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OHP Trip #6 June 1, 2013 – Day Four

Day 4 June 1 –

Sr. Debbie had a jam packed day planned and our first meeting this morning was in Managua at 8am. We met there with Johanna Pedroni who, along with her husband, has started a foundation that is building a Women’s Clinic and Training center in an old hotel in the heart of Managua. Johanna is one of those women that impress you as soon as you meet her. Friendly, vivacious and intelligent, I knew I was in the presence of someone who gets things done. My kind of lady.

We toured the old hotel, first viewing the parts that have been partially renovated and then the second part, which had not. To see what they had already done, from the shell of an abandoned building was impressive. She was excited to show us the rooms for the clinic waiting room, the doctor’s examination, gynecological examination, physical therapy and nurses training room. The Mission of Hope had donated the hospital beds and painted a few of the rooms, and they were planning to paint more on the next mission in July. James was here to assess the supplies and work effort needed.

Juan Pablo II BEFORE

Juan Pablo II BEFORE

Juan Pablo II - AFTER

Juan Pablo II – AFTER

But it was great to be able to see this success story unfolding. Johanna and her husband owned a successful, upscale restaurant – the restaurant we had eaten in on Thursday evening – and are in the upper echelon of Managuan society. They are both movers and shakers in the city and have an impressive and powerful group of friends and acquaintances that are instrumental in helping the dream of the foundation unfold. They are true examples of how those that have, help pay it forward for those who have not.

Johanna then explained their plans for the training center, specifically to help poor women learn skills so they can support themselves and their families. They plan to offer courses in learning Computer Training, Home Health Aid, Seamstress, Accounting and Ophthalmology assistants and Paint Contractor. This last, something they are just about to start, will teach women how to measure a room, decide on the best paints for the materials and spec out how to get the job done. This sounded like a very practical skill that a woman could assuredly earn a living doing.

Johanna Pedroni at Juan Pablo II

Johanna Pedroni at Juan Pablo II

While Johanna is talking, my mind immediately thinks of my girls at El Crucero, specifically the 6 or 7 teenagers who will be graduating high school in the next few years. While I still intend to encourage their attendance in University, and offer financial help from the OHP, from a practical perspective, this will not be the right option for every girl. I have been frustrated at the lack of skills training currently being provided and my inquiries have been met with vague, unsatisfactory answers from Madre as to her plans for the girls. So why not offer skills training to the girls at this facility?

And that’s just what I asked Johanna. She knew that I worked with the orphans and was immediately receptive to the idea. In fact, her eyes lit up and a she was already smiling and nodding before I finished speaking. We agreed that I will contact Madre with the beginnings of this idea and put her in touch with Johanna. Of course there will be challenges – not all skills can be taught to girls under 18 and for those still in school, school must come first. But with some perseverance and creative thinking, this could be a reality. I saw this as the door being opened to my dream of providing my girls with a mechanism to earn a living. No, what I really mean is having a career performing a skill that they are trained for, proficient at and proud of. This is the next step up for them and something I am passionate about so I’m puttin’ it out there in the universe and will do whatever I can to make it a reality.

Johanna and I hugged, and then we hugged again and I said I would contact her very soon. This will be the first order of business when I return home to the U.S.

Next, a quick stop to the masonary store to check on options for stone benches for the planned Memorial Garden to be built in the back of the NiCasa property. I can see this area this from my bedroom door and right in the center is a beautiful, large shade tree that just calls out for a bench and a birdbath. It will be dedicated in honor of past Missioners who have died.

Shopping for a memorial bench

Shopping for a memorial bench

We drove to a barrio called Cedro Galan. A barrio is a poor village and a frequent stop on any mission visit to Nicaragua. It is here that people live in huts and cobbled together structures made of left over metal, tree limbs and garbage bags. The lucky ones have a home shelter, built by MoH that consists of a 10’ x 13’ single, dirt floor room with a roof and open doorway. My daughter Vanessa and I had helped to construct two on our first trip to Nicaragua in 2010.

These areas are extremely poor. The children run barefoot through the dirt, deftly dodging broken glass, shredded metal, garbage and other dangers. I shudder to think of the disease that is ever present. Trees and overgrown bushes fill in the spaces between the dwellings. Clothes are hanging on barbed wire, malnourished dogs are everywhere. Once we saw a giant pig tied up to a tree. The women in these barrios look beaten and tired and alone. Men are not as evident, leading me to believe that most of these women are alone in raising their children in this inhospitable place.

And yet, they make their homes here. Some of the children go to school, but some do not. But the children play with each other and run in packs like little wild things as their laughter rings through the air. They sound no different than other children the world over, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

We were here to give handmade quilts donated by a woman who is helping a young widow and her son. This donor had previously paid for the construction of a home shelter for this young mother and had asked Sr. Debbie to deliver the quilts to her on this visit. The mother came out to meet us holding her young son Brandon, about 16 months old, in her arms. She was followed by several other children who she told us were her niece and nephews plus her elderly aunt. While Fabricio translated, Sr. Debbie made the presentation in a distinguished and sensitive manner and the mother’s shy but hesitant smile was nice to see. Sr. Debbie then gave quilts to the other children and the aunt, who seemed thrilled with the beautiful gift. In this type of extreme poverty, these quilts are a treasure.

Donated quilts

Donated quilts

A quilt for a little girl

A quilt for a little girl

Stop number 4 – and all before lunch – was to the Guadalupe clinic and a meeting with Berta Amalia. Berta, a poor woman in her 60’s, has made it her life’s work to help this medical clinic function in the center of Managua. They provide medicines and doctor care to the many impoverished people in the city. The Mission of Hope has been helping the clinic for a number of years. But we were here to talk about another project instead.

A donor had recently given the Mission of Hope a substantial amount of money to be used to help poor women in Nicaragua. 8 women were chosen to receive the funds, and they in turn were charged with helping 10 other poor women. The 8 women who are administering the funds were free to select 10 women of their choice who were in dire need. The donor has asked for details on the women being chosen and Fabricio, has been assigned the task of collecting the information; pictures, bios on both the women administrators and those receiving the funds. This meeting was to introduce Berta to Fabricio so that they could continue the partnership and move the project forward.

Sr. Debbie, James and I watched as Fabricio, 22, took over, speaking with Berta in a mature and respectful manner about how they would communicate, what information was needed and in what format and exchanging contact information. We were all very gratified to see this excellent example of empowerment that effectively put the responsibility of the success of this project on these two people who live here. Just what the Mission is striving to accomplish.

Empowerment in Action

Empowerment in Action

Finally, lunch time. And guess where? Yep, Tip Top. Sr. Debbie just didn’t want to eat anywhere else. At least the chicken is good although I don’t want to see another piece of fried chicken for a while.

After lunch we visited a local Chiqulistagua school where the Mission had helped to plant and fund a garden then on to San Antonio school in yet another barrio. The Mission will help paint a few rooms on this upcoming July mission trip and again, James need to access the situation while I took pictures.

San Antonio School front

San Antonio School front

San Antonio school

San Antonio school

This school was poor and old and dirty but children are being educated here. With help, it could be made into a nicer environment, which is what the Mission is trying to do. Across the dirt road was a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. We encountered a man – Victor – who was burning brush to fight slugs in the field before planting a crop of papaya.

Working the fields

Working the fields

Our final stop of the day was to meet a young girl and her mother. She is a beautiful young girl, 7 years old, with blond hair, blue eyes and very fair – unusual for a Nicaraguan. She reminded me of my own daughters who looked similar at her age and Mauricio even commented that this little girl could have been my daughter. She was very proud to show us her report card with excellent grades.

Excellent grades

Excellent grades

About 2 months ago, Laura (not her real name) was raped by a 16 year old neighbor. Pause, full stop. Yes, she is 7. Her mother had moved her and her older sister and brother to a rented home to be safe from the neighbor who was threatening to harm her and burn down their house if they prosecuted him for the rape. They are renting a small home but the mother has recently lost her job as an accounting assistant and she is desperately trying to plan her next move. We were there to give her clothes donated by the Mission and also money to help them for the immediate future.

While Sr. Debbie, Mauricio and Fabricio talked with the mother about what could be done to help, I intentionally pulled Laura to the side so she would not overhear the conversation. She was a charming and sweet little girl, smiling and laughing, never giving any indication of the trauma she has suffered. She showed me her guinea pig Lolitta, then we went outside so she could show me her cartwheels. It took all my self control not to wrap my arms around this child and cry. She looked so much like my girls at that age and my mind was screaming – how could someone harm such a beautiful little girl?

It was time to leave but with no clear resolution in site, we said our goodbyes with heavy hearts. As we drove away, we discussed various options and I said, more than anything we need to help this mom get a job. There are some contacts here that may be able to help and Sr. Debbie is going to make some calls to see if something can be done.

The Mission of Hope is planning to build a Safe House in the next several years for women and children that are in exactly this type of situation. It is still in the planning stages and cannot help Laura and her family now, something we were all acutely aware of.

Back to NiCasa. Sr. Debbie and the others had meetings but I had some down time to process, unwind and work on the pictures I had been taking over the last few days. At about 5pm, we left for dinner but first a quick stop at Juan Pablo to pick up paperwork promised by Madre and Sor Carmen regarding the new children at El Crucero.

I really hate going to Juan Pablo. It is about as depressing as it gets. While there are much fewer children there now, it is still miserably hot and stuffy, and right in the middle of one of the worst areas of Managua. The front doors are locked behind a steel gate and on either side are low lifes and unsavory characters. Not a place where small children should live. Nor the sisters who are charged with caring for them.

It is being run mainly as a day care center now so there are only a few children who stay overnight. We saw three children on this visit, two new babies and Angel, a 6 year old that I knew from previous visits. As a matter of fact, my daughter Vanessa and I had met him on our first fateful visit here in 2010 when I decided to start the Orphan’s Hope Project. Angel has brain damage from living with his mother on the streets as an infant and cannot communicate. Instead, he screams. Which he did tonight when I said hello and at every other opportunity. Madre and I had spoken about him and she told me he is undergoing treatment and may be adopted. I so hope this can happen and that someone will give him a loving home where he can grow to his fullest potential.

The other two babies were a little girl, about 2, named June who trotted right up to Sr. Debbie and James and launched herself into their arms and a 9 month old boy named Osmani. While the young Sister Suzanne (she looked like she was 19) filled out the rest of the paperwork I was there to pick up, I held Osmani and James held June. When we started to leave, June threw an all-out temper tantrum screaming that she wanted to go with James. It was heartbreaking.

It’s been a good trip and in hindsight, I am pleased at what we have been able to help with. In addition to the gifts and school supplies I brought with me, the donations I received from sponsors and supporters will help pay for major dental work for Sor Andrea at El Crucero (since she is taking care of my kids so well in the library, we need to take care of her), new screens and windows at San Fernando (without either mosquitoes and bugs are ever present and so is the risk of dengue fever), food for the children there, translator help and of course, ice cream for the little ones. Yep, I’d say a damn good use of the money entrusted to me.

Today was an exhausting day and mentally I’m whipped. I’m glad to be going home tomorrow. I miss my husband, my family and my puppies Gwena and Sage. It’s been an eye opening trip. I feel progress was made for the OHP which is always my intention but I also learned a lot about other ways that the Mission is helping here with the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. The focus is shifting to empowerment and I am in complete agreement with this. People must learn to help themselves or any positive changes will not be sustainable. It will take time, it will take cultural changes, but you know the old saying – if you give a man a fish, they will eat for a day. But if you teach a man or a woman to fish, they can feed their families for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, our collective efforts will accomplish just that.

Mission Team 50A

Mission Team 50A

OHP Trip #6 May 2013 – Day Three

Day 3 – San Fernando May 31, 2013

We left a bright and early 7:30am for our long trip to San Fernando. I had gotten up extra early hoping to Skype with Vince but the internet that worked so great the night before was down again due to the torrential rain. Mauricio and Fabricio arrived, we packed up all of the things we had to bring with us and got on our way. In addition to the toys and other gifts for the children I had purchased with OHP donations and brought with me, I was happy when Sr. Debbie suggested that we also bring 2 boxes of school supplies that they had in the storage building. These extra supplies, shipped down in the 2 or 3 containers sent each year by the Mission of Hope from Plattsburgh contain a variety of materials – all well needed here in Nicaragua. In addition to the school supplies, they have sent hospital beds and equipment, furniture, computers, refrigerators and even a full dental office of equipment. All of this is donated to the Mission of Hope. It is really wonderful that these items, which would become waste in our landfills in the U.S., can be put to such good use here. It’s a testament to the hard work of the many volunteers that coordinate, pack, record and ship these containers for the Mission. Each container is about the size of a tractor trailer.

After driving through the city of Managua, we turned onto the Pan American highway, Route 1, that starts in Mexico and ends in South America. Luckily we weren’t traveling the full length but we did have a ways to go. We passed the time talking, eating the snacks we had brought with us and I did some computer work on the numerous pictures that I had been taking. Interspersed throughout the trip was a frequent “Oh My God!” from Sr. Debbie in the front seat whenever another driver was too aggressive or the road was too windy. We teased her unmercifully for this.

I really enjoy looking at the countryside on this drive north. An hour out of Managua, the landscape changes to a mountainous and lush countryside. Along the highway, houses of all shapes and sizes ranging from small, simple one room structures with clothes hanging on the line to more expansive brick homes with landscaped front yards. We passed horses, cattle and a few goats and pigs all tended by men walking them along the road to pasture. We also passed rice paddies, which we were surprised to see. Another crop, along with beef and coffee, that Nicaragua produces and exports.

We stopped in a small city named Cevaco, for a pit stop. Fabricio knew that I wanted to bring fresh fruits and vegetables up to the orphanage and suggested that we purchase them at the local market there. The abundance of beautiful produce was impressive. Vendors were lined up side by side with heaping piles of tomatoes, huge carrots, onions, potatoes and numerous fruits – pineapple, melon, mango, wauva, calala, starfruit and papaya. I hadn’t changed any of my US dollars to Nicaraguan Cordoba but have come to find out that most places will accept American cash. 8 bags of fruit and vegetables later, all for $10, we were on our way.

Fruit and Vegetable Market in Cevaco

Fruit and Vegetable Market in Cevaco

Choosing tomatoes

Choosing tomatoes

James, who hates having his picture taken, took one of himself so I thought I’d share. James could give lessons on being agreeable and he always carried the bags!

Agreeable James

Agreeable James

Two hours later, we were in Ocatal, a very northern city and where we made the right hand turn off the highway to head towards San Fernando. We stopped in this city to purchase more food for the orphanage – chicken, milk, eggs, diapers, baby formula and cereal. We had hoped to find a place to eat lunch – Sr. Debbie was insisting again on Tip Top, the fast food chicken place as this is the only place she is comfortable eating at – but we didn’t find anything. We snacked on more junk food and were back on the road for the remaining 30 minute drive. At this point, we had been in the car for over 5 hours.

Last year on this trip, we had crossed a very narrow, small bridge that spanned a gorge, about 20’ deep. Mauricio and Fabricio had been telling Sr. Debbie about this for days, trying hard to scare her and they had succeeded. Every time we crossed a bridge, of any size, Sr. Debbie asked “is this it?” We finally arrived at the single lane bridge, just as narrow and intimidating as last year. As we approached, a school bus was barreling down the road in the other direction. Sr. Debbie took one look at the bridge, then at the school bus and screamed “OH MY GOD! Mauricio!!” which we all found pretty hilarious. Then Mauricio even stopped on the bridge to further prolong the event, Sr. Debbie screaming all the while.

OH MY GOD!  We are going over that bridge!

OH MY GOD! We are going over that bridge!

We finally, finally arrived at San Fernando. Sor Delia, So Daisy and all the children greeted us with big smiles and then sang a song of thanksgiving as they had just finished their lunch. There are 15 children here now, ages 15 months to 15 years. We brought in all of the food, gifts and supplies and it wasn’t long before we spread out all the gifts for the children to choose from. They were all laughing and smiling as everyone got to select whatever they wanted and I was glad we had plenty to go around.

Giving gifts

Giving gifts

I turned to see Sor Delia blowing bubbles for the smaller children as they squealed with laughter and then wanted to try for themselves. She has a wonderful way with the children, loving, kind and playful. The obviously love her in return as they surround her and the smallest ones grab the skirt of her white habit. With all of these little grubby hands, I don’t how she keeps it white.

Sor Delia playing with Osmani

Sor Delia playing with Osmani

Although several children had left, I saw a few that I knew – two girls especially that had previously been at El Crucero. Xiomara, the oldest remembered me and I her as she came to greet me. Next was Katherine, a 12 year old who is troubled and has had a terrible childhood. She had been lashing out and aggressive with the other children at El Crucero so the decision was made to send her north where she might do better in a new environment. It seemed to be working as she had a smile on her face – something I rarely saw when I had seen her previously – and she came to me for a hug. I asked if she remembered me and she said yes and hugged me again. When talking with Sor Delia a little later, I asked about her and was told that she is doing well in school, is not as aggressive and has made friends at school and with the other girls at the orphanage. I was very, very pleased to hear this. This young girl needs some goodness in her life. When Sor Delia told me that her and Sor Daisy, the young nun who also lived there and helped with the children, did their homework with them, celebrated each child’s birthday and ate at a communal table, I believed this would go a long way to bringing Katherine, as well as the other children some family normalcy as much as was possible given their environment.

Me and Katherine

Me and Katherine

It was hot and very humid at the facility and outside we were besieged by little bugs that were happily chewing on my legs and feet. It was very distracting trying to talk to Sor Delia while slapping and swatting at myself.

Meeting at San Fernando

Meeting at San Fernando

I was disappointed to see the facility hadn’t changed since the previous year. All rooms were neat but in need of repair with broken bricks in much of the floor and a number of broken doors. They didn’t have a working refrigerator only a deep freezer with not much food in it. Spare furniture – only a few tables and chairs, a very primitive kitchen with a two burner propane stovetop and no oven. They used a wood burning fireplace to cook large pots. Sor Delia told us that someone was donating a full size stove which was good to hear. The dorm rooms were also neat but the bathroom, such as it was, was very basic and lacked a toilet seat. They did have running water and electricity however which was a plus.

Sor Daisy and Osmani

Sor Daisy and Osmani

We have been sending OHP funds since last year and I had hoped for more. As we spoke with Sor Delia, we were told that the monies were not being sent to her directly as we had expected but instead were being handled by El Crucero. We all agreed that the monies would be better utilized if Sor Delia made decisions on what to buy rather than having supplies sent to her. She would also have access to the funds if an emergency arose. We kindly but firmly told her that from now on, the monies would be sent to her monthly via Western Union which she happily agreed to.

While we were meeting with Sor Delia, James had been taking pictures to show MoH leadership. We all agreed that we wanted to do more to help. Sor Delia said that she wanted to have screens put on all windows to keep bugs, and in particular, mosquitoes out. She is still recovering from Dengue fever and is concerned for the children’s health as well. The total cost for this is $2400, of which she had already raised $1100. Conferring among ourselves, we agreed that we had OHP and other funds that could finance the balance. Sor Delia was delighted and her smile was radiant. She also said she would like a ceiling put in as the single roof doesn’t keep the cold or heat out. We asked her to speak directly with Mauricio for this and other improvement projects and we would help where we were able.

As planned, we wanted to buy ice cream for all the children and they were waiting. While we continued to play with the children, Sr. Debbie and Mauricio went to buy some and when they returned, the children squealed with delight. Sor Delia said “what do you say? – just like a mother would remind her own children and they screamed “Gracias!”. Then she said “in English?” and they shouted “Thank you”. I loved that she was making this effort with them.

The children and Sisters at San Fernando

The children and Sisters at San Fernando

After 2.5 hours, it was time to leave. We all knew we had a long trip home. Hugs and kisses and “hasta luego” and we were out the door. Sor Delia and the children crowding around the small opening, waving to us as we drove away.

This vision is still with me as we continue our drive home. We are still 2 hours away and it has been pouring with rain intermittently which is slowing us down. That and the frequent trucks that clog this central highway are making the trip even longer. We are all anxious to get back, have a decent meal and a very needed shower. Despite the very long drive – and Mauricio is stll at the wheel – I am very glad that Sr. Debbie and James have seen San Fernando. With their first hand knowledge, they can help me help Sor Delia and the children.

Children at the door

Children at the door

Second Day – Sr. Debbie’s agenda

It’s 7:00pm and I’m exhausted. Ok, so it’s really 9pm EST back in the real world, but we had a busy day and I’m pooped.

We started our day with a meeting with Johanna at CARITAS. We were pleasantly surprised when she provided 3 months of paperwork, receipts and photos for both the HIV+ children sponsored by the OHP plus other programs coordinated through MoH. It was a pleasant surprise to find someone with organizational skills.

Johanna at Caritas

Johanna at Caritas

We agreed on how to handle this in the future so that information is received regularly and funds can be given each month to continue aiding these families.
Meeting at Caritas

Meeting at Caritas

Party at Caritas

Party at Caritas

Next we took a long drive up into the mountains again to the Parajito Azul Vinca (or farm). This farm is built on a piece of donated property that houses 15 – 18 mentally disabled men aged 25 – 52. Sr. Debbie explained that most of the men had been born without issues but due to malnutrition, untreated illnesses or abuse, they had varying degrees of disabilities.

Martha and her boys at the farm

Martha and her boys at the farm

Martha Rivas

Martha Rivas

Martha Rivas, is the driving force behind this flourishing enterprise where they have made significant changes in the property and now grow and harvest coffee, papayas and over 720 tomato plants from seeds donated by the MoH. Martha takes care of these men helping with cooking, medical needs and cleaning – kind of like a house mother but she obviously cares for them and has made this her life’s devotion. All of the men are handicapped in some way but their enthusiasm and big smiles were infectious. Some were shy, some very friendly but this place was obviously a success story and a we were all smiling when we drove away.

On the drive, we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase fresh pineapple, just picked from the tree. Cost? $2.00. I gave the woman $3.00 and felt like I’d gotten a bargain.

I'll take 2 pineapples por favor

I’ll take 2 pineapples por favor

Next a visit to Diriamba (we spent a lot of time in the car today) and a visit to a future community center run by the Nuns who also manage a hospital in the area. We were there to see what project work the upcoming summer missioners could help with when they are here in July.

On the trip back, we made a brief and unexpected stop back at El Crucero to give Joseph a suit sent to him by his sponsors Jimmy and Carol Dumont. While only a short visit, I was happy to stop by to see the children again but as they clung to me and asked me to not leave, I left with a familiar lump in my throat.

Joseph and his new suit

Joseph and his new suit

Returning to NiCasa, Sr. Debbie held meetings with the local woman who helps administer aid in the surrounding towns and barrios while James and I took pictures of the facility. I have become the official photographer on this trip and have a lot of work to do with the hundreds of pictures taken.

We had a very nice surprise in our restaurant of choice this evening – recommended by James. It is a very upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Managua, not like any I’ve been to before. Contemporary, with plenty of air conditioning, excellent service and good food, it was a nice way to end the day.

Sr. Debbie and Fabricio at dinner

Sr. Debbie and Fabricio at dinner

Tomorrow we are off to see Sor Delia and the children at San Fernando. I’m looking forward to the trip, even though it will mean about 4 hours of travel time each way. I keep encouraging Sr. Debbie to see the day and our lunch along the way as an adventure but she insists she won’t eat at any place by Tip Top chicken! In addition to not being too adventurous with her meals, she also hates bugs and spiders. Since they are all over and drawn to every light, she’s been screaming about the bugs in her room and is threatening to sleep in the van. We shall see if we find her in there tomorrow morning. WE have an early start and are leaving the compound at 7am.

May 29, 2013

First Day – El Crucero

Well, it’s official. Nicaragua has the loudest thunder I’ve heard. Hardest rain I’ve ever heard too for that matter. As I sit, listening to the cacophony of torrential water slamming against the tin roof of the NiCasa building, I wonder if it will ever stop. It started about 2 hours ago and hasn’t let us since. Sr. Debbie and James are flying into this. I can just imagine Sr. Debbie’s white-knuckle death grip on James’ knee.

I’m here at NiCasa alone. When Mauricio and Fabricio left, after I said, “sure – no problem, I’ll stay here by myself”. At the last minute I asked Fabricio “I’ll be safe here, right?” and his assurance that sure, yes I would was enough to not let me regret the opportunity to spend some time alone, re-acclimatizing in mind and body to Nica.

So once they left, I started to stroll purposefully and unafraid to the kitchen area to forage for something to eat. I left my room and rounded the corner of this big concrete building, rain thundering down on the roof, all alone except for anonymous guard – and then, the lights went out. Ok, so it’s a conspiracy. Somebody is trying to make me be afraid. Aha I say – not me! I’m don’t roll that way and so I grope my way back in the pitch black (did I say PITCH BLACKNESS) to pull out one of the battery operated lights Sor Delia had requested for orphanage in San Fernando. Once found, I resume my search for something to eat and by the time I get down to the kitchen, the lights and the power resume. So there I think – I refuse to be intimidated!

Mauricio hasn’t changed a bit and is still the friendly, stalwart Nicaraguan man that I remember. I’d rely on this man in a hurricane. Fabricio, all of 22 now is smiling and helpful and just a little enigmatic introduces me to Ariana, his friend that he as brought along after my request for an extra pair of hands and translator for our visit to El Crucero, scheduled for our afternoon meeting. After lunch at Tip Top, (Nicaragua’s Kentucky Fried Chicken quick food) we are headed into the mountains.

Stalwart Mauricio

Stalwart Mauricio

As I start to collect my scattered thoughts so I can put them down in this blog, I acknowledge, it’s been a day – a good day. Up at 2:45am to catch a 5:20am plane out of Newark, my flight uneventful, I am deposited in Managua at 11:30am. Right on time. By now, I feel as if I know the ropes and maneuver my way through getting my luggage, through customs and then waiting for my ride. All without issue. After 15 minutes or so of waiting, I finally see Fabricio – and the additional translator I had requested named Ariana – and am pleased that I don’t have to come up with a back up plan if no one shows up o get me. Since I didn’t have a back up plan, this is a very good thing. Mauricio hasn’t changed a bit and is still the friendly, stalwart Nicaraguan man that I remember. I’d rely on this man in a hurricane. Fabricio, all of 22 now is smiling and helpful and just a little enigmatic introduces me to Ariana, his friend that he as brought along after my request for an extra pair of hands and translator for our visit to El Crucero, scheduled for our afternoon meeting. After lunch at Tip Top, (Nicaragua’s Kentucky Fried Chicken quick food) we are headed into the mountains.

Me and Fabricio

Me and Fabricio

Ariana

Ariana

The rain that is still thundering as I write this, hadn’t yet started but was definitely threatening as we drove up the mountain. Heavy overcast skies, seemed to turn the air into thick, grey soup. We arrive at El Crucero to be welcomed by 2 nuns that I remember but not their names and then are greeted with a warm hug by Madre Griselda. She hasn’t changed a bit either – it must be the air and humid climate here – it’s absolutely a preservation miracle.
Saying hello

We discover upon entering the compound that today they are holding a Mother’s Day celebration for the local village children and their mothers. My kids – meaning the OHP children – are intermingled with about 100 people all watching various children perform on stage in native dress to fast, pulsing Latin beat. We watch for a while as they take turns performing. The children are obviously delighted and it is fun to watch but mindful of my own agenda, we leave to go speak with Madre about stuff. Ie: what’s happening at El Crucero.

We spend an hour discussing all of my agenda points. Did I just say Agenda Points? What am I – back at Citigroup? I am well aware that “agenda points” in not in the vernacular here and kind of laugh at my ridiculousness. I have to remind myself to stay to the point, don’t veer off course and don’t get hi-jacked into discussing things that aren’t relevant. Since I am only making a single trip per year, I need to get the information I need. Or so I tell myself anyway. While we are talking, Ariana is making the rounds and taking pictures of the facility. My only instruction to her – other than how to use the camera – was just take pictures of everything and everybody. We could sort the photos out later.

I am pleased to note that photos of the facility show improvements in the dorm rooms and most especially in the new roof over much of the complex – a donation from another NGO. Madre tells us about the situation at El Crucero – they have a good, steady food supply now, either by donations or supplementation with the OHP monthly funds we provide – and that is a big relief. Something that was one of the very original goals of the OHP is now status quo. The children also have regular medical care provided by a doctor that visits monthly and to my surprise, DAILY visits by a psychologist who sees every one of the children on a regular basis. Since most of these children have some type of childhood trauma – abandonment, abuse – sexual or otherwise, malnutrition, – this focus on their mental and emotional health is a very welcome piece of information. We then discuss the children, those with special needs – not as many as their once were but still too many – and the future prospects of both the older girls and the boys. Some of the older girls have been moved to the orphanage at Juigalapa – the facility that is light years ahead of the others in terms of accommodations and supplies – and I am told that all of the girls are doing quite well there. As for the boys, who I am concerned will be in limbo once they reach puberty – (orphanages run by Nuns that consist mainly of girls aren’t particularly conducive to having teen age boys around for obvious reasons) and am told that they have been offered yet another facility that they may use to open a orphanage for boys. No decision yet however, so this is up in the air.

Madre then takes us to view the new library or Story Room as they call it. I was delighted! It is a big open room with beautifully painted murals on the walls, a ring of small chairs just screaming STORY TIME and wall to wall books. Sor Andrea, the nun who had previously been at the Managua Casa Cuna/ Juan Pablo orphanage is in charge here. When we walked in the room, she was there smiling and obviously very proud and at home. A little background here is that this Sister is the one who used to be responsible for the smallest of the children at the always hot, sticky, overcrowded and small orphanage located in the bowels of Managua. On a block lined with rundown buildings and prostitute and drug dealers bookending the stgreet, she was a testament to the faith that drives these women to do what they do. It was truly a difficult place – and I am understating the description by a mile – to live and work. I saw her each time I visited and she never smiled. Never. The only enjoyment she seemed to get was the education she imparted to the little ones before they were transferred to El Crucero once they were old enough for formal school. Each 4 and 5 year old knew how to read before arriving there; all due to Sor Andrea’s efforts. So to see her smiling and so obviously in her efforts melted my heart and brought a lump to my throat. After my genuine exclamations of joy to see this room filled with books (I love books), I went to her, held her hand and asked if she was happy to be here in this place with all these books available for the children. Fabricio did a masterful job of translating for me but my real intention was for her to feel, through the grip I had on her hand, how happy I was for her AND the children. Truly a blessing all around.

The new library with Sor Carmen and Madre

The new library witha smiling Sor Carmen and Madre

Short facility tour over, we set to the chaos of getting new pictures of the children and giving out gifts. Thanks to both Fabricio and Ariana, this was accomplished in a slightly less chaotic fashion than in the past but once the word spread to the children – who were still in the throws of all the activity from the Mothers’ Day celebration and residual villagers still around – that we had gifts, they started hovering. I was very pleased to talk to each one of the children individually (with Fabricio’s help translating of course ) and saw so many of the kids that I have seen each year.

Me with Mileydis, Carlos, Sara and Joseph

Me with Mileydis, Carlos, Sara and Joseph

Sara, Mileydis – my smart-as-a-whip little friend, Wendy and Maria the two sisters, Kenneth, Carlos, Alexis, the three musketters and of course my Allison, all bubbly and smiling and missing her two front teeth.
The hug I was waiting for

The hug I was waiting for

Me and Allison

Me and Allison

They are all so big but I do a fairly good job of getting their names right despite the fact that they have all changed. And then the new girls Xochital who is 9 and so small from malnutrition that she is more like a 7 year old, beautiful but hesitant Estefany a teenager with secrets behind her eyes, and Priscilla, yet another young girl with a childhood history that she doesn’t deserve. Did I tell you again what a delight it is to be with them? Truly truly this is my gift for any small efforts on my part to help them. They are all at once bubbly and shy, friendly and reserved and then once they see that my intentions are good, my hugs are genuine and I will kiss everyone that I find in my arms, they relax and the chaos truly begins. Pictures taken, gifts given out and a disappointing number of children not available for pictures and we are almost done.

The afternoon has sped by and it is close to 3 hours since we arrived. I know the others are tired and the evening is getting close. The air has been oppressive and it feels as if we are actually in the clouds – which we probably are – since the sky has been gloomy and threatening since we arrived. I am glad that I had seen Allison at the beginning of our visit because she is nowhere to be found now. Of the one day that I am there for this entire year, her mother, Haydelina is also here in honor of the Mother’s Day celebration. Knowing that their relationship is truly bitter sweet but that Allison will want to spend as much time with her as possible, I find out later that she has taken Allison home for the weekend and I miss my opportunity to talk to her or even say goodbye for another year. I am happy to have had the brief hugs that I had earlier and tell myself to just let it be. I don’t have to see her to love her. I know she cannot know this but I will keep coming back so eventually, she will.

The kids – especially the boys – want to know when I am coming back. When? What month? They want specifics and I am surprised but not really since they ask the same thing every time I am there. The boys always wanting a promise and a date. Since I don’t have one, I start to choke up and say “No se” or “I don’t know” – which they accept, with a puzzled frown – how come I don’t know?? – and then I ask for big hug from them all.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

A flurry of hugs and flying pony tails and hair in my mouth as I am kissing each one and hugging them all. I take a special moment to tell Mileydis – she is so bright and so special and deserves so much more – that she is special and smart and that if she studies real hard and does well in school, I will be sure that she goes to University when she is old enough. This is no ideal promise, I will make this happen if only, IF ONLY, she can make that far without falling into the same trap her parents and most of the parents of these many children have done. She needs a skill and/or an education that will give her the ladder out of this rural poverty. She cannot be just another girl who will have a child while still a child, crushing her opportunities. She is special to me this one, as they all are, but she is more so. I want her to know this and hope that in some small way, she understands and believes me.
The children

Me and the children

Once in the truck, I am quiet: absorbing, de-compressing, thinking. As always, Nicaragua, and especially these children – my children – cause an onslaught of emotion, ideas and hopes. Have I gotten satisfactory answers to my concerns regarding vocational skills, internet use, and opportunities for the older girls? Yes but no and I hope that the new promise of a new Sister – Sor Carmen – to communicate with will facilitate these issues further. But I know that I am up against – and I say this with reckless American determination – a culture that does not and will not change overnight. If I can help save just a few of these children from the future that is looming – the no-escape, no alternative future – I will be happy. But satisfied? No, never. Not until all of them have a means to reach their fullest potential and bring their country with them. The rain is still coming down in torrents. That’s 3 straight hours. I have no internet so will have to wait until tomorrow to try to post this once Sr. Debbie and James are here and can help me sort it out. I’m still alone here – just me and the bugs that have flown in while I tried to get some air into the stillness of my room – and I realize that day one is done.

Trip #6 -Leaving in 4 days…

I’ll be leaving on my next trip to Nicaragua next Wednesday. I’ll be spending most of this weekend getting ready….thank you to those who sent donations. I did some shopping and although I thought I might only bring a suitcase, that won’t be the case. I definitely bought enough for two suitcases full!

I know the children will be thrilled and especially with the gifts and letters from their sponsors. They love this personal contact.

In addition to toys, games and school supplies for the children, I also have a bag full of things to give to our contact at CARITAS.ORG. Although we won’t get to meet with the children, I know that she will be sure the pencils, pens, toiletries and toys will be distributed to children who can really use them.

Please be sure to share this blog with a friend, family or co-worker who might be interested in what we are trying to do to help the children.

Just Packed suitcases- almost full!

Just Packed suitcases- almost full!

Returning to Nicaragua – OHP trip #6 May 2013

I will be returning to Nicaragua (my 6th trip!) on May 29 – June 2. I will be traveling with Sr. Debbie Blow, Executive Director of MoH (and my dear friend) and James Carlin (current President of the Board for the MoH and another good friend) so needless to say, I’m very excited!

We all have specific tasks to achieve on this trip. I will be visiting two of the four orphanages to see the children, take pictures and meet with the Sisters in charge to discuss ongoing aspects of the Orphan’s Hope Project. As I mentioned previously, I will focus on getting the internet and college funding for the teenage girls as a priority. Wish me luck – this will take some powerful communication on my part to bridge the gap between cultures. Their priorities are not always ours but in this, I hope to win them over….only time will tell.

I’m really happy that Sr. Debbie and James will be traveling with me up to San Fernando, to the orphanage in northern Nicaragua. I have promised both of them that the trip itself is wonderful, just seeing another part of the country was a gift. But of course, visiting with Sr. Delia and the 16 children there is our main focus. I expect to see improvements now that they are receiving monthly funding from OHP.

We will also be visiting a number of other places that Mission of Hope is helping – most I’ve not been to before. This is the part of the agenda that belongs to Sr. Debbie and James and I’m happy to go along for the ride. We will visit a Women’s Shelter, a very poor public school and a children’s hospital. (That last one has me worried about my own reaction to poor and sick children. Let’s just say my control wavers significantly. But I know I can count on Sr. Debbie to pinch me to help). We will also visit with Caritas- (http://www.caritas.org/) the organization we are working with to help the HIV orphans. They too are receiving money monthly from OHP and I am eager to hear updates on this and the children.

I’m looking forward to this trip. It’s been 9 months since my last visit and the children are growing and getting bigger. Of course, the highlight of the trip will be the children’s welcoming smiles and hugs. It’s really the best part. I especially want to hug my Allison (who lost her two front teeth!) and my new sponsored child, Osmani, a 9 month old baby boy in San Fernando.

Alisson Tatiana Centeno

Alisson Tatiana Centeno

Meeting Osmani

Meeting Osmani

Mission Trip #5 – September 3, 2012….the rest of the day

Monday, September 3, 2012 – the rest of the day

Breakfast in Matagalpa

Breakfast in Matagalpa

Breakfast outside on the tiled terrace was very nice and we were in the car by 8:45. 45 minutes behind schedule as we knew we had another long day of driving. The time passed relatively quickly as Chase and I worked on the hundreds of pictures that he had taken, choosing the best ones to tell the story. It really is a big help to have someone work with these photos. It’s a very time consuming job and I can use the help. Just like I can use some help when I return home to sort out all of the children and sponsors!

The orphanage at Juigalpa

We arrived in Juigalpa, the other of the two orphanages newly added to the OHP. It was definitely an exercise in extremes. This orphanage was beautiful. Clean, well-tended, new. Did I say NEW? There was nothing broken, a lot of light and brightness, open airy rooms with intact and matching furniture. I couldn’t believe it. So different than any others I had visited. I wish they were all like this. The kitchen alone was a marvel; fully functioning with a stocked refrigerator and freezer and working stove. The chapel, as expected, was the most beautiful room of all. Apparently, the difference here is that this orphanage is supported by the local bishop. What a difference a little positive attention from the church can make.

Kitchen at Juigalpa

Kitchen at Juigalpa

We spoke with the Sisters and then they took us on a tour of the girl’s dorms and outside areas. Their Dorms were in an older portion of the facility but were still neat and tidy. The young girls were still in their school uniforms and were happy to show us around. I commented on how nice and neat their rooms were and they smiled. Then they were tripping over each other to show us the rest. I asked if there were any boys and was told no. We found out later that this particular orphanage, with only 12 children, is specially for the girls that are the most troubled or have special psychological issues. That’s why I was stunned to see a young girl that I knew from El Crcuero who had been “missing” for over a year. She had a very troubled and desperate background and I had wondered often at her fate. To find her here was such a wonderful surprise and the big smile on her face told me that she was doing much better.

The Girls at Juigalpa

The Girls at Juigalpa

Pecky Parrot

Pecky Parrot

The children have a pet parrot that is hand-trained. I liked holding him until he decided to take a peck at my cheek and not in a good way. And then there was Scooby Doo. A tiny ugly but cute dog (I know Becky, they are ALL cute!) who was covered in fleas. I noticed them immediately but Chase did not and petted and touched him a bit until he realized that those little black specks were hopping off the dog onto him. The fleas jumped on Chase, then got on Fabricio and my shoes and socks when the dog decided to come near us. The girls and nuns were laughing at us as we all took off our shoes and socks to try to get rid of the pesky buggers. We were itching for hours.
Flea bitten Scooby Doo

Flea bitten Scooby Doo

Inside to give out gifts and again, we had enough to go around. The littlest one kept following me and looking in the suitcase for a muneca, or doll. I managed to pull one from another child’s bag (a lot of swapping goes on in the chaos to try to make everyone happy) and after that, she was satisfied.

Donde esta mi muneca?

Donde esta mi muneca?

It was brutally hot and humid and we were all sweating profusely. That combined with the flea problem and we were ready to leave. This was an orphanage that was clearly doing fine. What a welcome surprise. We left and got a quick lunch for the car (more Tip Top) and were back on the road around 2pm. Plenty of time to get to El Crucero by 5. Or so we thought. And then the adventure began.

Mud Pits Flats

Buzzing along the highway, returning on the road we had travelled, we were suddenly faced with a complete dead stop in traffic. Just so you know, there is no a plethora of roads in Nicaragua. There is one main highway that runs north and south and a few more that run east and west and then there are the back roads for animal carts and farmers. And this was our only alternative. These dirt roads are usually dry and dusty unless they are a mud pit instead.

Mauricio talked with a local man who was watching the traffic jam and he offered to show us the way around by taking these back roads as a short cut. For 50 cordoba, about $2, he hopped on the back of the truck and guided us to a road that should have taken us back out to the highway ahead of the jam. But this was not to be as we started to encounter one mud pit after another. And I do mean mud pit. And in almost every one of them, there was a truck or van or car stuck up to their axles in brown oozing mud. The roads were like a maze and I quickly lost my sense of direction. Our guide had left us by now and we all became one mass of humanity in our own four wheels trying to escape.

Mud piit #1

Mud pit #1


We would travel a short distance and stop. Then we would get out again and all the men would congregate, look at the stuck truck and then point and shout and shove and push or tow with another vehicle so the caravan could continue to move forward. Chase and Fabricio were right in the thick of the action, while Mauricio remained cool and calm in direct contrast to the young guy’s excitement. Boys and mud and trucks. Need I say more?
Stuck in the mud

Stuck in the mud


Although I was fretting about getting to El Crucero, I found myself watching all of this testosterone in action in a detached way and with a smile. It was really fascinating to see all these men pitching in and helping each other. No anger, just cooperation. Who would have believed it? Not in the USA I wouldn’t. A local guy showed up with a heavy chain that he carried from mud pit to mud pit as we lurched along from one to the other, allowing the 4 wheel drive trucks to help the others out.

Tractor stuck in the mud

Tractor stuck in the mud

Finally, the last trench was conquered – and it was by far the worst one. A giant farm tractor and the hay bailer it was pulling were stuck in the mud up to the middle of the tractor’s giant wheels. It made the road completely impassable so a local farmer cut the barbed wire fence so we could all detour around it. Of course there was mud in the cow fields as well and one after another, trucks and vans got stuck and had to be pulled out. Chase was completely engaged at this point, standing in the mud, pushing with his long arms and reach, completely dwarfing the Nicaraguan men. He was very excited and was smiling from ear to ear. When it was our turn, Mauricio gunned the engine and took off flying to make it through. The three of us were outside of the truck and when I watched him rocket through the detour and over the hillocks in the field, I was glad I wasn’t in the truck. My bladder would never have survived.

Back in the truck and Mauricio is driving like a bat out of hell. Chase and I are hysterical with laughter in the back seat, banging, bumping, heads hitting the roof. At one point, we were both airborne and I almost landed in Chase’s lap. At every bump, little whooshes of air escaped from my mouth despite the fact that I was trying to hold them in. I felt like someone was squeezing my breath out each time I slammed into the seat. I giggled at myself knowing again, that I was such a girl. The guys weren’t grunting. Finally free of the mud, Mauricio was in a hurry. The energy and excitement in the air was palpable and we were all laughing. And then we got to the highway. And full stop. Again.

Traffic Jam

Traffic Jam


The Jam of all Jams

I had never seen a traffic jam like this one. We had not come out in front of the jam, but instead right in the middle of it – after all that effort to avoid it! We crawled along on the side of the road, on the left side I might add, and then when it was possible, crossed over and through the mass of traffic to the right side and then, full, stop, again. The people driving north out of Managua – which is where we were trying to go in the southbound lane – had taken up all 4 lanes of the highway meaning that the northbound traffic was taking up both north and south bound lanes. There was no road left; it was a parking lot. Everyone was out of their cars, looking, talking, groaning. We sat for over 1 ½ hours without moving. We had run out of water and drinks and had four packages of crackers to our name. This was not looking good. The trip to El Crucero was really not looking good. Just when I thought I would have to come up with a back up plan (I HAD to get back up there before I left) miraculously, traffic started to flow. We were diverted off onto the side of the highway, literally on the grass, and all southbound traffic – that was us – was allowed to move forward. Although it was stop and go, we were moving for the most part. And so, it was after much excitement, we reached El Crucero only 3 hours late.

Finally, El Crucero

Fabricio called Madre to let her know we would be getting their later than planned and we asked that the children be available for photographs and gifts. We arrived, tired, very dirty (did I mention that I had mud up to my ankle on one leg?), hungry and thirsty but that didn’t matter as the guys were all determined to help me carry out this last piece of my mission. I was so grateful. Not one of them complained.

Allison's gift

Allison’s gift

The children started to swarm once word spread that we had arrived. I asked right away for my Allison and was told that she was very excited to see her madrina. As I turned to look, she was running straight at me and jumped into my arms with a laugh and that big beautiful smile that I love so much. After a big hug, I held onto her and gave her her gift. She was all smiles as I had her put on the funky zebra striped hat I had brought for her. She went off to play and check out what everyone one was getting while I went back to giving out gifts. Mileydis, one of my favorites, had come to find me again and I asked if she could help me as she had done two days before. She read each child’s name off the label and handed them out for me or told me they were not there at the time. It was so much easier with her help. Mileydis is a very bright young girl and there is a very good possibility that she and her brother Carlos may be adopted. I hope so desperately this happens as she is another one that will flower given the chance.

I also saw little Andrea, who my niece Becky and her husband Brian sponsor. Andrea was a baby when I saw her last and she was now a walking, talking toddler. She was very tired however, and it was obvious she wanted to go to bed. I gave her the light up doll that Becky and Brian had sent for her and off to bed she went.

Little Andrea

Little Andrea

Chase and the boys

Chase and the boys

Chase was doing a great job taking pictures of the children. In between the chaos, he found his own sponsored child Sergio and his brother Yusab. We had the boys put on the WVU t-shirts (the university where Chase is currently studying) that Chase had brought for them and when you look at the picture, you can’t miss the joy on their faces. It was very touching moment for me as I knew that Chase completely and passionately understood what this was all about and why I did what I did. When one of the children (or all of them) pull at your heart strings, they just don’t let go.
Chases's little brothers

Chases’s little brothers


The children were leaving to go to bed, it was 8:00pm and past their bedtime. I reluctantly said goodbye to my Allison, not having had nearly enough time to spend with her. The other girls all shouted goodbye to me, saying my name as they did so which made me feel the connection even more. I shouted “ I love you” to all of them as they went out the door.

We spoke with Madre for a little while and I was very pleased when again, I told her that we must communicate regularly by email and said she would. She gave me the name of the Sister that she had assigned to do this. I reiterated that I needed to know changes of children in and out, moving between facilities, special problems any might have and anything else of note. I also asked for a summary of the monthly receipts she provides to Mauricio in order for the monthly allowance to be transferred to their account, following the OHP process we had set up the year before. Madre assured me that I would begin receiving this and I am hopeful.

A few more questions about some of the children. Was Allison’s foot ok after her surgery earlier this year? Yes she was doing fine and getting ready to go into 2nd grade after she completes 1st this November. She is doing very well in school which didn’t surprise me at all. However, her mother is a poor and unstable influence in her life, and the Nuns will try to limit this as much as possible. Sound harsh? Not really because whenever Allison comes back from visits with her mother, she is confused, unhappy and angry. I agreed to their intent and also reminded them that Allison must stay in school despite her mother’s very infrequent requests to have her come visit, especially during the school year. I asked why little Kevin was at San Fernando and was told that he is closer to where his mother lives. I had become used to the fact that many of the children have some family however; their interaction with them usually ranges from poor to awful with the occasional happy exception. And Xiomara, the teenage girl that I was surprised to see at San Fernando is there because she is having trouble at every facility she stays at. They are moving her around to see where they can find a best fit and keep her in school.

Madre and me

Madre and me

Madre gave me the letters that each of the children had written to their sponsors as I had requested. I was very pleased that she had followed through on this and then it was goodbye to Madre and the remaining nuns after a few more pictures. The picture of Chase towering over one of the nuns and a young girl that had been staring and smiling at Chase all evening will make you smile. I did. I told Madre I would be back next year but would be very glad to communicate during the course of the year.
Chase and friends

Chase and friends

End of the day

Exhausted, drained and probably pretty stinky, we all piled back into the truck and stopped at a nice restaurant for some pizza and salad. I was extremely grateful for that glass of white wine that went a long way to helping me to slow down. My brain was in full melt down mode. As physically exhausting as my ambitious agenda had been, it was nothing compared to my mental exhaustion. I needed to unwind so I could think coherently again. And I don’t even know how Mauricio was still standing after the many hours he had spent driving the truck.

Mauricio and me

Mauricio and me

Back at NiCasa, I said a grateful and very fond goodbye to Fabricio. He had been terrific and I told him so. In turn, he said this was the most “special” mission he had ever been on. And then he added “all that mud!” with a big smile. I encouraged him to stay in touch and I know that he and Chase will be. They really made a connection on this trip, two young guys the same age, so different in culture and personality, but kindred spirits none-the-less.

Mauricio y Fabricio

Mauricio y Fabricio

After a very, very welcome shower, I felt human again. Chase and I got everything ready and packed up to leave at 5am the next morning for the aeropuerto. Poor Mauricio! I didn’t get much sleep as I was still pretty keyed up and that damn rooster must have known it was our last night since he kept at his crowing ALL NIGHT LONG. Ah, Nicaragua.

Going home

I am writing this on the plane and we are already close to landing in Atlanta. Here is where I will say goodbye to Chase, reluctantly. I feel he is part son – part compatriot and definitely a very special friend. He knows he will be welcome in our home and on mission whenever he likes. I’m sure Vince is in full agreement with this.

In my heart

In my heart

And me? I’ve got plans baby. Any of you that know me, know that I do. I’ve got ideas both short term and long to help the children. I’ve got tons of paperwork to do, children’s letters to mail, phone calls to make, reports to write….you get the picture. And it is ALL so worth it. I feel invigorated as only a trip here can make me feel. Seeing the children, holding them in my arms is the one sure way to get me refocused and re-energized. Forcing me to remember that no matter how busy my life is at home, these children are still a priority for me. They are always in my heart.

Mission Trip #5 – September 3, Morning impressions

Monday, September 3 – Morning impressions
I am up early, around 6am because I am still on NY time, 2 hours ahead. I slept fairly well although there was a lot of city noise – trucks, people still celebrating, and barking dogs. I looked out the window from my room to a site I couldn’t see in the darkness the night before. Brick and terra cotta tile buildings were built directly into the mountainside. The city is built on mountains which were evident by the streets we drove on yesterday but the view of homes and surrounding greenery on closely packed mountains was like something on a post card. It was one of the images that you take away with you knowing that you were in a very different land.

The view from my window

The view from my window

I took a quick shower, dressed and came downstairs to the courtyard area. The internet connection here is terrific and I was able to Skype with Vince for a while. I even walked around showing him some of the hotel although my attempts to show him the mountains failed due to the sunlight.

My mind has not stopped churning over the issues and challenges that the OHP is facing. Too much need and not enough money. While the correction of the problem will take some time – to get more sponsors in the program – I am starting to believe a redistribution of the funds we do have will be a short term solution. The other piece of the puzzle will be the 4th orphanage we visit today so I can gauge how best to proceed. I realize just how “American” I really am, ready to make lists, recalculate numbers, make plans and go forward. This is very typical of our lives in the States but I’ve learned it is not typical elsewhere, here in Nicaragua being a good example. Nica time is something I don’t think I’ll ever really get used to.

OHP Mission Trip #5, September 3, 2012

September 2, 2012 Evening

The Long Trip
Today we were in the car. And then we were in the car some more. We left NiCasa around 7:45 and arrived at the orphanage in San Fernando, Nueva Segovia around 11:30. A long trip but hopefully definitely worth it.

The drive up was wonderful – who knew that Nicaragua had such a beautiful side to it? As we gradually moved out of the urban Managua area, we entered countryside with rolling mountains that got bigger the farther north we went. We were headed straight up to the Honduras border, even Mauricio hadn’t been here before. Cows tethered to the side of the road and more use of horses and horse and carts for transportation. The highway itself is the Pan American highway that runs all of Central America (Chase and I were excited to say we traveled on it. My father traveled this once too but that’s another story). Mauricio and I kept up a running commentary guessing the name of the song or artist on the radio but after a while, we all became quieter as we took in the countryside. It was very impressive and I was so happy to be seeing it. Chase took a continual flow of pictures out the car window.

Beautiful view

Beautiful view


We passed through the city of Sebaco (Mauricio called it the “armpit” of Nicaragua for some unknown reason), then through Tipitaka (this was a song the girls used to sing in Girls Scouts, who knew it was a real place?) and then further north to Esteli and finally Ocatal. And the further north we went, the nicer the cities got. They were cleaner and the homes were nicer; less dogs on the street as well as less trash. Quite a difference from Managua and something everyone should see to gain a more complete perspective of what Nicaragua has to offer.
Northern Street Life

Street Life


In between the cities, the rural countryside was dotted with houses along the side of the highway but they were more substantial, built of bricks or wood with real roofs and always the omnipresent clothes on the line drying in the warm air. Gathering firewood is an ever needed requirement and we saw many people doing this. We saw people carrying wood on their heads, on motorcycles, on horses, on bikes and on their backs.
Every day life

Every day life

And did I mention the weather? It couldn’t have been more beautiful. The sky was an amazing blue with huge puffy white clouds against a backdrop of mountains that peaked and valleyed randomly. The temperature was somewhere in the 70’s with little humidity. Just before reaching Ocatal where we would turn off the highway to reach San Fernando and the orphanage, we stopped for a snack and bathroom break. Mauricio had been stalwartly driving for over 3 ½ hours and we all wanted to get out and stretch.

Pit Stop

Pit Stop


Once in the convenient store, the boys all loaded up on junk food – fried pork skin called Chimicangua or something like that, Pringles, soda, etc. Me? I had a yogurt. I felt like such a girl.
Junk food

Junk food

Hogar de San Fernando
After another 30 minutes of driving, we reached Hogar de San Fernando, the orphanage in Nueva Segovia. Sister Delia met us as we arrived as did the children. What we found was quite different than what I expected.

The house the orphanage is in was actually the home of Mother Theresa (not, not that one), but the nun who started their congregation – the Sisters of the Divine Face of the Resurrected Christ. Apparently, she had been born in this house and after the Sandinista revolution in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, she had started an orphanage for all of the children that had lost parents during the war. The buildings had been unused for over 18 years but at the end of last year, it had been re-opened as an orphanage. The first few months were spent getting it back into livable shape although it has a ways to go. The furniture and beds were haphazard but in much better shape than I expected.

Sister Delia was very pleasant, straightforward and had that same “can-do” approach that I had so admired in other nuns that I had met here. She seemed not deterred one bit by the fact that they didn’t have a properly working kitchen, that she had very little food to feed the children, no basic medical supplies and the fact that she was the only nun living with these 16 children, aged 6 months to 15 years old. While she had another woman who lived at the orphanage with her, she held an outside job and only helped when she was able to.

Kitchen at San Fernando

Kitchen at San Fernando

At one point, a chicken strolled in from outside and started pecking at the beads on my ankle bracelet.
Strolling chickens

Strolling chickens


I asked many questions about what she was trying to accomplish and what her challenges were. Then we asked if she had access to the internet and she shocked me by saying yes! What a welcome answer! But although it’s not at the facility itself, she said she is fully computer literate and can use the internet café across the street. I asked about communicating with her directly to exchange information about the children and the conditions and she was fully agreeable. This was a first and I was thrilled. She gave me her email address and I will contact her next week to exchange updated information on the children.

The Children
Unfortunately, there were only 5 children there as the others had gone to see family over the weekend. One was an adorable 6 month old boy named Osmani who we took turns holding. While we were talking with Sister Delia, she held him and gave him a bottle. The bottle contained only milk, without any supplements in it. And while I was dismayed at this, she said that he had already gained 7 pounds since coming to the orphanage 4 weeks ago. Since my little grandson Ian is 3 months and every pound is a milestone for any baby this size, I understood what the 7 pounds meant in terms of accomplishment.

Meeting Osmani

Meeting Osmani


She then took us on a tour of the facility which while it needs a lot of work, was relatively neat and clean. All the children’s bunk beds were made and orderly, with Sister Delia’s bed in the same room as the younger girls. The house itself is old and the floors are in disrepair with broken and missing bricks. The plumbing was also old but working and they did have electric. She said that they have a donor who is giving them a $100 a month that is helping to keep the lights and water on but they had very little food and were receiving little help in this regard. El Crucero sends a food shipment once a month – which dismayed me quite a bit. This nun was more or less on her own with 16 children to care for and little help.
Chase and Osmani

Chase and Osmani

Next on to photos of all the children and gift giving. Chase has become very adept at taking pictures of the children. He also loves to have them climb on him which occurred whenever we had any down time. For the photo shoot, Fabricio – who pitches in whenever I ask and is really a great help in addition to translating continually – made out the name cards for each child to hold while Chase took their picture.

Little Nayali

Little Nayali


Kevin was a surprise!

Kevin was a surprise!

Afterwards, we dispensed the presents we had brought (Mom, Alix and Becky – we did great job with all of our packaging!) – and the children all ended up with something. We left gifts for the remaining 11 children that were not there. Two of the children that were there were actually two that I knew from El Crucero. I recognized little Kevin as the nephew of Sr. M&M, one of the nuns I have such a special place in my heart for and also Xiomara, a young teenage girl. I don’t know why either was there but will ask Madre when I see her Monday when we return to El Crucero.

Sor Delia and the children at San Fernando

Sor Delia and the children at San Fernando

As we were leaving, I handed Sister Delia 3000 cordoba, about $120. This would help her buy food and basic medical supplies for the children. This is EXACTELY what the OHP is all about. So for those of you who sent monetary donations for me to bring on this trip, you can go to sleep tonight knowing that you provided food for a child who might not have had much to eat. That’s truly paying it forward and I hope it makes your heart glad.

Sister and I said our goodbyes after a long hug and I promised to do whatever we could to help. I must be cautious as my initial instinct is always to try to jump to the rescue but if the first steps of initial communication with Sister Delia go well, I think we may be able to really help her and the children.

In the car after driving away, I asked all three of the men what they thought. And while Mauricio was slightly hesitant, they all agreed that Sister Delia seemed to be truthful and forthright and definitely determined to gain a better life for the children.

Matagalpa
After 3 more long hours in the car, we arrived in Matagalpa. This is a tourist city and was very busy with much going on. There were hundreds of people on the streets and traffic everywhere as we tried to make our way to the center of town. Apparently, we arrived on the day that the Matagalpa baseball team had defeated Managua in a big match up and it seemed that every resident was on the street waving a flag, beating a drum or shouting their victory to every car that passed. I’ll admit after a full day, I was a little overwhelmed– could they please stop honking those damn car horns??? – but the two guys, Chase and Fabricio, lit up like two Roman Candles and were chomping at the bit to get out of the car.

I had done some research before coming in anticipation of needing a hotel here in the city and after a little searching, we found the #1 rated hotel for the city – La Buena Onda. It is not fancy but it’s definitely cultural which is all part of the grand adventure. The young woman at the Front Desk, Scarlett, was delightful, friendly and spoke English. While I checked us in, the guys got the bags from the car, while Mauricio found a parking place.

Our Matagalpa hotel La Buena Onda - The Good Wave

Our Matagalpa hotel La Buena Onda – The Good Wave

The interior courtyard of the hotel was welcoming and very “Nicaraguan” complete with wooden tables and chairs on terra cotta tiled floors. There is even a resident rabbit – a big furry thing – that roams the first floor. My room is across the hall from the guys. No a/c but a floor fan will do, large windows covered in drapes and sounds of the still celebrating city coming through the closed windows.

Hotel bunny

Hotel bunny

At $30/night per room (yep, $30), FREE INTERNET and including a full breakfast, I felt it was a good price and the capstone to our Matagalpa adventure.

The whole fish and nothing but the fish

The whole fish and nothing but the fish

We had dinner at a seafood restaurant a block away and three of us ordered fried Roja (Red) something or other. Complete with eyes and head intact, it was delicious if a little more sociable than I’m used to. I don’t like to eat things that are still looking at me. The shrimp ceviche was different and delightful. And Chase ordered so much food that he actually couldn’t finish it all. Growing boy.

I am back in my room, glad to have the chance to post this tonight although pictures will have to wait until Chase can get them to me. I will try to do this asap as I know that the pictures are a big part of this blog. We will have breakfast around 7:30 then off for the drive to Juigalpa. After that, it’s back to El Crucero and then finally home base NiCasa. It will be another very long day. Tuesday we come home.

What a trip this has been. While it is not yet over, the last two days have been so busy, both of doing and thinking, that I am full to overflowing with thoughts. There is much I want to do and I feel a gnawing urgency to help in many directions. There is so much need and as I held and kissed and hugged the children whether at El Crucero or Caritas or San Fernando, my passion and determination for helping them ALL rises to the top and feels like it will explode right out of me. I must find more sponsors. I must find more people who can help me help them. Tomorrow is another day.

OHP Mission trip #5 – September 2, 2012

Sunday, September 02, 2012

I am actually writing this on Saturday night and plan to upload it to Sunday morning before we leave for Nueva Segovia. This is the orphanage that is way up north near the Honduras border. It is near Ocotal, if you want to Google it. 

We haven’t got internet where we are staying after also our only alternative is to go to the other location and get online there which I will do tomorrow.

Coyote James
We had a very, very full day Saturday. First we changed our American dollars to Nicaragua Cordoba’s with Coyote James. The amount of money he carries around the street in huge wads is fascinating as are the men with guns providing security.

Coyote James

Coyote James

La Chureca – The Dump
Our next stop was to visit La Chureca, the Managua dump. I wanted Chase to see it – you really have to see it to believe it – and I hadn’t been there in several years.

Life in the dump

Life in the dump


Ever present dump fires

Ever present dump fires

I had been told that the government had made improvements and moved some of the people out to live elsewhere but while the amount of people may have been less, those that were there were still living in the squalor and filth that I remember. Such an injustice to see human beings living like this. The children swarmed our car as Mauricio slowed down to avoid landmine size craters in the road that I was afraid would swallow our truck. I reached out to give the children candy and while I was smiling at them, my heart ached. Their faces were so dirty, most had no shoes and their eyes so serious. I saw two little girls sharing a pair of shoes. One had a shoe on her right; the other had a shoe on her left. Chase was quiet as we left and I was choked up and fighting back tears.

A chico in la Chureca

A chico in la Chureca

TipTop Lunch
We stopped for a quick lunch at Tip Top, the local fast food chicken place. Think Chick Filet in the U.S. Chase wants to try everything new and Fabricio our translator, who is the same age, is always providing suggestions for him that he enjoys.

Pinata Party!
Next we went to Caritas, the in-country organization that helps the HIV+ children that are now part of the OHP. We have begun hosting a monthly piñata party for the children’s birthdays and today’s party seemed to be a big success. While most of the children do not smile and have much-too-serious eyes, there is something about whacking a 3’ paper mache doll stuffed with candy that got them all to smiling. With great delight, they scrambled on the ground for any dropped candy. Chase saw that a little one couldn’t get in to the melee and so waded in himself, grabbed some candy and then brought it over to him and his sister who were both very grateful and full of smiles.

Helping Out

Helping Out


Friendly girl

Friendly girl


Chase and a friend

Chase and a friend

Pinata

Pinata

Then we gave out gifts to the children. Fabricio suggested that we lay everything I had brought out on a table and let the children come up one by one and select what they wanted. He kept asking if there would be enough and I assured him there would be. While there was a room full of kids – about 50 – and I had not counted what I brought, I had no doubt that we would be fine. And we were, everyone got something and most got more. It was definitely a loaves and fishes moment. And when Chase wasn’t taking pictures, he was right in there with the kids, giving out toys crouched down from his 6’4” height so he didn’t tower over them.

We met with the Director after the party and planned a strategy for increasing our help. My goal is to begin a monthly allowance program similar to what we are doing for the orphanages that will allow Caritas to help with food, basic medical and education. This is what the OHP is all about. We’ll need more sponsors. More to come.

Vanessa's cookies

Vanessa’s cookies

That morning, I had given Mauricio the gifts we brought for him which included Vanessa’s special home made cookies. I had to insist that he share them with Chase and Fabricio and they all agreed they were delicious and a perfect afternoon snack.

On to El Crucero
It was about 4:30 at this point but our day was not yet done. Next we made the 45 minute drive up the mountain to El Crucero. And although we knew that only a few of the children were there, it was still great to see them. Many of them remembered me and I remembered them and most of their names. It was really wonderful to be hugged by so many smiling faces. Chaos reigned as we gave out the gifts and Chase loved having the boys climb all over him. We met with Madre, and said we would return on Monday for an updated child report and to take pictures of the other children who would be back by then. One of them was my Allison who I did not see today. I did see 2 of my 3 girls sponsor children. Both Wendy Guadalupe who is Alix’s sponsor child and Orquidia Guadalupe who is Vanessa’s sponsor child. I realized that both girls share the nickname “Lupe.” They both really liked their gifts as did all of the others. I didn’t see Becky and Brian’s little Andrea, that will have to wait until Monday.

Sayda's hug

Sayda’s hug

It was a wild and crazy hour while all of this was going on and it is only now that I can start to absorb the feelings of seeing the children after over a year has passed. The boys Carlos and Kenneth are both taller. They were the first two children we saw and both remembered me and ran up for a hug. Next up was little Maria, Madre’s niece who was happy to hold onto my hand even though she didn’t know me that well and then it was Sayda, who ran to me and threw her arms around me. I asked if she was still planning to be a Nun and with her beatific smile said yes. Later I saw the rest – Sorayda with her serious eyes, Mileydis my shadow who was glued to my hip and helped me give out all the presents, Katherine Soza the very troubled young teen and her two sisters Wendy and Ashley. Not to forget adorable Joseph who is 4 now and grown so much in a year. Seeing them all was the best part…just the best part.

Joseph, Chase, Kenneth, Carlos

Joseph, Chase, Kenneth, Carlos

A Nicaraguan Dinner
We left to go to dinner to a great place that I had been to before where the servers wear traditional costume and the food is great and local. Me and my three guys rehashed the events of the day, shared a great meal together and the conversation was easy and friendly. It was a very satisfying dinner at the end of a very satisfying day. Before we left, Chase asked to have his picture taken with the two armed guards across the street.

Chase and the guards

Chase and the guards

I must say that Mauricio has been absolutely wonderful and accommodating; he keeps telling me I’m the boss and whatever I want is ok. I keep asking him if he could please teach my husband Vince this. And Fabricio is an excellent translator with a great sense of humor. He also has great compassion for helping young children here and has formed his own non-profit called Nicayuda which helps bring preschool education to 5 year olds. It’s on Facebook, check it out. There is much laughing going on when we are all in the truck where we have spent a great deal of time.

We leave early Sunday morning for Nueva Segovia, then to Matagalpa Sunday night. Hopefully, the hotel we will stay in will have internet but if not, I won’t be able to post again until Monday afternoon or evening. We have two very full days and will be covering many miles in the truck. There will be much to tell you about. Thanks for reading.

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