karen Case. Much of what we will be distributing in the Women’s Health Clinic visits and our painting projects at hospitals/clinics is now organized into suitcases to make it easier to carry.

Rice & Beans was a walking group today due to the delay in the arrival of the flight from Houston. Bill along with Diane, Brian LaTulipe, Karen Case and Samantha Mulcahy visited a number of locals with Magaly.

When the balance of the Mission #35 team came in, that presented 16 more suitcases to sort. They were ‘attacked’ right away and much of that work has been done.

At 4pm, there was an orientation of the school grounds for the new arrivals. Now, everyone should be starting out our second day of Mission #35 speaking the same language – at least regarding the grounds!

Our first evening meeting began at 6pm after a half hour of playtime with the neighborhood children. Of course, there were a number of soccer balls kicked around the courtyard!

Our COMPLETE Mission #35 met together, for the first time ever, including our pre- trip meetings, and we got to introduce ourselves to each other which was more meaningful than it had been in the past. An interesting comment by two was that the coverage of the Mission by the Press Republican is what motivated them to come. On this mission we have 13 different high schools represented and participants from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, New York City, Albany as well as the North Country. We have 26 new participants and 23 veterans.

The ‘basics’ were covered again for the new arrivals before we got into the sharing time.

During our sharing, Sister Debbie began by telling us about an experience she had this afternoon at the fruit market. Barbara Dobilas, who was with Sister, said that she was happy to have the experience driving around including watching a woman make the tortillas that we had for dinner. Then, on to the fruit market, it looked just like the Farmers’ Markets at home. But, driving around the back, she saw the fish area with the flies all over the shrimp and fish and other moments that moved her. She got a great picture of a young boy although his sister was camera-shy. Knowing that these children actually live there as they don’t go school, moved her. Watching the young girl, around 8, lie down and pull a towel over her, she realized this was probably where she sleeps most of the time. Thinking that this is how she will spend most of her life, it was a sobering experience. “It will rock you to your core,” said Barbara, “and I am grateful to have seen it. It was obvious there is no beauty in her life.”

Sister mentioned that she chose Barbara today because she is our webmaster and this gave her a great first-hand experience of what the Mission is about.

Alysia Privat had spent the afternoon with Dr. Lopez at our Nejapa Clinic and realized that the people come to the clinic here know this is a unique experience, unlike going to the doctor which we take for granted.

When exchanging our money today, Sister had Yamilette ask the men what they get. He gets 5 to 7 cents on every hundred they exchange. Imagine that as your line of work to provide for your family. It is also a very unsafe job, too, with a few being killed each month. “James,” who exchanged the money, nodded his head at the end and said, “God bless you.”

Rachel Oberding spoke of one of the home shelters she was involved with this morning. The woman seemed so sad and requested shampoo for you young baby. Another woman told them that the other woman can’t work, as she has to watch her children because someone might steal them. Sister noted that human trafficking is becoming more of an issue. It is estimated that there are over 85,000 children out on the streets trying to sell wares or themselves.

A question was posed as to how people are selected for receiving home shelters. The criteria we have is that the local council select the most needy with the most significant issues. Applications are taken continuously and the list is constantly sorted by need as they reapply each year. One of the women who will be receiving has been on the list for 2 years. This mission is very unique with so many shelters being built in memory of a loved one.

Nancy Cronin mentioned that hers was the first shelter that was built today and the 2 little boys ran right inside once it was done and began playing. At the second home, the woman for whom the shelter was built seemed very shy – like her children, but…once Nancy took out her camera they became very involved and took a parakeet out of the tree and proudly showed it to her. She was impressed by one of the local workers who was pounding the nails continuously even though he had an old break in his forearm that was misshapen.

Eliza thanked all who came over to help with the notebook preparation even though they hadn’t been asked. We were reminded by Alexa that these are for the 600 or so students that are sponsored by the Mission.

Rachel thanked Bev for her efforts in the kitchen on behalf of all – and got a round of applause. Bev spoke to Sister Stephanie this afternoon and she sends her wishes. She read a note that Sister Stephanie sent which brought tears to many eyes.

“All of us have had people raising us up from the moment we began thinking of possibly doing a mission. Generally,” said Sister Debbie, “we do a prayer as the full Mission group departs – but this time was quite different. So here is our gathering prayer for Mission 35.” With heightened emotions, we listened to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” sung by Celtic Woman.

“”You raise me up to more than I can be” was the resounding refrain for all tonight as we thought of all of you who gave this opportunity for this experience.

Sister then asked Megan Harris to come to the center of the circle to be honored with her 17th birthday today. And we brought out a piñata that had been purchased by Yamilette while Bev cut the birthday cake which we all shared – it was a la mode…what a treat! Others tried to break the piñata and, finally, it came apart delivering Tootsie Rolls and Valentine pops to all.

Just about that time, we had a visit from Jeremy Eppler who could only spend a few minutes saying, “Hi,” to all. He hopes to be back for a longer time on Friday.

All were in bed before the ‘lights out’ at 9:30pm proving that Mission #35 has truly begun to make a difference – in the people we serve as well as ourselves.

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