PLATTSBURGH — Felix and Martha Otero and their four children sleep on the ground; their pillow is a 2-by-4.
“They rest their heads on a board and sleep,” Sister Debbie Blow said from Nicaragua on Monday morning.
The Nicaraguan family lives in a remote barrio, a wild area reached, in the past week, for the first time by North Country Mission of Hope.
“They were way down a hillside,” said veteran missioner Joy Cayea, 59, of Beekmantown, who worked with a team of volunteers to help build a home shelter for the family a few days ago.
“It was almost straight down — it was exhausting getting down there.”
And there was no electricity for power tools.
But the Nicaraguans are a resourceful people.
“One guy is using a machete to cut the end of a 2-by-4,” Cayea said via cellphone, the sound of hammers striking nails in the background.
“The machete works much better than the saw,” said Carol Herring of New Jersey, a sister-in-law of Blow’s.
What struck her as well was how the project benefited the student volunteers assigned to the task.
“It’s really great to get some of the younger girls learning some carpentry skills,” she said.
Martha pitched in, though Cayea doubted the woman had the strength to hoist a heavy piece of lumber up the hillside at one point.
“Next thing you know, she’s got it balanced on her head.”
Blow, who is executive director of Mission of Hope, and longtime missioner Sister Stephanie Frenette paid for the new house in the name of loved ones as Christmas gifts.
The need was great.
“The shelter they had was branches for a frame,” Cayea said, “covered by clothes, rice bags — anything they could find to close it in.”
Neither of the nuns was able to visit the family because of the rugged terrain, but Blow was shocked to learn of the family’s sheer poverty.