By AMY HEGGEN
---- — PLATTSBURGH — North Country Mission of Hope is educating children in Nicaragua about parasites this week, but the volunteers are finding the experience enlightening for themselves as well.
Connie Tyska, 63, a recently retired nurse from Schroon Lake and a part-time Florida resident, is on her seventh trip to Nicaragua with the Plattsburgh-based humanitarian-aid group.
“I’ve met so many people on the different clinics that we’ve done, and I have friends here now,” she said by phone from Nicaragua on Friday. “They’ve become my extended family.”
During this trip, Tyska had the opportunity to work with Nicaraguan medical students. Together, they taught preschool and elementary-school children about parasites, explaining what they are and how the nasty organisms are contracted. Hand-washing lessons were included in the curriculum.
Tyska found working with the medical students very rewarding.
“It was good to sit and talk about the different medical issues that they see here. It was an education for both of us,” she said.
Tiska is among 53 missioners who arrived in Nicaragua between Sunday and Monday this week for the largest effort of the year. They return home Tuesday.
“Each time I come and each day that I enjoy here with the local people, I just say, ‘Wow,’ they’re so grateful for every little thing that we do,” Tyska said.
“It just makes me sit back and say, ‘Thank you, God, for what I have.’”
That epiphany of thankfulness is referred to as a “mission moment” by those who belong to Mission of Hope.
Sam Politi, 17, a senior at Willsboro Central School, has been amazed by the resiliency of the Nicaraguan people.
“They’re the happiest people I’ve ever met,” he said via phone from Mission of Hope’s compound, Ni-Casa, in the community of Chiquilistagua.
“People here have so little, yet they’re so willing to give as much as they can to show their generosity and thankfulness.”
Politi has pitching in on a crew making renovations at Parjito Azul Disability Center, which houses about 100 handicapped patients who would otherwise be living on the streets.
Andrew Downs, 16, a junior at Peru High School, helped out there, too, where he spoke to a few of the residents.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said. “You’re just overwhelmed with emotion.”
HUGS AND KISSES
Downs has been assigned to other Mission of Hope projects, as well.
“I’ve been on a rice and beans tour, where we bag food and distribute it to the poorest neighborhoods we can find,” he said.
The graciousness of the locals receiving the food was inspirational, he said.
“I gave a woman food, and she pulled me over and gave me a hug and a kiss, and said, ‘Thank you, thank you for what you do.’”
Downs speaks a little Spanish and has unofficially been a translator for other volunteers.
This time of year, Nicaragua is consistently sunny, and temperatures in the 90s have challenged the volunteers from the beginning of their trip.
“Pretty much, if you can sit in the shade, that’s as cool as you’re going to get,” Downs said.
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