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OHP Mission Trip 7, Day 6 – January 12, 2015

Day 6 – 7:30pm

We were up and out by 7:30 am this morning, Before we go, I take some pictures of Olympia, Mauricio’s daughter who has been our main translator. A stunningly beautiful girl, with thick, raven hair and gorgeous eyess, she is shy at first but by the end of this week has become a big part of this group.

Olympia, star translator

Olympia, star translator


Olympia and Mauricio

Olympia and Mauricio

Today we are going to visit Sr. Debbie’s dear friend, Sr. Carla in Granada. This is another part of Nicaragua I had never been to and the ride is only about an hour. Well, except for the traffic and the back roads. All week long we have been avoiding the construction traffic on the main road by the compound by taking back roads. These dirt tracks are bumpy in the extreme, with oxen and cows being walked, huge holes where the rain has washed away the road, dusty narrow alleys surrounded by tree roots exposed from the same heavy rains. It takes a while to get through and you feel like you’ve been beaten up when you are done, but it’s better than sitting in 45 minutes of traffic.

Street Dog

Street Dog

As we bump along, I see women cooking on their stoves outside their homes. Homes made of corrugated aluminum and other materials. Front yards with hard packed dirt- swept until it is flat and uniform – strewn with trees, old bits and pieces of things and dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. For some of my animal loving friends, the dogs might just be the hardest part about this place. There are thousands of them running wild as there is no spay or neuter program that I am aware of and they breed uncontrolled. They roam the streets and back roads, and are usually stick thin with their ribs poking out. It’s really tough to watch. The horses are not in better shape and here, are truly beasts of burden.

We have a very nice visit with Sor Carla and the other 4 sisters. They serve us cold fruit and hand squeezed juice which is refreshing and cool. Their hospitality is so genuine, there is no way we cannot accept. Sr. Debbie asks

Our Singing Nun, Sr. Carla

Our Singing Nun, Sr. Carla

Sr. Carla if she will sing us a song, guitars are pulled out and all 4 nuns sing to us. It is so sweet, I have to turn away to wipe my eyes. Soon the priest joins them and the whole moment melts my heart. The Padre has made a special bread which we all take a piece of. Only a few lucky ones find the hidden baby Jesus in the bread, a small plastic toy that is part of their tradition. It is lovely that they share it with us.
Sweet Serenade

Sweet Serenade

We have lunch on the way back to Managua but because we stayed so long with Sr. Carla, we are an hour behind schedule. I am dropped off at Casa Cuna, the final orphanage visit for me and all the others go off to follow Sr. Debbie’s agenda.

My driver and translator, Carlos and his son Harvin, are waiting for me there. To my surprise, so is Allison. Her mother had brought her back home from El Crucero while she is still out of school and I suppose she puts her at Casa Cuna during the day while she works.

Allison

Allison sitting still for a change

I am pleased to see she is still wearing the small cross that I gave her on Saturday.

Casa Cuna was the orphanage where Vanessa and I originally met Allison and she only left 2 years ago so she is very at home here. There is only 1 other child there, that I believe may be Allison’s younger brother and 2 of the older girls that I had spoken with at El Crucero.

Allison and me at Casa Cuna

Allison and me at Casa Cuna

After going over some details with the nun in charge, Sor Carla (another one), I am pleased to have some time to talk to Allison, something I didn’t get on Saturday. As Harvin translates for me, we talk about her favorite subjects, I show her pictures of my husband, my girls and family and talk about reading. She says she loves to read and I am pleased to hear it. Then I ask if she wants to go to University when she is older and she says “Yes, I want to be a veterinarian.” “I love all animals” she tells me. And as long as nothing insurmountable gets in the way, I will see to it that she does go to university.

It is blisteringly hot here as it always is and I feel the sweat dripping down my back. We take some group shots and then I am off to meet Sayda.

The girls at Casa Cuna in front of their Christmas display

The girls at Casa Cuna in front of their Christmas display

We are over an hour late at this point and at first, we can’t find her in front of UNAN, the university she is attending and where we are supposed to meet. I am becoming worried that this meeting won’t happen and look up (literally) and say a little prayer asking for help. I look down and there she is. Nope, not kidding you.

I call out her name and she comes running over to me and Harvin. We walk inside the school and find a place for a soda and a place to talk. She excitedly tells me about her education, how much she loves school. She is almost ready to start her second year and is anticipating a heavy load of studies. I encourage her to study hard and to learn English as well. ( I am beginning to sound like a broken record to myself)

Sayda's laptop

Sayda’s laptop

I give her the gifts I’ve brought for her. A sponsor gift from her Madrina Gail, a silver necklace from me and a laptop that I have had since last year for her. This was donated to me for her and she is stunned to receive it. Although it’s an older model and heavy, it is much better than what she has and will make her school work easier. I’m happy to be able to give it to her.

Sayda and me at UNAN, Managua

Sayda and me at UNAN, Managua


We say goodbye and head back to NiCasa. Back on the bumpy roads, through the dust and over the hills we went. A final conversation with Mauricio and Magaly, the woman who will be taking over OHP University support from Mauricio and I am officially done. Everyone is wrapping up and packing up as we leave at 4:30am tomorrow morning for the airport.

I’m ready to come home. I accomplished what I wanted to; I encouraged the girls to continue their education and gave them options, saw the children and got my hugs in for another year. But I miss my family – I miss Vince, our puppies, my girls and the rest of my family. It’s 89 degrees here today and 13 degrees in New York but I’m coming home and I can’t wait. Thanks for reading.

OHP Mission Trip 7, Day 5 – January 11, 2015

Day 5 – 9:00am

It is Sunday and the others have gone off to church or to visit with families that they know. I am reminded of something about myself that I forget until I’m here. There is a part of me that is very much a loner. I am that person now as I type.

Hummingbird in the backyard

Hummingbird in the backyard

Pretty yellow bird

Pretty yellow bird


I was able to take some great bird pictures, there are some beautiful birds outside my open door. The cool breeze is blowing in, it is relatively quiet and I have time to remember and write about my experiences and to work on the pictures. We take hundreds daily and it’s a big part of this process to select the best ones to tell the story.

I see Johanna and Guillermo again as they come by the compound to see what donations they can take back to their clinic. MoH shares the wealth from their many donors in the States.

Sr. Debbie, Johanna and Guillermo - sharing the wealth

Sr. Debbie, Johanna and Guillermo – sharing the wealth

Later today we are off to Managua for lunch at Cucina Haydee, one of Debbie’s favorite authentic restaurants. This is the one where the guards stand across the street with machine guns. Some of he group go to the market afterwards but I come back to the compound to work on this blog. A long day tomorrow is ahead with many stops to make so some downtime today will be good for us all.

OHP Mission Trip 7, Day 4 – January 10, 2015

Day 4 -7am

I am sitting outside my room and before we leave for El Crucero at 8, I thought I’d write some practical observations since Vince has asked about these…..

I am lucky to be staying in one of the two small “suites”. Sr. Debbie thought it best since I am up late blogging each night and didn’t want to keep the others awake in the dorm room. This small room is cozy and has a private bathroom. The floors are tiled and clean when we arrive. Within a few hours of being here, and after leaving the windows open to feel the cool breeze, the floors and everything else are covered in a thin layer of dust. It’s a dusty country.

My suite is on the left

My suite is on the left

The water in the shower is not hot, not even warm. That’s just the way it is and you get used to it. So showers are bracing and I do a little dance in there each morning trying to allow the water to run over my body but not get too wet at the same time. It’s a skill, you learn it here.

My mattress is like all others here, about 6 inches of foam covered by clean and pressed sheets. There is a woman who takes care of all the cleaning and supplies for us and she does a good job. I feel welcome. Come on in Gringo White Lady, buenas tardes!

My visitor last night

My visitor last night

There was a big black flat spider on the wall last night when I got into my room. I didn’t want to squish him – although Sr. Debbie surely would have – so I tried to swipe him out the door with my magazine. I’m not sure if he made it outside but I couldn’t see him anywhere and went to sleep hoping that I wasn’t going to wake up with him on my face looking at me for breakfast.

The breeze is cool this morning as I sit outside my room and type. When I first walked out today, Debbie and Kathy were standing outside on the veranda watching birds. STOP! Debbie said in that commanding nun voice that she has and so I did. “There! On the branch is a guarda barranco! Don’t Move!” Of course I moved anyway and he flew away but not before I could see his 8 inch scissored tail and his brightly colored blue body. This bird is the national bird of Nicaragua and very beautiful. Not so rare but this is only the second time I’ve seen one here. They live in small dirt holes on the sides of hills and roads.

There are all types of other birds here and Sr. Debbie rattled off very excitedly the several she had seen today; blue parakeets, a guisse, an oriole like bird and a few others. Sr. Debbie (who is in the room next to mine) just loves birds and takes some amazing photos. She is a bird magnet.

Flying Guisse

Flying Guisse


Nicaragua Blue Jay

Nicaragua Blue Jay

Many of the birds are very noisy and the constant bird sounds – chirps, long tweets, whistles – are always with you. It’s a nice sound, each distinct, many long and involved. It’s almost like they are talking to you. But I don’t speak Spanish so I don’t know what they are saying to me. So I just say “hola, thank them for visiting and wish them a happy day of fruit and seeds and worms.

Secure compound

Secure compound

The sun is shining brightly, the sound of cars, birds and dogs ever present but distant. It’s a beautiful day in the Nica neighborhood.

I’m going to take more pictures for Vince since he asked me to take them of my surroundings. Then we are off to El Crucero.

2pm
I declined to go on the trip to visit some of the poor barrios. I needed space, I needed time and I needed to think.

The El Crucero trip went very well.

Me and Allison

Me and Allison

Although there were only about 12 children there, I finally saw my Allison after almost 2 years, she is 8 now. She has grown taller and still has her beautiful smile and bubbly personality.
Hugging my girl

Hugging my girl

Madre says she is an excellent student (no surprise, her intelligence is apparent) and although “hyper” (which is the same as bubbly in my book), she is a happy child. Her mother comes into her life at times periodically which is not a positive event but luckily it is infrequent. Her mother is poor and ignorant and I don’t believe has Allison’s best interests at heart. While she may love her, she is not good for her. Her needs come before Allison and I am always afraid that she will stifle Allison’s intelligence and joie de vivre. Madre told me that when they do send Allison home to visit, they send her with her best clothes but they never come back with her. Madre said that Haydelina (Allison’s mother) had been seen wearing them, stretched to fit on her adult body.

The first child who ran to me was Ashley Maria. I remembered her name and although she is taller I easily recognized her as I know her and her 3 siblings here for the past 5 years. These children have a heartbreaking history and again, a mother who is not good for them. The nuns do what they can to protect them and limit contact.

Allison, Ashley and me

Allison, Ashley and me

Saying hello to Ashley

Saying hello to Ashley

Ashley wrapped herself around me and we walked like conjoined twins into the building where I was greeted by several other children I knew plus some that I did not. Madre Griselda came to me with her big crinkly-eyed smile and gave me a big hug. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and I her.

I asked for the other children and this was when Allison came running and blasted into my arms. Since Ashley still hadn’t let go, I felt like a Child Tree with the two of them as the branches. Chaos as other children came running over, everyone talking and touching me, many smiling faces that I remembered by name which really seemed to please them.

Joseph

Joseph

I saw Joseph and Josue both much bigger little boys now, Kenneth with his green glasses, Carlos with his lopsided smile and a scrape on his nose, Alexis, another of the puppy dog boys and Veronica, one of the older girls. There were several that I didn’t know but they were just as free with their hugs. They seemed to crave the loving embrace and I was happy to give it to them.

We gathered our group (we were 7 people today) and went inside with the children for the giving of the presents, the official opening act. As Kathy, Olympia and I spread out the gifts, the children waited until told before choosing something.

Kids love presents

Kids love presents

Some of the children had special gifts from their sponsors which I gave out and took pictures of to bring home with me. And too my surprise, Spanish starting coming out of my mouth. Maybe it was divine intervention but somehow I was able to tell the children we had presents from their sponsors, talk to them a little about themselves and in general communicate with them without a translator.
Kenneth blowing up a balloon

Kenneth blowing up a balloon

This was wonderful for me as it’s always a big frustration so this was better than usual.
Dave and Carlos

Dave and Carlos

The children went off to play with their presents and most of the group with them. It was the first time for some of them and a particularly windy and cool day and I hoped they wouldn’t be blown away, both actually and figuratively. There was another group visiting, which seems to be common here, of young American nursing students who were playing basketball with older children from the village. Our group melded in with theirs and I left them to it.

Suzanne, Kathy and Allison

Suzanne, Kathy and Allison

Kathy, Dave and Susanne also did me a huge favor by taking the “official” photos of each of the children that I want for their sponsors. Not always an easy job – think of herding cats that speak Spanish – but they got the job done and I was most grateful.
Josue

Josue

Kathy, Olympia and I met with Madre in the small dark office where we have met so many times before. A few raggedy chairs and Madre’s desk are about all there is. Sufficient for our needs but I wish I could make it less gloomy although it probably doesn’t phase Madre at all. We talked about the children, several in particular. Updates were difficult as there is good news such as the children being excellent students (Allison, Nayleth, Mileydis), there is more bad as she told us of their family situations which seemed to do more harm than good. One in particular was so dire, I am still trying to figure out what to do about it. This young girl, who I will not name, is so smart and so vibrant has a prostitute for a mother. The mother wanted the girl, who is now 14, to come with her to “meet” her “friends”. Obvious red flags went up and Madre spirited the girl away to another facility but she can’t hide her forever, she must return to school. I am so worried about this child, she is one of my favorites and we must do something.

Alexis doing a puzzle

Alexis doing a puzzle


Madre also told me that she knows of a family of 8 children, ages 5 – 10 with a set of 7 year old twins, who live with their grandfather in dire poverty. Even she seemed frantic about their situation as she said they have absolutely nothing and they are not going to school. She wants to go to the home – although it is not a home, it is a hut in a patch of dirt – and take the children to the orphanage. To do this, she needs a family member to sign off. I wholeheartedly asked if I could help in anyway and as I type, I am waiting to hear. She said she would contact Mauricio directly and let me know.

This influx of 8 more children will swell the numbers at El Crucero. This is the case in San Fernando as well as more children are coming in.

Kathy playing with the children

Kathy playing with the children

I will receive (hopefully) the reports in February letting me know who has officially returned after vacation and who has not and also will include these new children. We will need more sponsors.

Talking about OHP U

Talking about OHP U

After our meeting, we met with the 4 older girls to talk about OHP U. I knew three of the four and one of them was another of my favorites, Katherine. She is only 14 but I wanted her to hear what I had to say about school. She too has had a heartbreaking history and struggles with the aftermath. She has been close to making some bad choices with men already but the sisters have been able to stop her from doing this for now but it will not always be this way. I so hope that she discovers her self-worth which has been lost in her childhood and finds a way to a healthy adult life. The chances are slim and I know it. It breaks my heart. When I asked Katherine what she wanted to do, she told me she wants to sing.
Katherine and me again!

Katherine and me again!

The girls were open and eager to listen and the conversation went well. Of the 4, two are already graduated high school and applying to UPOLI, a college in Managua. Entrance exams are later this month so I will follow up with Madre to bring them into the program.

More OHP U Talk

More OHP U Talk

We toured the facility to get a list of repair jobs needed, not as bad as San Fernando but we made a list and took pictures. I left Dave, Chico and the others to do this with Madre and walked around a bit by myself.

Computer room

Computer room


I was really pleased to see a computer room that is being set up in a separate building behind well secured, iron-barred windows. Although they won’t have internet (it is not possible with the winds and high elevation here), they will have computers to learn on. This was a big dream of mine and my dear friend Syed for the last 5 years. I plan to talk to him about how we can improve this experience for them as I know he will have wonderful, brilliant ideas – he always does. My friend Syed has such a big heart.

Me and Katherine

Me and Katherine

At one point, Katherine came up to Olympia and whispered something in her ear that she wanted to tell me. I was surprised when it turned out that she wanted to know if she could have my suitcase that I had brought the presents up in. Without hesitation, I said yes and the big big smile on Katherine’s face was wonderful. Before I knew it, she had taken the suitcase, put her presents in it and was happily wheeling it away.

It was time to leave and many hugs and kisses later, I made my way to the waiting van. Some of the girls were finishing up letters to their sponsors and as I waited for them, I heard the impatient honk of the truck. I heard a “Barbara hurry up!” shout as well. This really bothered me as we had only been there for 2 hours and there was nothing pressing that couldn’t wait another 15 minutes on our schedule. I had a total of 2 hours in El Crucero and 2 hours in San Fernando. 4 hours with my children is not a lot of time. People just don’t realize that I am only here once a year AND THIS IS WHY I COME HERE. I don’t rush anyone else and I am frustrated (and angry) when I am rushed. Next time, I will do this differently.

Me and my kids at El Crucero

Me and my kids at El Crucero


Back at the compound, the others left for a barrio trip but I declined and stayed back. I needed to de-compress and to get ready to meet with Johanna later in the day. I de-compress by writing this blog. It is a place to “put” my emotions. And there were many.

I was also able to Skype with Vince. I felt much better after this as it’s his strength and support that are integral to my being here. Seeing him and Gwenna too, made me feel much better. I miss him and our puppies a great deal. I also Skyped with at least one of my girls, Alix. It was good to talk to her as well and to see Ian and Brendan my grandsons. While Brendan didn’t say much, he’s only 4 months old, it did my heart good to see how he’s grown in 3 weeks time already. And of course when my darling Ian said “Baba (that’s his name for me) come my house?” I almost lost my schnizel but I felt recharged and grounded.

Chico returned at 3 to drive me to Managua. With my halting Spanish, we discussed children, dogs and marriage. It was pretty comical.

Chico dropped me off in front of the Juan Pablo II Foundation headed by Johanna and Guillermo Pedroni. I had met Johanna on my last visit and we really bonded right away. An intelligent compassionate woman with drive and dedication AND who spoke English, we have been communicating by email for over a year. My goal was to talk to her about OHP U Trade Skill training but the conversation took a sharp right turn that I am still processing.

I arrived before she did so sat waiting in the lobby of the clinic. Momentarily I thought about the fact that if for some reason she didn’t show up, I had no ride, no phone, not much Spanish and was in the middle of downtown Managua. But then I said hey, I’ll just deal with it.

Johanna and her husband Guillermo, who I had not met before, came in and after heartfelt greetings, were pleased to show me the progress on their clinic. It is a fully functioning clinic with pediatric, maternal, physical therapy, psychological and dental services provided to the poor women and children of the city. Much of the equipment – hospital beds, machines, exam tables and the dental chairs – were provided by the Mission of Hope as they told me repeatedly. She kept telling me “We love the Mission of Hope!”.

We returned to her office to talk and I explained to both of them what I was trying to do. But before we could get to the trade skill discussion, they both told me emphatically that it was more important that the girls learn English than any other further education or training. Full stop. So how was I to accomplish this – I can’t “make” the girls do anything….so we talked about the challenges and I am still trying to wrap my mind around a solution. Johanna also said that in her years of dealing with the poor women of Nicaragua, she is often frustrated by their lack of drive or determination. She explains this is a product of the communist/socialist government who say they will provide all needs but in reality they don’t. But the women have been taught to expect this and therefore, don’t feel they need to help themselves, it will be done for them.

In my meetings with the older girls earlier, I stressed this to them – they must help themselves, no one would do it for them. I wondered now how they took that statement. No one questioned it but I am worried that they don’t comprehend it.
Another issue is self esteem. Poor women have less than non-poor women and this too is part of the challenge. How do you teach a woman she has value if she has been told she does not? While Johanna deals with this for every woman they try to help, I am not ready to believe that my girls are beyond changing. The loves of the nuns, a secure environment and education have to count for something.

We talked and talked and before we knew had to leave to meet the rest of the group at Johanna’s lovely restaurant, La Piazzerria. We continued our discussion in the car, her riding in the back with me so we could talk more easily. Guillermo drives like a crazy Italian person (Johanna’s words, not mine) and we both were bumping and bouncing in the seat.

Dinner with Johanna at La Piazzerria

Dinner with Johanna at La Piazzerria


We met the others and had a really nice meal with everyone finally relaxing and enjoying the service and food. Johanna ate with us and it was a real pleasure to have her as she is gregarious and talkative – soon everyone was laughing and relaxed. At the end of the meal, I asked Sr. Debbie to tell everyone her mouse on the windshield story which reduced everyone to a paroxysm of laughter; I had tears streaming from my eyes from laughing. It felt good – and was good – for us all.

OHP Mission Trip 7 – Day 3, January 9, 2015

After a better night’s sleep than the one before (I found that they progressively get better the longer and more tired you are), we were up and out on time. Due to major highway construction, we were much delayed and didn’t actually get out of the Managua area until 2 hours later.

We are 11 people in our van now, with Mauricio steadily driving us on the Pan American highway. We’ve been stuck behind buses, oxen cart and trucks but the scenery is so beautiful here in the northern part of the country and even though this is my 3rd time, I am still in awe.

Trucks everywhere

Trucks everywhere

Overloaded truck carrying plastic bottles

Overloaded truck carrying plastic bottles

The mountains are ever present on either side, the land not so blasted and dusty. The smaller villages and cities that we drive through are full of color and local industry that fascinates me. What do the people think about how they live? Do they know how different (not necessarily better) their lives are than ours? I truly wonder what going to school, living and working here – to grow up here – would be like. I’ll never know but it makes me wonder that much more.

Tip Top Stop

Tip Top Stop

We stopped at Tip Top for lunch but we have hours to go yet and the “exciting” part of the journey over the smaller, winding roads and tiny tiny bridges that Sr. Debbie loves so much are coming. Watching her get hysterical through all of this has become a sport for us.

Later on….4:00pm
I forgot how exhausting these visits are. I was so emotionally wiped out when we left San Fernando I could have curled up and gone to sleep. Instead I just cried. You think I’d be used to this by now.

We arrived around 1:00, that was 6.5 hours in the car. Before we walked in the door, I gave myself a mental talking too. Self I said, you better just hold it together and dam up those emotions so you can get this done. You traveled far to do this so don’t get emotional. Yep.

Balloons at San Fernando

Balloons at San Fernando


Sor Darling, the new nun in charge, met us at the door and pretty soon the children were swarming. There was only 7 of the 23 children there because of school vacation still being in session, but I had known this would be the case. The first order of business is always to give out the presents as the children were looking expectantly at us to see what would happen next. Some were shy, some were not but everyone got something that made them happy.

Giving the Gifts

Giving the Gifts

Ehling is 8 years old.

Ehling is 8 years old.

Playing with toys

Playing with toys

While the children went off to play with their new toys, Sor Darling took us on a tour of the facility to see the recent roof/ceiling and electrical repair work that had just been completed several weeks ago. However, before we even got to see this, we were shown the many many needs that still exist.
Bunk Beds in one of the three dormitories

Bunk Beds in one of the three dormitories


Because there are not enough beds, mattresses are put on the brick floor at night for the children to sleep on.

Because there are not enough beds, mattresses are put on the brick floor at night for the children to sleep on.

Rotted ceilings in dormitories, toilets that don’t flush, holes in the floor, no storage space, no furniture, no tables, not enough beds nor blankets, mudslides into the laundry area….it was overwhelming! I made my list telling Sister that we had no promises but we would try…we then moved on to the work that HAD been done and were very pleased with the effort done by Chico, the all around MoH construction guy. Everything was new and clean and well done. A great testament to the hard work of many to raise the funds for this big project, most especially Kathy Eppler who had secured a Rotary grant for this.

The kitchen is in better shape now with a new floor and storage unit.

The kitchen is in better shape now with a new floor and storage unit.

Kathy and her friend

Kathy and her friend


Kathy was with me on this trip and this was her first time at San Fernando. She needed to see the work paid for by the Rotary Grant and was with me as we walked through the facility. She too was overwhelmed by the work still needing to be done and simply said, “We need another Rotary grant.” I agreed and silently thanked her.
San Fernando pig will be dinner for Quincenterria

San Fernando pig will be dinner for Quincenterria

After the tour, I told Sister that I wanted to review my lists of children to see who was still here and which children had left the orphanage or been moved. This is always a tedious part of the visit but must be done since I have no other way of getting updates. After we completed this, we did agree that she would start to send updated lists every quarter to keep me informed of the frequent changes. She agreed, let’s hope it happens.

More talking

Talking with the girls about OHP University

After this, it was time for my first OHP University talk – the thing I had been preparing for, taking about and thinking about for months. I opened my mouth and the words froze as I tried to hold back the tears. I was disgusted with myself since I had been holding back for the first part of the visit and couldn’t lose it now. I pulled myself together and launched into a discussion with the three older girls ages 14, 15 and 18, first talking to them about the importance of school and working hard and then about what they planned to do after graduating high school. Did anyone want to go to University? To my delight, all three said yes. One wanted to be a doctor, the other a nurse and the third was already graduated high school and wanted to start university this coming semester. I didn’t need to encourage them to appreciate the value of continued education, they already knew it!
Talking to the girls about OHP University

More talking

Olympia was doing a good job of translating as I had asked her to be enthusiastic in translating what I said. She then told the girls that she was in university and talked to them a little about what that was like. You could see that the girls really appreciated her comments as they could easily relate to another young Nicaraguan woman.

Explaining Maria's gift to the children

Explaining Maria’s gift to the children


I gave them each the letter that I had written to them with information on OHP U and also tucked in the envelope was a US $5 bill from my dear friend Maria who had given me $250 in $5’s for just this purpose. These girls don’t usually have money of their own so they were pleased with this part too. Their big smiles and hugs at the end of our talk was all that I needed to see to know that they had heard me.

There was one young boy who was so small and so tiny, I scooped him up like my 2 year old grandson Ian. This boy, Erling, is new to the orphanage (there were many new children) and it was apparent that he had developmental issues.

Saying goodbye to Ehling

Saying goodbye to Ehling

We were told that he had been born very premature and was only 1 pound at birth and I guess that he weighed about 20 pounds now. He is 8 years old. He had a big smile and gave excellent hugs but this was when the dam of my carefully controlled emotions just burst. As I bent to give him a big hug, I wrapped his small, slender body into my arms and just started to cry. It was emotional for all of us.

Me and some of the children at San Fernando

Me and some of the children at San Fernando


We took some group photos and then it was time to leave. More hugs, more tears, lots of emotions for every one of us. For those new to this place, and there were several, I could see the tears in their eyes and the looks on their faces and just knew what they were thinking. How can we help? What can we do? We must do more! Where is my credit card? I mirrored those feelings as I did every time I came and then had to leave.

We all piled into the van, me the last one in as I kept finding another person to hug. Sr. Debbie started to talk to me about something and I had to ask her to wait since I really needed to pull myself together. My hands were shaking, the tears were threatening again and I was emotionally spent. After tears shared with Kathy and some laughs, we began our long trip back.

Goodbye at the gate

Goodbye at the gate

We ran into more trucks, traffic jams, cattle in the road and oxen carts on our way home so it was another 6.5 hours in the car, we are all exhausted. There are very crazy drivers here that pass each other with no clear view in the passing lane and we never knew if we were headed for a 10 car pileup.

Pizza and wine after a long day

Pizza and wine after a long day

We made a stop for a pizza dinner and a very much needed glass of wine and then were back in NiCasa by 10pm. Tomorrow we are off to El Crucero at 8am for a repeat of today with the children, the nuns and the emotions.

OHP Mission 7, Day Two – January 8, 2015

We spent the day visiting two Safe House projects, one in Managua, the other in the city of Leon, a 1 and half hour drive away. In each, we met very dedicated people who are also volunteering their time to help put these Safe Houses together.

In Managua, we met a woman named Mariley, who is an international activist for woman’s rights. She has spoken at a U.N. Conference on Human Rights held in Zurich and recently was arrested for protesting and held in prison in Managua. She rather understatedly said she was beaten and held illegally for 24 hours in a prison known for holding political prisoners . She was only able to be released when she used the tiny cell phone she had hidden to contact fellow activists and friends who made such a ruckus that they were forced to let her go. Marliey spoke flawless English, was astoundingly beautiful and wore 4 inch hot pink patent leather stilettos. Smart, friendly and with an easy smile, this woman was none the less formidable and I told her so.

The project here was to help refurbish an existing Safe House and the MoH Safe House Project led by Kathy and Dave Fuller had provided for roof and window repairs and spoke with them at length about future projects. After discussion and agreement on how this would proceed, we left for Leon.A long car ride later, we arrived in Leon, one of the largest –and oldest – cities in Nicaragua and it’s first capital before Managua. Barry Greer who was spearheading the selection of the Safe Houses to work with had been to Leon for a 5 month stint already and promised to give us a tour of the city. I was excited about this as it was not usually part of the program.

Barry is an interesting guy. He retired and chooses to come to Nicaragua and is passionate about helping women with domestic violence situations. He has networked with many of the women’s groups here in Nicaragua and in Central America and sees himself as a “shepherd” – his own word – for what he does. He wants to help lead the women of Nicaragua to help themselves and others as they forge a path through the machismo culture of violence and marginalization towards women. He was coming back on this trip for another 5 month stay to help get this particular safe house up and running.

It was very rustic but a nice contained property surrounded by old concrete walls and new concertina wire. The buildings clearly need much work and indeed, Barry would be sleeping on a mattress he intended to buy in an empty room with zero amenities. His adventurous spirit, clear passion and easy smile were infectious and impressive.

Afterwards, many of us wanted to eat in an “authentic” place for lunch – rather than Sr. Debbie’s favorite Tip Top (Nicaragua’s version of Kentucky Fried Chicken) and we took off with Barry on a tour. Although our meal was authentic – rice and beans! – and chicken, it was nothing special but at least we could say we had done it. We met up with the Tip Top group (Sr. Debbie of course, Mauricio and his daughter Olympia) at the Leon Cathedral built in 1670. I was particularly excited as I never saw an old cathedral I didn’t want to visit, and it didn’t disappoint. With the same soaring architecture I had seen in other cathedrals in the world, the Latin flare was apparent with the gilded altar, huge frescoes of the Stations of the Cross and large statues covered in flowers and gifts throughout.

We left for our journey home, stopping only at a coyote (a money changer on the street) in Managua to exchange our American for Nicaragua currency and a trip to a food store for dinner. We bought the fixings for an unexpectedly wonderful green salad which we all agreed was just what we were in the mood for.

To bed early as our next day was an early morning leaving for San Fernando and the 5 hour journey at 6:30am.

The view from my room

The view from my room


The Christmas Tree at NiCasa - every December it bears white flowers

The Christmas Tree at NiCasa – every December it bears white flowers


NiCasa Chico the guard and Sr. Debbie

NiCasa Guard Chico and Sr. Debbie


NiCasa Guard Dogs - they are locked up when we are there but are free to roam when the compound is not occupied

NiCasa Guard Dogs – they are locked up when we are there but are free to roam when the compound is not occupied


Strip Mined Mountain along the highway

Strip Mined Mountain along the highway


Road Obstruction

Road Obstruction

Collectiva de Mujeres - the Women's Collective helps women dealing with domestic violence throughout Nicaragua

Collectiva de Mujeres – the Women’s Collective helps women dealing with domestic violence throughout Nicaragua


Barry and the faces at Managua Safe House

Barry and the faces at Managua Safe House


Women's meeting room at the clinic and safe house.  Allows women a safe haven to meet and learn.

Women’s meeting room at the clinic and safe house. Allows women a safe haven to meet and learn.


And a safe place to sleep

And a safe place to sleep


Children have a safe place too

Children have a safe place too


Beauty in the dirt

Beauty in the dirt


The Safe House Crew in Managua

The Safe House Crew in Managua


All the visitors at Managua Safe House

All the visitors at Managua Safe House


Just getting a drink

Just getting a drink


Barry explaining the vision for the Leon Safe House and clinic

Barry explaining the vision for the Leon Safe House and clinic


Mural in Leon

Mural in Leon


Safe House Crew in Leon

Safe House Crew in Leon


Me at the Leon Basilica circa 1747

Me at the Leon Basilica circa 1747


Basilica altar

Basilica altar


I don't know either

I don’t know either


What is that growing thing?

What is that growing thing?


This one's for you babe.  They are everywhere.

This one’s for you babe. They are everywhere.

OHP Mission 7 – January 7, 2015 Day One

2:00pm – Miami International layover

Leaving at 3am for a 6am flight in 13 degree weather was no picnic so I was really not at all happy when I missed my flight anyway. Although I was early enough and should have had time to spare, the 45 minute holdup at the Airtrain shuttle between terminals totally put the kibosh on my making my flight. What a nightmare. As I struggled with the 90 pounds of luggage that I had with me, shoving the cart around trying not to run anyone over and fit in the shuttle, I thought – there has to be a better way. Next time, not so many suitcases. Ugh as Sr. Debbie would say. But I was able to get on another flight at 8am to Miami, with a 5 hour layover before leaving for Managua. At least I would get there today.

Allison at about 6.  That's the smile.

Allison at about 6. That’s the smile.

This does mess up our carefully planned agenda as this was the day I was supposed to spend the afternoon at El Crucero talking to the older girls about OHP University. As this is the main focus of my trip, we will definitely reschedule the visit. I was also going to see my Allison; I haven’t seen in over 2 years, I hope she remembers me. I have been sponsoring her since she was 4, she is now 8. And whenever I think of her, I think of her smiling. I wonder what she is like – is she still friendly and outgoing? She always seemed to me to be the light in the room full of children, even when my daughter Vanessa and I first met her in 2010 at the baby orphanage in Managua, Casa Cuna. Despite the heat, the confined space, the lack of air that day (I can still feel how oppressive it was), she just bubbled around like a little butterfly, always smiling and laughing. I hope through the years and her living environment she hasn’t lost any of that.

At Miami airport, I treated myself to a lovely lunch and a glass of wine. I had the biggest salad I could find since it will be my last green food until I get home. Nicaragua doesn’t do vegetables. Iceberg lettuce is not a vegetable so that doesn’t count.

Three of the six other people that are traveling on this mission are also leaving on the flight I am now on. I will be watching for their blue MoH t-shirts since I haven’t met them. (I’m traveling incognito, my blue t-shirt is in my backpack for later.) I am looking forward to meeting and talking with all 3 of them as these are the people behind the Women’s Shelter/Safe House project. I want to learn more and hear more, they have made very good progress in the short time since the project was launched. Quite impressive.

For a small organization, the NC Mission of Hope sure gets a lot of big things done. It’s all about the people. There are some wonderful people who give their time, treasure and talent to making it all work. It’s humbling.

11pm
I had forgotten how windy it is here. The wind rips through the window screens and the leaves on the trees whistle and screech. Or is that a night bird? A big night bird… The wind has a nice sound, I like it. I don’t hear the roosters and not as many dogs barking. I guess things change, even here.

Uneventful flight from Miami after spending all day in the airport. I met up with Dave, Kathy and Barry – the Women’s Shelter/Safe House folks. A nice group. I maneuvered without issue through Customs, baggage pick up with a nice young man who wanted to help me with my 90 pounds of luggage – so I let him – and then through immigration and I was through. Mauricio’s smiling face was waiting for me and I felt like I was officially in Nica. His daughter Olympia was also there, she’ll be one of our translators. Very easy arrival all things considered since I don’t speak much Spanish but I was so tired I didn’t let it get in my way. I need to get to bed, really.

Mauricio brought us all back to NiCasa and I’m sitting in one of the back rooms on my bed typing this. I’m unpacked and sorted out and so tired I can hardly see, I’m going on 19+ hours and I’m not used to that. Vince can do it, but I can’t. But my mind is racing and reeling and it will be hard to sleep. Busy day tomorrow though so I better. Thanks for reading, hasta manana.

Mission #7 – Here I Come

By Barbara Dobilas
January 2, 2015

Wow it feels strange to write the year – 2015 – it’s been 5 years since I started this blog writing about my trips to Nicaragua. 7 missions in 5 years.

I am leaving January 7 for a 7 day trip to Nicaragua. (What’s with the 7’s already??) I’m traveling with Sr. Debbie Blow, my dear friend and Executive Director of the NC Mission of Hope, Kathy Eppler, another good friend and MoH Treasurer and Dave and Kathy Fuller, new friends I hope to make and the people behind the Women’s Shelter Program and Suzanne Charette, a new employee with MoH.

I have a full agenda for OHP related business and will be visiting each of the 4 orphanages, seeing the children, taking their pictures, getting updates from the Nuns and in the case of at least 2 of the orphanages, checking on new facility repairs like the roof in San Fernando. The work has been completed and I’m looking forward to seeing the end result. Roof 9 12-14

I will also be meeting with one of my favorite people in Nica, Johanna Pedroni who runs a Foundation with her husband and helps poor and uneducated women learn life skills so they can make a living and support themselves and their families. This type of empowerment means so much to me as I know it is the ONLY way women can help themselves step up and out of poverty. Women must have the capability to take care of themselves, it won’t be done for them. This requires not only the education and training but a mind-set change. They need to believe they can be independent and strong.

OHP University will be my biggest focus and I hope to speak with many of the 15 girls that are close to University age to explain to them how we can help and what their responsibilities are to earn that help. I will be meeting with our first OHP University student Sayda who is in her second year of medical school. She’s our first test case and so far, has been a success. Sayda is excited to show me her University – UNAN – https://www.unan.edu.ni/ – and I am excited to see it.

Lots to do before I leave, especially since the holidays kept me very busy and I have much to catch up on. I hope you will check in to read my blog starting next week as I try to be very regular in posting – as long as I have internet!

Thanks for your support and feel free to share this blog with a friend.

One Month Left!

November 4, 2013
By Anna Daly

I am sure that the past month and a half has changed my life more than any experience before; more than my two trips with Mission of Hope, more than my three months spent volunteering in Africa, more than my semester at college. I have truly embraced each moment; each conversation; each problem. I have become accustomed to taking a cold bucket shower every day, swapping chickens and bats out of my bedroom with a broom, spending about three hours a week on hand washing my clothes, and standing up on crowded Nicaraguan buses for up to four hours at a time. Above all, I have become part of a new country; a new culture; and most importantly, a new home.

Helping with the daily chores - making tortillas!

Helping with the daily chores – making tortillas!

I have become extremely close with the children at San Fernando Orphanage. They can tell when I am upset, and I can tell when they are too. We talk about our problems, we cry together, and we laugh together. The moments I cherish the most are when the children choose to talk to me about their lives; whether it be their pasts, their lives now, or their futures.

Me and a friend

Me and a friend

Recently, a 12 year old girl told me that she is going to be the best mother in world because she knows what it is like to have the worst mother in the world. A 16 year old girl told me that she doesn’t need a boyfriend now, and she’d rather concentrate on her school work and being successful. A 13 year old girl told me not to worry if people are talking about me, just ignore them – that will make them mad and they will stop.

I have been teaching English class at the orphanage for the children, the nuns, and a few community members. Each night, Monday through Friday, we have class for about an hour. We learn something new, we practice together, and then the students practice alone or in small groups. They have homework every night (unless I am feeling nice) and they have a test once every week and a half. There are a few people who really stand out, and come to me and ask for extra help and extra work. Seeing the smile on a student’s face when they really start to understand something is one of the most rewarding gifts of all.

Sharing my college  sweatshirt with Aura Lisbeth

Sharing my college sweatshirt with Aura Lisbeth

I have also been working on a mural in the orphanage. The mural is of a tree, and I am using the children’s hand prints as the leaves. There are birds on the branches of the trees, flying into the sky, and flowers blossoming from the ground. I wanted to paint something that representing togetherness. I truly believe that you do not need to share the same blood to be part of a family. Also, this mural shows the growth the children have made throughout their lives, and that they can and will do whatever they want with their futures.

I am very fortunate to have a Peace Corps volunteer who is living and volunteering in the same town as me. Helen Shafer, a 24 year old woman from North Carolina, has become more than just a friend to me. Helen has been an amazing resource, and is constantly helping me, mentoring me, teaching me, and listening to me. She has given me a sense of comfort and home while here in Nicaragua. Whether it be practicing my Spanish, learning to make homemade peanut butter, or hiking through mountains without trails, I can always count on a new adventure with Helen. She also has a background in personal training, and has been working out with Sor Daysi and I… and I am excited to say I have officially lost 20 pounds! We have started a world mural map at the elementary school too. I am so lucky to have met such an amazing person while here in Nicaragua, and I know Helen will be a lifelong friend for me.

My time in Nicaragua is slowly coming to an end. With just one month left, I am hoping to make the best of every experience that comes my way. I am definitely excited to return home to my family and friends, but I am also extremely nervous to leave the people here who I can now call family, too.

Me and Karlen

Me and Karlen

Looking at the past, ready for the future – by Anna Daly

September 17th, 2013

By Anna Daly

About two weeks before I left for Nicaragua, my nerves really set in.  I’m not going to lie; I was having some serious second thoughts.  Moving in with two nuns and fifteen children is scary enough, but not speaking the same language or being with a group of volunteers brings it to a whole other level.  I had never been so scared for anything in my life.  I didn’t sleep for a whole week, I could barely eat, and I would randomly think, quite often, TOO often, “Am I really about to do this?”   Well, I’m here.  I’m in Nicaragua, volunteering at San Fernando Orphanage, completely on my own for the first time in my life.  I have been here for only two days and I already feel loved and welcomed.

I visited my first orphanage when I was 17.  I was on my second mission trip with North Country Mission of Hope. I specifically remember complaining to Sister Debbie about not feeling as emotionally attached to this mission as I was my first.  I wanted to get the work done, and help out as much as I could.  By the third day I had given up any hope for having another mission moment, and I felt pretty guilty about it.  On my fourth day of Mission 44, I went to El Crucero Orphanage.  From the moment  the first child ran up behind me and wrapped his arms around me, I stopped painting.  I played with the children right until it was time to leave.  I had never met such fun and loving children in my life.  As we drove away from the orphanage, tears ran down my face.  Living in one of the poorest countries in the world, and being an orphan…?  I personally have trouble grasping the fact that there are children in our world without families.  Children whose parents have died from diseases.  Children whose parents left their families because of alcohol and drug abuse.  Children whose parents just don’t want to take care of them.  At that moment, all I wanted to do was tell my parents how much I love them.  Something inside of me really changed the day I visited El Crucero, and I am so grateful that it did.  The following is an excerpt from my journal during Mission 44, on Saturday, February 25th, 2012.

“I cannot put into words the feelings going through my head right now.  Paul had to tell me about five times, ‘Anna, let’s go!’ I just didn’t want to leave them.  Why would nobody want to adopt those children?  I have never met such adorable, happy, fun kids in my life.  But if someone did adopt them, would they have a bed to sleep in and food on their plates?  Or would they be living in the barrios in metal scrap and cardboard homes.  I have so many questions and feelings rushing through me.  I have never felt so confused, hurt, and
intrigued in my life.  In a way, these children may have an advantage.  Or is that wrong to say?  They have a stable place to live, food to eat, and nuns who truly love them.  But the thought of not having my parents makes me sick to my stomach.  I can’t imagine not having my mom and dad; not having my family.  My family is everything to me and I take them for granted more than I would like to admit.  It’s not even the food, shelter, and materialistic things in my life.  It’s the fact that I have two loving and caring parents who would do anything for me, and will always love me unconditionally no matter what.  This is all really hard for me, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  I feel like I was at El Crucero today for a reason.  I am so grateful I was able to visit the orphanage today, and I definitely want to get involved with Orphan’s Hope Project.  I honestly cannot seem to figure out which is worse; not having food, or not having parents.  I had always thought that my fellow missioners were so sad after visiting El Crucero because of the conditions, when in reality, it is a true lesson and something you really need to see for yourself.  When you meet children who truly have nothing, yet still have the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen, you will understand too.”

After I graduated high school, I went to Africa for three months.  I was with a group of students my age, volunteering, exploring, and traveling through East Africa.  We did everything from building classrooms in an elementary school, to rafting down the Nile River.  We taught in schools, mudded houses, and went on safaris.  However, the most memorable day of my whole experience in Africa was on Thanksgiving.  I visited an orphanage called Jane’s Orphanage, in Arusha, Tanzania.  Upon entering the orphanage, I saw bright colored murals, smiling children in matching uniforms, and a flourishing garden.  Jane gave us a tour of the orphanage, and then offered us tea, while telling her story.  Here is an excerpt from my journal during my time in Africa, on Thursday, November 22nd, 2012.

“Jane married young, and was unable to have children.  She always loved children, but just couldn’t get pregnant.  Jane is a woman with a lot of faith.  Faith that I wish I had.  She told us how she prayed everyday asking for children, and even climbed Mount Meru to be closer to God, but was still unable to get pregnant.  Jane had a dream that God told her to take in children without parents, and so she listened.  Jane now has her own orphanage, mainly of children whose parents passed away from HIV/AIDs.  She only takes in children who have no family whatsoever.  The orphanage was absolutely beautiful, and all the children attend school.  Jane has even sent a few of the kids to college, and they are now successful and employed.  They grow a lot of their own food and the older children help out with cooking and cleaning.  The orphanage was more of a family than you could ever imagine.  Jane doesn’t just run an orphanage with twenty children, she is their mother.  Jane was a huge inspiration to me.  She has so much passion for what she believes in.  She is proud and determined, and never stops loving.  I hope someday I am able to follow my heart like she did.”

So, here I am, at San Fernando Orphanage, in Northern Nicaragua.  The last twenty four hours have been some of the most incredible of my whole life.  I don’t even know what to say.  All I know is that I already love these children.  I was here for only one hour before the oldest girl told me her mother died when she was four and her father no longer wanted her.  Aurora is a four year old girl who acts more like a mother to her two year old brother Axon than anything else.  Sister Delia talks to me about anything and everything until I understand exactly what she is saying.  San Fernando Orphanage is a family, and I am ready to become a part of it.

OHP Trip #6 – I’m home

June 3, 2013
Got back last night, late around 11pm when we finally walked in the door. Due to flight delays and my bag not arriving with me, we were at the airport a real, long time.

My bag is supposed to be delivered today and I hope it gets here soon. All of my paperwork and notes regarding the children and facilities is in there! I have a mountain of paperwork and communication to get started on.

I’m happy that we accomplished a number of things on this trip but as always, there is more work to be done. Some new ideas and some new people will continue to allow the Orphan’s Hope Project to find ways to help the children. And me? I get to keep my memories of their hugs and their smiles close to my heart, until next time.

So back to the real world, back to work but boy, that long hot shower last night really felt good.

Thanks for all your support.

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