By CHRIS FASOLINO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — For Emily Egress, a change in perspective came from something very simple.
The 18-year-old North Country Mission of Hope volunteer, in Nicaragua with the Plattsburgh-based humanitarian-aid organization, visited an orphanage there earlier this week.
Egress played with the children and gave them some stickers and other gifts.
“The children were just so gracious and neat and had just the warmest hugs,” she said via phone from the Central American country.
As she was getting ready to leave, Egress noticed one little girl carefully placing the stickers that she had been playing with back on the sticker paper.
That was her “Mission Moment,” as the group tags experiences that prompt a deeper understanding of life and their role in it.
“How often do you see a child in the U.S. saving stickers?” she said. “But it was just so precious to them.”
For Joseph “Geeg” Dedam, 17, of Elizabethtown, a powerful moment came when he was helping to deliver rice and beans to a family.
In one small home, he saw 17 people living together in dire poverty.
“It’s hard to know how to react to it; I think I’m still trying to avoid it emotionally,” he said.
“It was probably one of the most heart-wrenching days I’ve gone through in my life, but it opened my eyes to what’s out there.”
The next day, Dedam was building a home shelter with a group of Nicaraguans, one of eight constructed on this trip for families who had lived in decrepit shacks.
While they were nailing down the tin roof, it began to rain heavily.
“It was pouring buckets.”
Caught on the roof in a tropical downpour, Dedam found himself lost in the moment, laughing and enjoying a sense of camaraderie with his workmates.
Afterward, a Nicaraguan man sought him out.
The man looked him in the eyes, Dedam remembered, and said, “Thank you, Joseph, for helping me build my home.”
The teen was struck by how grateful the man was for a residence that is smaller than a typical American garage.
SMILES HIDE PAIN
For Brody Hooper, 18, who graduated this year from Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, a moment he will remember is when he learned about the pain that can underlie a smile.
He was meeting with university students sponsored through Mission of Hope, taking photographs for their sponsors, and posed before him were three sisters, ages 15, 16 and 17.
“They were three beautiful girls, and they had big smiles,” Hooper said.
Then he found out that the girls had recently lost their mother to dengue, an insect-borne virus endemic to many tropical and subtropical countries.
He was shocked by the tragic story behind what seemed an idyllic picture.
“It makes you stop exactly where you’re standing and start thinking,” he said. “It makes you thankful for what you have.
”I immediately started thinking about my mother.”
Tara Robare changed her career plans because of her first Mission of Hope trip three years ago.
Then a Willsboro High School senior, she was planning to major in anthropology and sociology at Elmira College.
That first mission, she visited a health-care clinic in Managua, as well as Parajito Azul Disability Center. There, she was taken aback by the poverty-stricken conditions — the therapy room at the Disability Center, for example, had plastic lawn chairs.
But she was also struck by the gratitude and warmth of the people.
“It’s nice to see people who have gone through so much who are still able to smile a little bit,” she said of those she met at the Disability Center.
Now, she is a student at Elmira College, as she had planned — but instead of studying anthropology and sociology, she is studying nursing and medicine.
In May, Robare completed an internship with a Plattsburgh pediatrician.
Visiting Nicaragua this trip with greater knowledge and experience, she has found herself even more aware of the difference in health care between the United States and Nicaragua.
A few days ago, Robare met children in a hospital who are critically ill with HIV.
“Just a few months back, I walked into a hospital that was completely sterile,” she said of an American facility, “and then you walk in here, and there are children with tuberculosis just a few doors down from the HIV kids.”
The experience made it more plain that ever that improvements need to happen in Nicaraguan health care — the reason she changed her major in the first place.
“I want to help people, and this is what I can do.”
HOW TO HELP
Learn more about Mission of Hope and how to sponsor schoolchildren and orphans, along with other projects, at ncmissionofhope.org.
The latest trip to Nicaragua, more than 50 over the past 15 years, concludes today.
Upcoming fundraisers include:
▶ Adirondack Harper Martha Gallagher performs at Amazing Grace Vineyard & Winery, 9839 Route 9, Chazy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. 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.
▶ The Mission of Hope Golf Tournament is set for Friday, Aug. 16. It supports the Children Feeding Children program, which provides meals to 625 daily in Nicaragua. Get tournament details from Marty Mannix at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kathy Eppler at email@example.com.