Archive for February, 2011


Back Home – February 21, 2011

I’m back home after an uneventful day of traveling all day Sunday. I am having a bit of the culture-reintegration shock that happens each time I return from Nicaragua. There is laundry to be done, work pending and family and friends that need contacting. I’ve put off doing most of it.

As I turned on the water to wash something in the kitchen sink, adjusting the water to a warm temperature that was not too hot or too cold, I couldn’t help but think about the young girls that have only cold water in buckets from the well to use. Turning on the lights so I could see after dark was another option that they don’t have.

These types of disparities haunt me for weeks after I return. While I am extremely grateful for all that I am blessed with, guilt over having so much and the children I have come to care about that have so little hangs over me like a cloud.

I have much work to do to reconcile all of the data changes for the children and it will take me a while to complete it all as I have other obligations that need attention. But it is this type of work, making sure that the OHP sponsors are kept informed, and in turn, the coordination of the Orphan’s Hope Project in general that gives me purpose and allows me to feel as if I have made a small difference in their lives. It is my fervent wish that this difference will become larger and the help they receive greater as we continue to try to help them.

OHP Mission 3- February 18, 2011

Friday, Feb 18

I woke early the next morning to the sounds of the girls getting ready for school. I hadn’t slept well but knew this was not going to be a “vacation” anyway so it was not an issue.

Sayda Chevarria wants to be a nun

Sayda, the young girl that is planning to be a nun, led the other girls in their morning prayers which they sang out loud. Their young teenage voices were soft and sweet and surprisingly reverent.

Now that the sun was up, I could see more clearly what the facility looked like. Everything was old and in terrible disrepair. Although the girls swept and mopped, the years of accumulated dirt had built up in the corners and I tried not to look. There were no sinks with running water, the 2 toilets had broken pieces and the floor was covered in water that slopped out of the buckets. I cleaned up Allison and myself with water from these buckets as there wasn’t another alternative.

Allison had opened up the yogurt we had bought when I wasn’t with her and managed to get it into her hair. As I tried to comb her hair out, she didn’t flinch or complain as I tried as gently as possible to pull out the tangles and knots. She contentedly played with my little flashlight – which became her favorite toy for the next few days. As she didn’t have a toothbrush, I let her use mine which she was thrilled about.

Breakfast with Sr. M&M

The girls ate breakfast of cereal inside their dorm at a long table that they use for all purposes: eating, dinner, homework, gathering. Allison had a bowl of cereal with them and then the four of us walked over for breakfast to the room where we had eaten the night before. Breakfast was rice and beans. I managed to ask for “agua calliente” for the tea I had brought with me. I had to ask for milk, as they had hidden much of the food we brought the day before. I asked for an orange for Allison, as I wasn’t sure when they made these available to the other children but wanted her to have some since we had brought it for that purpose. I believe that they put the food in different locations to keep the thieves from wiping them out should they break in. Allison wasn’t interested in the orange for some reason but did eat a full helping of rice and beans and finished it all. I watched her as she purposefully and carefully slid the last piece of rice on her dish onto her fork. She has a very good appetite.

Afterwards, Sr. M&M gave Allison a shower and washed her hair. I was amazed at how Allison stood still while cold water was poured over head to rinse off soap and shampoo; she didn’t complain at all. Nor did she complain when Sr. M;M combed her hair to get knots out. Not a peep out of her. She continually amazes me with her adaptability.

We then met with Sr. M&M to discuss all of the children as this was also a big part of why I was there. We listened for 3 hours to stories that ranged from happy (one child was adopted, another had found her mother and gone to live with her) to sad (a young baby had been placed back with his mother and the Nuns were working with her to accept and care for her child) to heart breaking. M&M told us of a 10 year old girl who was no longer at the orphanage. This young girl had been sexually abused by her father and a neighbor and told one of the nuns that her mother said she would beat and kill her if she talked about what happened.

A court case is pending but in the meantime, this little girl is in terrible danger. The nuns are going to try to find her, as they think she may be living on the streets. The legal system and the child welfare system that had returned her to this environment despite the pending court case, have clearly failed her. I cried as I told M&M that we would continue to follow up with her in the desperate hope that they would find this young girl.

After this grueling meeting, we went for lunch, more rice and beans. They were beginning to look less appetizing each time I saw them and I longed for a green salad. I still hadn’t seen much of the food that we had brought up with us.

Haydelina, Allison and me

Sr. M&M had contacted Allison’s mother to ask if she could come up to El Crucero with me, her madrina. Her mother approved and then I was told that she would take the bus from Managua up to meet me. When she arrived, Allison was very excited and happy to see her. Her mother’s name is Haydelina and as she and I talked, I told her that I thought Allison was a very special little girl, and very intelligent. She smiled graciously and thanked me.

As I had been concerned that the mother might not want Allison to come up to El Crucero when it was time for school because it is far from where she lives in Managua, I was surprised and pleased when she said she would be very happy for Allison to come to school and graduate from here. I told her that once she did that, I would make sure that Allison went on to University. I promised her that I would do this, knowing full well that Vince would be fine with my making this decision. University in Nicaragua is for four years at a cost of about $300 per year. Something we could afford and the money would be well spent in helping Allison to meet her full potential.

I asked her mother about Allison’s health and she told me Allison needed foot surgery to remove and extra toe on her left foot along with correction to other small bones in her foot. Also, she is flat footed and will need orthopedic shoes. She has had kidney problems since birth and is only well enough now for surgery. Haydelina said she did not have enough money for transportation to the doctor so I gave her $20. It is important to note that she did not ask me nor did I feel she was manipulating me any way. She promised to keep me informed of Allison’s medical condition and was going to set up an email address so we could communicate. Allison was very upset when her Mom left, and I had the unenviable task of having to bear hug her as she had a full-on temper tantrum, throwing her little body against the door and screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. She settled down afterwards but it was difficult to watch. I don’t know how often she sees her mother but she is obviously very attached to her.

Although Allison has settled in, she is still overwhelmed by the largeness of El Crucero compared with what she has known. She whimpers at times but then gets distracted. I still think it was a good decision to give her the opportunity to see this and I am happy for it.

Next on our agenda was to take new pictures of all the children which they really enjoyed it. The each took turns jumping into the chair and holding up their names signs all watching each other and encouraging them to smile.

Kevin Ardon - Sr. M&M's nephew


We all went to mass in their beautiful little church, completely intact and well kept. I wondered where did the money come for the upkeep of this building given the state of the rest of the facility. Mass was nice, even though I couldn’t understand the priest speaking in Spanish. Not being able to follow what he was saying gave me the opportunity to look around and observe all of the children. I was amazed at the behavior of them all, even the very little ones. Joseph who is 2 and had been battling a fever since we arrived, sat quietly with his head nodding and eyes closing as he tried to stay awake without complaint or direction.

Allison knew when to stand, when to sit, make the sign of the cross and hold out her hands, palms up in benediction. I was stunned! She is going to be 5 in April and has the presence and understanding of a child much older. A 4 year old in the U.S. would never have behaved this way. After mass, she ran up to priest, shook his hand and then hugged all of the nuns.

Dinner was rice and beans plus eggs. Now, I am heartily sick of rice and beans! After dinner, I met with Sr. M&M to review the Orphan’s Hope Project Understanding document, another big agenda point for my trip. This document outlines a shared understanding of responsibility on both sides; for us in the MoH/OHP and for the nuns at El Crucero. While not a legal document in anyway, it does make clear what we expect from them in terms of communication, receipts and efforts on the part of the children in return for our monthly and special project funding. Unfortunately, Helena had left and without a translator the meeting was painful. While we stumbled along using hand signs and my Spanish dictionary, I was sure I conveyed only a portion of what I wanted her to understand. But as she would not attend tomorrow morning’s meeting due to school, I wanted to at least try to get some of the information across to her since she is my main contact person at the orphanage. At the end, I think she “got “ most of it albeit without the details.

The girls had wanted to give us a special performance and in a large room next door, that shockingly had lights on, we went over to see their “perform”. Most of the children were up on a small stage dancing to current Nicaraguan music. Although some of the moves were a bit suggestive – think swiveling hips and rocking chests – they were having a wonderful time letting off steam and acting like the teenagers that they are. I had to remind myself that this is a cultural way of expressing themselves and my American sensibilities did not apply here. The little children were eager to dance along, even the boys jumping and spinning in the air.

Barbies were a big hit!

They asked Mariel and I to come up to dance with them for a bit which we did. Sr. M&M took pictures of both of us (which will never appear in public or on Facebook) and the kids appreciated that we joined them. I left the stage to sit with poor Allison who was terrified by the loud music and yelling. I’d had enough of the pounding music by then also so we sat on the side and waited for them to be done. Afterwards, I gave out presents to all. Everyone got something and it went well. We took pictures of the giving of the presents from the sponsors and then asked the other children to come up and choose something from the table. M&M let them select what they wanted. The donated Barbies that I had brought were a big hit.

Thank you for the presents!


Dinner was at 8:30pm. Rice and Beans but this time with scrambled eggs that we had brought. I was pleased to see a change in the cuisine but hoped that the children would also see some of these eggs. It was very late when we ate and Mariel and I were dismayed at the lack of coordination. The children were running all over the place, and their dinner was haphazard. The children never seem to eat all together. I am very anxious but hopeful that Madre Griselda will put structure in place that is coordinated and scheduled. This oversight, not only for meals, but play time is very badly needed.

To bed tonight and sleep is illusive. This has been a truly a great and terrible trip, in equal measure. I am still processing what I have seen. We leave El Crucero tomorrow for the “real” world of Managua and the MoH compound. I don’t think I will be able to talk about much of this yet as it is still tightly woven in my mind and I’m afraid all that would come out is tears.

OHP Mission 3- February 18, 2011

Friday, Feb 18

I woke early the next morning to the sounds of the girls getting ready for school. I hadn’t slept well but knew this was not going to be a “vacation” so it was not an issue. Sayda, the young girl that is planning to be a nun, led the other girls in their prayers which they sang out loud. Their young voices were soft and sweet and surprisingly reverent.

Now that the sun was up, I could see more clearly what the facility looked like. Everything was old and in terrible disrepair. Although the girls swept and mopped, the years of accumulated dirt had built up in the corners and I tried not to look. There were no sinks with running water, the 2 toilets had broken pieces and the floor was covered in water that slopped out of the buckets. I cleaned up with water from these buckets and Allison as well for the day.

Allison had opened up the yogurt we had brought when I wasn’t there and managed to get it into her hair. As I tried to comb her hair out, she didn’t flinch or complain as I tried as gently as possible to pull out the tangles and knots. She contentedly played with my little flashlight – which became her favorite toy for the next few days. As she didn’t have a toothbrush, I let her use mine which she was thrilled about.

The girls ate breakfast of cereal inside their dorm at a long table that they use for all purposes: eating, dinner, homework, gathering. Allison had a bowl of cereal with them and the then four of us walked over for breakfast to the room where we had eaten the night before. Breakfast was rice and beans. I managed to ask for “agua calliente” for the tea I had brought with me. I had to ask for milk, as they had hidden much of the food we brought the day before. I asked for an orange for Allison, as I wasn’t sure when they made these available to the other children but wanted her to have some since we had brought it for that purpose. I believe that they put the food in different locations to keep the thieves from wiping them out should they break in. Allison wasn’t interested in the orange for some reason but did eat a full helping of rice and beans and finished every piece of rice. She has a very good appetite.

Afterwards, Sr. M&M gave Allison a shower and washed her hair. I was amazed at how Allison stood still while cold water was poured over head to rinse off soap and shampoo; she didn’t complain at all. Nor did she complain when Sr. M&M combed her hair to get knots out. Not a peep out of her. She continually amazes me with her adaptability.

We then met with Sr. M&M to discuss all of the children as this was also a big part of why I was there. We listened for 3 hours to stories that ranged from happy (one child was adopted, another had found her mother and gone to live with her) to sad (a young baby had been placed back with his mother and the Nuns were working with her to accept and care for her child) to heart breaking. M&M told us of a 10 year old girl who was no longer at the orphanage. This young girl had been sexually abused by her father and a neighbor and had said that her mother said she would beat and kill her if she talked about what happened. A court case is pending but in the meantime, this little girl is in terrible danger. The nuns are going to try to find her as the legal system and the child welfare system that had returned her to this environment despite the pending court case, had clearly failed her. I cried as I told M&M that we would continue to follow up with her in the desperate hope that they would find her.

After this grueling meeting, we went for lunch, more rice and beans. They were beginning to look less appetizing each time I saw them and I longed for a green salad. I still hadn’t seen much of the food that we had brought up with us.

Sr. M&M had contacted Allison’s mother to ask if she could come up to El Crucero with me, her madrina . Her mother approved and then I was told that she would take the bus from Managua up to meet me. When she arrived, Allison was very excited and happy to see her. Her mother’s name was Hadylise and she and I talked, I told her that I thought Allison was a very special little girl, and very intelligent. She smiled graciously and thanked me. As I had been concerned that the mother might not want Allison to come up to El Crucero when it was time for school because it is far from where she lives in Managua, I was surprised and pleased when she said she would be very happy for Allison to come to school and graduate from here. I told her that once she did that, I would make sure that Allison went on to University. I promised her that I would do this, knowing full well that Vince would be alright with my making this decision. University lasts for four years at a cost of about $300 per year. Something we could afford and the money would be well spent in helping Allison to meet her full potential. ” I asked her mother about Allison’s health and she told me Allison needs foot surgery to remove and extra toe on her left foot along correction to bones in her foot. Also, she is flat footed and will need orthopedic shoes. She has had kidney problems since birth and is only well enough now for surgery. Haydelina said she did not have enough money for transportation to doctor so I gave her $20. It is impotant to note that she did not ask me nor did I feel she was manipulating me any way. She promised to keep me informed of Allison’s medical condition and was going to set up an email address so we could communicate. Allison was very upset when herMom left, and I had the unenviable task of having to bear hug her as she had a full-on temper tantrum but settled down afterwards.

Although Allison has settled in, she is still overwhelmed by the largeness of El Crucero compared with what she has known. She whimpers at times but then gets distracted. I still think it was a good decision to give her the opportunity to see this and I am happy for it.
Next on our agenda was to take new pictures of all the children which they really enjoyed it. The each took turns jumping into the chair and holding up their names signs all watching each other and encouraging them to smile.

Afterwards we all went to mass in their beautiful little church, completely intact and well kept. I wondered where did the money come for the upkeep of this building given the state of the rest of the facility.

Mass was surprisingly nice, even though I couldn’t understand the priest speaking in Spanish. Not being able to follow what he was saying gave me the opportunity to look around and observe all of the children. I was amazed at the behavior of all of children, even the very little ones. Joseph who is 2 and had been battling a fever since we arrived, sat quietly, with his head nodding and eyes closing as tried to stay awake without complaint or direction. Allison knew when to stand, when to sit, make the sign of the cross and hold out her hands, palms up in benediction. I was stunned, she is going to be 5 in April and has the presence and understanding of a child much older. A 4 year old in the U.S. would never have behaved this way. After mass, she ran up to priest, shook his hand and then hugged all of the nuns.

Dinner was rice and beans plus eggs. Now, I am heartily sick of rice and beans! After dinner, I met with Sr. M&M to review OHP document, another big agenda point for my trip. This document outlines a shared understanding of responsibility on both sides; MOH/OHPO and the nuns at El Crucero. While not a legal document in anyway, it does make clear what we expect from them in terms of communication, receipts and efforts on the part of the children in return for our monthly and special project funding. Unfortunately, Helena had left and without a translator the meeting was painful. While we stumbled along using hand signs and my Spanish dictionary, I was sure I conveyed only a portion of what I wanted her to understand. But as she would not attend tomorrow morning’s meeting due to school, I wanted to at least try to get some of the information across to her. At the end, I think she “got “ most of it albeit without the details.

The girls had wanted to give us a special performance and in a large room next door, that shockingly had lights, we went “perform”. Most of the children were up on a small stage dancing to current Nicaraguan music. Although some of the moves were a bit suggestive – think swiveling hips and rocking chests – they were having a wonderful time letting off steam and acting like the teenagers that they are. I had to remind myself that this was a cultural way of expressing themselves and my American mentality did not apply here. The little children were eager to dance along, even the boys jumping and spinning in the air.

They asked Mariel and I to come up to dance with them for a bit which we did. Sr. M&M took pictures which will never appear in public or on Facebook but the kids appreciated that we joined them. I left the stage to sit with poor Allison who was terrified by the loud noise. I’d had enough of the pounding loud music by then also so we sat on the side and waited for them to be done. Afterwards, I gave out presents to all. Everyone got something and it went well. We took pictures of the giving the presents from the sponsors and then asked the other children to come up and choose something from the table. M&M let them select what they wanted. The donated Barbies that I had brought were a big hit.

Dinner was at 8:30pm. Rice and Beans but this time with scrambled eggs that we had brought. I was pleased to see a change in the cuisine but hoped that the children would see some of these eggs as well. It was very late when we ate and Mariel and I were dismayed at the lack of coordination. The children all over the place, and their dinner was haphazard. The children never eat all together and I am very anxious but hopeful that Madre Griselda will put structure in place that is more coordinated and scheduled. This oversight, not only for meals, but play time is very badly needed.

To bed tonight and sleep is illusive. This has been a truly a great and terrible trip, in equal measure. I am still processing what I have seen. We leave El Crucero tomorrow for the “real” world of Managua and the MoH compound. I don’t think I will be able to talk about much of this yet as it is still tightly woven in my mind and I’m afraid all that would come out is tears.

OHP Mission 3- February 17, 2011

Thursday– Feb 17

I was up early again to catch the bus with Helena to Managua, about a 15 minute ride. As we waited by the side of the dusty road, a few chickens and a very large rooster walked by. I wondered if it was the same bird that kept crowing at 3 am. Apparently, they don’t only crow at dawn.

The bus arrived, an old school bus converted for public transportation. It cost 3 cordoba, about 1.5 cents to ride and they are usually extremely crowded with people literally hanging out the door. Luckily, this bus was not that full and we were able to get seats. It became crowded afterwards though and we were in very close quarters until we reached Managua. I was very happy to have Helena with me and especially when we had to get off as I would never have found the stop.

We walked a bit to our where we were meeting up with Mariel and Sr. M&M. Once meeting Mariel, we waited for almost an hour for Sr. M&M. She is always late, it must be the Nicaragua time thing. While we waited, Helena told me that we happened to be right next to an orphanage that had a reputation for being very well run. Of course I wanted to see this so we went over and asked if we could meet with the director, who kindly obliged us. The orphanage was very nice, the grounds well kept. No children were about though as it was school time. The younger non-school age children were not around either. The director told us that they had children ages birth to 7 and that at seven, they tried to have them adopted.

She also said that they received funds from the government. This obviously accounted for the condition of the facility. Inside was neat and clean and while not lavish by any standards, they had offices with computers set up for running the facility. The grounds inside the compound were well manicured, with the hard backed dirt swept and raked of the falling leaves that left neat areas for walking and play. We thanked her for her time and went back to our meeting place.

As I am typing this, a car is driving by with a loud speaker blasting someone talking in Spanish. They do this a lot here, either to promote something for sale or the government. I don’t know what they are saying but they definitely want you to hear it as it is very loud and unavoidable.

Sr. M&M and her driver were waiting for us and I was happy to see Sayda, a young girl from El Crucero. Sayda had been having a lot of problems with her eyes and we had asked her sponsor for additional funding for glasses. She was wearing them now and also a beautiful smile. Mariel had told me that Sayda is studying to be a nun. She is very obedient and eager to serve others; the hallmark of the nuns I have met here. Sayda was going to Juan Pablo to help with the younger children. We dropped her off there, and I got a quick hug from Allison. It was also confirmed that we would be able to bring Allison with us to El Crucero for the next few days and I was happy to hear this.

But first we had some shopping to do. We drove to the Oriental market which has a reputation for being dangerous and rough, especially in the inner parts of the market. This is one of the largest markets in Nicaragua and sells everything; from jeans to electronics to guava fruit. The streets were packed with people and cars jostling for parking spaces. We followed Sr. M&M and wound our way through the stalls and booths, stopping at some to check pricing. We ended up at a booth that M&M approved of and spent the next 2 hours buying uniforms. Poor Mariel was beginning to come down with a cold and didn’t feel well. It was difficult for all of us to sit and wait in the heat and close quarters but worse for her as we waited. I felt a little badly that both she and Helena had to sit through this process but this is one of the things that I had come to do and there was no other option but to stick it out. After purchasing the uniforms, we moved on to shoes where we spent another 2 hours. Sr. M&M had the foot outlines drawn on paper for each of the children at El Crucero and Juan Pablo. She would pick a style and match the sizing up to the page. In both instances, I am sure the vendors were happy to have our business as we were buying in such quantity.

In all, we were at the Oriental Market for 5 hours. We bought 30 skirts, 40 shirts, 10 pants, underwear, socks, and 30 pairs of shoes. All of it cost less than $1000. As I took the cordoba out of my wallet, I told M&M that this money had come from the children’s sponsors and friends in the United States. She said she understood and thanked me for being the “bridge” for making this happen. I felt humbled, knowing that this money that came from the generous people back home would make such a big impact on the children.

At this point, it was 2:30 and we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. We were all hungry and drained so we left to eat at Tip Top, a fast food chicken place that I had eaten at before. Although Sr. M&M also wanted to buy baby clothes and other supplies at the market, we agreed that I would give her money for this purpose as none of us could face going back to the market. By now it was 4pm (they eat very slowly in Nicagaua, Mariel and I were down way before the others) and we still had a lot to do.

We left to pick up Allison and Rosita, another little girl that would be returning to El Crucero, both of them are 4. Allison was sleeping when we arrived but up and excited to go, they even packed a little bag for her. Our first stop was the food store. I wanted to bring up fruits and vegetables. I also knew that Allison had never been to a supermarket before and wanted her to have the experience. As we rode in the car to the store, I also realized this was the first time that she had ever ridden in a car. The magnitude of this floored me. To be able to give her this opportunity, that for us is a common, every day occurence, made me feel both happy and sad.
At the food store, she and Rosita were very excited to ride in the shopping cars with the little cars on the front end. They whooped and laughed while “driving” the cars for us. It was such a pleasure to see her enjoying this. You would have thought we brought her to an amusement park. Sayda was also with us, and I asked if she would like something. She immediately smiled a huge grin and asked for an apple. I asked her to get one for each of the little girls too as apples are a rare treat in Nicaragua. They are not locally grown and because they are imported, much too expensive to buy. They cost about 5 cents each; very small change for us.

It was now full dark as we drove back to NiCasa, the Mission of Hope compound, to pick up my things and the gifts and other items that I had with me for the children. The beat up old van now held 6 adults, 2 children, all of our shopping, our personal bags and one HUGE suitcase.

Our drive to El Crucero was about 45 minutes up a mountain road. As we left the lights of the city, Allison, who had been excited and bubbly now turned quiet and started to whimper. She said she was afraid and wanted to go back to Casa Cuna (the other name for Juan Pablo). As I held her and tried to sooth her, I realized that she had probably never been out of the city before and that the unremitting darkness was something very alien to her. There were no city lights or noises to steer by and she felt lost and afraid. We did our best to assure her that she was safe. The sky was truly amazing without any lights polluting the night. It was a blue/black color with pin hole bright white stars.

We arrived at El Crucero around 7pm. As we brought in all of our bags, the children surrounded us. The children are always very affectionate, hugging and tugging at me and trying to get close. I was surrounded by many of them and worked hard at remembering many of their names.

After greeting the Sisters, and the children had gone back to their rooms, taking Allison with them, we were served dinner. We hadn’t expected this but it gave us a good opportunity to talk to Madre Griselda, the new mother superior. Meeting and talking with her was a big part of my mission on this trip and I was pleased to do so. I liked her right away. She had a wonderful smile that crinkled her eyes when she spoke and her face was very expressive when she talked or listened. This is not always the case with the Nicaragua people and it sometimes hard to gauge what reaction they are having to what we say and do. But with Madre, I was comfortable from the start that she understood us and our intentions. I was very glad that we had Helena with us to translate though or our conversation would have been drastically different.

Dinner was rice and beans and served to us in the Nun’s dining room. The single bulb in the ceiling didn’t illuminate the corners of the room and it felt other-wordly. They served us on their mis-matched dishes and cups with graciousness.

After dinner, we spoke with Madre Griselda at length. She told us that at night, the Nuns patrol the property to watch for thieves. They wear men’s clothes and hats so the thieves will not know they are Nuns. Their security system consists of a .38, a shotgun and also a very mean dog that can be let out only when the children are not around. They do have a single security guard at the gate, but that is not enough to patrol the entire facility. And when that Security Guard is not on duty, four nuns stay awake at one time to keep watch. As I listened to this, becoming more and more incredulous as she spoke, Madre Griselda started to smile at the look on our faces. She laughed and said that I could take a “turn” patrolling during our stay if I wanted to. This woman had a sense of humor!

Their major concern is the electricity. The transformer is old and blasts power surges through the line that have blown out light bulbs, 3 computers and a refrigerator. The cost needed to replace it is $15,000. Because it is on their property, the utility company will not pay for a new one however, Madre felt that if they could raise half, $7500, the electric company might be persuaded to waive the remaining cost. She then told us some of her plans for El Crucero. She has ideas about making products for sale and has approached large businesses such as Parmelat (a large milk/dairy company in the country) to ask for aid. She said that she wanted help themselves and not live on hand outs. This was the first time I had heard the Nuns speak of their own plans to make positive change in their lives and those of the children. I was very impressed and told her so. I knew then that we would be able to work with this woman to help them improve their quality of life and it wouldn’t only be a one-sided effort. I really liked her.

Mariel had left the conversation early as she really didn’t feel well. Helena, Allison and I now made our way over to the older girls dorm where were staying. There is little to no electric as many of the lights don’t work. Inside the dorm, we made our way around using the small flashlight I was glad to have brought. The older girls seemed excited to have the three of us adults staying with them. There 10 bunk beds all moved to one side of the room to avoid being placed under the broken ceiling where the rock had come through and punched a hole in the roof. Allison was already settled into my bunk and asleep so I attempted a perfunctory wash of my hands and face using a bucket and brushed my teeth over the toilet bowl. To use the toilet, you “flushed” by pouring another bucket of water down to force the toilet to empty.

The bed did not have a mattress, just a blanket over a wooden platform. As I tried to find a comfortable position, and settled in next to Allison, I heard the wind howling around the corners and into the open crevices of the room. The room was cold but they had given us enough blankets to be comfortable under them. I thought it was a good thing that it was dark and I couldn’t see well into the room. I wasn’t sure what the next day would bring but I couldn’t help but feel as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole into Alice’s in Wonderland’s world.

I will post the pictures to go with this story when I return to the US.

February 16, Wednesday
Mariel, Helena (the translator) and I took a cab to Juan Pablo today. First, I asked the driver to stop at the food store so we could pick up some food to bring with us. We purchased fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and cookies. The bill was $50, about 1000 cordoba. The conversion rate is 22 cordoba to 1 dollar so needless to say, I only had a portion of the cash that I brought down converted. I’m not comfortable with taking that much cash with me.

We arrived at Juan Pablo and after unloading all of the food and presents, I immediately looked for my Allison. I called her name and she immediately ran over to me and gave me a big hug. I asked if she remembered me and she said she did. She also showed me her teeth. If you remember, about 6 months ago after my June 2010 trip, I was very concerned about the black buildup along the gum line on her teeth. I kept following up and she was taken to see a adntist, where she received a much needed cleaning. Apparently she has been brushing her teeth because they looked fine to me. She also must have remembered that I was asking and made the connection because she grinned at me like a cheshire cat. I was very pleased, both that she remembered AND that she was brushing and taking care of her teeth.

The head nun, Sister Andrea was not there – even though we had made an appointment, but this is typical Nicarauga style – so instead we spoke with Sister Carmelita who was about 4 foot tall, hence the “ita” at the end of her name. I was told there are 41 children there, 5 orphans and the rest are daycare. The typical running and screaming chaos that I had found on previous visit to Juan Pablo reined but we were able to speak with the children as they were all interested in what we brought with us.

We sat down to talk to the Nuns about the orphan children to find out if there were any changes. Three of the children are no longer at the orphanage: Angel, the little red headed boy, Luz, his mother who stayed at the orphanage with him and baby Francisco. Apparently Angel and Luz went to live with Luz’s father, I can only hope they are in a better place and safe.

We talked to each of the other children including little Rosita who was originally at el Crucero. Rosita, like Allison and another little girl Orquedia Guadalupe, are all 5 and ready for preschool. We encouraged the nuns to send them to El Crucero so they could go to preschool as they are all old enough and really need a more suitable, age appropriate environment with older children. I will continue to press this issue when I go to El Crucero.

After the picture taking, we gave out presents which the children were happy to receive. A few of the children received presents from their sponsors, but I felt badly that we didn’t have something special for everyone. We did get out other gifts but it wasn’t the same. The children didn’t seem to be upset though and I told each one of them to be sure to “share” with their friends. I noticed that one of the Nuns pulled some of the sponsor gifts to the side as I think they ultimately share them with all the children anyway which is the right thing to do.

Afterwards, I was able to spend more time with Allison than I have in the past. She sat happily on my knee while I read to her, at times reading along with the words in the book. She really is very bright. She has adapted herself to the environment well however, this is one of the reasons I want her to go up to El Crucero. She needs to socialize with children her own age because at Juan Pablo, she is obviously the little queen. But she really is a charming and sweet little girl, friendly and smiling always. She followed me around while I was there and I frequently found her in my arms.

The children were fed lunch which consisted of a bowl of rice with a piece of a plantain. They sat at a low table and as children do, some fed themselves neatly, others stuffing food into their mouths with their fingers. Allison finished hers neatly and in short order and was done before the rest. She hopped up and asked me for a glass of water and I found myself reminding her to say “ Quiero agua por favor”, making sure she added the “por favor” or “please”. Some habits die hard as I always did this with my own 3 girls.

I was very surprised when Sister M and M came in with 2 other nuns. Apparently, M and M had mixed up the days we were supposed to meet with her (which is tomorrow, Thursday) but we got to talk to her for a little bit. Before I had come down to Nicaragua, I had asked whether we could take Allison out of Juan Pablo for a short time, not really sure what this would mean or how long we would be able to have her. I was shocked to hear that, with Allison’s mother’s permission, we may be bringing her to El Crucero with us from Thursday through Saturday. If so, she will be “mine” for the duration. I’ve already thought about what it will be like to sleep with a 5 year old….I’m really excited and hope this all works out.

After about 2 hours, we had to leave. I was able to tell Allison “hasta manana” or “see you tomorrow” and really hope that this will be the case. In my secret heart, I have already thought about bringing her to visit us in the United States when she is older (not sure how this works, but anything is possible) so having her for a few days now would be a wonderful way to begin.

OHP Mission 3 – February 15, 2011

Tuesday – February 15, 2011

Up early, I was excited to start the day. Although I wasn’t doing anything specific for the Orphan’s Hope Project today, I was eager to get out and moving in the community. I spent the first part of the morning sorting out all of the things that I brought down for the two orphanages. I had to separate them into two piles; one for each orphanage. I also had to put all 20 of the donated Barbie dolls back into their boxes. We took them out to fit them in the suitcases, but I wanted to give them to the children inside the boxes since they were new. I imagine they don’t get a lot of new toys.

Mariel arrived with Helena the translator. They went down to the school ahead of me as I had to make a quick stop at the new facility NiCasa to give a message to one of the woman there as well as move my bags down. I’ll be staying in the dorm there for the next two nights with the Advance Team. This team arrives early so they can prepare everything for the arrival of the big mission group on Thursday. Sr. Debbie is coming then also. This is the first time a Mission will be using the new facility. It’s mostly completed from a construction perspective but there is a lot of sorting and moving things around as everything finds it proper place.

I left NiCasa to walk to the school. The day was very beautiful; the sun was shining brightly, a strong breeze that you could hear as well as feel was with me as I walked. There weren’t many cars on this dirt road but when they did come by, I had to be sure to jump out of the way. They don’t believe in slowing down for pedestrians. They kicked up huge clouds of billowing dust as they went by.

At El Nino, I was asked to help with the preschoolers. I had originally planned to observe Mariel as she worked with the children in the classes, but I was happy to go see the little ones. They were all about 3 years old and very cute but I was dismayed to see that the class was total chaos. There were about 15 children and there was very little structure, if any at all. The teacher, who was very nice, seemed not able to do much with the children except keep them from hurting each other. And with my limited Spanish, there wasn’t much I could say to them. I did read to them, probably butchering the pronunciation in Spanish, but the children didn’t seem to mind. They were all quiet for about 10 minutes, the time it took me to finish the 4 little books that were available and then it was back to the chaos.

We left the school for a long walk to the House of Hope, the facility that helps prostitutes get off the streets. The Mission had only recently found out about this place. It provides vocational training and a safe place for these women to live with their children.

It was a long dusty walk, easily over a mile and a good part of it along the main highway. Cars don’t slow down for pedestrians here either and at one point, I slipped and smashed my knee into the broken concrete and dirt as I was moving over to avoid a speeding car. With blood dripping down my leg and only one squashed tissue in my pocket to do anything about it, we continued on.

We left the main road and turned up a dirt road that seemed impossible for a car to drive on. The pot holes would hide a small child and the road was very narrow as the sides were filled with brush, some of it being burned as is the practice here for getting rid of it. Unfortunately, no importance seems to be placed on the pollution factor caused by this burning and we had to walk around the black smoke snaking up the side of the road.

We arrived at the House of Hope. The women were all in groups at tables working on jewelry that they would ultimately sell. We walked around a bit and sat down to talk with a volunteer that Mariel had met on her previous visits. Shirley gave us some eye-opening information. Apparently, the woman and her husband that run the facility do so with an iron fist. They do not have a Board of Directors, all decisions are made by them so they can’t be a legitimate non-profit organization, a 501C3, in the US. And most distressing of all, we were told that whenever a mission group comes to offer help or aid (and apparently there are many), the director of the facility, April, parades the girls out in front of everyone to tell their “story”. Despite the fact that these girls have already been victimized, some of them sold into sexual slavery at the age of 8, they are made to stand their silently among strangers while their stories are told.

It definitely sounds like this facility is not being run well and while they might do some good work, their methods are very suspect. I had planned on helping with money for uniforms as we had been told that they were in dire need but now I’m not so sure. After what I heard today, I hesitate to give them any money for fear that they will not spend it wisely. We came away feeling that this woman and her husband are benefiting in inappropriate ways from the generosity of others and at the expense of these poor women and their children.

We are gathered now for dinner and I’m starving. I’m also dirty, dusty and tired. It will be an early night for all of us. End of Day One. Tomorrow I’m off to Juan Pablo and to see my Alison.

OHP Mission 3 – February 14, 2011

Monday – February 14

I arrived safely after two uneventful flights to get here. I was met at the airport by Mauricio, Mariel (the psychologist) and Alyssa ( a fellow missioner I had met last year) which was a surprise, I was expecting just Mauricio. We all went out for dinner which was nice and although I was tired, it was nice to be welcomed to Nicaragua by people that I know.

Tonight, there is a beautiful breeze blowing through the window of the room I am staying in. It’s relatively quiet but I know the barking dogs and roosters should start crowing around 3am. I think I’ll sleep anyway, I’m tired and we have an early day tomorrow starting at 8am going to the El Nino Jesus de Praga school. I’m going to just watch and talk to the kids. I’m here! Awesome!

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