“What the poor need is not charity but capital, not caseworkers, but co-workers.  And what the rich need is a wise, honorable and just way of divesting themselves of their over abundance.  The Fund for Humanity will meet both of these needs.” -Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinala Farm and the concepts behind Habitat for Humanity.

A team of 20 participants, most of whom attend St Mark’s, arrived at Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport, Managua, Nicaragua, on Friday evening, October 30, 2015, to participate in a one week Habitat for Humanity building project.  Thrivent Financial services provided the funding for the two houses the teams would be working on at two separate construction sites in the Esteli Municipality with the families of Juan Estrada and Eva Jiminez.  Esteli is in the northwestern part of Nicaragua, near the Honduran border.

Gary and Linda Petersen, team leaders, have many years of experience helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity, both in the USA and in several international building sites.  All the participants appreciated Gary and Linda’s organization, dedication, encouragement, and detailed information in preparing us for this work experience.

Our work begins!

Our daily routine included breakfast each morning at 6:30 AM, morning devotions at 7:00 AM (we took turns giving devotions), boarding a bus for the work site at 7:30 AM.  Gary and Linda divided the twenty participants into two teams of ten each to work at two different worksites.  We worked from approximately 7:45 AM until around 4:30 PM each day, Monday through Friday (November 2 to 6, 2015) with a morning and an afternoon snack break and a one hour lunch break each day.  We then returned to our hotel for showers, dinner, evening devotions and some free time.

We dug, shoveled, moved cinder blocks, mixed cement, tied rebar both vertically and horizontally, connected rows of cinder blocks with mortar and rebar, and sweated for four and one-half days!   We were not alone.   The Mason’s and other Nicaraguan helpers were right beside us working as hard or harder than we were.   All this manual labor was done joyfully and with much laughter and good will between our teams and the Nicaraguan families and workers.  The masons and Nicaraguan helpers continued the work long after we had left each afternoon.

During the hard work, there was opportunity to interact with and get to know the family members, our bus driver, other Nicaraguan helpers,  and the children in the neighborhood.   These were lovely people who were very welcoming, cheerful, and deeply appreciative of all our hard work.  We had a great deal of fun getting to know them.   We used our sense of humor to enjoy one another.

On Friday morning we formed a bucket brigade to move dirt into each house for the flooring.   We “tramped” the dirt, pounding it hard into the ground to prepare it for the cement mixture we would be making for the floor.  We made five batches of a cement mixture in the ground, stirring gravel, sand, dirt and cement with shovels, then adding water,  to make enough cement for the masons to make a smooth clean floor over the tramped dirt.  We completed all our work by noon.
Blessing of the houses and a celebration!

Blessing the houses is an inspirational and a moving experience.  Both teams attended the Blessing of each of the houses with the workers and the respective family members.  Gary read the scripture in Spanish from Mark 12:28-31.  We each placed our hands on the walls of the house.  We prayed for each family and then presented each family with a Bible signed by each team member and a gift of groceries.  Family members thanked us for our help.  Then it was time to leave the work sites.  This was both sad and happy.   We could leave the sights knowing we had completed our work with faith and integrity and that each family would now have a clean, decent, safe, affordable place to live.

Time for fun!

We boarded our bus for lunch at the INPRHU Building, (Habitat’s local partner in the Esteli Project), where we ate lunch each day with the other volunteers in the area (70 of us altogether, including one group from California and one group from Pennsylvania).  After lunch we had a large party and festive celebration to include family members from all seven houses that the seventy volunteers had worked on during the week.  The celebration included music, dancing, and a piñata party for the children of the families and their friends.

Our Nicaraguan hosts took good care of us.  They wanted to allow us to experience sightseeing and cultural opportunities during our stay.  For example, they took us to a local steak house for a special dinner on Tuesday evening.  On Wednesday afternoon, we left the worksite early.  We drove through windy roads, pristine forests with pretty flora and fauna.  We then hiked down a path that led us to a spectacular waterfall, “El Salto de Estanzuela.”  Later that afternoon we  visited a cigar factory, which employs many residents in Estili.  We learned how complex and how much work goes into making just one cigar.  We were able to watch and learn how to roll a cigar.  After a demonstration, some of us rolled our own cigar!

On Saturday, October 31, 2015,  we took a tour of Managua, where we saw the Huembles Market, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the remains of the Old Cathedral of Managua (destroyed in the 1972 earthquake), and the Revolution Plaza.  We also strolled down a replica of Franklin D. Roosevelt Avenue, showing what buildings and shops looked like prior the their complete destruction in the 1972 earthquake.

On Saturday, November 7, we gathered all our luggage and boarded our bus for a trip from Estili to Granada.  En route, we stopped to see the Masaya Volcano.  We also visited the Masaya market to make a few purchases.   We then took a boat trip on Granada Lake to one of the many small islands, where we had lunch, swimming, and kayaking!  After a lovely afternoon with beautiful scenery, we checked into our hotel for the final evening together and our Farewell dinner, complete with traditional Nicaraguan Food and Nicaraguan dancing.

For the most part, we remained healthy, safe, were able to do our work, enjoy our leisure, and return home safely.   It was a very good experience!

Submitted by Elizabeth Skarshaug