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Creating hope for the impoverished

Team from Valencia United Methodist builds rooms, playground and life for people in Masaya, Nicarag

Posted: January 29, 2010 10:07 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Two young children play on a teeter totter that the missions team helped install Tuesday in Masaya. The group also built rooms that were added to single-family homes.

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Piles of garbage lay stacked everywhere.

Filthy children pick through trash heaps for recyclables, desperate to earn their families a little bit more than the average $1 a day.

Herds of people follow the garbage trucks waiting for the next dump. Homes made of cardboard, sheet metal and plastic swimming pools sit on top of the trash. Dry garbage piles sometimes spontaneously combust and fill the air with acrid smoke.

When Taylor Bouknight left for Nicaragua Jan. 25, knowing she’d come face-to-face with the Managua dump, she thought she was mentally prepared to see extreme poverty for the first time.

“Going in there I expected the worst,” said Bouknight, a Hart High School student from Valencia. “But it was worse.”

“I expected there to be garbage, but not mounds of garbage,” she said. “I expected people, but not so many people. I expected there to be kids, but not so many sad kids.”

As difficult as the morning was, Bouknight and a team of 15 others from Valencia United Methodist Church will return with hope.

Project Chacocente
Project Chacocente, a nonprofit effort that began in 2003, moves impoverished families living in the Managua dump in Nicaragua and relocates them to a rural community near Masaya. Masaya offers fertile land, clean air and a new life to these families, according to the Project Chacocente Web site.

Relocated families are then taught life skills such as how to raise their own food.

“The project is bringing families out of the literal dump where they live in trash collections and areas where they can suffer from disease,” said missions team member Kathy Taff.  “Alongside volunteers they build their own homes, farm their own land, go to school and they basically become self-sustaining families.”

Families receive the deeds to their homes after they pass an initial five-year period of participation, according to the Web site.

The Valencia United Methodist team arrived in Masaya on Monday. That team includes Taff, Bouknight, Pastor John Shaver, Lisa Anderson, Deb Manahan, Bruce Solomon, Jon Broneer, Paul Broneer, Barry Pontius, Carl Boyer, Chris Boyer, Damien Jones, Sharon Dawson, Pat Willett, Chuck Willett and Brian Wood.

This week the group helped install a playground in the Project Chacocente community and continued to build extra rooms added to single-family dwellings. They return home on Monday, Taff said.

“There’s a teeter totter (in the playground) and the children were already all over it today,” Taff said Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, the team took a break from building to make a visit to the dump, which is about an hour away from Masaya, Bouknight said.

For Shaver, the hours he and the mission’s team spent in the Managua dump were “horrific.”

“It was the worst morning of my life,” Shaver said later that night while speaking on an international cell phone.

He then recalled seeing a child swimming at the bottom of a dump with a green substance floating around the water.

A drastic difference is seen between survival at the dump and life at Project Chacocente, Bouknight said.

“When you first walk into Chacocente —you think its poor, but it’s night and day from the dump,” she said.  “You walk into the project and sure kids are dirty but they have shoes, clothing.”

“They all seem so much happier,” she added.  

Hope at Chacocente
The team was present Wednesday night when families living in the project received the deeds to their homes. For the Valencia United group, seeing children enjoy the playground and run around and watching people walk around wearing shoes made all the difference.

“After seeing the dump you just wanted to go hug them individually knowing that they were in that,” Bouknight said. “Now they are just so happy to be in Chacocente.”

Families at Chacocente share spiritual stories with the team and say how much hope they’ve found in God by finding a new life, Shaver said.

“It’s the biblical mandate that we’re called to love our brothers and sisters with the love of Christ and be the hands and feet of Christ in this world,” Shaver said.

Shaver will work with one of the project directors to plan a return trip next January, he said.

“We need to be doing things within our community but there’s just so many horrific things in this world, we need to tell the story but also share that there’s hope with God.”

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