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Constructing schools, building dreams

Philanthropy: Volunteers from Valencia United Methodist go on mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua

Posted: March 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Three years ago, volunteers from Valencia United Methodist Church set out with a modest dream of helping the people of Managua, Nicaragua, who lived in sub-standard conditions.

Each year has brought a mission trip focused on supporting families as they move out of the trash dump and into better housing.

About a month ago, the team returned to be a part of the grand opening of the high school they helped build on their mission trip to Nicaragua and to help with construction of a lunch room for the high school.


Poor conditions

Rebecca Johnston and her 17-year-old son Ian made their first mission trip to Nicaragua this year. The two say they were shocked by what they saw.

“There is trash everywhere. The entire country is very, very poor,” Johnston said. “We forget how privileged we are in the U.S. I didn’t expect to see an entire country that poor.”

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world, second to only Haiti. “La Chureca,” the term locals use to refer to the Managua dump, is considered the largest open-air landfill in Central America.

The dump is home to hundreds of families who make their living by sifting through the garbage and selling their finds, most of the time bringing in no more than $1 a day.

The church contributes to Project Chacocente, which relocates families out of the dump, provides them with land and helps them learn to sustain their families in other ways, such as farming.

Through the project, the families receive deeds to their land and home after completing five years in the program. The church hopes that through its involvement it can help as many families as possible.

“We want to help people realize they don’t have to reach into garbage,” Valencia United Methodist Church Pastor John Shaver said. “They can have lives that are rich and full. We can show them there is another way of life.”


Breaking the cycle

This year, the volunteers helped mix concrete, move cinder blocks, build rebar and sift sand to build the lunchroom for the high school. They worked alongside parents of the students in Chacocente to complete the project.

“We helped the country by putting a school where kids otherwise wouldn’t go to school,” Shaver said.

Andy Gallardo was a member of the trip inspired to go after hearing stories from other missionaries.

“It really was an eye -opener to see some of the horrible conditions that are going on in this world,” Gallardo said. “At the same time, they are a culture of people that are happier, have one-fourth of what other people have and are making the most out of a dire situation.”

Volunteers attended the grand-opening celebration with the community, complete with barbecuing, piñatas and traditional dancing. They concluded their visit with a worship service, where they participated in communion together.

“The people and children were so excited to know they have a place to go to school,” Johnston said. “Education is the key to moving people out of poverty. Without it, the cycle of poverty keeps going.”

The missionaries’ original modest goal to help the people of Managua is beginning to be truly realized, Shaver said. He spoke about a 16-year-old named David who related his goals to the pastor.

“‘Because of everything that has happened here, I now have dreams,’” Shaver recalled David saying. “‘My dream is to go to medical school in the U.S. and then come back and help my country and be a doctor here.’”


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