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February 25, 2011

Daily Journal: Thursday, February 24, 2011 (Late Edition)

By Bonnie Black
This Mission is now officially closed. As the A Team sits in the Augusto Sandino Airport in Managua awaiting their 2am flight to Fort Lauderdale, there is much on which to reflect. Let me tell you how today began….

…by 2:15am, most everyone was up and getting ready to get on the bus into the airport. Sister's van departed and the big, yellow bus pulled to the gate, tried to maneuver left, went in reverse, tried a second time, then decided he best turn right and go around the block back up to the main road.

To be honest, the 8 of us returned to bed for a short time.

After a few more winks, we continued the shutdown process. Each of us took off in different directions taking on a variety of tasks. Within about 4 hours, we had most of NiCasa stripped to the condition in which we entered on February 15th. With so much construction still left to do, all of us decided that the summer mission will be another new experience.

As you know, I got time today to go up to the Flores' house and send the Journal Notes from the past two days as well as the photos that help interpret the various assignments your family members have taken on during Mission #41.

One of the first things this morning was Chico and Rene arriving to assist us in the various transportation needs we had while closing down. Chico was very excited about putting up the plaque given to Mission by the community the other day. We were thinking of somewhere on the Clinic walls, but he said that the community would like to see it outside of the front gate. After all, it is their gift to us, so we felt that abiding their wishes would be a nice acknowledgement to our mutually beneficial relationship. It looks great - hope you take a look at the photo on the Press Republican website!

Bev, Bill and Joy tied up the Kitchen area by early afternoon; Megan and Zach had tackled the dorms and bathrooms; James completed the inventory on the Home Depot room; Roger completed the pharmacy inventory and clinic setup, then ran back out to La Chureca Clinic to retrieve some paperwork left there, only to find them closed. We also had the assistance of Rene, Chico, Justin and Ilona which helped immensely. They were able to purchase the detergent and soap that Victoria needed to do all of our towels and sheets over the next few days; they returned our water bottles for a refund. Later Mauricio and I sat to reconcile expenses and prepare the bank deposit for tomorrow while Zach and Megan made a visit to Victoria's with the laundry with Justin. I took off for the airport midday to return one of the two vans we had rented for the week. And then…

While I did that, Megan, Zach, James and Roger went to a nursery to look over potential lush greenery and flowering bushes for NiCasa. The planting season begins in May, so it is too early to put anything into the ground, they were told - certainly not due to the chance of frost, though!

At 5pm when our Clinic closed, our Leadership Team met with Dr. Zamorra and Marta to discuss a variety of procedures we would like to amend over the next month. It was a good meeting and one of the best with medical staff.

We headed away from NiCasa just around 6:30pm, bringing to a close Mission #41.

I just want to mention that when your loved one returns tonight, you may find him or her very talkative or, most likely, it will be a few days or even a week before he or she can begin to share their experience. Most of what we have spent the past week experiencing is emotional and physically draining. It takes a bit to begin to process it all as life here in Nicaragua is so very different than in the States. The division between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' is a chasm. We are so privileged to have so much available to us for convenience, health, recreation and work. It can take a while to process the re-entry into the US culture coming from an immersion here. Be patient. Use the photos they share with you as a way to gain a little insight into their week. Many are very playful while others show the stark reality of the poorest of the poor. They may not even be able to answer the question, "Will you go again?" Give them some space, give them some time. In due course, you will hear the wonderful stories….especially when two or more are gathered. You will hear the laughs, you may even hear the sniffles. You will learn more about this transforming experience in due time.

Thanks for allowing me to share Mission #41 with all of you. As they say here, "Hasta pronto!"

Sara's Mission of Hope Blog

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Today was my last full day in Nicaragua. For a treat we were all offered to pick one of two field trips to either Mombacho, a volcano, or a boat tour of Lake Managua. I chose Mombacho.

We were taken up to the top in a crazy ride in an all-terrain vehicle. When we neared the top, we circled around the circumference of the volcano. Everything was green and lush and flowers grew everywhere. I was reminded again what a beautiful place this is. I don't ever want to leave.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to get here - all forms of support, especially my parents, from the bottom of my heart. You have helped to open my eyes, give me lifelong friends and memories, and gave me the gift of being able to give.

I would like to thank those of you who have been reading and the Press for letting me do this. I know my writing has been primitive at best, but I tried my best to convey as much emotion as I could, so you can understand and learn as much as I have this week.

I'd like to thank Sister Debbie for everything she does which is more than anyone can imagine.

I'd also like to thank Bonnie Black for helping me with the blog in her spare time which was almost non-existent, and the rest of Leadership for all they do.

Most of all, I would like to thank all my fellow missioners when I was trying to take on things I didn't understand. Thank you for always offering a touch of the hand to let me know I'm not alone.

Daily Journal: Thursday, February 24, 2011

By Bonnie Black
We had no meeting this morning - our 'day off' - because the 28 people going to the Mombacho Cloudforest left NiCasa at 6:15am. They arrived there in time for a trip up through the canopy in newer mini-vans…no more Soviet transport vehicles! The cloud cover was very dense today, but the flora was extremely vibrant. Most all wore their sweatshirts in this cooler clime.

Thirteen of the other left in one of the vans around 8am for a trip into Managua to take a boat tour on Lake Managua - a little rocky, but still quite enjoyable. They then continued the history of Managua and Nicaragua in the Plaza of the Revolution and from the van along the way to lunch. Afterward, they went to the Roberto Huembes Market, named after a martyr of the last Revolution.

That left Bill, Bev G., Nancy Cronin and Sister Stephanie decided to stay back to organize the suitcases for the morning as well as shut down the kitchen.

Tonight we had our semi-annual Pizza Party for our closest compatriots here in Chiquilistagua. Conversation abounded among all and having Hawai'ian pizza in addition to the plain cheese and the veggie was delightful.

This evening's meeting began with a review of logistics for the airport in Managua in the morning for all but 8 of us and also what is necessary upon landing in Houston.

Especially thanked Bev G., Bill, Nancy and Sister Stephanie who stayed behind today to work on the closure procedures.

Bev G. reviewed the suitcase lists and responsibilities and will meet with anyone having a problem with space needs to see her after the meeting.

Bill explained the process of removing linen from the beds. We also spoke about cell phone returns and wearing our Mission #41 t-shirts tomorrow for the entire trip…so you will all be looking for the green t-shirts when everyone arrives at their designated airports!

Sister Stephanie thanked everyone who worked in the kitchen this week.

Sister and Nancy were in Managua this afternoon and saw a demonstration of workers who are trying to petition for a fair wage from $30 per month for hard labor to $40 per month. Think about that. There were several different groups from all around the country petitioning for the fair wage.

Then Sister moved to closing this mission. "Hopefully you did more than survive - you've thrived so that your heart is changed. Remember to think of the one thing you can change in your personal life - and do it. The honest and intense sharing was a blessing."

In a very real way, our mission begins when we land back home. Three women 12 years ago had a dream. But, it was the others who nurtured the dream - including everyone on Mission #41. "You are part of the legacy - the Mission does not belong to the 3 co-founders, but to all who have been on Mission and support the Mission."

She thanked Sister Stephanie, Sister Claire and Gwen for sharing this mission making it very special for her personally. She also thanked the Leadership Team on this Mission and the Leadership back home for all they do…and then there was applause.

Sister then asked Ilona and Justin to stand saying that they represent the Flores family very well and they will

Roger asked that Bev and Bill to stand - he then spoke of the sticking to task and getting it done - "These Schroonies get it done!"

MaryKate is the first Clemson graduate and resident of Tennessee mission team member.

We then acknowledged the Sante Fe School contingent, the New Hampshire team and the solo rep from Vancouver (WA).

Tom then thanked Sister for all she does - and everyone gave a standing ovation.

Joy L. and Hillary then presented our final closing prayer. "In a short 6-7 days, we have made a family," said Joy. "It's not just Mission that's our family, but it's also those at Parajito Azul, on Rice & Beans and everywhere we went." She then asked us to hold hands and each of us to turn to the person on our left, one at a time, saying, "May the love of my heart flow from hands to yours." She concluded acknowledging that even though we will part tomorrow, we will remain family. Hillary then played, "You Raised Me Up." Joy finished with, "Let's not cry because it's over, but smile because it happened."

Mission #41, the Transition Mission, will be ending by Noon on Friday when the last 8 arrive in Plattsburgh from Ft. Lauderdale. See you all on the other side!

Sara LoTemplio's Mission of Hope Blog

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Today was a difficult day. I, along with 4 other students, and some adults went to La Chureca to do a Pediatric Clinic. La Chureca, is also known as the Managua City Dump.

Like all things beautiful or terrible in the world, in this case terrible, it is not a place that can adequately be described in words. The closest it gets is a sign spray painted on the entrance of the dump that reads "Welcome to Hell."

This place can not be contained in a photo either, because photos do not bring with them a heavy, thick, choking air reeking with the smell of chemicals and burning trash. Photos don't bring with them the dust whipping around and nearly blinding you, or the garbage crunching under your feet.

La Chureca is a place where wild animals and people fight over pieces of trash, where people pick through garbage to try and salvage anything useful to get by. Worst of all, La Chureca is a place where people live.

We entered the dump, and I felt a growing feeling of hopelessness welling inside of me. I couldn't think, I couldn't cry, I was paralyzed. I didn't believe it was real.

We opened our clinic, all of us having a hard time breathing, and I hoped I could do something, somehow to help someone. I only realized even more how hopeless I was feeling when Hillary gave everyone a soap bar, and they didn't even know what it was. We sat dumbstruck as a Nicaraguan doctor demonstrated for all the people there simply how to wash your hands. Of the things we do every day, they have no concept. They have no way to escape the places they live in, and the air that is slowly killing them. They have nothing.

I was sitting and wondering how things could ever change, when a little boy came up to me and smiled, pointing at the bubbles I had zipped in my fanny pack. I smiled back at him and blew him bubbles, and it was as if nothing could ever be wrong with his life. He was so happy. He and all the other children were beautiful.

In a strange way, I couldn't help but to feel happy for him, and I shared in his joy. This is an emotion I still can't really understand, after seeing what his life was like. I never expected when I came here, by the way, to have so many emotions I didn't understand.

After some thought, I believe this happiness might just be a little bit of hope. It's a testament that these people are so naturally optimistic and joy filled, and this makes them deserve better even more. They seem to hope, or at least know in their hearts, that tomorrow might be a better day.

I want to make it a better day for them, but I can't do it alone. My heart is broken, and I am overwhelmed at the massive amount of work and learning that needs to happen to make it better. That's another thing I learned today. I learned how hard it is sometimes to help. I always thought it would be simple. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, etc. I now realize how complex it is to fix some things, and how not everything comes with a manual.

There are so many delicate balances between helping and exploiting, making lives better and making them what we think is better, helping for the moment and helping long term. It takes much more time, and much more effort than a few hours during the week of February, by the 40 or so Missioners of Hope. We all must stand as one.

I have seen the people and I know them, and I know that they are the same as you and me. We are all people, and we all share the same home on planet Earth. So I am asking you today, to please think of your fellow human family in Nicaragua. Please attempt to share the burden to make theirs lighter.

Please help the Mission of Hope to help them in any way you can. You can help more than you think. Sister Debbie told me today, "You've seen what you've seen and you know now. When you return home you can either do something about it or become just another tourist." I intend to do something about it, and I have HOPE that I will not be alone.

Daily Journal: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

By Bonnie Black
Today is it - the last day of Mission #41 and we still have lots of work to be done! At this morning's meeting we reviewed the many tasks to be accomplished. With that in mind, we moved right to prayer that will both begin the day and will end our time here.

Nancy put together a centering prayer acknowledging the indigenous cultures of this hemisphere and our place within and among all life on earth - present, past and future. Kevin then asked us to join him in singing John Lennon's "Imagine."

This morning we were doing a lot of 'finals'…except for Kitchen Crew and BBB!

We had two Rice & Beans deliveries in the barrios: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Ilona again acted as the translator as did her fiancé, Justin; she has been such a God-send for us enhancing the abilities of what could do and provide to others. The morning crew was Gwen, Chris and Liam with Ilona; the afternoon was Tom, Josh, Sara L., Emily with Justin.

We had two Women's Clinics - one in the morning at a different clinic at La Chureca than we have been before - it was not as deep into the dump as the other, nearer the entrance. Alysia, Allie, Bev V. were joined by Roger Patnode who was providing an approved consultation. He had asked to expand the medical team for that purpose so along with the medical group went Ben, Hillary, Abi, Sister Claire, Ben, Lauren and Sara. L.

This afternoon they went to CARITAS again, but didn't have anyone come L

Sister and Nancy headed over to Nino to complete student photos early this morning, but didn't get to Nejapa; they will be doing that, there.

Our Heights & Weights crew of Bill, Adam, Paul, Ann headed over to Nejapa school by 8am and our Parajito Azul team was made up of Sister Stephanie, Sister Cathy and Josh also out the door by 8am.

I left NiCasa this morning bright and early with Paul R. and Tom to visit the Paul Harris Public School in Managua as well as two pre-schools there which our two clubs are currently providing assistance to. We went to inspect the new sidewalks and steps that were just completed before school began 3 weeks ago and found that they had placed a special school assembly to thank us for the recent work as well as the completion of the third pavilion holding 2 classrooms a year ago. We then went to two pre-schools we are just beginning to support - a joint project. We delivered some supplies to the coordinator of the pre-school project here near Chiquilistagua and also went to both places. The children in the first numbered about 40 and the school is the front part of the prinicipal's home. The second is named after a young child who was killed on the way to school during the War. It has two distinct large rooms plus a schoolyard with the larger room divided into 3 sections; this school has over 100 pre-schoolers!

Meanwhile, back on campus at NiCasa, the closet-building was bring completed by Norm, Kevin, Caitlin, Amanda and James. By around 11 or so, they then headed up to El Crucero to install the large pieces. They needed to also have the truck for the unit along with the van for their tools and themselves.

Henry took the second coat of the NiCasa by storm! He had some assistance by Megan Hall and Adam, but it got to a point where he was able to do it himself so expediently that they were in charge of moving his scaffolding. It is done - great job Henry!!

Preparing clothing and toys as well as rice & beans for delivery to the two clinics in La Chureca were Emily, Megan Hall, Maggie, Sarah R., Eva, Aislyn, Joy L., Bev G., Joy C., and Marlee. Thanks to Ann finishing most of the sorting and labeling in the storage room last night, their work was made light. They then became the first trip to La Chureca (except for Joy C. and Bev G.). Sister took a second group an hour later which was comprised of those who accompanied the medical team to the clinic. Most people were overwhelmed and have been processing in their journals tonight.

This afternoon, Paul R. spent a few hours in our 'Home Depot' beginning an inventory and trying to organize that side of the room that I spend most of my waking hours in; the other 1/3 of the room is the Oficina.

Working on the Shutdown Checklist of items was Bev G., Joy C., Chris, Nancy, Sister Claire, Aislyn and Gwen…before the 2pm gathering for gift-giving. Megan Harris, Amanda, Ben, Sarah R., Caitlin and Bill got the tables together and arranged the seating for the community.

After the gifts, there was a farewell prepared for us by the two school communities. We saw a few folk dances and then Inocencio stood up and began to talk about all that Mission has done for the surrounding communities. To make a long story short, they presented us with a plaque (it's really heavy - like a bronze plaque). We were ever taken aback. The parents of the sponsored students combines resources for it. What an honor!

Of course, there was playing in the yard and then…yard cleanup by all before dinner. I have to say that the dinners prepared right here by Nora, Rosa and Marta have been so delicious…the aromas some days have made our mouths water. Tonight's dessert was Nora's rum cake - you either love it or decide it's not for you. I am in the 'love it' camp and look forward to it each mission.

Tonight was a summary of the events which, for many of us, were a roller coaster of emotions.

Sister told us that there is still a great deal of closure to do while we also fit in our 2 field trips and host guests at our perennial pizza party tomorrow night.

Bev, Sister Steph and Bill will stay behind tomorrow working on kitchen closure while Roger goes into CARITAS to go on a site visit with Ilona and Justin as translator and driver, respectively, to a couple of the remote villages to continue the exploration to increasing our service to the poorest of the poor.

Sister went over the general rules of the market: never go alone, negotiate a cheaper price without demeaning the vendor - they like the game! Tomorrow is the day we transition from missioner to tourist for the day. She also gave guidelines regarding street/market vendors as well as what is acceptable to transport back to the US. Unless someone is desperately ill, we were warned not use the restrooms as they are not sanitary and are unsafe. We also discussed choices we will have for lunch and other criteria for our 'day out' tomorrow.

Sister began our sharing time by asking us to pray that the Archbishop will be able to allow a Loyola Grant application to be submitted for replacing our stolen truck. While in the City today, they also met with SELAIS as well as the lawyer, too, in addition to the Archbishop.

A couple of people on this mission have approached her about sponsoring 2 of the HIV-positive orphans and another is interested in donating $50 per month to their care. Anyone interested, just email Sister once we're back in the States.

Tom recounted the morning events as he, Paul and I traveled as Rotarians to three of our project sites. We were surprised by the reception I noted above.

The other presentation here at the Farewell was a surprise to everyone here from the parents of the children sponsored at Nino Jesus de Praga and Mother of the Divine Son at Nejapa. I meant to include above that one of the dancers (the last one with the red sash) is now a teacher at the Nejapa school but was one of our sponsored children at Nino Jesus de Praga when she was young. Now that's a testimonial to the educational support we provide.

Liam and Chris told us that the Mission now has a soccer team! When they were out on Rice & Beans they were approached by some young kids to play soccer. A couple of the boys asked if they could use our name as a team name this season. Sister explained that we have been supporting soccer and baseball teams for years with donated athletic equipment from up north. Leadership will take the idea and discuss it at our March meeting

Amanda at Parajito Azul made a toilet paper holder and gave it to Sister Cathy who presented it to Sister so she will always have toilet paper when she needs it!

Sister had spoken today with Abi about 're-entry' in a couple of days - a very insightful discussion after visiting La Chureca. Abi worked in the clinic there this morning but spoke about the entrance to a world that instantly hit her emotionally. The first image she recalls was people and wild cows and dogs and children rummaging through the trash. When she got to the clinic, she realized that each of them were struggling to breathed because of the lack of air quality. She thought that the trip Sister then took them on reinforced their choice to make: be a tourist or begin to do something. Perhaps never saying you have nothing to eat. Maybe planning a fundraiser to help the families there.

Sister said that they brought the rice & beans as well as the clothing to each of the clinics in La Chureca on each of the two trips. The sign of hope at the entrance is that there appears more of a mountain of dirt than trash. Perhaps soon we will see the actual building of new homes.

Nancy said her impression was that of plastic. We can become more aware of theuse of plastic and consider only recyclables. Last year she had entered through a different entrance than today. What was particularly hard was her realization that she is limited in her number of years to make a difference; her hope is looking at each of the young people with us as the future of change.

Sister said we also ran into some young people from the Manna Project which was a delight.

Lauren said she also worked in the Clinic this morning - the pictures don't even come close to what you see when you're there. She thought she would be able to help people, but she was so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people needing help that she couldn't do what she thought she might. "Their feet were calloused and cut - I just felt helpless. It's not so easy to just go and help."

Sister Claire was talking to Sister while riding that in spite of the devastating and poverty, they have such dignity.

Gwen was grateful for being out on Rice & Beans and meeting a lot of people. She was most touched by a mentally and physically handicapped woman who doesn't have a wheelchair. She sat and held the woman's hand for a while.

Another striking visit was to a home of a woman who had just given birth a couple of days ago and was nursing her infant.

Chris felt blessed to be with Gwen this morning. He spoke about two women who had 2 small children with them. He got down on his knees and gave the little girl a stuffed elephant. He told us of her reaction

He designed and created a playground for the children of his local community in Schroon Lake, too.

Congrats to me

Another student shared an experience on Rice & Beans where the father had taken the toys immediately away from the child who had just received it - and that is evidence of what poverty and, in some cases addiction,

"This doesn't diminish the gift you gave and pray that it is received in the right way. We must remember never to be discouraged if our gift disappears or given to others. If we stop giving, we stop living."

Sister also said that shouldn't stop learning. Continue your journals when you get back. You will be taking a deep breath when returning to your schools.

Emily mentioned the huge rainbow they saw going up the hill to El Crucero. What a beautiful encirclement - like a halo - of Managua.

Sara L. also went to La Chureca today and hopelessness overwhelmed her. "It was so weird. Everything about this place is like hell, but the people, especially the children, are so beautiful and happy and optimistic."

Sister said it is important to acknowledge that when we strip ourselves of our technology, we open ourselves to faith, family, friendship.

Hillary went for the clinic at La Chureca this morning, too, and assisted by giving out small soap bars to people. She was highly impressed by the doctor who came out of the exam room and got a bucket of water and showed the people how to wash their hands. Hillary had not thought about the fact that many adults need to be taught what we take for granted.

Paul R. reminded us about The Starfish story which many of us have heard. THAT's the attitude we need to return with and think about when we fall into the thought that we can't do anything about all that we have experienced here.

Caitlin said she and Amanda got to polyurethane the closet pieces along with some places in the Chapel that the sisters requested. She said upon arriving, though, she was so amazed at the reaction of one of the orphans who ran up to Kevin - with the hat he had given him yesterday - and how excited he was (as was Kevin).

Sister told us that at a meeting at the facility where there are rescued street children. We had thought we could help, but it appears they are exploiting the women and children in another way. Sister had the experience of being yelled at by the Administrator when Sister asked some justice questions. She asked us to pray for the residents as they need

Kevin told about his experience with a young girl today when using his pocket Spanish-English dictionary "I'm changing, I'm growing."

Nancy then led us in the centering prayer we began this morning. We concluded with "Some Day When We Are Wiser." She said we could keep the prayer for our journals, if we like.

A small treat awaited us in the Kitchen before many headed to bed a bit earlier because the first bus out leaves at 6:30am!

February 23, 2011

Daily Journal: Sunday, February 20, 2011 (Late Edition)

By Bonnie Black
Wow! What a successful Community Health Fair…and it started early and ended later than originally scheduled. There had to have been about 400 people here, many of whom had not been to the facility nor clinic. We heard that we have appointments scheduled for the next few weeks as a result of this ‘open house’ type of event.

Everyone participated in some way – or was working on a necessary prep project for tomorrow. That crew was Kevin, Norm, Paul R. and Tom. Norm donated a chop saw and a table saw which James went to get this morning at the Oriental Market – the second largest in Central America. He mentioned it was quite a different experience!

Upon his return the aforementioned men along with Marcus built the table on which they worked the rest of the afternoon. Everything they were preparing this afternoon will be used for shelving of closets at the Angels of Hope Orphanage in El Crucero as well as book shelving donated by the Plattsburgh Sunrise Rotary Club. In January, Kathy Eppler (a missioner as well as Sunrise Rotarian) visited the orphanage and got the specific information in order to be able to build the shelving for the books donated by the club. Tomorrow, Paul R. and Tom, who are also Sunrise Rotarians, will be part of the team going up to install the shelving for those books.

I think I got a bit ahead of myself, though. BEFORE we opened the gates for the Health Fair, as you know, most of us attended church at Colegio Nino Jesus de Praga. It was good to see so many of our friends we have known over the years. The facility looks so dramatically different. Those of you who have been on Mission before and are reading this, picture the Cantina on the right where you have bought the centavidos – it’s totally gone. Now, along what was the far side of the Cantina, before the Primary School fence, is a wall about 10 feet high that runs the length up to the right side of the Convent door. It has about a 10-foot opening where students can transverse the courtyard between the Primary and Secondary schools. Where the fence was to our old facility, it is now open space and a wall is set behind the Nino Jesus de Praga statue bisecting the other part of the courtyard. There is an opening near the Rotary wheel in front of the Paul Harris Vocational classrooms for transitioning people from the Secondary to Primary classrooms. It is so closed in, so limited. None of the open-air feeling we had for the 11 years we were able to access the retreat house. We certainly were blessed with the specific donations that allowed us to acquire our own property and begin the building we are occupying now. We are in a better place to serve the community in a year-round fashion.

So when we got back from Mass, people began some of the odds and ends projects in addition to setting up for the Health Fair. We had pencil sharpening occurring and sponsor notebook sorting – we now have enough! There were 12 stations to be prepared for the Fair under the direction of Bev G. and Roger. Everyone floated to where they were needed once ‘their’ station was completed – so no specific names to tasks on that one!

Joy, Abi and Ben created our own compost bin into which we will be placing our waste for compost that will leech nutrients into the garden in the back of our property.

BUT…we had the essential crews in place all day: BBB was Ann and Sarah R. along with Henry and Paul R. Kitchen was Sister Steph, Liam, Nancy, Aislyn and Hillary.

We had some great stats at the Health Fair: there were 149 blood pressures taken with 32 referrals to our clinic over the next week. We had 19 house applications completed and turned in as well as 27 filter applications. We believe there were close to 400 people present as we had over 350 kits to give away and ran out very quickly.

BTW – for those of you who have been on Mission before, tonight’s dessert was Nora’s rice pudding ;-)

At our evening meeting, Sister Debbie thanked all for being adaptive to meet a half hour early tonight after such a long day. We heard that we will be receiving the coffee we ordered this morning during tomorrow morning’s meeting. And Jonan was able to get some very good process on the chairs and hammocks people wanted.

As we are moving into our last 2 full days of work projects, we discussed what we had left to do and how we might be able to accomplish it. It seems, we will have to access a third van to accomplish everything we need to do in the morning.

Magaly had dropped off purses and bracelets earlier in the day and we circulated samples during the meeting putting them out for purchase in the kitchen afterward.

Megan Harris and Zach then led us in reflections on the day. They asked that we think about the contrasts we have encountered. The landscape is phenomenal, the beauty and joy in the people are there…then think how they can live, what they wear and where they sleep. Megan prefers to focus on the beauty of the people, this place and what they have. She asked us to focus on the beauty we have experiences so far…

Alysia said that Abi and Mary-Kate learned new medical skills today and were great with the patients…

Nancy said that despite the Mass and the Health Fair, the Kitchen Crew did an outstanding job with all of the interruptions. She loved hearing the songs sung with gusto at Mass and looked at one of the statues in the church of the Christ bearing his cross to Calvary. She thought that maybe the people identified with the cross-bearing Christ. She also saw a statue of St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless causes) and thought about how locals could identify with him. But, she saw beauty in the intense and sincere singing of the congregation.

Sister Claire found it very uplifting to walk into the church as it had been a decade since she had been here. The work that the community and the Mission have put into the facility was outstanding – a beautiful thing to see.

Hillary mentioned the beauty of local people dressed so nicely stood out for her. “How could these ne the people that I gave rice & beans to?” she queried. “The liturgy is so important to them and they care so much about it.”

Anna said that today was eye-opening for her. She was at the dental station with Gwen and, thanks to Adam, she had the Spanish translation of the 10 basic tips she wanted to communicate. For the first half-hour or so, people really wanted to hear her and learn; she felt good when they asked her questions. Then she began to realize that the questions decreased and she was seeing ‘repeat customers’ so to speak. The people just wanted the toothpaste she was giving away. Then, a 15-year-old stared at her and she began to bawl. She realized that these people have nothing and to get a tube of toothpaste – which we take for granted – is something very valuable.

Adam finished her stint at the dental station while Gwen took her to the side and helped her process the feelings she was having. “Today, I got it,” she said. “And I didn’t have to go out on Rice & Beans or the dump to see that.” Two girls came over to her and gave her hugs while another kept coming back – not to get toothpaste – but to be there for her.

Gwen chimed in, “I saw you got it and it was beautiful. We’re blessed that she is here with us.”

Sister noted that her most treasured moments on Mission is when she sees a light go on and people’s eyes light up, She can see in their eyes when they ‘get it’ then their spirit is being filled and their depth of gratitude is deepening as well.

Sister said she had arrived during the Health Fair and felt tears well in her eyes when Mauricio turned to her, pointed, and said, “Esperanza.” She told us, “The hope is because of you – that was beauty, pure beauty.”

Sister Cathy mentioned her understanding of ‘kin-dom’ – that everyone is our brothers and sisters, our kin. She was handing out numbers to all who came stating she gave out 139 raffle tickets to the adults and each had 3-4 children with them giving us the 400+ count for the afternoon. She said at one point she looked around and everyone was engaged in what they were doing. “It really was the kin-dom. We’re making life better now. So, we must ask the difficult ‘why’ questions. That’s our responsibility.”

Lauren stated she really like the Mass this morning, especially the singing. When she had returned and was cleaning a room, she reflected on the fact that back home we don’t go to church every Sunday. “It should be,” she noted. “Seeing how these people live and how strong their faith is when they could be out working to feed their families. So many who have so much don’t even put effort into prayer.” She then said, “That made me question, ‘why’? These people are good people – it doesn’t seem fair.”

Adam chimed in stating that he heard their requests for what they need. ‘Who is going to help them? Who can they turn to?’ could be the questions, but he knows it is the Mission of Hope that is the answer.

Megan Harris said that we get a new perspective ach time we come. “I’m realizing they have more of what matters: stronger faith and a lot of hope. They have nothing, but they have so much.”

Sara L. was struck by the beauty yet horrified by the garbage on the roads and the burning piles. She reflected that our garbage just gets taken away and we don’t have to think about its disposal. Yet, the church was spotless and their faith is so strong. She remarked that when Father Jalder asked us to stand, the people around her reached out to stroke her hands and pat her arms. THAT was beautiful.

Joy L. commented that we’re know back home that we’re coming to help, but we can learn so much more from the people here than they can from us.

Sister reminded all that in our trainings she mentioned we would come home more filled than we could possibly imagine – understanding humanity on a deeper level.

Joy C. reacted, “That’s why so many of us keep coming back.”

Gwen said there is no excuse, though, for the conditions we see. She warned us not to romanticize it all as these people’s stomachs are hungry and she, for one, when angered by injustice, takes action. “We need to move from the theoretic understanding to ‘what and I going to do personally, for instance, waste less when we go home, strive for justice issues, keep asking the questions and going deeper and deeper. As you question, you will begin to live differently,” she concluded.

Roger thanked Bev G. for all of the preparation she put into the Health Fair and to all those at MOHTown every week packing what we need to have such a successful event. “The Health Fair is a charade, in a way,” he declared. “It isn’t about teaching. It was the way we got people in the door to give you something to discuss in the future.”

He continued, “This was an opportunity to interact on a scale we couldn’t do any other way. We needed to promote our new clinic and facility. But,” he concluded, “the interpersonal reaction is what we’ll carry away in our hearts.”

Sarah R. was noting that this afternoon she was playing with a little girl “who reminded me of a girl I babysit at home and how all kids are the same. So different, but the same.”

Sister encouraged us all to journal, to process our experiences. “That’s the beauty of what we’re about.”

We then closed by going around the circle and saying a word about the experience of Mission #41 to this point: hope-filled, laughter, amazing, love, better, hope, humbled, heart-warming, prayer, peaceful, friendship, faith, joy, oneness, inspirational, perplexing, positive, pain, blessed, life-changing, tragic, exhausting, beautiful, direction, compassion, centered, truth, delicious. And with that, Sister wished us all a restful night.

Sara LoTemplio's Mission of Hope Blog

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Today we had the unique experience of going to Mass in Chiquilistagua.

We took about a half-mile walk on back dirt roads. If you’ve never been to Nicaragua, as I never have, you would be shocked and appalled at the amount of filth and garbage strewn everywhere. Wrappers of all sorts litter the ground; tires, pieces of metal, sometimes even piles of garbage lit on fire just lying in the middle of the road. I want to pick it all up but there is no place to put it. I couldn’t help but to feel frustrated that the people would let this happen to such a beautiful place.

What really blows my mind, though, is the contrast of this abject poverty and destruction, and the beauty of the people. I suppose I expected the Nicaraguans to be in despair and upset all the time. In reality, they are some of the most joy-filled and happy people I have ever met.

It’s hard for me to grasp because the two don’t go together. Poverty and joy are not usually used together to describe something.

At the church, although I didn’t understand the Mass in Spanish, we were asked to stand and the priest welcomed us and thanked us for everything the Mission has done. The people around me smiled and simply touched my arms and it was beautiful. It was then that I realized how much I have taken for granted.

There was so much garbage because they had nowhere else to put it. I use the same amount of garbage, probably more actually, but I take for granted the fact that a garbage truck takes it away so I don’t have to look at it, live with it.

These people, who have so little material things, have so much faith and hope. Their church was absolutely spotless and beautiful. When a song was sung, they all sang with enthusiasm I have never seen before, even without instruments. Whether you believe in God or not; whether you’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever else, you cannot deny the amount of spiritual wealth they have.

As Megan Harris said, I’m beginning to wonder whether they are the poor ones, or I am. Of course, they still obviously have many basic human needs that need to be met, but I’m beginning to think that the healing works both ways. We can give them food, medical supplies, clothing and homes. We can give them friendship, welcomings, stickers, and Silly Bandz, but they can give us the most beautiful gift of all: the ability to always have hope, faith, and love even in the most dismal of situations.

February 20, 2011

Daily Journal: Sunday, February 20, 2011 (Early Edition)

By Bonnie Black
Another sunny, warm day in this part of heaven! It is so peaceful waking to the call of the various birds…and then the plastic top falls off of the bin, someone tries to close a door quietly and it slams in the wind, the lights in the bathroom flash on. Oh, well, once this facility is complete, the Women’s Dorm will have a ceiling and those little ways of awakening will be muffled. It still is a wonderful, relaxing place in which to awaken.

Sister said that this morning she sat outside of Carlos’ house where the nuns are staying and saw a beautiful bird joined in voice by others. It reminded her of the national bird of Nicaragua, the Guardabarranco…the ‘guard of the cliff.’ We have even seen them on our property.

We were serenaded again by Kevin on guitar and ‘the group’ which grows a bit each morning!

Sister asked us to order hammocks today as well as the organic coffee – signup sheets circulated during the meeting. She also noted that she is pleasantly pleased with the lack of requests to change tasks – what a great group!

Roger updated us all on the Health Fair which will require us to ‘picnic’ on our laps for lunch as the tables will be in use already for the Fair setup.

We had our reminders about collecting letters from the community for sponsors back home or gifts of food that may be brought to us.

Gwen led us in prayer this morning – spending time in stillness, focusing our hearts for what we will be called to do today. We then heard the world in chorus around us as we sat quite still. A passage from Micah read asking us, “What can we bring to the Lord?” supplemented by soft guitar music. Gwen then asked us to embrace God in all we are about to do.

Our tasks around the ‘house’ today are mainly centered around preparations for our Community Health Fair this afternoon…and now – off to Church!

Sara’s LoTemplio's Mission of Hope Blog

Saturday, February 19, 2011
I am beginning to understand how much I truly take for granted. After spending 2 days in NIca, there are so many little things I miss.

If you’re reading this back home, please stop and take a minute to count your lucky stars that you have access to hot, long showers; constant running water; a washing machine; a toilet that you can put toilet paper in rather than in the garbage and not having to fish toilet paper out of the toilet with a clothes hangar when you forgot; and, most of all, a cold glass of water with ice. I am disgusted to discover how much I have taken for granted in my life, especially since even what I am experiencing this week is absolute luxury compared to what many Nicaraguans experience their whole lives.

Daily Journal: Saturday, February 19, 2011 (Second Edition)

By Bonnie Black
I sent the previous journal entry before the morning Home Crew had returned, so I couldn’t tell you the details. The Home Shelters built first this morning was for Alba Lucia Marenco who lives in Solano donated by the Dominican Sisters. That was followed by a home donated by Ray Petrashune for María Esperanza Moreno also of Solano. The last home constructed this morning was also in Solano built for Francisco Pérez García donated by Sante Fe School.

On Home Shelters this afternoon were Nancy, Sister Claire, Chris & Ann (their mother/son experience), James and Eva with Ilona as our translator. Although we had planned to finish the last 3 homes today, the material delivery had too many short lengths or wood and not enough of the long lengths, so it won’t be until Monday that we can complete the 10th home for this mission. The first shelter they built was for Maubdiel Gonzalez and Teresa Fonseca of Cedro Galan donated by Nancy Cronin; the second was for Joel Morales of Monte Verde donated by Dan & Kathy Riggins of Schroon Lake.

Henry led this afternoon’s painting crew of Josh and Sarah R although he also had help from Hillary and Chris who jumped in before they left on their assigned tasks. Ben kept himself on the team and got a good handle on the spray painter tackling a substantial portion of the exterior of the Women’s Dorm along the breezeway.

Our Rice & Beans team of Hillary, Joy, Marcus, Lauren, Zach, Paul S. brought along a Medical Outreach team of Allie and Bev VanDenburgh as the Nejapa Women’s Clinic was not scheduled as we had planned.

Sponsor gift sorting began this afternoon with Maggie, Caitlin, Megan Hall and Megan Harris matching names with lists and creating the Master for Magaly who will need to have it by tomorrow so that the families receiving gifts come here at 2pm on Tuesday. We are going to ask both schools to come to our new facility in order to ‘show off’ our yard and let them know about our Clinic that is open to all in the community. Megan H. continued to work diligently after sending the other 3 out to play with the children who had come to the gate. We had announced (with a poster on the gate) that children could come each day Fri-Tues from 2:30-4:30 and play at our facility. It worked very well today, but with the intense amount of off-site projects to day, it was the Rice & Beans crew that began playing with the children until their guide arrived; them Megan H. had a great idea of letting her companions on gift sorting go around the facility to be with the kids. That is such leadership – perfect for one of the student representatives on our Leadership Team!

The seemingly never-ending Notebook sorting was tackled by Joy C., Gwen and Ann. Yes, we will get it all together to bring to the schools early next week with our Heights & Weights team.

Everyone who had been out on all day painting crews returned in the late afternoon one in time to play a bit with the children and the other just in time for dinner!

We took the ‘official’ Mission #41 photo – the first mission to be established for the full week here.

THEN…we started the meeting with a quick review of the times for tomorrow. Sister encouraged us to share in prayer with the local community tomorrow morning; Father Jalder has been thanking the Mission for what we have done over the past 12 years for them. Tomorrow’s service will be said in memory of Don Miller, Connie Miller’s husband, who died a couple of weeks ago. Joy Cayea paid for it, with the full support of our Leadership Team.

We heard that Sister Ligia will be here to pick up her donations on Monday, too.

Norm Baker noticed that the Mission could benefit from a table saw and a chop saw for the various projects we do and he is donating them to us tomorrow!

Sister acknowledged that Barbara was with us tonight, her last night for this mission.

There were some housekeeping issues we discussed regarding bathroom practices and kitchen and James asked to meet with today’s painting leaders for input on what’s left.

Roger mentioned that Bev G. organized our Health Festival for tomorrow afternoon very well and we will be able to see, in the morning, what stations we will be at. EVERYONE will be needed for prep as well as teardown afterward. See the board in the morning ;-)

Sister spoke of the opportunity to purchase locally grown organic coffee before we return from a fair trade owner ‘down the street’ who treats his workers well with a 5-day week at fair wages.

She then mentioned that of the 10 years we have had student representatives to the Leadership Team, Zach and Megan Harris are the most outstanding. Their qualities of stepping up without being asked, following through and taking initiative have been very strong.

We then began our sharing time with the Lord’s Prayer led by Henry as we joined hands. Sister shared that we need to remember that God is both Mother and Father – all encompassing.

Sister asked us, “What have you done for the poor ones in your midst today?”

Hillary shared that she played soccer with a particular girl at El Crucero this morning then spent some time with her sharing time even though they did not speak the same language. Near the end

Marcus found today eye-opening on the Home Building Crew.

Allie has found the patients very appreciative which is a wonderful experience as a provider.

Ben helped Henry paint the walls day, but he said that yesterday at Parajito Azul and the playing in the yard in the afternoon he found all the children very happy and actually quite happy. They also seem to love the Silly Bandz handed out.

Henry thanked everyone on his crew today and how cheerful they were doing what still needed to be done to assist the Mission to work with the poor. He feels very blessed to be working with such great people.

Tom shared his experience at the Dermatology Clinic and the drive there setting the scene for what was to come. It appeared quite drab and dreary today, but by the time they left it was brighter and the workers at the facility seemed quite grateful for what we were doing which seemed to us as something so small. Sara L. thanked everyone on the crew for making it a great experience.

Joy said that we also need to thank the people back home – her husband has built four shelters over the past couple of years – and it means so much to so many.

Roger told a story about getting up early this morning and finding a large dragonfly trying to get at the light. He took one of Sister Steph’s plastic cans to capture the creature, opened the door and let it go. He said that when our ceilings are limited and when we think we’re heading toward the light, it is Mission that collects us, shows us the door and releases us.

Aislyn said that at first it was sad to see the physical condition of the space they had to paint at the Children’s Hospital , but she felt very proud they were able to bring it to a new and brighter level for the children who now need to go there.

Sister reminded us that ‘they’ are ‘us’ and when we return we must speak of our brothers and sisters – not the differences. As a third-grader told her recently, we help because we can. Another told her that God didn’t make boundaries, people did. Those statements reinforce we are called to stand as one. We don’t have to do an either/or.

Maggie said she found today mind-boggling. At El Crucero when they gave the stickers, they returned them – something she had never expected. She found this afternoon very different when the children who came in were very physical running up and almost knocking them over.

Lauren went on Rice & Beans today and was able to bring along clothes her community donated. She saw a little girl covered in dirt, sitting alone, seeming very sad. She gave a new pink shirt to the girl’s father and later the girl came running up to her wearing the shirt, asking to be held. It was a striking experience.

Gwen told us she is the now (self-proclaimed) Binder Queen after this afternoon’s experience! But, this morning she found some of the children she interacted with during Home Shelters had very old eyes. This afternoon, though, the children she saw – many of whom were the same – their eyes were filled with hope.

Nancy told us about a 4-year-old who was about the size of a one-year-old who enjoyed being carried around by Josh. She massaged another child who was 17, the size of a 5-year-old, for about 20 minutes and was so pleased when the young girl had relaxed enough that she could feel her ribs. Another story she shared was about a watch she gave to a woman last year on Home Building who approached her today wearing the watch. Last year, Nancy had told her when she would look at a clock back home, she promised to pray for her. The woman showed her the watch, looking brand new, and said that she prayed for Nancy whenever she looked at it.

Paul R. noted he could hear many babies crying while they were painting the room and they seemed upset. He thought of his grandchildren, about the same age, and how babies cry the world over – they, too, know no boundaries.

Josh told us how task-oriented he is when he arrives at a site, even at Parajito Azul, thinking of exercises to use, etc. He said when Nancy arrived, she began to place her hands on some of the children and mentioned how important ‘touch’ is. He thanked her for reminding him of that power we all possess.

Liam thanked his painting crew for a ‘good hard day’s work’ and the way that we get more than we can ever give them. He told us that Aislyn handed out knit hats while there and the smiles she received blossomed into a greater smile when she returned from giving them away.

Sister Claire’s two experiences on Home Shelters this afternoon were very different. The first was a strong family community but the other was for a young couple in a remote area only exposed to bugs around them.

Kevin spoke of how hard his team worked at the Dermatological Center painting as well as the electrical enhancements that Mary-Kate accomplished. He mentioned that Norm actually saved his life from a self-fashioned circuit tester as they had a hot one that had appeared cold, but wasn’t! He said that each of us has a talent to contribute it is a beautiful thing – whether it be support or frontline – we form teams and accomplish so much. They brought back a bag of mangoes to share with all.

Allie also spoke about the logistical feat that Mission is in the behind-the-scenes work that goes on to support everyone who is ‘out there’ doing the Mission work.

Jeremy asked Sister today how she and Leadership cannot get so cynical with all of the roadblocks that appear continuously. She asked him what he thought was the strength of the Mission. He believes it is ‘the circle’ we experience as Mission. “It is the blessing of the blend that is important,” Sister said.

Norm said that when he first started coming to meetings, he wondered what ‘kids’ could bring to the Mission. He has found how cooperative, talented, enthusiastic the younger generation here is. He will now hold back a bit about that ‘younger generation’!

Sister Stephanie asked Marlee to tell us about the young girls at El Crucero who received the dresses she and her mother had made for them. You could tell by her response that Marlee had a memorable experience sharing her talents – in many ways – with the young girls.

Barbara said that her two days/one night experience at the orphanage is something that she can’t talk about yet. Sister thanked her for spearheading our Orphans’ Hope Project over the past year since her first Mission trip last February.

We closed our meeting with “What Have We Done for the Poor Ones?” by Lori True after which we enjoyed pineapple pastries made by Karla and paid for by Brenda Flynn, a missioner who has been down here a few times, from Schroon Lake. Although she isn’t here this time, she wanted to share these with everyone.

Daily Journal: Saturday, February 19, 2011 (Early Edition)

By Bonnie Black
This is day #2 here on the ground and, after breakfast, we opened our morning meeting with Kevin leading us in “This Little Light of Mine” which we all sang and clapped to. He began with a quote from Mother Teresa, “Our biggest fear is not our darkness but, our light – our purpose is to make manifest the Glory of God.”

I have to add a little personal note; our oldest daughter sang that song which she learned in Church School when she was just 3 and we have her on videotape with all of her energy and light – especially the “no!” response to hiding in under a bushel. The energy that our teens used this morning singing with Kevin reminded me of that memorable moment in our family.

We then reviewed the Star Groups which there wasn’t time to do in transit at any of the airports and leaders got to know their groups and establish meeting places.

Sister reminded us, “You are building on a history and creating your own legacy as part of Mission.”

Sister Kathy asked Emily and Aislyn to give each one of us an ‘eye of God’ that she had made over the past week prior to Mission. She noted that even though made of the same thread, they were all different in appearance. We then listened to “One Lord” in closing our morning meeting. She reinforced that we are called to be open to the beckoningl of God to serve each other in one common ground. We closed saying “The Eye of God” prayer together which was printed on our cards. What a memoerable gift to each of us – thanks, Cathy!

After our meeting, Jeremy Eppler joined us; once part of the original mission groups and later in the Peace Corps here in Nicaragua, he now works for USAID and was able to be with us for the day at El Crucero with Sister meeting with the new Mother Superior.

After the morning meeting, leaders for the various tasks gathered their groups and discussed the plans for the day.

Here at our Clinic this morning was a Women’s Health Clinic staffed by Alysia Privat, Bev VanDenburgh and Allie Delventhal. They had a few women take advantage and interviewed them as to how to increase participation from the immediate community.

Transportation was a minor hurdle as we sent off the first van to El Crucero with a complete team: Marlee, Roger, Joy, Maggie, Megan Hall, Megan Harris, Ann, Hillary, Zach, Sister Claire, Sister Stephanie. Jeremy Eppler and Sister went with Mauricio in another car for meetings there this morning, too, and to bring Barbara Dobilas back as she returns to the States tomorrow.

That left one van to cover 3 other locations, two of which were painting crews with supplies, so everyone went out in phases.

First out was a group to Fernando Velez Paiz Children’s Hospital along with the Parajito Azul team. Liam Harrison was the leader for the hospital painting crew that spent the day there: Aislyn, Paul Raino, Abi, Sister Cathy and Bill C.

At Parajito Azul were Josh Jabaut and Nancy Cronin who brought more donations today.

The van then returned to gather the group for the Dermatological Center painting task which will take all day: Kevin, Norm, Tom, Sara L., Mary-Kate, Amanda and Justin.

The driver, Chico, then spent time purchasing more supplies that we need for today’s tasks, returning to the hospital with those before gathering Josh and Nancy from Parajito Azul just prior to lunch.

Around NiCasa this morning we began to get the base coat on the exterior of the Kitchen and Women’s Dorm. Henry took on the role as leader for Chris Veverka, Caitlin Houle and Ben Cyphers…and they learned from him how to use our new paint sprayer!

Our morning Rice & Beans group went walking in the neighborhood with Maritsa: Ilona, Eva and Sarah R.

Last out this morning was our Home Building crew as the truck had to take the supplies, one by one, to each of the 3 sites and then return for them. Marcus, Gwen, Paul S., Lauren and Joy Cayea headed out to complete 3 homes on this side of the day.

Holding down our fort, so to speak, was our Kitchen Crew led by Bev Gogola: Anna, Adam and Emily. Our BBB crew did their tasks fast and early as they headed out on other jobs: Chris, Ben, Caitlin and Marlee.

Sara LoTemplio’s Mission of Hope Blog

Friday, February 18, 2011

We arrived in Nicaragua at about 9 last night. There were people waiting outside the airport, just watching the Americans coming through, many of whom are on vacation. On the bus ride through the city to the compound, we passed through what looks like the slums of every city mixed together. Kids were playing in the street, animals roamed around, a woman sat rocking her baby in a concrete house with 3 walls and no ceiling. When we got to a stop sign, a man jumped on top of the bus and wiped the windows clean as if his life depended on it. It didn’t seem real.

Although it is a country of desperation, it is also beautiful. We p[assed by gorgeous maintains and a volcano which, I believe, is the first time I’ve ever seen. The weather is warm and the breezes are comfortable. The plants are tropical and interesting and there are vibrantly colored flowers everywhere. Me, Bennett and Anna (2 other kids on mission) discovered a delicious fruit that we picked from the trees in the back of the compound. It’s safe to say I’m falling in love with this country.

This morning I was also lucky enough to help build a home shelter for a family at Km 12. I moved different materials around for the Nicaraguan workers who did most of the actual building other than the occasional times they let me hammer in nails which usually resulted in a good laugh for them. When we finished, the kids in the family were so excited. They danced around inside and climbed on everything like kids do. To me, it had just been a shack, but after seeing their smiling faces, I can’t help but to feel like I gave someone a real home.

The highlight of my day was spending time with the children who came to visit in the afternoon. They were beyond excited over the stickers, Silly Bandz and the balloon animals we gave them. They were so sweet. One little boy took the stickers I gave him and gave them to his little brother with a kiss. They are extremely patient with my limited Spanish skills and we all enjoyed playing “Pato, Pato, Ganso” (Dick, Duck Goose).

When I first arrived, everything appeared different, but the more time I spend with these people, the ore I realize that they are the same inside. They all laugh at things together, the little kids run around and play, the teenagers hold hands on the way to high school. They smile, they cry. They are just like us.

Daily Journal: Friday, February 18, 2011

By Bonnie Black
Everyone is here! Last night, around 9pm, the rest of Mission #41 arrived from Florida and from Houston. Green shirts everywhere – which made it ideal for Roger Patnode and myself to identify the group as it approached the baggage claim area. All but 4 boarded a big, yellow school bus with their suitcases for the 45 minute trip to NiCasa – our home here in Chiquilistagua, Nicaragua. And ‘our home’ it is!

Most of A Team arrived on Tuesday completing the 10 who were tasked with opening this space for the first time…ever! We approached tasks with a ‘let’s try this’ attitude which, for the most part, worked out well. Small things, like the configuration of the kitchen/dining area, took a couple of attempts to get it ‘right’…at least for this mission.

A Team welcomed everyone to breakfast which begins at 5:45am each day lasting until 6:45am. It wasn’t hard for most to get up as their body clocks had been set awry with the traveling beginning at 1am yesterday and ending at almost midnight when the talking had stopped after lights out. From now on, that nervous energy will have dissipated and they will WANT to be in bed at curfew: 9:30pm.

Sister had delayed the morning meeting until 7:30am thinking people might want to sleep in, but that wasn’t the case. There was an impromptu chore of putting up a wind barrier for Nora and the other cooks as they began cooking dinner for us today. Another group, also headed by James Carlin, cut the line for the rope slings that were distributed to the families receiving their filters in the afternoon. Others journaled at the tables outside of the kitchen area in the breezeway. It is quite enjoyable in the mornings, as there is shade cast by the eastern building making it comfortable.

We began the first full mission’s morning meeting together at 7:30am with Sister welcoming all and introducing Chico who has been the crew chief on the construction project since its beginning. She also reminded us that the entire property and facility was paid for by specific designated donations including $115,000 from a private foundation and $45,000 from volunteers/mission travelers.

She then introduced Rene who will be another driver in addition to Chico this week who is also one of our night guards at our facility. That was followed by Ilona Flores and her fiancé, Justin, being introduced to the group; both are making themselves available as translators for the week.

Because this was the first time that all but one person on this mission were together, Barbara Dobilas is up at El Crucero for a couple of days, we introduced ourselves to each other and mentioning what mission this is: first, 20th, etc. She then directed thanks to all of us on A Team for getting the space livable and to our Leadership Team for having the vision.

We reviewed the Board Assignments which notes where everyone should be in the morning as well as the afternoon plus indicates which vehicle is being used, who is the leader, the photographer and translator. After that we explained the index cards, money envelopes and the process of cameras at night.

Roger Patnode then reviewed our ‘WISH’ list to keep us all healthy: water, insect repellant, sunscreen, hand sanitizer.

We completed our first meeting with Kevin Farrington (who brought his guitar) leading us in “Sanctuary” – a great way to start Mission #41.

Everyone headed to the orientation led by A Team of the various rooms at our facility so that when they had an assignment (ie- Rice & Beans prep) they would know which room they would need to be in.

This morning, after the A Team completed breakfast, the Kitchen Crew for the day was Sister Stephanie, Zach St. Louis, Joy Leader, Lauren Wurthman. They prepared a delicious lunch of fruit and chicken salad for us and kept everything running smoothly in the kitchen through dinner cleanup. They did cook dinner, though, as we use 3 local women: Nora, Rosa and Marta. We have set them up in the incomplete sick bay for this Mission in order to get them out of the wind. By next Mission, when the facility is complete, they will be cooking just on the other side of the kitchen. Tonight’s meal was Valencia Rice…a favorite of mine which I look forward to for the first dinner on every mission.

Our BBB crew was Hillary Miller, Megan Hall, Tom LaBombard and Paul Santoro – and that’s a job that lasts all day – off and on. Cleanliness in the bedrooms and bathrooms contribute to our good health. Each of them also jumped in on other tasks during both the morning and the afternoon.

Sister went over to Colegio Nino Jesus de Praga to take a good number of photos for sponsors back home (and that’s all over the world, by the way!). Eva Zalis went with her to assist.

Before going out on Home Shelters, James Carlin grabbed Henry Leader, Adam Oropallo and Joy Leader to make the 38 rope slings for the FIltron filter disbursement later this afternoon.

James was the leader on both the morning and afternoon home shelter crews. This morning his team was comprised of Adam Oropallo, Liam Harrison, Sara LoTemplio and Marlee Bickford-Bushey which built a home donated by Franklin Academy in Malone where Adam goes to school. The home was built for Henry Ney and Eveling Arita in Cedro Galán.

Much joy was reported at lunchtime from the group that went over to Nino to do the Heights & Weights on the Pre-K through 6th graders. There will be about 600 in total over 2 says, so leader Bill Calmbacher went there with Sister Claire (who was on Mission #2), Chris Veverka, Kevin Farrington, Bev VanDenburgh, Nancy Cronin and Sister Kathy.

Our first trip to the Parajito Azul Center was under the guidance of Bev Gogola with Josh Jabaut (who is an Occupational Therapist), Anna Daly, Caitlin Houle, Alie Delventhal, Ben Cyphers and Marcus Pagan.

Working on our Clinic Pharmacy this morning was Joy Cayea and Roger Patnode (who announced that it was his daughter, Kate’s birthday today-we celebrated when she was on Mission a couple of years ago).

Preparing a notebook with 2 sharpened pencils for sponsored children were MaryKate Manhard, Alysia Privat, Amanda Garami, Aislyn DiRisio. They made it through most of the supply in the morning, but in the afternoon, the crew of Caitlin Houle, Nancy Cronin, Chris Veverka, Josh Jabaut took all of the stock in the spare room and moved it outside to sort into ‘like’ contents: index cards, pencils, colored pencils, notebooks, etc. This will expedite the distribution of these school supplies over the next day or two.

Working on our grounds this morning, removing construction debris, were Megan Harris, Norm Baker, Paul Santoro, Tom LaBombard and Sarah Rowan. After they were done, the guys jumped on to the creation of the garden gate – ropes integrated to provide a barrier to our Moringa garden and farther back on the property.

Preparing the Rice & Beans and toys this morning, for afternoon delivery, were: Ann Veverka and Megan Hall, Maggie Cummins and Hillary Miller.

One of the most important jobs for this Mission was the sorting of the suitcases brought by the travelers from up north. Gwen Cote, Paul Raino and Henry Leader did most of it with help from others who pitched in after their assignments were completed.

Our first medical outreach was this afternoon at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Clinic in Managua where they did Women’s Health and HIV screenings. The team was Alie Delventhal, Bev VanDerbugh, Alysia Privat.

Gathering the 41,400 vitamins for the children to have between now and next mission were Adam and Eva, Marlee and Josh. They finished so quickly preparing these to go over to Magaly on Monday morning with the Heights & Weight crew, they then dispersed to other ‘group’ tasks. Some went to the Education supply sorting group with Nancy Cronin, Caitlin and Chris V. Others joined the Health Fair kit group of Hillary, Paul Santoro, Marcus, Marlee and Eva.

Sister Claire, along with Gwen Cote, took a ‘mystery ride’ with Sister and Roger Patnode this afternoon checking out prices of rockers and hammocks for our own facility as well as going to a scheduled meeting Sister had.

Our afternoon Home Shelter crew built three homes! James again led the group of Sister Cathy, Emily Mack, Sarah Rowan and Paul Raino creating a new home for Ronald Leiva and Ninfa Espinoza in Chiquilistagua donated by Joseph Rusin, then one for Eyner Rodríguez in Chiquilistagua donated by Kiwanis and then, the third home in the afternoon, was built for Noé Elías Velásquez of Chiquilistagua donated by Albany Academy of Holy Names.

Preparing the walls of the rooms at the Fernando Velez Paiz Children’s Hospital were Liam, Henry, Bill Calmbacher and Maggie. This is where Liam will be for the next couple of days with various crews working toward his Eagle Scout badge.

At this evening’s meeting we began with a reminder that everyone should be journaling for personal reasons however, if someone wants to share a reading from their journal, they can. Roger also gave us medical reminders of no sunbathing in this 12 degrees North latitude and the need to put on sunscreen multiple times a day. Being that most of us live in a much higher latitude, we are NOT used to this.

There was applause for the Kitchen Crew and Sister Stephanie threw out a challenge for the rest of the days to be as good as they were.

Joy and Adam reported that Frank Shuriga had to do the water filter demonstration three times, but we gave out 35 FIltron water filter systems. The filters are a continued donation from the Lamb of God Church in Florida as their congregation’s Alternative Christmas gifts thanks to Judy and Marcel Charland.

A few people made notes of missing items from the suitcases and asked us to keep our eyes open for the next few days.

Sister thanked Eva for assisting her with the sponsor photos today and then we circulated a signup sheet for the gift-giving on Tuesday at 2pm.

We will have a group photo tomorrow night at 6pm when Barbara will be back with us…for a day.

We will have both the Nejapa and Nino official ‘goodbyes’ on Tuesday at 3pm just after the sponsorship gifts at 2pm.

Megan and Zach then reviewed the tasks for tomorrow.

Brother Paul and Gwen started our sharing time with a general check-in for each: invigorating, oppressive, enlightening, humbling, delightful, overwhelming, beautiful children, incredible, fabulous, dichotomous, fulfilling, new beginnings, good, overload, thankful, meaningful, enthusiastic, satisfying, interesting, humbling, heartwarming, moving, exciting, appreciative, bathrooms, unbelievable, centering, just great!

Gwen then read from Matthew the passage when the disciples asked when they had done something for the Lord and he responded that it is when we do it for the least, we do it for Him.

Sister began with the hope-filled signs she saw at La Chureca where some of the worst of the home shelters have been razed by Spain to make way for better housing. She and Roger visited the ‘other’ clinic that MINSA wants us to serve this time. She said the joy and beauty of the children was in stark contrast to the devastation and destruction.

Gwen stated she felt oppressed as everywhere she looked she saw a wall, a gate, barbed wire. Not having that experience in her ‘real’ life, it was a day of fences and wall – just astounded by the oppressive feeling she had.

Josh mentioned his trip to the Parajito Azul Center this morning centered him – on contrast to the variety of pulls he feels in his life. For the first time in years, he felt like he was in the right place at the right time with nowhere else to go – ready to serve.

Paul R.’s experience was one of happiness – seeing the joy in something simple that we do shows up on others’ faces. He felt that language was not a barrier; people were very grateful for what the Mission does.

Sister chimed in again noting her heart was warmed this morning by the singing prayer Kevin and many of our teens shared at our meeting. It was a blessing as we don’t always have someone who has the talent that they’re willing to share.

Kevin noted going on Rice & Beans was an experience that was enhanced by Justin as our translator. His sense of humor while interacting with them was impressive – as were all with whom he worked today. “We only gave them a bag of rice and a bag of beans,” he said, “but, as Sister said before, we let them know somebody cares.”

Justin responded that he is in a vacationing kind of mode and he noted that it is our hearts and spirits that he is translating.

Nancy noted her afternoon experience of being in the room jammed-backed with boxes, she was very impressed by the young people with whom she worked in just 4 hours.

Paul S. spent most of the day cleaning, building a fence and packing healthcare kits but the walk to the store, then talking and laughing at the store plus the horns honking as they went by gave him a warm experience.

Tom LaBombard noted that interacting with everyone today here at the compound was one of connection. “I found I really have a lot in common with all of you,” he said.

Sara L. was surprised how much Spanish she could pick up in about 40 minutes playing with the kids this afternoon a game, “Pato – Pato – Gonzo” which we know as “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Paul S then asked us to focus within ourselves and connect with our God afterward saying the Lord’s Prayer.

After our meeting, many spent time with each other relaxing while others prepared for tomorrow’s tasks and Megan along with Zach joined me in the office to create the assignment board for tomorrow while I processed photos.

Day 1 of Mission #41 is history…and on to tomorrow!