Saturday, 30 November 2013

Nicaragua: Ice Cream Team

Just when I thought I had aced all the tricks of volunteering at a SCAW distribution, I learned something new today: bedkits and volunteers do not always show up at the same time. 

Each distribution requires a meticulously finessed arrangement of mattresses, pillows, backpacks and supplies to be at a site at the same time as the volunteer team. That did not happen today at Xalteva, our distribution site in Granada. We were there, but some of the bedkits were not. However, with some fine orchestration on the part of our calm and careful leader, Judy Dryden, the remaining kits were rounded up and, after a two-hour delay, we were in business. 

The children, as usual, were beautiful, sweet and thrilled to receive their bedkits. They seemed particularly poor, if their shabby clothing and bare feet were any indication. One little boy rushed up to me, threw his arms around me and said, "I love you." What can you say to that?

I met two young gals from Minnesota, Liz Nichole and Jaime Belden, who are living in Granada and working in an extremely poor area called El Pantanal. They teach elementary school and useful skills such as how to grow a vegetable garden in an old wooden pallet. 

At the end of our hot and sticky day the six of us went for our daily helado, or ice cream. No wonder we call ourselves the "Ice Cream Team."

Team Nicaragua
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Friday, 29 November 2013

Nicaragua: Creating Jobs!!

Today we visited the companies who supply the items for the bedkits.  It was very interesting to tour the factory where the foam filled pillows are made.  It was a family owned company that also makes mattresses.  We saw the process from foam being made through to sewing the covers.  

Our next stop was a small building where the backpacks were made.  This business was started and run by two young entrepreneurial cousins who were very eager to show us around.  It was really interesting to know that such a small space can produce 4000 backpacks.  They proudly told us the backpack contract offered their staff a month of overtime hours. 

Our last stop was a family owned business which was run from their home.  This small business sewed  the covers for all the foam mattresses in the SCAW bedkit. Today they were making rag filled mattresses.  The young employees demonstrated how one of these beds are made.  The shell was sewn then filled with rags.  Once the end was closed the two young men quickly worked with a long needle and thread to tack the rags in place within the mattress.

It’s so great to have the opportunity to see this part of the SCAW process to really know the ripple effect of sponsoring one bedkit.  Jobs are created, small businesses have an opportunity to thrive and children smile!
Team Nicaragua 2013

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Nicaragua: Strong Leadership

It takes strong leadership to pull 6 people together into a cohesive team in a very short period of time. 
I certainly feel Judy has accomplished that on this trip.
There is a feeling in the team that we're breaking records - 387 children receiving bedkits but only requiring 13 photographs!
Yesterday we gave out 400 bedkits before noon and we were told that "we are a well-oiled team"!
Judy quietly works away in the background to smooth the way for our successes always accentuating the positives.
Each of us on the team strives to do our best to help fulfill SCAW's mandate.
We had an early start to our 7th distribution in Santa Barbara stopping on the way to see a dam.  We had only taken a few group photographs when it started to rain.
Mysteriously a tarp appeared, was strung up, and we were back in business.  I thought that I had seen all facets of Judy's leadership skills, but was surprised when, at the end of the day, she stomped on a scorpion so we could continue packing up equipment.
Pam Horricks for Team Nicaragua
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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Nicaragua: "Sonria!"

Distribution #6 today was in the delightfully named town of Tipitapa. Once again, our friends from the Nicaraguan metalworks company Indensica provided great volunteer support for our efforts making the distribution of 400 bedkits the smoothest to date.

"Sonria" is Spanish for "smile" - and there were many, many of them today. Sometimes, we need to break the ice (a distinctly Canadian term) with balloons or our hard-working hand puppets Octavio the Otter and Tortuga the Turtle. Other times, sonrias are brought on by Duncan's magic tricks or by Duncan and Stuart's kazoo band. And today there were many smiles as our disc jockey pounded out Latino Christmas songs - certainly more dance-worthy than our sombre Canadian selections.  (Feliz Navidad anyone?) But no smiles are bigger than those that we see peeling across the children's faces when they receive their backpacks and bedkits. These are smiles of joy, gratitude and, in some cases, disbelief that such good fortune has landed on them.

One of the more interesting things we try to do at each distribution is to interview parents of children receiving the bedkits to see what is most useful and what they might like to see in future distributions, as well as what the bedkits mean to them and their families. One mother told us today that not only would her daughter have the best sleep of her life tonight but that she herself would sleep better too - now only having to share her bed with one child instead of two. This is something we can all really appreciate, having had the opportunity to be welcomed into several homes of bedkit recipients over the past few days. An early Feliz Navidad to 2,4000 Nicaraguan children from SCAW's generous bedkit donors.

Team Nicaragua
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Nicaragua: 100 Children

Today the six of us ran Distribution Number 5 like a well-oiled machine. We were thrilled when we pulled up to Vision Ahora Church in Managua to see that the Rotary Club of Managua had arranged for us to use the entire church site for the day. It was ideal for our purposes: a huge, enclosed space with a roof over it so that none of the children was in the sun, a secure corner in which to stack the bedkits and, best of all, a stage. This was the site we have been waiting for!

Thanks to the Matching Funds Program at Macgregor Meat & Seafood Ltd. of Toronto, we have four photographs of one hundred children to take during this trip. So far none of our locations had been able to hold that many kids at one time. But here we had a stage with banks of steps in front of it so that we could line up the children in tiers and get all one hundred into each shot. As only 387 children arrived to the site to receive their bedkits, we were unable to get all four photos, but three out of four isn't bad.

Team Nicaragua
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Monday, 25 November 2013

Nicaragua: Day Off!

Today the SCAW team had a break from distributions.  It was a sunny and hot (as usual) day, and we were able to see more of this beautiful country.  With two of our translators, Darlene and Marcos, our first stop was the Masaya Volcano.  This is an active volcano and is surrounded by a lava field.  While we could drive right up to the edge of the volcano we had limited vision into the crater itself today due to the gases.  However, it was still a spectacular sight.  We were joined there by Francisco (Paco) Ortega, one of our Rotary Overseas Volunteer Partners, and his family.

After Masaya we made a quick stop in Granada to see the old colonial town, then took a boat tour through the 300+ small islands in Lake Nicaragua.  There was even a small island populated by monkeys.

After a late lunch in Granada we finished the afternoon with ice cream cones to try to help beat the heat.

Tomorrow we're off to our fifth distribution, and 400 more happy and excited children.

Judy for Team Nicaragua 2013
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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Nicaragua: The Children!!

Our 4th day of distribution was back in Managua at the Juan Pablo II School.  It was a very small school with not much room to move around, but 400 more bedkits were delivered bringing our total to 1,200 (2,800 to go).

This blog features the children.  There was little difficulty in knowing that the children in this area were poor. One only had to look at their shoes and the parents patiently waiting outside the fenced-in area of the school.
You will note that all the children in the pictures are wearing white T-shirts.  This is done in Nicaragua so that the children have a shirt that can be used as part of their school uniform to go along with the blue shorts that are also included in the bedkit.  Heat is an issue here in Nicaragua and several of the children were feeling ill from the heat even though they were in the shade most of the time.  Our Rotary Club of Managua provided a cool fruit drink for the children while they were waiting to have their pictures taken which certainly helped.  
Like our distribution in Leon, we were able to visit several homes of the children who received bedkits. 
After visiting the homes and seeing the children, their siblings and parents, there was no doubt in our minds that our donors money was being put to good use!  The SCAW Team was also lucky to duck another rainfall.  While we were having lunch on the shore of Lake Managua soon after the distribution, a storm hit with high winds and torrential rain.  If the storm had hit during our distribution, today's blog would have been an interesting one!  So, we are blessed to be providing bedkits to very needy children and we are blessed to have missed the rains for 4 days in a row.  Please take a look at the pictures of the children - aren't they beautiful? They are sure deserving!
Tomorrow is a day off - time for sightseeing and getting caught up on sleep.
Team Nicaragua 2013

Nicaragua: Big Smiles!!

Our third distribution today was held on the shores of the Pacific at Playa Poncloya - just on the outskirts of historic Leon. As we arrived at the site, I was reminded how our work is not only dependent on the volunteers on our team but, importantly, so dependent on a large legion of volunteers on the ground here in Nicaragua. We have now worked with two Rotary Club partners - our host partner the Managua club and, today, the Leon club. Today we worked with an impressive team of young Rotaract volunteers - all students in their late teens - who probably had other ideas about what to do on hot sunny day by a beautiful beach besides assembling and slinging bedkits and helping the 400 children who received them through today's process. And yet they worked unflinchingly in somewhat challenging logistical circumstances to help us all accomplish our shared goal. The sense of service and commitment to others that these young people are developing in this type of work will serve them and their country well as they cope with the challenges of the future. 

After our distribution was complete, we had the opportunity as a team to visit two homes of children who had received bedkits today. This "brought it all home" for us as well. Handing out bedkits to smiling children is one thing. Seeing where they will be used and the primitive beds they will be replacing is another thing all together. As volunteers and donors ourselves, we all left with an entirely different perspective on the changes that SCAW's donors can bring to a child's life. And we left with big smiles on our faces too. We wish the children of Playa Poncloya dulce suenos (sweet dreams) on their first night in their new beds. 

Team Nicaragua 2013
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Friday, 22 November 2013

Nicaragua 2013: Meeting Old Friends

Today was a very exciting day for me!  I had the honour of being a Nicaragua team member in 2009 and was now not only returning, but reconnecting with special friends.  In 2009 some of the youth of the Rotaract club and I created a bond that we have kept through Facebook.  Things have changed in four years and now one of those people, Marcia was in charge of the distribution today.  Working along side with her were Maryhen and Greco.  All three are wonderful, successful adults who are committed to enhancing the lives of the people of their country.  It was so great to see them taking charge and sharing their hearts!  We shared long hugs and enjoyed the opportunity to work together again.

After the distribution we visited the company who made the 4000 mosquito nets for the bed kits this year.  It is a small family business and it was clear they worked very hard to get the order complete.  The children and their parents are so happy to be taking home every item in their gift.

Suzanne Dobinson for Team Nicaragua 2013
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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Nicaragua: First Distribution!!

Distribution One! My first day volunteering for Sleeping Children Around the World. I'm excited and nervous, hoping to do a good job and be useful and not mess up. As we roll down the rural roads in our van, I wonder what to expect when we arrive at our destination and soon enough, I know: throngs of children and their parents, waving green, red and blue balloons in the air as they shout out their greetings to us. Oh, my. I try to stay composed, but I am overwhelmed and inevitably the tears roll down my face.

We drive through the gate, into the compound and go to say "Hola" to some of the girls and boys, who are beautiful and sweet. Ranging in ages from six to twelve, each child is patiently waiting to receive their mattress, pillow, sheet, pillowcase, t-shirt and shorts, backpack, school supplies and mosquito net.

But now we have to get to work. It's my job to line up the kids for their photos. What a pleasure to meet them and have fun with them!    One adorable little girl crosses her arms over her chest when she is about to be handed a bedkit, because even now she cannot believe that she is getting this precious gift. The day falls into a pattern and everything goes smoothly, even when I send one little "nino" for his photo wearing his old shirt and not the one he has received from SCAW. But that is quickly fixed.

At one point in the afternoon I watch my dear friend Judy taking the photos of the children and it sinks in that she is doing the work her father began all those years ago in 1970. It is amazing to have the opportunity to see her carrying on this work.

And now we're done. All of the photos have been taken and it is time to pack up and go back to our hotel. I wonder how today's four hundred children are doing with their new bedkits.

Team Nicaragua 2013

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Nicaragua: Our First Day!!

Wow, my first trip with SCAW and my first day in  Nicaragua. Last night we were greeted by the Rotarians and Rotaracts at the airport with lots of smiles and hugs. Two people from the SCAW team have been here in past years so it was a renewing of past friendships. This morning was the official "kick off" with a meeting to discuss changes in the bedkit from last year and review the process of distribution. The Rotarians are becoming known for distributing SCAW bedkits and are often asked when SCAW will be returning to Nicaragua. We gave them some lapel pins and were surprised to receive Rotary caps. They invited us to visit the warehouse where the kits are assembled and stored. I was blown away when I saw 4,000 mattresses stacked, waiting for the children - these children are the poorest of the poor and the kits are a true blessing in their lives.

Pamela Horricks for Team Nicaragua 2013
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Monday, 18 November 2013

Nicaragua 2013: The Team is Ready to Go!!

The Nicaragua Team of  Stuart Culbertson, Patty Freeman, Judy Dryden, Pam Horricks, Suzanne Dobinson and Duncan Macgregor is set to go!!

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