2015 Meal-a-Day International Build Recap

Meal-a-Day sponsored another successful annual international build project this summer in Central America. This year’s location was the Hogar Amiguitos orphanage in Jinotega, located in the mountains of central Nicaragua. A crew of 13 American Meal-a-Day volunteers worked July 26–31, 2015 at Hogar Amiguitos under the direction of a Nicaraguan masonry contracting company to construct a home for one of the orphanage’s employees.

Hogar Amiguitos has been a beneficiary of Meal-a-Day’s support for several years in various ways, and this is the first time that a Meal-a-Day international build project has been held onsite. Walking through the halls, it’s easy to see that the orphanage is a place of love. Hogar Amiguitos is not the average orphanage, due to the severity of Nicaragua’s impoverished circumstances. Many of the 25 children under the care of the orphanage are there because they come from living environments where the parents’ or relatives’ poverty is so severe that they have no choice but to give up their child.

Led by Rachel Johnson (VA), the 13-person Meal-a-Day volunteer team helped with the daily process of continually mixing mortar with water drawn from a mountain stream, twisting wire ties used in the rebar, and then laying cinder blocks to construct the walls. Not using mechanized tools during the entire process (like in typical North American construction) created unusual challenges, and the volunteer team had to use wheelbarrows, buckets, and even carry in by hand heavy mortar bags and all of the construction materials that were used. The septic tank hole and sewage run-off lines for the small 3-room home had to be dug completely by shovel. Since the Nicaraguan contracting crew spoke very little English, Meal-a-Day volunteer Jenny Schmidgall from Chicago, IL provided valuable Spanish/English translation services throughout the week between the Americans and Nicaraguans.

Megan Sabo from Joplin, MO additionally provided classes every day for the orphans staying at Hogar Amiguitos. The classes were translated through Joy Pulsifer, the orphanage’s director. Joy initially arrived at Hogar Amiguitos to volunteer for a year, but ended up remaining for a decade, adopting two orphans as her own. Meal-a-Day volunteers also hosted games and skits for the orphans during free time.

The recipient of the home, Becker, performs all of the agricultural work on the large piece of property the orphanage resides on, including farming several acres of crops and ranching cows, goats, and chickens. As a result of Becker’s work, the orphanage is getting very close to being self-sufficient for all of their food. Becker’s family of five includes his 10-year old son Becker Jr. who has muscular dystrophy and has been given only a few more years to live. Becker, Jr. must be carried almost everywhere by his father due to his severe muscular dystrophy. The family was previously living in a small metal shack in town, and the new home will provide them with a more comfortable place to live onsite, so the family can be close to Becker, Jr. while they’re working during his final years.

Going to Nicaragua was like escaping to another world. The whole week was so filled with purpose and driven by love. Every day we worked to build up a home, and brick by brick it rose. I remember learning ways around the language barrier while working with the masons and how joyful it was to see two groups of people work together. It wasn’t until the last day when I met Becker’s family and we blessed the house soon to become a home, that I fully understood the importance of our mission: that whatever we do, do it in the name of Jesus.

Meal-a-Day volunteer Rebekah Ferreira from Springfield, Vermont.

Going to Nicaragua, I didn’t have expectations and was consequently open for anything. What I found there was a hard-working group of individuals, made up of those from both the states and from Nicaragua. It was beautiful to experience.

Meal-a-Day volunteer Michelle Wong from Wheaton, Illinois.