This month I took off with my beloved friend, E, to Nicaragua, a third world country in Central America. (North of the Panama Canal and south of Mexico). My cousin retired there two years ago and I have an unique in with the country that way. Family, language, tour guide and a familiarity I wouldn' t have if, say, I just up and went to El Salvador. BE SAFE was what we heard most before taking off for Houston and then on to Managua. I can relate to the warning when I compare our adventure to visiting a small, unknown foreign country with questionable lawlessness. Truth is that Nicaragua is safe, has a very low crime rate and the people are lovely. They don't even have an army. Recently when the Costa Rican army mistakenly marched into Nicaragua on field drills, they simply turned around and marched south again.
We flew Seattle to Houston and then on to Managua. Landing at Managua, we headed to the colonial town of Granada, 45 minutes away, where my cousin's son (2nd cousin) had recently opened a restaurant. El Camello, the cafe, became our hang out as we assembled every day after our jungle hike to gorge on a delicious lunch and make a plan. We travelled as a group of anything between three to six (more family members visiting) and sometimes a group of nine (if the restauranteers could get away). Canoeing in the Islas off Granada, swimming in the warm crater lake, Laguna des Apoyos, eating, eating and more eating, our schedule was full along with our tummies. Thank goodness for those 1-2 hour hikes at 7 am and 4 pm everyday to find Howler monkeys. Conversation often drifted to the local cast of characters who've moved to the secluded country, some genuinely lovely people-- retirees --and many the 'wanted and unwanted' as my cousin said. Because it is a poor country, there are many problems for the native population who must struggle to survive amongst the American, European and Canadian ex- pats. It's not unusual to see an old, wizened white man with a young, nubile Nica girl and warnings are everywhere around Granada to not exploit under age minors.
We left Granada after five days to begin our second leg of the journey, a personal mission to do some good in Nicaragua. Both E and I brought 50 pound duffel bags from Seattle stuffed with school supplies, learning toys, clothes and shoes in hopes of connecting with The Nicaragua Children's Foundation in San Juan del Sur, the only tourist town on the west coast of the country. When my cousin dropped us off in that beachside surfing town, we set out to find our contact and line up a way to help the remote schools that they support. Surfing would have to wait for another trip. Our mission was clear. Turned out it was much easier than we'd anticipated. When we got in touch with Veronica and she divvied up the learning toys and supplies to go to three schools, we were given orders to be ready to roll the next morning at 9 to help the Foundation all day.
Her car picked us up at La Posada Azul where we stayed (loved it, see Trip Advisor), and we went immediately to the Pali (think Safeway) to buy supplies for two families. E and I shopped for the poorest of families in the town of Ojachal and with the help of Veronica and a man named Martin, we bought rice, oil, boullion, powdered milk, TP, toothpaste, soap, cookies and a variety of everyday items we take for granted here at home. Juice was loaded in too, with ice and paper cups so we'd be able to take a treat to the village that had no electricity and no refridgeration.
Our first stop, once we got fifteen minutes out of town, was Miravelle's school where the children shied away from us, thinking we were American nurses, there to give them shots in the arm. The juice and ice changed things fast. The school's best students lined up and we gave out pencils and notebooks and toothbrushes and toothpaste to each one. Then we strung a pinata filled with candy and watched the same three boys smash that scary, pink-haired clown until carmellitas spilled out onto the school's tiled floor.
Next, we delivered a wheelchair to a stick-thin grandmother who'd broken her pelvis. She took my hands in hers and thanked us for the chair, from the bottom of her kind heart. I took the thanks on behalf of others, even though I was only a witness to what the NCF does to help these unfortunate people.
The village of Ojachal was only weeks away from electricity, thanks to NCF and the mayor of San Juan del Sur, and our next task was to hand out three lightbulbs per house. There was an anticipatory excitement in the air in Ojachal. The recipients handled the energy saving bulbs with such reverence and care, it was touching. Hiking back through a farm, along a dry river, up a hill, across a meadow, through barbed wire and up another hill we found ourselves at a piece of property we called the Three Anna's. Camped on the land was an extended family headed by a mother named Anna, and a father who was in town presumably at a job. Two daughters we met that day were named Anna as well, one being a 14 year old special needs girl who was sick that day. She sat on a wooden plank on the dirt floor,(her bed) in a corugated tin shack (their home), clutching a blonde Barbie doll. It was the saddest thing we'd see that day. Unable to look up, she was in pain and frightened. I had a flat of acetaminophen which I gave to the mother. We unpacked their groceries and took pictures on behalf of the NCF and after hugs, hiked out and moved on to the second family who'd get groceries that day. After more pictures and hugs we drove into the school yard and unpacked the learning toys and supplies that E had carried from Seattle. The little kids from the younger grades sat at tiny wooden desks drinking their juice (with ice!) and when we handed out pencils and pencil boxes, they giggled and swung their little feet. I took pictures and showed them what they looked like on camera, which seemed to be good fun, as well. We blew up some Oriental Trading Company inflatable toy animals, bounced a ball around that we'd brought and tried to converse with the mothers who'd drifted in with babies in arms to see what all the fuss was.
On our way out of town, we were treated to a meal by an enterprising young woman of 20 years who cooks and sells her food miles away at the main road. In this area of Sammamish she'd be called a caterer. In Ojachal she was simply trying to make a living to support her small, clean hut where we sat at a table set for enchiladas.
It didn't seem like much, what we did, but we had a feeling of accomplishment as the truck took us back to town. In the grand scheme of things it was barely a drop in an ocean but it was something, and we felt grateful for being able to help. It wasn't the last thing we'd do for the Nicaraguan Children's Foundation-- a non profit organization with headquarters in Vancouver Canada, and an office in San Juan del Sur. Their mission involves the running of a special needs school and helping with the town's public school San Francisco de Assis. And now they are reaching out to the rural areas to provide education to children who wouldn't normally have the luxury. Please visit their site and see if there is anything you can do to help. You won't regret it. www.nicaraguachildrensfoundation.com