PLATTSBURGH — Bucket showers, just once a day.
That limited resource doesn't much bother North Country Mission of Hope volunteer Kara Miller, 31, as she gives her time in Nicaragua helping the poor — that circumstance now was the norm when she was a Seton Catholic Central student on February mission back in 2000 and then 2002.
Ni-Casa, Mission of Hope's base of operations in Chiquilistagua, has a water storage tank that fills during the few hours the municipality's system is turned on every day.
That's a luxury, Miller said via phone from Nicaragua.
"When we're out in the community, we realize how fortunate we are because we do have access to some water.
"It's a needed resource down here."
ROLL WITH IT
But while there's plenty of bottled drinking water on hand at Ni-Casa, conservation is the rule — the volunteers cleanse themselves with a minimal amount of water and flush toilets with buckets of water, too.
It's been hotter than hot, said Beekmantown Central School student Krista Trombley, 17. And the wind is always blowing the dust underfoot.
After she delivered packages of rice and beans to families in the poor barrios one day, protected by sunscreen and insect repellent, Trombley said, laughing, "my legs were a completely different color and my face, too."
But her first-time experience with Mission of Hope quickly revised her take on water usage.
Now, she said, "I see how much water I waste on a daily basis and how precious water is in our world."
The volunteers "just roll with it" when water is scant, she said. "If that means not showering for a couple days, we deal with it."
LEFT ITS MARK
While the water situation is deja vu, Miller finds much change since her last trip with Plattsburgh-based Mission of Hope.
"It was immediately evident to me how much the Mission left its mark," she said. "You can see the home-shelters (funded and built by the group) in the community."
Paul White of Essex, a five-time mission veteran, echoed her words.
As they traveled to Ni-Casa from the Managua airport, he said, "you're going by home-shelters; you go to schools and see the progress there."
Miller was especially delighted to compare her memories of Parajito Azul Disability Center with today's reality.
"To see the positive changes the Mission made is absolutely amazing.
"The equipment there, the (extra) staff really make a difference in the children's lives."
She and other volunteers who visited there enjoyed interacting one-on-one with the residents, dancing with them when music was played.
The love staff has for those who live there is the same as it was when Mission of Hope first adopted the facility, Miller said, "but they didn't have the resources."
NOT EVEN TOILET SEATS
Miller holds the distinction of being the volunteer who was left behind in a Montreal airport in 2001 due to a passport issue.
That was tough, she said, "but I knew there would be other missions."
And this time, she brought along her stepfather, David Curry, 67, of Plattsburgh.
A nurse practitioner who works in the Wound Clinic at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, this is his first trip with Mission of Hope.
What strikes him most is the tremendous need.
At a desperately poor public hospital, he said, there is one sink to every room of four to six patients.
"Of all the bathrooms that (staff) showed us, not a single one had a toilet seat on the toilets."
Curry helped build a home-shelter that would replace a rudimentary shack for an impoverished family.
He also worked in a wound clinic with other Mission of Hope volunteers.
"It felt very much like I was home except I needed a translator," he said, praising Plattsburgh High School students, and sisters, Gabby and Mica Beatham-Garcia, for their excellent services in that role.
The issues patients presented, he said, were mostly lower extremity wounds related to varicose veins and some diabetic wounds.
Home couldn't have been farther away in at least one respect, though.
"We were told ultrasound was impossible because they couldn't afford it."
Miller, who now lives in Newburgh, is also in the health field.
"The Mission was the reason I became a social worker," she said.
So many memories come back to her during this third trip with the group; again, some things are just the same, including the method of wake-up call every morning — generally earlier than desired.
"The roosters, the dogs," she said, laughing.
"But if you want breakfast," David said, "you have to get up early anyhow."
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