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Trip #8 – Day 4 at Juigalpa and Casa Cuna in Managua

Matagalpa Sanitation man

Matagalpa Sanitation man

Bill trying out the local transportation

Bill trying out the local transportation

Up early for a 7:30am departure. The hotel offers breakfast with the room and afterwards, we picked up our truck and head to Juigalpa. Mauricio talked with the guard at the parking lot who suggested a “short cut” through the back roads. As I’m typing this, it’s been an adventure so far with good highway for much but not all. We just spent 45 minutes bouncing along on very rutted roads but now we are moving.

We arrive at Juigalpa around 11. It is the same bright white building at the bottom of a street which ends in an unbelievable view of the mountains.

The View

The View from Juigalpa

As we walk in, the first thing we notice is the heat. Wow, it’s hot. Uncomfortable and then chokingly hot. I’m finding it hard to breathe and think and say to myself, “Self, this is not going to be good.” Even the nuns are carrying clothes to wipe their faces and say it’s hot. The children agree as well.

The facility is as I remember it. Really lovely, open, airy (although hot air) and bright. So different than the other facilitites. Nice furniture, plenty of space. We say hellos with the children hovering shyly. Again I see a few children that I know, and another young woman with a very difficult history. Katherine is now 15 and as I hug her and say her name, she too is excited that I remember her. I ask if she remembers me “Recuerde me?” and she smiles and nods yes. She still has the cautious and hesitant look in her eyes that I remember, like a bird that has been wounded and still hurts inside. Her young brother Joseph, who I remember as a 3 year old is her with her.

Joseph and his friend

Joseph and his friend

He is the only boy. There is also Nayleth, the sponsored child of my friend Kathy. I give her an extra hug and tell her Kathy sent it to her.
Nayleth and her sponsor Kathy's gifts - This one's for you Kathy!

Nayleth and her sponsor Kathy’s gifts – This one’s for you Kathy!

There are 10 children in total. We begin our process of taking pictures, me writing their names on the sheets and Bill photographing each child outside. Afterwards, we give out gifts. I have something special for Katherine as I always bring her something. The last time I saw her, she asked for and I gave her my empty suitcase. I asked her if she remembered this and she smiled.

Katherine and me

Katherine and me

Did I mention it was hot? The sweat is pouring off of all of us and I’m feeling light-headed. Ugh, as Sr. Debbie would say. I ask the girls for a tour and we head off to see the dormitory area and outside grounds. Afterwards, I sit with Sor Isabel and find out there are five new children here.

Our visit is complete now and we take our group shot outside. I feel a little badly about not staying longer but we are all more than uncomfortable. The children and nuns wave to us as we drive away.

Juigalpa Group Shot

Juigalpa Group Shot


Lunch is in order and we go to the one place there will surely be air conditioning – probably the only place in Juigalpa that does – Tip Top. Feeling slightly less sticky, we are back in the car for the trip back to Managua and the last visit to Casa Cuna, House of Cribs.

We arrive at this small orphanage that is right in the middle of downtown Managua. Surrounded by run down buildings, dirty, cracked sidewalks, and lots of nasty looking pools of water, we go inside to find Abigail, one of my OHP U students. It is brutally hot inside here, there is no air flow at all. It is dark as it always is and the few small children that are here are in the back area behind a gate. I speak with Abigail for a bit, repeating my same story about study hard and learning English (I sound like a broken record to myself) as we wait for Sor Carla to arrive. There are only 2 little boys here and we get giggling pictures of them before Bill takes turns scooping them up in his arms.

I like Sor Carla. This is the nun with the mischievous look in her eye and the quick thinking. She understands technology and how to communicate. One of my goals this day is to reach an agreement with her that she will be my “contact person”, the go to person I can contact when I need and/or can’t get a answer on a matter dealing with any of the children. This is an ongoing difficulty for me and I spent much time on it. I tell her that I think her and I think alike and ask if she will agree to be that person for me, and she does. She smiles this cute, quirky smile – one I might get from girl friend having chat with – and we shake hands on it to cement our pack. She says she knows I work hard at this and she wants to help me. I truly appreciate this as I take it for an understanding that the details do matter and yes, they do take a lot of time.

Sor Andrea, Sor Carla and Madre Griselda

Sor Andrea, Sor Carla and Madre Griselda

She too ends our visit with much thanks and I am again humbled and embarrassed. I say, you are the ones doing all the hard work here and I tell her that I admire her faith and her strength. When I tell her she is my hero, we laugh together.

We drive away – blast the air conditioning in the truck already! – and finally head back to NiCasa. It’s been an intense 2 days and I need to regroup, unwind and pack for my return in the morning. We have dinner onsite with the Canadian Medical Team and then afterwards spend time talking and sharing stories and impressions. I have a very enjoyable conversation with 3 of the women, Manon, the leader and organizer of the group, Patricia a physical therapist and Genevieve, a nurse. Their work is so impressive and I am in awe at the things they do and see. While discussing their clinical work, their feelings are apparent and we can all relate to how this place gets into your heart and soul. We agree to stay in touch via email and perhaps, one day will see each other again.

I pack and am ready to go before dropping into bed. The first night I fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night but my alarm wakes me at 3:30 am and we are up and out to the airport. I really appreciate Bill driving me as it is really early. No issues with check in or flight and as I type this, I’m on my last leg of the trip heading to Newark and then driving back to New York.

Our boy SageI am anxious to get there, see Vince and Sage, our bulldog and catch up with my family. But it will be several days before Nicaragua leaves me and the time in between leaves me off balance, straddling two worlds. I am glad I went, very glad to see almost every child and happy that I accomplished what I set out to do. But I’ll also be glad to be home and will continue my mission from there. I definitely have to find more sponsors. Thanks for reading.

OHP Trip #8 – Day 3 at San Fernando

An early start today, out by 6:00am. Well it was supposed to be 6:00am but we left 20 minutes late because I lost track of time. I always forget to bring a clock for the room and with my watch on NY time, well, let’s just say I got a little fur-fuddled. Anyway, I whipped up 4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grabbed my suitcase of children’s gifts and backpack for our overnight trip and the guys were very understanding about my tardiness. Do you hear that Vince?

We are in the mountains as I type this. The windy road that I remember, single file behind the slower trucks crawling up the incline. This is the main reason it takes so long for this trip. Every once in a while, Mauricio makes a bold move and we pass on the left to leap frog ahead. Until the next slow truck bars our way.

The sky is brilliant blue, the mountains green in only some areas, the result of 3 years of drought. But it’s really beautiful country here. We drive through small cities and villages with homes made of corrugated aluminum and some of concrete block dotting the highway in between. Laundry on the lines, people moving on bikes on errands, we could be anywhere in the world. But the pace is much different; slower, more deliberate, not urgent.

We stop in Ocotal, 30 minutes from and the largest city closest to San Fernando. I head to the food store, Pali with Harvin to buy chicken, milk, cheese, rice, eggs and some grab some cookies for good measure. I then purchase fruit and vegetables – tomatoes, potatoes, onions, pineapple and melon – from the people selling on the sidewalk, I like the idea of giving the business to locals. All in all it costs $40. The donations I am given before these trips goes to very good use!

Our Greeting at San Fernando

Our Greeting at San Fernando

We arrive at the orphanage and what a welcome we received! Sor Darling greeted us as we get out of the truck with a big smile and as we walk in the door, the children are lined in a smiling row. They immediately began singing to us. I am surprised and overwhelmed, we had not received this type of welcome anywhere before. There are 17 children here, ranging from 1 – 17. All the older girls were dressed in matching white t-shirts and jeans, part of their special efforts for our visit. The smaller children similarly dressed in white shirts. All the children were beeming, and singing so enthusiastically, I was smiling back so hard I thought my face would split, and of course, wiping away the tears as per usual with me.

Hello children!

Hello children!

Once done, the children rushed to greet me, surrounding and hugging me. I saw several that I knew from previous visits, especially a lovely young girl named Margarita. I am aware of her very difficult history and was just thrilled to see her here and looking so well. I was hugging indiscriminately every child that came my way, so when I first held her, I didn’t realize it was her. Then I pulled back from her, put my hands on each side of her face and said “Margarita?” and when she said “si”, we both hugged again with even more enthusiasm. I think she was happy to be remembered and my hope was that she felt special as was my intention. Feeling special is not something most of the children encounter often and it is one of the small things I can do when I visit.

The little ones clung to my legs and I was stuck in that spot until they decided to let go. We made our way to the large back room, where the children put on a show. Sor Darling read from a prepared speech, Harvin translating for us. It was a very kind acknowledgement of our visit with many expressions of gratitude. I was humbled and little embarrassed as they focused on me; and I tried to clarify as much as I could that this is a most definitely a group effort, and thanked them for their kind words.

Dancing!

Dancing!

Next all of the children, except for 3 small boys, danced a Nicaraguan style dance, stomping and waving. Then the girls danced to a Justin Beiber song “Sorry”.
3 Little Boys

3 Little Boys

You could tell they had spent a lot of time on the choreography and had practiced as they all stayed in step. Next, 4 of the younger children, 2 boys and 2 girls, came out dressed in full Nicaraguan dress attire. They proceeded to dance in Nicaraguan style with flowing arms, swirling dresses and the boys tipping their hats. At one point, the little boys circled the girls and bowed to them which made us all laugh, it was so cute. I thanked them for their performances, and told them we could see they had been practicing and putting a lot of time into making it so special for us.
4 Little Dancers

4 Little Dancers

Next, they wanted to show me the jewelry that some of the girls had been making. As they proudly spread it out on the table for us to see, they insisted that I take a few pieces. Of course I made a big deal of putting on the necklace, earrings, bracelet and a ring as they were quite clear; I was to take one of each. I wore them for the duration of our visit.

When the initial excitement wound down a bit, we started taking pictures of the children as we had done at El Crucero. I asked each child their name and age. I so enjoyed this part as I could at least say these things in Spanish and talk to each of them. I teased and laughed with them and made sure they knew I was paying attention to each one. Some were very shy and I told one little boy that he didn’t have to worry, I wouldn’t bite him. He looked at me with big eyes and then all the children started laughing and he did too.

There are 7 small boys here. Unusual to have so many boys and all in one place. Since the other boys have been moved out of El Crucero to other locations once they reached a certain age, I wondered if the same would be for these boys. For now, I watched as they stuck close together, played and tumbled like puppies.

With the photos done, we gave out the gifts we had for them. Harvin instructed them to take only 1 each and they did. They seemed quite happy with what we had brought. Next we gave out the dresses that had been donated by Stop Hunger Now. You can see below the dresses were much too large but the girls loved putting them on and posing. We also had bibs that were handmade and donated from Canada. The two youngest boys were not at all happy to pose for their picture with them on but we managed.

I asked the girls to take me on a tour of the facility. All of the children followed in a pack as Margarita guided us through each room. We went from room to room, noticing the improvements, repairs, organization and neatness in each. This appeared to be a well functioning facility. All beds were made, clothes neatly stowed in cabinets that had been built since my last visit.

New Shelving

New Shelving

The chapel was a marvel. Major construction of a block wall with 3 beautiful wooden windows I had seen nowhere else in Nicaragua framed it as a separate interior room. New benches, freshly painted walls and a lovingly tended altar made the room beautiful and I complemented Sor Darling on all of this. I asked how they funded these changes and she said they sold handmade goods – beautiful altar clothes I was to see later – and raised the money themselves.
Sor Darling and me in the Chapel

Sor Darling and me in the Chapel

Most impressive but as always, my own personal dilemma with understanding how so much effort and money can be spent on the chapel when food is still needed in the refrigerator. They had me taste the delicious enchiladas, freshly made and waiting for our lunch later on. It was wonderful and I told Rosa, the young girl whose turn it had been to cook. Each of the older girls take turns weekly in the kitchen. Rosa beemed with delight as I ate exclaiming how tasty it was, all the children watching me as I did.
Great Enchilada

Great Enchilada

Next onto the other dormitories, the children’s play room and down to the clothes drying area. All clothes are hung out on barbed wire clothes lines. I’ve seen this before but as we walked, I was anxiously watching little 2 year old Fernando as he walked precipitously close to the edge of the roof we were standing on. So looking down and not up, I walked directly into the barbed wire line. It caught my hair and not my head. The girls helped untangle me but I was a little chagrined since the children were not having any trouble staying unharmed. Yes, yes I know, I was lucky; a scalp wound from rusted barbed wire would not have been pleasant, especially being in the middle of the rural mountains without medical aid near by.

We completed the tour and I again told Sor Darling I was impressed with the progress made. There was some leaking of the new roof that the Mission had assisted with 2 years ago and Bill took pictures for follow up. But all in all, it was in much better shape than my previous 2 visits. It is so impressive what these women, the Nuns, can do. Later on, I was to ask Sor Darling if she received any help from the town people or the government. She looked at me and quietly said the only help they received was from us.

We met with Sor Darling and talked about the children, as I’m still trying to finalize my child lists for each facility. During this part, we were served a delicious lunch of the tasty enchiladas I had sampled with a simple but delicious cabbage and tomato salad with lemon. We all enthusiastically dug in. Sor Darling told me that these were made specially for our visit. I asked about food supplies in general and she said that they sometimes run out at the end of the month. I was disappointed to hear this, as this implies that supplies are not being sent from El Crucero as regularly as we had been led to believe. There is a follow up here for me and I was even more glad that we had stopped to bring supplies on the way in.

San Fernando Group Shot

San Fernando Group Shot


It had started to rain during our visit as the threatening skies finally let loose. As many of the rooms have at least one open wall, you could hear the rain pounding and feel the damp air coming in. It was cool and refreshing. We still had boxes of donations for the next day’s visit in Juigalpa that had been brought inside but before we could leave, so we had to find a way to keep them dry in the back of the pickup. Mauricio went off to whatever passes as a Home Depot here to find a plastic tarp and I asked if I could read the children a book in the meantime. My thought was they would get a kick out of my Spanish pronunciation while having the chance to sit with them before we left. To my utter dismay, they told me they have no books. Only a few text books. No story books. Not one. I was horrified at this and although my disappointment showed, I kept my stronger feelings out of my voice. This is another example where El Crucero, which has a beautiful well-stocked library, is not sharing. I don’t understand this and this will most definitely be another follow up for me. I have to get these children some books. I must.

So instead of reading, we passed the time chatting. As I sat down at the table, all the girls pulled up chairs to sit near. Sor Darling was there as well. I spoke to the girls again about the importance of education, how the older girls should be thinking about going to University. I stressed learning English as it would open up doors and possibilities for them. And then I said again, what I have said each time I visit. You must be able to take care of yourself, you do not need anyone to take care of you. With hard work and determination anything is possible.

I never know if they hear me, or understand where my passion is coming from. But when I look as we drive through this country with so many young women with small children in hand, I feel so strongly that this has to change. Like so many other parts of the world, women must be given choices, they must know there is more than following in their mother’s footsteps , having children young and being doomed to a life of poverty. Education is the key. They do have a choice. I try so hard to make them believe this. The Nuns do their best I think but many of them did not know they had a choice either. They can’t teach the girls what they don’t know themselves.

I talked about my 3 girls, about my husband and asked if they had any questions they wanted to ask me about life in Estados Unidos (U.S.). The only question one young girl asked was “when was I coming back?”. With a sad smile I said, hopefully next year.

Time to leave, and the children along with Sor Darling and Sor Marlin, the new nun that is there with her, sang for us again. Sor Marlin played the guitar as the children sang. I didn’t understand the words but their sweet faces, holding hands and swaying together made for one of those indelible trip memories I take away from my mission trips each time. This would be one of them. Last, they sang “Auld Lang Sine” in Spanish and I could not stop crying. They each came over to hug me goodbye, first individually, then as a big group. I kissed and hugged each one, wiping away the tears. Geez, this was the really hard part.

I said goodbye to Sor Marlin and Sor Darling, telling her again how much we appreciated everything they had done for us. I promised to stay in touch with her and the girls (she had agreed to let me email with the older girls using the San Fernando email account). She also asked if I could join What’s App – a social media application used to communicate – so we could exchange photos and stay in touch. I just LOVE it when technology bridges the social and cultural barriers.
This picture is what we all saw as we drove away.

Parting Shot

Parting Shot


The ride to Matagalpa, where we spent the night was long. Oh it was long. It was still raining and every slow truck in Nicaragua seemed to be in front of us. We’d pass one, only to have another appear. The 3 hour drive took almost 4 and I kept asking Mauricio if he was ok driving. He said yes and while he and Harvin kept up a steady dialog, I literally passed out. The emotions of the day had just knocked me out. And I’m pretty sure Bill was sleeping too as he was pretty quiet. I know that he too loved being with the children as at every opportunity, when he wasn’t being my wonderful and stalwart photographer, he had a little child in his arms.
Bill giving the soap donation to Sor Darling

Bill giving the soap donation to Sor Darling

We stayed in the same hotel La Buena Onda, but had to move to a different building for our rooms. It was fairly clean but not as nice as the other. We were tired, wet and hungry so we dropped our bags, went to find something to eat and were back quickly. I had trouble falling asleep, as I have every night since I’m here, but eventually ignored the noise and sounds from the city. As the walls were paper thin, the people talking in the inner courtyard were in the room with me, or at least their voices in conversation were, but eventually, I slept.

OHP Trip #8 – Day 2 at El Crucero

Today was an absolutely fantastic day! No wait, Wait, WAIT! TODAY WAS AN ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC DAY!!

As we pulled the truck up the hill to the main entrance, we were greeted by a nun I didn’t recognize. She ushered us through the main building and into the large outdoor courtyard on the other side. It was very quiet and I was a little concerned. Where were the children? On my last visit, there were very few around, much to my disappointment and I had planned this trip at a different time of year specifically to avoid this happening again. But as we walked closer to the dormitories, I spotted Allison. She was sitting by herself on a bench and when she looked up at me, I could see she was trying to figure out who I was. But when I called her name, she immediately ran to me and gave me a big hug. She is so tall! She must have grown 12 inches since I saw her last. We talked about school and the usual little girl subjects with arms around each other. I gave her a little squeeze as she slipped out of my arms and ran to play with her friends. And suddenly, there were children everywhere.

Allison is almost as tall as I am!

Allison is almost as tall as I am!

They reminded me of butterflies, many in fancy Sunday dresses, floating all around me. Many of the little ones were new but happy to come over and see what was going on. There were promises of presents after pictures and they all were very interested in that. And I was given plenty of time, no one rushing me as we met with and photographed each child.

Swarmed!

Swarmed!

They swarmed me as I sat and one at time asked each girl their name and age for the name sheet we ask each of them to hold in their photo. Some were shy, others not. Some of the older girls over-talked the smaller ones in answering for them faster than they could in a typical bossy big sister way. I laughed and told them to wait, let the little ones talk. It has always impressed me how the big girls care for the younger ones and you can see the affection there, they really are their big sisters. Except for one small boy, there were over 20 girls ranging from 2 – 19.
Bill and his little friend Ashline

Bill and his little friend Ashline

It was time for the girls to go to church so they lined up with one of the Nuns and headed off. Now we had time to meet with Madre Griselda and the other nuns to catch up on the children, the facility and life at the orphanages. Again, I was not rushed and able to take my time and ask all the questions that I needed to. Since email communication during the year is less than optimal, discussion in person is sometimes the only way to get to get to the bottom of an issue or question. In particular, sorting out the lists and status of all of the children and which facilities they were at. The nuns move them around for various reasons and we are continuing to work on a reliable process for receiving these updates on a regular basis. Even more important is to be sure that I know of any new children that come in so we can find new sponsors or any that might leave.

Madre was open and helpful as was Sor Carla, the nun who is usually at Casa Cuna. She is a little different in that she has a twinkle in her eye that looks pretty mischievous to me. She has been one of the main sisters providing information on the children to me and working with her and the newer Sor Jessica, was instrumental to improving our processes. Sor Carla teased me about reports that she said she had sent but I hadn’t gotten and we laughed at the vagaries of email. She promised to resend them to me and to print them out so I could pick them up on Tuesday when we saw her at Casa Cuna. I was pleased that Madre has delegated the communication and updates to others who are more comfortable or have more time for the details and technology.

Sor Jessica and Frayeli

Sor Jessica and Frayeli

Next we took a tour of the facility. I was happy to see the 2 dormitories in good shape with some improvements to the toilets and sinks. Still not great by U.S. standards, but definitely better. There are 2 dormitories, one for the little ones up to 10, the other for the older girls. However, 2 of the older girls stay with the younger ones at night. Again, that shared responsibility that is implicit.

Computer work stations

Computer work stations


The computer room was painted bright purple and gold and there were at least 10 workstations set up. I asked about internet service, I had been asking every time I visited for years. But while the girls are receiving training on basic computer skills, there is no internet and it was not due a financial issue. Instead, Madre said that the internet reception is just too poor. It doesn’t appear there is a resolution to this. However, I had asked Madre if she would be ok with us communicating with the older children via email through her and she agreed. So when I return, I’ll advise sponsors of the older children so we can begin trying to set up a communication process. Again, something I’ve wanted to get started for a long while. How great would it be if the girls could talk with their sponsors and vice versa?

Mileydis and Wendy in traditional Nicaraguan dress

Mileydis and Wendy in traditional Nicaraguan dress

Next we were told that the girls wanted to put on a show for us and we were shown to the meeting room. Two of the older girls, Mileydis and Wendy, both girls that I had known for years, came in wearing long, colorful traditional dress and performed a dance with a lot of swishing and turning. They seemed very intent as they remembered the steps they are being taught in their dance lessons.

Animals Masks On

Animals Masks On

Then the little ones came in, including my Allison, and sang us a song with a lot of animal sounds and shouting and moving back and forth. There were giggles and smiles and of course I sat there with tears running down my face while I laughed and clapped. Another group came with very impressive home made animal masks and while I had no idea what they were saying, they said it very enthusiastically.
Animal Masks Off

Animal Masks Off

It was time to go so I asked that we all take a picture on the steps of the chapel. Everyone piled on over and I was thrilled with the results below.

Group shot - All the kids and all the nuns and us on the chapel steps at El Crucero

All the kids and all the nuns and Bill, Mauricio and me on the chapel steps at El Crucero

We were starving and I was mentally fried, so we stopped at Tip Top to recharge. After lunch, back to NiCasa to unwind and process. I could still feel the children all around me hours later.

OHP Trip #8 – Day Two

May 15, 2016

It’s early here yet, I was up at 5:30am Nica time. 7:30am New York time. I woke up abruptly with a bad dream about my mother. She is not well and I almost didn’t come. She’s on my mind a lot. This was one of those dreams where you feel like you’ve been shot out of a canon and emerge on the other side to eyes wide open and blinding sunlight.

Sayda reading her letter from Madrina Gail.

Sayda reading her letter from Madrina Gail.

Sayda and her new stethescope

Sayda and her new stethescope


I met Sayda yesterday after I arrived. My translator Harvin, the son of Chico the all around handy man for the Mission, had been my translator before and they knew each other so it made for easy conversation. Sayda is in her 1st semester of her 3rd year of medical school. She says it’s hard but she loves to study and gets very excited when she talks about her classes. She was also very happy to receive the gifts I brought from her sponsor Gail Griffin. She opened each package and bag with care, smiling all the time. I had asked if she wanted me to bring her anything from the US so when she opened the stethoscope and blood pressure cuffs I had for her, she was stunned. She kept saying she was so happy and so surprised. The best selling stethoscope on Amazon Smile was only $17 but Sayda’s smile was worth a million bucks.

Dinner at 6:00 at my friend Johanna Pedroni’s restaurant. La Piazetta one of, if not the nicest restaurant in Managua. Great care is taken with décor, amenities, the staff is excellent and the Italian food is quite good. But even more enjoyable than the air conditioning, glass of wine and nice atmosphere was the conversation. Johanna and her husband Guillermo started a foundation – Juan Pablo II – that the Mission of Hope has been working with and helping for years. A few years ago, an old hotel building was donated to the foundation and they have turned it into a clinic in downtown, poverty stricken Managua. It is also a training center for poor women.

My friend Johanna and me at La Piazetta

My friend Johanna and me at La Piazetta


Johanna told me that the clinic is doing well with more and more people taking advantage of the medical assistance however, the training center is another story. She explained that many of the women don’t always take advantage of the skill sets they acquire and go on to find employment. Even though they now have a skill that can earn money for them and their families, there are often many obstacles, imagined or otherwise that get in the way. I could see her frustration in what she called the “lack of initiative” and we discussed at length how this is and has affected the entire Nicaraguan culture. She also explained that this attitude has become pervasive since the Civil war in the 1980’s but was not the case prior to that. In typical Johanna fashion however, she said she would keep trying and not give up on these women. “If only 2 out of 20 go on to have jobs and care for their families, that is two more families that have a better chance in life”. I admire her very much.

We both agreed we are kindred spirits. It was sad to say goodbye. Not only to Johanna but to nice food – it’s Tip Top fast food chicken and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from now on.

I’m sitting outside on the balcony area right outside of my room typing this. The breeze is cool and it’s quite comfortable although I’m sure the heat is yet to come for the day. There is a medical Team here from Canada – C Team – of about 15 people made up of students and teachers. They’ve been doing their laundry at the wash sink below me and have hung up their shorts and t-shirts on the clothes line strung from the balcony. They are all flapping in the breeze and I’m sure they’ll be dry in no time. It’s all part of the mojo here. Slower, simpler, easier. It sinks into your body uninvited but is oh so welcome…

Today we are off to El Crucero so I need to go and sort out the gifts I will bring for the children. I can’t bring it all or there will be nothing left for the other facilities. Luckily, we also have numerous donations of dresses, soap, toys and I’m not sure what else that was brought down on a recent container via the Mission of Hope. Whatever we bring, the children will appreciate and I can imagine their smiles and giggles. I’ll catch up later when we return.

OHP Trip #8, Day 1

May 14, 2016

I arrived safe and sound and immediately felt like I was in my second home. Funny about this place, it’s like that. The back room where I stay was the same so I unpacked, got set up and then sat on the rocker outside my door and watched all the birds. Lots of noisy, colorful birds here – it’s like being in an aviary.

Great afternoon spent with Sayda, my OHP U student and Harvin our translator. Then to a nice dinner at the wonderful restaurant of my friend Johanna Pedroni, La Piazzetta in downtown Managua.

I’m so exhausted, I think I could sleep standing on top of a flag pole. So that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll write more tomorrow, off to El Crucero orphanage in the morning and to see my Allison.

OHP Mission Trip #8, Before I Go

May 11, 2016

I haven’t left yet but the packing and planning have been going on for a while. Thank you to all the sponsors who sent gifts for your sponsored children. I love that my suitcases are full when I go down but almost empty when I return.

My agenda is set for the 5 days I will be there, from this Saturday May 14 through next Wednesday, May 18. We will visit all 4 of the orphanages, the facilities that many of you have heard about before. These are the places where the children are and that’s where I want to be. Two of the orphanages are centrally located near the Mission of Hope’s compound NiCasa and near Managua, however, the other 2 are located hours and hours away so we spend alot of time in the car.

I don’t get to drive – probably a good thing with my sense of direction – so I spend alot of time looking out the window. And although the 6 hour trip one way up to the furthest orphanage in San Fernando is long, this will be my third trip there and I still look forward to watching this very different and very beautiful country of Nicaragua roll by my window. Lastly we’ll visit the final orphanage in Juigalpa with an overnight stop in Matagalpa to reduce some of the driving time. It’s an adventure all right. And I love adventures, just ask my family.

OHP Mission Trip #8 May 2016

Although I’m traveling by myself, I am very happy that my dear friend Bill Murray, the current president of the Mission of Hope and a really great guy will accompany me once I’m there. Bill Murray Blog photo 5-16It’s people like Bill that provide the light and the example of just how many good people are part of this mission. I am honored to be part of it.

I’ll be blogging while I’m there of course and I would be pleased if you feel you want to follow my trip. Stay tuned.

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 eyes, 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.

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