PLATTSBURGH — The North Country Mission of Hope dichotomy is one of both pain and joy.
“It’s wonderful, and at the same time it’s awful,” Sally Kokes said by phone from Nicaragua.
The poverty is astonishing to those who haven’t experienced it before.
“There are moments that it is incredibly painful to see the poverty that the people live with,” said Kelly Donnelly of Plattsburgh, who teaches at Seton Catholic Central School in Plattsburgh.
Friday, she worked with a mission crew, helping a Nicaraguan family build one of the 12 home shelters planned for this trip, and a small group of local children played nearby.
Donnelly, of Peru, spotted a shard of a glass soda bottle in the dirt where the children were playing.
She moved to pick up the glass, thinking it might be a danger to the children, she said.
But a little boy picked it up.
“It was obviously one of his toys,” Donnelly said.
The boy put his plastic dinosaur in the glass and began playing with it.
“It was just a moment where I was really blown away and kind of humbled by just how basic everything in their lives is.”
Saturday afternoon, Mission of Hope held a health fair.
Several hundred local Nicaraguans were expected to attend, Kokes said earlier in the day.
Locals would undergo blood pressure and blood glucose checks, and Dr. George Mitsoglou, a Plattsburgh optometrist, was distributing reading glasses to health-fair attendees.
The missioners would also hand out information on breast exams, and emergency medical technicians Brodi Hooper and Bill Calmbacher and nurses Kathy Fuller, Hannah Farrow and Connie Tyska would provide simple dental care, nutrition and other basic health measures.
Also on the trip is Nicole Groleau, a respiratory therapist from near Albany. And Plattsburgh physician Dr. Roger Patnode has been in Nicaragua since January for an extended experience.
“We’ve been working them all real hard,” Kokes said.
Mission volunteers also planned to hand out hygiene kits with items like shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hairbrushes and lotion.
“Things that we take for granted, but for them it’s really a big thing because they can’t really afford much,” Kokes said.
The ailments she has seen the most are malnutrition, parasite infections, diabetes and eye problems like conjunctivitis, she said.
The 53-person mission group has been working on a variety of projects this week, including door-to-door distribution of rice and beans, planting a vegetable garden with high-school students and distributing school supplies, all in the sweltering 90-degree heat.
But the experience is also a time for play, despite desperate circumstances.
Kathy Fuller’s husband, Dave, visited a facility where HIV-positive children are often brought after they are rescued from the city dump where their parents abandon them.
“On the surface, they’re just another child. They’re happy,” said Mr. Fuller, who summers in Schroon Lake and otherwise lives in Florida.
The children’s eyes lit up when mission workers gave them pizza, and they had fun playing with a pinata, Fuller said.
Before the children took a strike at the pinata, they would do a little dance, he said.
One little girl seemed more interested in dancing than the pinata, Fuller said.
”It was so beautiful. It was awesome to see them.”
Mrs. Fuller cried as she spoke about her first experience with the Mission of Hope.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” she said. “We have so much in our world, and it’s just very humbling to see the other side of the world where people really do struggle.”
The week-long mission is both physically and mentally exhausting, but the rewards volunteers get in return are immeasurable, Kathy said.
Despite the fact that the people the mission helps have so little, their faith is extraordinary, she said.
“It’s a very hopeful culture here.”
‘A DEEPER WAY’
This is the second mission for Grace Leader, a 15-year-old from Gouverneur.
“I think it’s a lot better that I’m older now,” she said. “I see things in a deeper way.”
Children now learn lessons in the classrooms she painted on her last mission, she said.
She painted one of the children’s nursery rooms on Friday and helped repair holes in the walls and windows, she said.
After her first mission trip, Leader shared her experiences with her classmates, but it was difficult for them to understand, she said.
The last time she was in Nicaragua, she made friends with a Nicaraguan boy named Freddie.
“All week, I had been looking for him, and I hadn’t seen him at all.”
Then, when she was sitting in the yard of Mission of Hope’s Ni-Casa compound, someone came up behind her and put his hands over her eyes.
“It was that same little boy, and he was so happy to see me and held my hand the whole day.”
Meaningful relationships are formed on both ends, Leader said.
“It’s so great that they remember you, too.”
To learn more or to make a donation to North Country Mission of Hope, go to ncmissionofhope.org.
Email Felicia Krieg: firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW THE MISSION
- Watch the Press-Republican for more reports on North Country Mission of Hope's work in Nicaragua this trip.
- Follow it, also, and learn how to support the humanitarian-aid group at ncmissionofhope.org.