• Homer students help build Nicaraguan community
By Tom Munds
Special to the Homer Tribune
Instead of heading for a warm beach or an amusement park this summer, Homer residents Kirsten Swanson and Casey Parrett spent two weeks in July as volunteers on a construction project in the Northern Nicaraguan village of LaRioja.
“It was quite an experience,” Parrett said. “The work was hard, but it was rewarding because we were helping the people here in the area. All the members of the team were great and it felt like family. I loved the kids, and I brought home the happy memories of their laughter and smiles.”
Swanson agreed. She said it was hot, humid and challenging because there was no electricity or running water in the village. Everything was done by hand.
“But it was a great experience and I had a good time, despite the hard work,” she said.
Swanson and Parrett were members of a 50-member, all-volunteer team working on the church-sponsored project near the Northern Nicaraguan city of Somoto. The team, including the two Alaska residents and volunteers from Ohio, Colorado, Illinois and several other states, helped construct a building that will be used for community gatherings, meetings and as a church.
The construction project provided an opportunity to learn new skills, as both Alaska residents got a lot of practice sanding the mortar off bricks and using a screen to sift the rocks and debris from sand so it could be used to mix cement.
All the work was done by hand, including carrying water 80 yards from the pump to the worksite. The cement for the floor of the 30 by 80-foot building was also mixed by hand on the ground, and machetes, hoes and shovels were used to clear away the vegetation on the classroom site. Trenches for classroom foundations were also dug using picks and shovels.
A half-dozen Nicaraguans helped the team learn the new construction skills and worked alongside them to complete all the tasks.
The team also worked with residents to put on a pair of three-day sessions for area children. The sessions drew large crowds, with more than 50 children attending the LaRioja gatherings, and about twice that number at a nearby area called Martinez Village.
The team was based in Somoto, a community of some 40,000 people. The majority of the population, about 25,000, live in the 48 surrounding villages. It is a poor area, with subsistence farmers making up the majority of the rural population.
The team traveled back and forth to the work site over a very rough, eroded dirt road in a massive Mercedes dump truck, and everything was a team effort. They ate morning and evening meals at the hotel where they stayed, and lunch of either peanut butter and jelly or lunch meat and cheese sandwiches made at the worksite. Because of the heat and humidity, organizers urged them to drink a lot of water.
The LaRioja project is the vision of Nazarene Pastor Mercedes Viscay. Viscay wants to make the buildings a center for community activities, including creating a secondary school they are currently lacking.
Volunteers’ efforts were well-received by residents, as a special meeting to greet the team was held. Somoto Mayor Wilson Pablo Montoya Rodriguez attended the event, and it was videotaped for broadcast on the local television stations.
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