Play Time

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Aidan showing Jefry and Esteban his balero.

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Esteban conquers the balero.

When we arrived at the Play Zone Park, we were directed to a large cafeteria-like room, where we waited for snacks before we could go outside and explore the activities available.

To pass the time, Aidan pulled out his balero, which he had purchased at a market place the day before. A balero is the same thing as our “ball-in-a-cup” toy.

Aidan had been practicing with it since he bought it, and definitely was improving, so he showed the little guys his new skill. Then he offered it to 8-year-old Esteban for a turn.

Esteban caught the ball in the cup on his first try.

We all clapped for him, then watched in amazement as he continued to catch the ball on the first try, over and over and over. He just smiled.

Next, we gave it to 3-year-old Jefry. He wasn’t quite coordinated enough to catch the ball, but he gave it a try, and knocked it all over the table where he was sitting. Finally he picked up the ball and put it in the cup, so we clapped for him, too.

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Jefry with the balero.

His dimpled smile was beautiful as he showed off his accomplishment.

Well, if Esteban’s skill was impressive, and Jefry’s smile blew us away, when 11-year-old Jose took his turn, he showed everyone that he is, indeed, the master of the balero.

Jose proceeded to catch the ball on his first try too many times to count. He must have worn out his arm, though, because when I finally pulled out my phone to make a video of this mastery, he missed the ball.

Not to be outdone, Jefry pulled from his little jeans pocket two balls connected by a string – a traca traca, known to us as “clackers.” I’m still not sure how this toy fit in his pocket.

Jose showed us what to do with the traca traca, but neither Aidan or I had much luck. Fortunately, what I lacked in skill, I made up for in hilarity because the boys laughed quite a bit at my efforts.

Once again, Jose was the true master of this toy, and he impressed us with his ability to make the balls hit faster and faster.

Now we have some goals for our next Nicaragua visit: master the balero and the traca traca!

By the way, several people told us there is an even more difficult way to play with the balero. Instead of catching the ball in the cup, you can try to land the ball, with the hole in it facing down, onto the peg at the bottom of the balero’s handle. I thought they were joking with us, but they insisted it’s possible. It may be something to keep Aidan busy until we visit our Nicaraguan family again.

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Aidan and Jose, the balero master.

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Aidan trying the traca traca while our translator, Nicole, looks on.

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Jose, the traca traca champion!

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Jose giving a traca traca demonstration.

The Meeting

In a trip that was full of new experiences, sights and sounds, filled with emotion, with each day ending in exhaustion, heart overflowing with God’s blessings and love, everything came together in these brief, beautiful moments. I met my boys.

Yes, meeting them was the main purpose of this journey to Nicaragua. If not for them, Aidan and I would not be there. But we had experienced so much already, changed so much already, how could there be more?

But of course, there was more, and it began with this meeting.

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Anxious sponsors listen as Kim, our tour leader, reads off bus assignments before the children arrive.

After much anticipation, a sleepless night, and an early-morning wake-up filed with anxiety and nerves, Aidan and I headed to the hotel lobby, loaded down with gifts for our boys. There we joined the other sponsors on our tour, and listened closely as our leader, Kim, read off our bus assignments.

Five buses would be arriving shortly, carrying our sponsored children, and we were excited to learn that we’d be on the first bus!

Finally, we saw the buses pull up in front of the hotel. The first sponsor from our bus headed out and hugged his children, then they posed for photos. At this point, it was becoming difficult to hold back the tears. I squeezed the hand of the sponsor in front of me, and moments later, she walked outside to meet her beautiful young lady, followed by more hugs, more tears, more photos.

And it was our turn.

I handed my camera to Kim as Aidan and I walked through the lobby doors, and I saw Jose walking toward me. We hugged, I kissed him and cried, and we hugged some more. Then we tried to pull it together enough to pose for a few photos.

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Meeting Jose for the first time.

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Aidan, Kerri and Jose after our first hugs.

Before we had a chance to recover, Esteban walked into my arms. The little pudgy 5-year-old, whom I had sponsored almost four years ago, who had asked me to visit in his letters, was now a thinner, taller boy, and hugging him at last was a wonderful feeling.

As soon as we finished our hugs, little 3-year-old Jefry cautiously walked up and greeted me. I only started writing to Jefry at the end of August. In fact, he hadn’t even received a letter from me, yet, and that, along with his age, left him a little unsure of what was going on. But he followed Esteban’s lead, and joined in the celebration, posing for photos after hugs.

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Finally hugging Esteban after almost four years of sponsorship.

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Aidan, Kerri, Esteban and Jefry.

We climbed onto the bus together, where I met each boy’s mother and project tutor, and I must admit, I had to ask for everyone’s names again later because it was all I could do to just be in the moment with my boys, hardly believing I was sitting next to them on a bus in Managua.

To break the ice during the drive to Play Zone Park, I gave each boy the soccer bracelet my daughter had made for them, and a little photo album full of family photos. We all looked through the photos together, Esteban making sure Jefry turned the pages in his album right along with the rest of us.

It was a beautiful start to an unforgettable day.

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Seated on the bus, traveling to Play Zone Park.

Beautiful Nicaragua

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Volcanoes Momotombo, left, and Momotombito, right, as seen across Lake Managua.

Nicaragua is known as, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” and that’s just what we got to see while driving back to Managua from Leon one evening.

It had been such a hot and humid day, while visiting a project in Leon, playing with the children and visiting a home in the area, that a quick stop at the shore of Lake Managua was a welcome reprieve. The air was cooler standing at the edge of the water, and the breeze felt wonderful.

The view was beautiful, peaceful, and it was a perfect end to the day.

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The shore of Lake Managua.

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A family collecting firewood on the shore of Lake Managua.

The Boy who Brought Bread

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Obert, Compassion graduate

In the middle of the church service, he appeared, off to the side, watching and listening.

One sponsor noticed him, then another, whispering, “Look, it’s Obert.”

We had met Obert as a group the day before in a conference room at our hotel in Managua. He was there with three other Compassion graduates to share his story with us.

Obert told us he first was registered with Compassion at the age of five. He was sponsored by the same Canadian sponsor until he graduated the program.

During that time, Obert switched projects twice and even stopped attending the project for a while. His project director never gave up on him, though. Obert said the director would find him at his home or playing in the neighborhood and encourage him to begin attending again.

Obert listened to his project director, and he eventually did return to the project, where he became enrolled in a bakery class.

The class was offered under Compassion’s Complementary Intervention Program (CIV). This program provides for a wide range of enhancements to Compassion’s sponsorship program, including emergency medical care, nutritional assistance, disaster response, water projects and non-formal education, like Obert’s baking class.

After taking the baking class at his project for two years, Obert started a bakery business with his parents. At 16 years old, he sells about 100 loaves of bread each day, earning about $34 daily.

As a Compassion graduate, Obert will begin teaching baking classes to children at his project soon.

He said his dream for the future is to go to a university and become a professional chef.

After telling us his story, Obert expressed extreme gratitude to Compassion, his sponsor, the project director and others in charge of his development. We all shook hands with Obert, hugged him, and told him we were proud of him. One sponsor told him he’d love to taste his bread someday.

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Obert’s bread; 1 Cor. 10-17: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”

Obert’s story was an inspiring testament to the wonderful good Compassion does in children’s lives, but the reason for Obert’s appearance at church that morning was even more than inspiring.

As the service ended, our group was told to line up because Obert had come to church that morning with a gift for each of us.

He gave us bread.

Common Childhood Memories

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Jose at the skate area of Play Zone Park in Managua.

Whether it was endless hours spent skateboarding on neighborhood streets during hot summer afternoons or roller skating at the local air-conditioned rink while avoiding the heat and listening to popular 80s tunes, those activities account for many enjoyable memories for me as a child.

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Our wonderful translator Nicole helping Jefry to keep his balance.

Because of this, one of the most fun parts of child visit day during my recent visit to Nicaragua was watching my sponsored children try out the very activities that shaped own childhood.

Sometime after lunch, the boys made their way to the skating area of the park, where they could choose between roller-skating and skateboarding.

The two oldest boys, Jose and Esteban, along with my son Aidan, opted for skateboarding, while the youngest, Jefry, wanted to try roller-skating. After the attendant helped them all suit up in appropriate protective gear, they were ready to go.

The boys were cautious on the skateboards at first, but after some coaching from one of our translators, Silvio, their confidence grew. He joined them on the skateboards, and soon they were criss-crossing the course, smiling, laughing and enjoying their new skills together.

While the older boys practiced skateboarding, our other translator, Nicole, patiently helped Jefry’s mom to keep him on his feet in the roller skates.

This was no easy task, as Jefry found it much more fun to kick and flail his legs than to make any progress with the wheels attached to his feet. He seemed to find it hilarious, and would make his legs fly out from under him fearlessly, laughing the whole time.

Jefry managed to wear himself out, and all the boys seemed pleased with their efforts. It was priceless to see their happiness when they finished, and to know that they have added this time to their own collection of childhood memories.

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Jose suited up and ready to skate.

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Esteban balancing on the skateboard.

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Aidan and Jose finding their balance.

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Our translator Silvio instructing Jose.

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Nicole and Jefry’s mother trying to keep the little wild man on his feet.

Frisbee Fun

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Children playing frisbee with Aidan at NI-155 near León, Nicaragua.

In a trip that was loaded with emotion while experiencing a new culture, observing Compassion’s effect in people’s lives and even meeting our sponsored children in person, there were plenty of beautiful, light-hearted moments as well.

One day after lunch, a fellow sponsor brought out some frisbees to play with the children of the project. She invited Aidan to join in, and it became apparent it was a game the children weren’t going to let him quit easily.

In fact, one little boy named Javier, whom Aidan nicknamed “the ninja” because of his interesting poses while catching and throwing the frisbee, kept Aidan busy long after the other children had tired of the game.

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Children of NI-155.

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Children of NI-155.

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A boy from NI-155 playing frisbee.

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Javier playing frisbee with Aidan.

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Javier playing frisbee with Aidan.

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Javier playing frisbee with Aidan.

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Aidan and Javier after a long round of frisbee.

Hope

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The home we visited and surrounding area.

Our group waits at the entrance to the small lot, calling out a greeting to those living there as several skinny dogs run toward us.

The afternoon heat has been relentless, the humidity soaking our bodies and our clothing as we made the short walk from the nearby Compassion project just minutes earlier.

We are six sponsors, a translator, the Compassion Nicaragua tours specialist, and a local project worker with her daughter. And we are all here to visit one young woman, who is enrolled in the Manos de Compasion Child Survival Project.

The project gives this young mother training in parenting and job skills, and in doing so, it gives her something even more valuable in an area overtaken by poverty… hope.

The young mother’s name is Magdalena, and she is 19 years old. She shyly invites us into her home, where we crowd in to ask her questions while admiring her beautiful daughter, 6-month-old Maybelline.

As Maybelline sits on the bed slapping at the blanket and grabbing her own feet, Magdalena tells us that her husband couldn’t be here for the visit today because he is picking up his final paycheck from a job he recently lost. We tell her we will pray for him to find work soon.

The floor is hard-packed dirt, and the red brick room holds a bed in the corner with a few feet to spare on two sides. There is a tin roof and two doors to the room, but no windows.

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Magdalena in her outdoor kitchen.

Magdalena takes us outside to show us her kitchen area. She has potable water, an area to cook and wash dishes, and a hammock for the baby to rest in while she works. She explains that through the CSP, she learned to bathe her baby safely in this area. Wet babies are so slippery, it is hard to imagine wrestling with one on the cement surface.

In the distance, she points out a river that floods sometimes. She says it has never reached her home, but has come close.

Her little family lives on this lot with her mother-in-law, who has her own home just a few steps away. We jokingly ask her if she gets along with her mother-in-law, and she smiles and says she does.

Before we leave, we are able to give Magdalena a gift bag from Compassion. It is filled with essentials like flour, sugar, rice, beans, dehydrated milk, cereal, cooking oil, soap, laundry detergent and toilet paper.

We pray for Magdalena and her family, and say our goodbyes, trusting that God will watch over this young woman and thankful that she has the support of the CSP as well.

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Carlos, Compassion translator, holding baby Maybelline.

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Magdalena with the items supplied by Compassion.

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Magdalena’s home.