by Michelle Lacoursiere – January 2020
While attending the Roots of Change annual fundraiser, I listened to talks, I saw the pictures and I donated money. But, what I really wanted to do was go to Nicaragua and interact with the people myself. Many of my friends had travelled to Managua to visit the projects started by Father Denis Hebert and FUNDACCO.
Roots of Change and FUNDACCO both have as a mission to improve the lives of Nicaraguan people in ways that promote active involvement. Still working at the time, I could not go, yet.
Being newly retired, I seized upon the opportunity to join the foundations President Rick LeBlanc and Projects Administrator Ken Handford on their annual audit trip this past January. I flew from Calgary leaving extremely cold weather conditions to Managua where temperatures hovered around 30 degrees Celsius. It was quite a contrast to suddenly experience beautiful sunny and hot weather.
During my week in Nicaragua, I visited projects that have had a significant impact on people in their communities. I met four families who have received an Eco-Stove. Previous to this families cooked all their meals on an open stove inside their homes. Smoke was everywhere which could cause respiratory issues, especially in the children. Every family spoke glowingly of the benefits of their new stoves, but one lady especially impressed me as she was using her stove to make tortillas which she sold in her village of San Benito. She was very proud of her new business!
Another day we traveled to the very remote community of Las Marietas to meet with community members who will be receiving EcoStoves. Upon entering their smoke-filled homes and hearing the children cough, it is evident that these parents clearly value a healthier cooking solution in the EcoStove. The main dietary food is hand made corn tortillas, so this process will speed up with the EcoStove, leaving time for other activities. A technician will install the stove, chimney and protective panels, then instruct families on its use and maintenance.
As a retired teacher, I am always interested in educational opportunities for the youngest community members. January in Managua is vacation time, so for a number of years a program for 6 to 11 year olds has been operating during that month. Facilitators, who themselves were alumni of this program, lead the children in a variety of activities in a daily two hour period. These facilitators bring creativity, enthusiasm, guidance and their best selves to their young charges who benefit enormously from this positive interaction and intellectual stimulation. Parents are encouraged to attend and participate in the activities. One Mother commented that this program is great preparation for her daughter when she returns to school in February. As well, everyone gets to eat a delicious, juicy orange every day and at the end of the program all participants receive a school supply package of crayons, pencils, scribblers and other necessities.
One of the most heart-wrenching visits was to see the children whose parents and older siblings scour the garbage dump for recyclable or reusable objects. Needless to say, this is very dangerous work! We were so close to the road to the dump that when the loaded trucks rolled by, the children had to move their chairs. That day the children were making friendship bracelets and quickly solicited my help to tie them on. They even made one for me! We had fun singing Head and Shoulders in Spanish and English. I left, with a heart full of appreciation for these loving, engaging children, their dynamic facilitators and supportive parents.
While in Managua I also visited the dental clinic of Dr. Dennis Bedard who, for many years has provided free exams and care to patients in the Edgar Lang barrio. The dental clinic is located on the second floor of FUNDACCO’s St Raphael Archangel Clinic, steps away from where Father Denis lived. Together with his wife Bev, Canadian dentists, dental students and assistants, they volunteer countless hours and valuable expertise to the people, young and old, of this community.
To better understand the culture of Nicaragua, I spent one day in Leon touring the beautiful limestone Basilica-Cathedral and then having some fun splashing about in the warm Pacific Ocean. The Masaya volcano, an active crater volcano gave me a glimpse into the geography of this diverse country. Granada, with its Spanish Colonial influence, was a lovely city filled with many restored churches and buildings. All three cities are on the Pacific Ocean side of the country which facilitated travel.
The week I spent in Nicaragua provided me with a bit of a grasp of the projects of Roots of Change. I now have a greater understanding of Padre Denis and his tremendous love of the Nicaraguan people. Through the work of Roots of Change and FUNDACCO, his legacy lives on. I am very grateful to have met him once when he was in Canada. I am very grateful to have met so many people who continue his work in Nicaragua.