PLATTSBURGH — A little Nicaraguan boy, sponsored by Sally Kokes, has been hospitalized three times this year with pneumonia.
He has HIV.
The boy, however, was able to enjoy the recent group birthday party North Country Mission of Hope put on for him and dozens more children who struggle with the same diagnosis.
"He's a cheerful child; his mother is very upbeat," said Kokes, who lives in Peru.
"But you just wonder what his future is going to be, how many of them are going to survive to adulthood."
One hundred and two children with HIV are sponsored through Mission of Hope, which means their crucial medications are bought for them.
About 60 attended the annual party, where they each received a toy and some special treats.
Best of all, for the children, were the hugs — Nicaraguan youngsters welcome their American visitors with wide smiles and open arms.
Brady Terry, a senior at Peru Central School, lamented his one year of Spanish at school wasn't enough to help him communicate with those new friends.
But at the birthday party, he said, "one of the kids came up to me and gave me a hug. When that happened, it was more than any words could have possibly done. I didn't have to do Spanish to touch the hearts of these kids."
But that hug also brought Terry to tears.
The children with HIV "have some serious physical effects," he said via cellphone from the Central American country.
"It was very, very emotional for me, seeing that. I'm trying to compose myself."
SOME VERY ILL
Krista Trombley, 17, of West Chazy felt very much the same.
One little girl had sores on her very dry lips, she said from Ni-Casa, the mission's compound.
"She just looked like she was getting very weak."
The child hugged her, and when she saw Trombley was weeping, threw her arms around her again, offering comfort.
Another youngster was so sick she couldn't walk, and her father asked the mission volunteer for a toy to give her.
That was another "really touching moment," Trombley said.
And some children were too ill to attend the fete.
"We were told six were in the hospital, very ill," Kokes said. "We just hate to hear that."
Spanish was no barrier to sisters Gabby and Mica Beatham-Garcia, who are both fluent in the language and served as interpreters throughout the mission, often translating the health concerns of people visiting Mission of Hope medical clinics.
The destitution spoke to the teens, too.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," said Gabby, 17, who with her sister attends Plattsburgh High School. "You see so much poverty, then this really big gas station, a BMW dealer ..."
"It's kinda like a reality check," put in Mica, 16.
Many homes are no more than shelters made of a few boards and some scraps of metal, she said, yet the people welcomed the Americans with graciousness.
"And they're always so happy," Mica said.
"People back home complain about not getting the newest iPhone."
Mission of Hope's 63rd trip to Nicaragua was mostly wrapping up Monday, with the main body of volunteers enjoying a day off before flying home today.
Among the parents looking forward to the group's return were Trombley's parents, Julie and Randy.
They had followed the mission through daily online reports, and Mrs. Trombley knew her daughter had had a highly emotional experience at the party.
"I'd probably be the same way — bawling my eyes out," she said.
But lessons imparted to the volunteers are invaluable, she observed.
"All teenage kids should get a chance (to take part)."
Email Suzanne Moore:
Check out Mission of Hope's website: ncmissionofhope.org
The nonprofit is funded by donations and grants.
Checks may be mailed to: NCMOH, P.O. Box 2522, Plattsburgh NY 12901.