Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rio Istian Swamp Peace

I spent last weekend on Ometepe Island, not at the orphanage, but at a hostel closer to Volcano Maderas. Sunday morning we went for a kayak trip to Rio Istian, a swamp like area in the saddle between the two volcanos.

It was peaceful, natural, the first time in awhile I’ve travelled Nicaragua without seeing trash. While Nicaragua is very natural, camping, hiking and boating aren’t regular activities.

The people live so close to the land (figuratively and literally) sleeping in a tent isn’t fun recreation; it’s just another way to live. With exposure to the elements even from within the houses (plenty of homes have dirt floors, most have open areas to the outside between the underside of metal roofs and top of walls) and frustration about lack of reliable infrastructure, the desire to go out into less developed areas is pretty muted.

But I still love it!

We're currently in the middle of summer (dry season), but the trees are already starting to lose leaves and have an autumn look. At 90 degrees, however, it doesn't feel like fall!

We were warned to stay away by this Nicaraguan version of Karate Kid. He was pretty determined too, and stayed in this position for the several minutes that we were nearby.

Clockwise from upper left: Family washing in the lake near their home, men fishing, crane on tree branch, lakeside church service.

And finally, a quick clip.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The International Meeting in Mexico

A couple weeks ago I left for Cuernavaca, Mexico to be present for NPH's International Meeting. It is a time for the directors of the different homes to get together to coordinate and share, but it is also a time for NPH to share with many of its donors and supporters who come to see what has happened in the previous year.

From the moment we touched down, it felt different than when I was there last year.

First, we had a congressman from Nicaragua in our little group, so we were escorted through customs (a fun, but surprisingly time consuming diversion). Secondly, I actually understood what was being said this time around (I have learned something in the last year, spanish!).

And third, Mexico is so developed! And expensive! After getting used to Nicaragua, it has become completely obvious why Mexico is no longer considered third world. There are places where there aren't horses dragging carts behind them. If you try, you can find just about anything you need (I wanted to try for some construction project scheduling software at the well established black market, which I heard I would have a good chance of finding, but we didn't have time). The opportunities for higher education are very well developed.

We took some time to visit the home of a long time NPH supporter that lived near the Cathedral and has a nice view of it from her patio (photos above). She also has one of the most incredible examples I've ever seen of blending indoors with the outdoors with virtually every room of the house open to indoor courtyards through large archways. So possible in a climate like Cuernavaca, the city of "eternal spring."

The kids of NPH Mexico danced, jump roped and generally put on a great show. They have nearly 1,000 kids living with them this year, and next year will be the 55th anniversary of the home.

The Memory Project was included as part of the general presentation. Ben's first experience with NPH was the kids in Nicaragua, but his project's reach is now much farther.

It was a good time, meetings and all, now back to Nicaragua!

Friday, February 22, 2008

You May Be Right

Just a little note before I go to the island for the weekend. Gunther, Marlon, Raul and I went to lunch with our contractor the other day.

We drove down our long entrance to the Panamerican highway, basically pulled across the street and into the driveway of a neighboring home. We sat on the porch in rocking chairs talking business about road bids and until the first four plates of eight came out with food. The family apologized that it was taking so long, but they needed to kill another chicken to finish the rest of the order.

So the next time you joke about them killing whatever you ordered in back because it's taking so long? You may just be right!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Where We've Been, Where We're Going - In Other Words, A Summary

I've just returned from our week long international meeting in Mexico where I met people working with NPH in all nine countries (and the people themselves from many other countries from North and South America and Europe), attended a plethora of meetings and gained about 7 pounds from the incredible Mexican food!

One evening I gave a presentation on the Nicaragua construction project. Those attending came from a wide background, so it was pretty general. I tried to touch on the history a bit, but also bring people up to speed with the most recent activities as well.

I won't make you sit through the whole thing (or maybe I just don't want to type it!), but here are the slides with short explanations.

Ok, I suppose this slide doesn't really need an explanation!

NPH Nicaragua has gone through several significant changes in the last few years, only one of which is relocating to the mainland. Through all of this, NPH Nicaragua has tried to both push for change where needed, not settle with complacency, but also understand that real change does take time.

The decision to move off the island has been debated for years within NPH, but the eruption of the volcano in 2005 and continued activity was the ultimate catalyst.

Not surprisingly, moving to the mainland has it's advantages and disadvantages. The reason the island was chosen was to shelter kids from crime, drug abuse and all the trauma they had already suffered too much from. However, living on the mainland is less expensive, creates a larger pool of educated potential employees, creates opportunities for more integration with the community the kids will eventually live in, better access to higher education and medical facilities.

In January of 2007, property was bought to start the project.

Interviewing architects and engineers, planning, revising, talking, revising again. It's been a full year, but we've tried to leave no stone unturned and no person unheard.

This is the latest version of the Master Plan. It continues to be revised as we continue on, but it's more like fine tuning now.

We have applied for and recieved all our permits including the environmental impact permit. We've received bids, and have chosen a contractor for the first four homes in the project.

The contractor has begun work and is moving along. I do my best not to hit my chin on the table as he actually hits the schedule dates. The truth is that he is not a cheap contractor, but receiving a quality product in the time that was agreed upon suddenly seems not only worth a little extra cost, but slightly miraculous.

Construction is movin' right along...

This is the final plan of the first four homes. We're already discussing small changes that can be made to save costs on future homes, but these ones are set. That is one huge advantage of building this building a total of 28 times, we'll be really good at it by the time we're done!

These are the architects renderings of the inside of the home (they have been posted here previously, so that's why they look familiar).

It all looks fantastic, the plans are great, the progress is good, but there is the little nagging truth that we aren't done and that we are far from it.

But, of course, our team with continue to work as we receive donations and someday this kids will be settled all together as a family!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We Have Our Pump!

Well, it's hard to believe, but we finally have our pump. It took calls from our lawyer to get their attention, but the work is complete.

There is certainly more for us to do, the entire water system needs to be built to store and distribute water to all the areas, but we have water!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hope Part 1

The ceiba tree was often the symbol of the foundation of the world in Mayan civilizations.

Hope exists in many forms, is manifested in many ways.

It is emotion and decision.

It is what allows some of us to reach for our highest dreams and others the ability to simply live.

It changes from person to person, from culture to culture and yet in so many ways stays the same for all of us.

At different times in our lives we all struggle to hope.

I suppose to not have hope is to despair to some, to face reality to others.

And it can get interesting here.

The people of Nicaragua live with much hope. Not for any particular reason, they’ve been through war, poverty, epidemics, and natural disasters. But to let go is to let go of life, and so it is ingrained very deeply.

An NPH priest, Father Ron, told me a story about the construction of a new chapel in El Salvador. He said the workers told him it would be done before his birthday. It surprised no one, however, when his birthday came and went and construction continued on.

“Yes, but weren’t you happy when you thought it would be completed by your birthday?” One of the workers asked him. “No way!” Father Ron replied, “I would have just liked to know the real date it was going to be done!”

But it stands to reason that the workers truly hoped that it would be done for his birthday in spite of all the real signs it wouldn’t be. Just like in their lives, they hope for a better life for themselves and their children, despite all the real signs that life is just as devastated as it has been for decades.

Father Ron has plenty of hope for other things, like the future of all NPH children! And he also has a completed chapel.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Who Not to Have Dig Your Nicaraguan Well

All I can say is, do not use MacGregor, IPEMSA to dig your Nicaraguan well. Fortunately for us, the quality is not compromised, but the schedule certainly is. We are currently trucking in water for construction even though we have a well since they still haven’t installed the pump.

While they were extremely profession before we signed the contract last July(oh what a terrible sentence!), now they only answer our calls when they don’t know it’s us (as in we call them from a phone whose number they don’t have yet).

My last phone message a few minutes ago went like this – “Hi Sergio, it’s Nicole with NPH. I know you’re not going to return my call, I just need to call you for legal reasons to ask when you’re going to install the pump since MacGregor didn’t show up today (again) like you had said they would last Friday (again). I know you’re not going to respond to this message either, but my phone number is……”

And pound pound pound went my headache.

Ah, life as a volunteer!