Press-Republican

July 25, 2013

Nicaraguan effort marks 50-plus trips in 15 years

CHRIS FASOLINO and SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — An apple goes for a buck in Nicaragua.

”A U.S. dollar is a lot of money there,” said Sister Debbie Blow, executive director of North Country Mission of Hope.

That Plattsburgh-based humanitarian-aid group has begun its annual summer mission in Nicaragua, with its small Prep Team on the ground there preparing for the main body of volunteers, which was set to head out early today.

They go fueled to make a difference, if not from past experience or the orientation sessions for newcomers, from a simple story Blow shared with the group in a recent email.

A little girl at San Fernando Orphanage wanted an apple as her one birthday present.

Sister Delia, who cares for the children there, emailed Blow recently to tell her that she didn’t feel she could buy such an amazing treat for just one of the 16 youngsters, so she got one for each of them.

The mission provides money for food there, Blow said, and “it was such a luxury that she wrote to apologize.”

The story, she said, “reminds us of why we do what we do, trying to bring hope to the poorest of the poor, particularly children.”

’HAVE TO ADAPT’

There was much preparation to be done before the arrival of the main group of volunteers, said Bill Murray, vice president of the Mission Leadership Team and Prep Team member.

Via cellphone on Tuesday evening, he said they began with opening up Ni-Casa, Mission of Hope’s compound in Chiquilistagua, cleaning the facility and getting it ready for the main body of volunteers. 

Then, they traveled to the sites where the mission intends to work to make sure that the arrangements were still in place — and to make any needed changes.

Murray said requirements at the sites often change between the time the project is first discussed and the time the advance team arrives. 

“We have to adapt and say, ‘Now, we need this kind of material.’”

HOT AND HUMID

Obtaining supplies for the projects is another important part of the Prep Team’s work — but one that Murray says usually goes smoothly. 

However, weather conditions have complicated that job somewhat this time. 

“It’s been raining every day, so that can be a challenge.” 

However, some of the mission’s projects, such as painting the walls at a children’s hospital, will be indoors. 

“The weather won’t bother us with the painting projects — aside from the heat, that is.” 

Temperatures in Nicaragua are now in the low 90s, Murray said, “and it’s kind of humid.”

WORD OF MOUTH

Missioners will build home shelters for eight families this trip, and the Prep Team has already provided materials for them, including cement blocks for the foundations. 

Providing 45 families with a water-filtration system is another goal of the trip; on Tuesday, 36 families received the mandatory training on how to use the unit.

That session was confirmed by the manufacturer’s representative only two days in advance, and Murray was amazed at the large turnout. 

“They used word of mouth,” he said, “and 36 families were there.”

The remaining nine families live in a barrio that is farther away, so mission volunteers will bring them the water filters and train them there.

THE DIRTY WORK

Clare Whitney, 18, who graduated from Schroon Lake Central High School in June, has embarked on her third mission trip — but this is her first time on the Prep Team.

Although the main mission contingent will work hard, she observed, the Prep Team has already done much in advance.

“The main mission is about getting work done, but also about personal connections.” 

Forging such connections helps to keep volunteers coming back.

On the other hand, she said, “the Prep Team does a lot of the dirty work to make that happen.”

Assigned to kitchen duties, Whitney has been cleaning at Ni-Casa, making sure the facility’s conditions are sanitary and buying groceries. 

“I really, really like being on the Prep Team,” she said. “I love the country of Nicaragua.” 

As well, she said, as a member of the advance contingent, she has learned more about the lives of the Nicaraguans who partner with Mission of Hope to help those more in need.

While they are better off, Whitney said, they still lead much simpler lives than most Americans. The group’s translator, for example, has no hot water at his home.

“It’s something we would take for granted,” she said. 

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HOW TO HELP

In celebration of North Country Mission of Hope's 15 years of service to the people of Nicaragua and locally, Adirondack Harper Martha Gallagher will perform at Amazing Grace Vineyard & Winery, 9839 Route 9, Chazy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. A wine tasting will also take place. A raffle of gift baskets and a silent auction will raise funds for support of the mission's medical clinic and hospital partners in Nicaragua. Free but donations will be accepted.

Another fundraiser coming up is the Mission of Hope Golf Tournament set for Friday, Aug. 16. That event is the largest held to support the Children Feeding Children program, which provides meals to 625 daily in Nicaragua. Get tournament details from Marty Manix at mdmannixjr@gmail.com or Kathy Eppler at keepler@champlainbank.com.

Learn more about Mission of Hope and how to sponsor schoolchildren and orphans, along with other projects, at ncmissionofhope.org.

PROJECTS ON TAP

A total 27 missioners are taking part in the summer effort in Nicaragua, with nine adults, nine college students and nine high-school participants. Along with locals, they come from Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia and one from Belgium.

Along with building home shelters, distributing bags of rice and beans and water-filter units, they will distribute medical equipment and supplies sent earlier from the North Country; put on birthday celebrations for orphans with HIV; improve the irrigation system at the farm owned by Parijito Azul Disability Center; build a kitchen at a public school; install windows and screens at San Fernando Orphanage and perform other tasks.