I had no idea either, but sure enough... take a guess.
even night time is cool...
We were to meet Paul at the airport in Managua on the way to his small village. Like everything in Latin America, we were on their time schedule and customs had plans for Paul. We got to the village late, but I was really excited. We stayed in a hot room that smelled of fresh paint, but I was so excited to be down here none of it mattered. In the morning we woke to heat and sun. Did I mention how much I love Nicaragua? It is special. I realize it. Paul realized it 6 years ago. It's why we've all come. And so the story begins...
Paul, on the right, and Santos the crazy local reporter
computer work con amigotito
I am so excited by the passion these guys have. Mision Hispana, a youth mission, was started six years ago through faith alone by this man, Paul Heier, originally from Illinois. Paul's story is magical unto itself. It's made me cry hearing it. What he has created for the community here in the small village of Tecolostote, in the valley of Boaco, has drawn everyone closer and given street kids true purpose. I'll get to that in a minute, but first I must tell you of the people and what they face.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. Fact. The average monthly salary is about $150. The people here live on virtually nothing. They make many things (including FOOD!!) by hand. Fences, timbers, buildings, splitting wood, so many things used daily are made with simple rudimentary hand tools. It's hard livin' down here. The thing this town and all of Latin America has going for it is community. Community binds these people together, especially at Mision Hispana. Community, and men who are willing to lead these kids, most of whom have never had fathers, teaching them life is bigger than they are and giving them real purpose.
Part of what Mision Hispana has come to do for this small town and the valley of Boaco is helping people get places. You might wonder what I'm talking about, but to know the true need of this community is to realize just how little they have. Several months ago, during the rainy season, the river here flooded. It's not uncommon for rivers to flood in Central America, but it flooded meters higher than anyone had ever seen it. So much rain fell during this past rainy season that Lake Nicaragua, which is 6800 kilometers long and almost as big as the entire country of neighboring Costa Rica, filled... and is still 2 meters higher than it usually ever gets. Lots of water. Some might even say biblical amounts...
hand signaling during rescue class
guess who's strainer bait...
you can barely see my helmet in there
everyone got a shot at live-bait victim retrieval
live-baitng victims doesn't always go smooth, especially for the victim
then it was off to the clinic for some ear antibiotico...
Part of the problem, you can imagine, is trying to get around. The national government doesn't have money to build bridges for travel across many of its rivers. It is a way of life here. The valley of Boaco isn't even among the poorest. And so... there are places the roads go THROUGH the rivers, even in the dry season as we are now. It is a sirreal experience being in a truck rounding the corner and... into the river!! The rainy season lasts 5 to 6 months of the year. The people still need to get to work, school, fuel needs to be delivered, milk picked up from local farms by large milk trucks. Life must go on. And unfortunately in the rainy season vehicles are swept away every year. People die here every year trying to get to work, trying to get to school and trying to see their friends and families. Mision Hispana helps people get places with the small amount of resources and man power they have. There is no one else. Currently they have 7 residents and 2 full time staff. There are other small agencies like the Red Cross who help and who are also attending the class. But when the water is high, traveling to neighboring villages is difficult to impossible. The Red Cross sent several of its guys to the class. These guys are volunteers and do not collect a paycheck.
Hadir, one of the Red Cross volunteers, listens close
Chris Jonason teaching these guys invaluable rope systems
Times are hard here. I am humbled in ways I cannot put into words. Underpowered, underfunded and having a tiny amount of resources (some rope and construction harnesses) these guys have done more for the community this year than any of us in the States can imagine. Devastation has been monumental. Because the people here have very little it doesn't take a long time to rebuild, but it is up to them. No outside help or money will come. To add insult to injury in a way only Mother Nature knows how, floods don't always come in the daylight hours. Nor does it have to be raining in your village for a wall of water to come racing down through town. Sound like hard living? Imagine trying to perform night searches for people you know are in the water when there are no lights and you can't really even hear your guys you are seaching with because the river is so loud. Fortunately the Mision got a light they can put in the back of a truck along with a gas generator to power it. Fortunately for them and the victims in the water. 6 out of the 7 rescues they performed this last season were at night. They watched as people drowned and there was nothing they could do. Vehicles turned over trapping people underwater. Then they searched for and found the bodies the following days. They carried the dead out with little more than a tarp, sometimes nothing. I tell you all of this so you, as the reader, may have some idea of what happens down here. So you may have some idea of what these guys have been through. So you may appreciate their situation.
Biblical floods won't stop them, though. They know the floods will come again. Paul contacted Wave Trek Rescue, realizing they needed training and some state of the art equipment. And now, today, we have just completed the third day of a five day course specially designed for them and the challenges we know and they know will come again next season. They are a family it is obvious. They have quarrels, sometimes resulting in fist fights, but it is what brothers do. All of these guys are in their teens to twenties. I am so inspired. They have my deep respect and I am so excited to be here teaching them, so is Chris. If there ever was a cause to donate to, this is the one. If I could tell you of all the little details it would only make this tale more sirreal. But it is all true. I am honored to be a part.
can you count out the mechanical advantage?
using what the river has given
Through all the challenges these guys face they are a tight group. They are family... and a total riot to hang out with!! Wilmer is sort of the big brother at the mission. He checks the others when they get fiesty and his style is to CHARGE! Wilmer has heart and is fired up to use all this new gear, especially the Big Shot which is basically an 8 foot tall sling shot designed to get 250' of rope across a big river. He walks around with it and rarely let's it out of his sight. He told Paul he would sleep with it under his pillow at night if he could. Wilmer is awesome, I love that guy.
even the kids want to get involved
Wilmer pays attention, he knows the floods will come
Eric ziplines across
We've held class in a river next to the hacienda where Chris and I are staying. So the guys load up and drive about half an hour every morning to get here. There are 15 total in the group. A few ride in the nice pickup the mission owns. It has AC. The rest ride in the back of the big delivery truck with all the gear. They're all young and think it's really cool to get to ride in the back. Doing these classes every day makes them all feel like they are apart of something bigger than they are. They are. They're learning how to save people's lives. Eric, who also helps out at the mission, drives the nice pickup. The guy who drives the big delivery truck is a huge pot head and at lunch the guys were telling us stories about him the other day. Stoned 24/7, this guy is funny. The guys were all dying laughing listening to him tell stories. Paul was almost crying translating to us. Once he fell asleep and drove his truck off a cliff, rolling it 14 times. In true stoner fashion he was uninjured. Another time he was driving a bunch of people somewhere and had a very heavy load on his truck. Approaching a steep hill, he geared down and floored it to make it to the top. Of course he didn't make it all the way up and started rolling backwards. The people in the cab were terrifieded as he yelled to them in Espaniol, "Jump for it and save yourselves!! Let the captian go down with the ship!!!" Of course they all jumped. We were howling as he told the story! He sat in the middle of the long table as we ate, red-eyed with funny expressions. He's been a driver most of his life and has a ton of stories. The guys were laughing so hard. How could you not want to hang out down here?
just sitting down to lunch
modified kayak "platform" in a highline system
using a tractor for a mobile anchor
Jorge is a small little guy who, ironically, went to jail 6 times this last year. The charges were all the same: robbery with intimidation. He's about 5'4" and 135 lbs. Intimidation, imagine that. But he changed his game plan. He always has this funny smile on his face and reminds me of a kid I taught to kayak a few years ago named Marco. I'm sure Marco has never seen the inside of a jail anywhere. Jorge is really smart and picks up the systems and knots quick. He's the cameraman and is always taking pictures of what's going on in class. He's 25, but looks barely 18 and walks around muttering his favorite phrase to everyone, "wha suppa, mang." Love that kid.
Most look younger than they are here. Jesus is one exception. At 14, he IS the youngest of the group and Jorge's cousin. Jesus is small and quiet, but very intelligent. He simply watches everyone work through the systems and picks it up, improving where the others aren't quite getting it. Half of them have kids and some, wives. It's a different world down here. Hadir is one of the leaders as far as class goes. He's a Red Cross volunteer. Hector, Eduardo, Toribio, Juan, Pepe, they're all great and have a place in this big family. On the river and off these guys work it out. It is an example many in the States could learn from and an inspiration to see. And if it sounds like I'm talking them up a lot, it's because I am. They deserve all the praise and respect. You need a team-building exercise for your company? Come down here for a week. These guys will show you what's up. Right Jorge?? I'll be sad to leave. I'll never forget these guys. Wilmer, in front of the whole group, pleaded with Chris and I to stay. He wants us to stay for the entire rainy season!! I love all these guys. They have become my brothers. Viva Mision Hispana!!!!
This last night was the best. We did some kayak training, as none of the guys have experienced a kayak. We trained in a huge pool where Chris and I stayed called Termales Agua Clares. Termales has about 5 different pools that are HUGE and all fed by natural hot springs. Hopefully I'm not bragging too much, but it is so good down here I just can't stand it. The last thing we did with the guys was a night search. I set out 4 "victims" in and around the river and then we all waited until it was pitch black. It took them about an hour and a half to find all of the victims. They had their lights set up and used every piece of equipment they had. I just can't say enough things about everyone down here. Great great times. Quality people. I am so excited to be apart of these guys' training. The night ended with all of them getting certificates of completion and let me tell you, they were all beaming. After all the certificates were handed out each one of them stood and gave a short speech to us, thanking us for everything we had done for them. I couldn't think of a more rewarding way to spend my time down here. I love all you guys in the Boaco valley!!!! I just heard it's snowing at home. More adventures coming soon!! Good times are here to stay.
the whole gang!!
For more information on how you can help this completely not-for-profit, donation-only, youth mission, check here. Mision Hispana is going into it's sixth year and has recieved 'the nod' from the mayor of Tecolostote and the Colonel of Civil Defense (which doesn't happen). Paul must be doin' something right!! Do what you can. Anything helps, old stinky gear, clothes you're giving to Good Will, old climbing rope you're going to throw away, PFD's, old junky biner's, ANYTHING. This is about as 'third world' as it gets, y'all. Your contribution could literally save someone's life. If all you have is a genuine prayer, give it! Good on ya!!! Paul has put up some stories of their rescues and happenings invloving the mission and the valley on the website. Check it out!!
always pratice in the pool before you go to the river
Catch more comedy, safety and boating at: http://creeksides.blogspot.com