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Dominican Sister brings images, stories of
Nicaragua’s suffering to local students

Heather Felton, of the Florida Catholic staff

SARASOTA — Pictures of skinny Nicaraguan children, their bellies bloated with parasites, standing barefoot in the red dirt and with little to no clothing, were projected on the whiteboard in the Incarnation School classroom.

The students stared at the children in the pictures, not so different from themselves, as Sister Debbie Blow, Dominican Sister of Hope, asked them what it was they had done to be born here in America into this lifestyle.

“Nothing,” one student answered.

“And what did these children,” she asked, referencing the pictures on the wall, “do to be born there?”

The same answer came back to her: “Nothing.”

There are many reasons to help these people, she said. We are Christians and Catholics and Jesus told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but that is not the only reason.

“The bottom line, boys and girls, the bottom line is because we can.”

Sister Blow, executive director of North Country Mission of Hope, visited third- to seventh-grade students at Incarnation School in Sarasota March 26, and fifth- to seventh-grade students at Epiphany Cathedral School in Venice March 27, sharing the realities of life in Nicaragua for the poorest of the poor and the mission’s work to help the people there.

Nicaragua, she told the students, is the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti. The country has a 65 percent unemployment rate and the average income is $350 a year.
“How much does an iPod cost?” she asked.

“About that,” the students responded, looking awed.

A nonprofit corporation, North Country Mission of Hope is a multidenominational humanitarian organization headquartered in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and operates in Managua, Nicaragua.

Sister Blow’s presentation affected the students who heard and saw it.

“I think a lot of people would think it’s bad to not have toys,” said Jared Muha, 12, “and they don’t even have food. We’ll eat something and throw it away if we don’t like it. The (people in the dump) eat what other people threw away.”
“It’s kind of sad,” said Lauren Schofield, 13. “I can’t imagine having to live like that.”

Haley Paulsen, 13, agreed.

“We’ve heard about stuff that’s bad, but the pictures are a hundred times worse,” she said.

“How they can live like that and survive … or not,” added Jordan Gonzales, 13. “I take shoes and socks for granted.”

Sister Christa Cunningham, a fellow Dominican Sister of Hope and organizer of Sister Blow’s visit to Epiphany Cathedral Parish, was also touched by the presentation.

“(It brought home) simple things, such as turning off the water when brushing your teeth; the people who don’t have commodities that we take for granted; people living in cardboard boxes. It just brought tears to your eyes,” Sister Cunningham said. “The number of missionaries she takes over there — especially the ones from high school — that must have an impact on their lives, having a chance to see world situations that can really affect them.”

North Country Mission of Hope began in 1999 as a “direct ministerial response to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Mitch on the impoverished villages of Chiquilistagua and Monte Verde in Nicaragua,” states the mission’s Web site. “The first mission team immediately recognized that direct, long-term assistance was vital in order to improve the lives of the people.
“Working hand in hand with local community leaders,” the site states, “the mission’s primary objective is to empower the people to help themselves through educational, health care, nutrition, water and community development projects. In addition, by enlightening the area students and adult missioners to the conditions and needs of the poor, we are able to bring about changes in our own communities.”

One of the areas under focus for the mission is the Managua city dump that serves as a home for more than 600 children and their families, Sister Blow said. The homes are made of trash bags or cardboard boxes and a family’s “home” is roped off with barbed wire.

“Most of the children I work with eat once every three to four days, if they’re lucky,” she said.

But through the mission, sponsors from across the globe support children or families and help them to secure better housing, uniforms and shoes for school, regular meals and clean drinking water. In addition, the mission conducts two weeklong trips to Nicaragua with groups of 25 to 40 people of various ages, although it hopes to expand to three mission trips per year.
So far, Sister Blow said, the mission had participants from 18 high schools, 14 institutions of higher education, 11 states — including Florida — and 10 countries. From December 1998 to February 2007, 623 individuals have participated in at least one of the 23 mission trips; 136 have made more than one trip. Sister Blow is hoping to add more people from more places to that list.

“If I can change your heart, then you can be a miracle for another child,” she said.

And the financial cost to help is so little, she said.

“If you gave up one soda a week, you could a save a child from starving,” she said. For $120 a year, a child can be fed a hot meal a day, as well as be provided with a school uniform and shoes and a yearly doctor visit.

“We know from what we hear in church that God hears the cry of the poor,” Sister Blow asked the students. “Will you?”




A family receives bags of rice and beans from North Country Mission of Hope volunteers who go into the barrio to bring this meal staple to those who are the poorest of the poor.
Dr. Roger Patnode examines a patient in North Country Mission of Hope clinic at Nejapa, Nicaragua.



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