Local News

February 21, 2014

Nicaraguan conditions shock missioners

PLATTSBURGH — Adam Downs said the weather in this Central American country on Thursday was “like a Plattsburgh summer.”

Other comparisons are a far bigger stretch.

“It is shocking to me,” Joseph Zalis, 17, said via cellphone from Nicaragua, where he is volunteering with North Country Mission of Hope.

Many Nicaraguans are so impoverished, he has learned, “they don’t have toilet paper, they have no soap, they have no (safe) drinking water. In America, everyone has everything and way more than they need.”

His role with the Plattsburgh-based group, in the midst of a week of aiding the poor, was painting walls at Velez Paiz Hospital, a facility for children that was severely damaged in a 1972 earthquake and has seen little repair since.

“It’s a very poor-quality hospital,” said Zalis, a junior at Seton Catholic Central School in Plattsburgh.

Just recently, Mission of Hope Leadership Team member James Carlin said, the staff was allowed to used the second floor of the building again.


In the second-floor hallway, a group of small children clustered around an oxygen tank that helped them breathe.

Two wards each held 10 or so cribs, almost all occupied.

One appeared to be devoted to babies with breathing issues, Carlin said.

“They seem to be comfortable and happy,” he said of the small patients. “There’s no crying going on.”

But broken windows and a general air of dilapidation are constant reminders of the huge amount of work needed to improve conditions there.

“It’s difficult,” Carlin said of the effort to brighten the walls with a pleasing green paint. “You’re painting over stuff that hasn’t been painted over since the 1960s, probably.”


This is Downs’s second trip with Mission of Hope.

“It’s sort of an addiction,” the 17-year-old Peru Central School student said. “I couldn’t stop right there (the first time).”

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