PLATTSBURGH — As North Country Mission of Hope members sat in a meeting at San Fernando Orphanage in Nicaragua, a little boy sauntered in, held a cup under the spout of the water filter and drank.
Three full cups.
“All of us got quite emotional,” said Sister Debbie Blow, executive director of the Plattsburgh-based nonprofit that brings humanitarian aid to the Central American country.
The tot’s businesslike focus on working the dispenser was cute, yes.
But the simple act represented far more to the American volunteers who provided the $29 unit to the orphanage to filter out contaminants common in Nicaraguan water.
Sister Delia, the nun who runs the facility, told the missioners who visited in January about two monumental results from having that purifier, Blow said.
“The number of parasite illnesses and general illnesses among the children have improved tremendously since they first used the filter,” she said.
Before, the nuns and children drank water from the kitchen faucet, Blow said.
“Sister Delia showed us,” she said. “It was awful — dark and dingy.”
Now, the children — who all have Mission of Hope sponsorship — not only serve themselves from the filter, they do it often.
“Water is a treat,” Blow said happily.
SCHOOL BATHROOMS BROKEN
The group does not rest on its laurels. In mid February a mission team of 52, including Blow, will tackle numerous other projects in Nicaragua that build on what was accomplished — or scoped out — in January.
At a very poor school in the community of Nejapa, Blow and her small contingent found the bathrooms out of order, so five toilets will be replaced.
In the preschool classroom packed with at least 30 children, “it was so sad,” she said. “They had nothing.
“Not enough chairs and tables, no educational games, no books. The chalkboard was so bad they couldn’t write on it.”
The mission is accepting donations to help outfit the pre-K and will take the teacher to an educational supply store to pick out what is needed.
At Nino Jesus de Praga School in Chiquilistagua, where Mission of Hope performed its very first work more than 15 years ago, student volunteers will help out in the preschool and also the English-as-a-second-language classes in the High School.
“We’re trying to balance the infrastructure projects we’re doing with more sustained interactive projects with the children and adults,” Blow said.
That includes medical clinics for women and children and some painting projects at Fundacion Juan Pablo II in Managua, a facility for women that, when she and her group visited in January, was gearing up for a mid-month opening.
The co-director, Blow said, “took us from room to room, where we saw equipment that had come on Mission of Hope (shipping) containers from the North Country — exam tables, physical-therapy equipment, hospital beds, filing cabinets.
“Stuff that was no longer viable here but viable there.”
Juan Pablo II will offer training to women as home-health aides, Blow said, a program made possible because of the equipment sent from the States.
In January, 45 families were given water filters funded through the Alternative Christmas Water for Life Project at Lamb of God Church in Fort Myers, Fla.; 50 more will be distributed in February as volunteers from there continue their active effort with Mission of Hope.
Missioners will also build a kitchen for another very poor school located in Barrio Solano, where none exists at all. And they will tackle the usual tasks of the largely student group in February, among them building home shelters and distributing rice and beans to needy families.
While the need is never-ending, Mission of Hope participants are heartened by past successes.
Chiquilistagua Public School, given a great start by North Country Rotary Club support, Mission of Hope and other organizations, was able to show those improvements to the government in applying for further funds to pay for windows and roofing.
“When we arrived, it was done,” Blow said. “I think it shows the local people there are really committed to working together to improve their lives.”
Other improvements at San Fernando Orphanage included bathrooms and a shower — where there had not even been a toilet before.
And Mission of Hope financed the installation of windows and screens there, the Dominican Sister of Hope said, and that effort also brought miraculous results.
First, she said, “not one child or nun got dengue this year.”
The tropical disease ran rampant in Nicaragua, Blow said, with many deaths — so the lack of illness at the orphanage proved the simple effectiveness of keeping out mosquitoes with window screens.
And just after the windows were installed, she said, torrential rains fell, and the children danced around chanting, “We are dry. We are dry,” Blow said Sister Delia told her.
“Watching the children use the water filter, hearing none got dengue,” Blow said, “then knowing they were kept dry and safe during the torrential rain ...
“What more can you ask for?”
Email Suzanne Moore: email@example.com
HOW TO HELP
Funds are needed by North Country Mission of Hope to help feed undernourished babies and children.
Checks can be sent to the organization at P.O. Box 2522, Plattsburgh, NY 12901.
The prep team for the upcoming trip departs on Feb. 14, with the rest of the group heading out on Feb. 18 and returning Feb. 25.
Learn more at: ncmissionofhope.org.