Reporting in this article first appeared in The Press Republican on Tuesday, February 17, 2015.
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Debating with a Customs Official in Nicaragua is just an ordinary Wednesday afternoon for Dominican Sister of Hope Debbie Blow. Attempting to gain entry to Nicaragua yesterday with forty-three Americans and a supply of medicine in tow, Sister found herself refusing to give the man a bribe in order to reclaim the medication. It was not her own; she was carrying the medication as part of the North Country Mission of Hope‘s work to provide healthcare to impoverished villages in Nicaragua.

“These are for your children,” she said earnestly, unrelenting.

The official gave in.

This trip is Sister’s fifty-ninth to Nicaragua over the course of seventeen years.

Sister Debbie co-founded The North Country Mission of Hope in 1998 as a direct ministerial response to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Mitch on impoverished Nicaraguan villages. Sister Debbie and the founding team recognized early on that direct, long-term assistance was vital in order to improve the lives of the people. Working hand-in-hand with local community leaders, she and others work to empower the people to help themselves through Orphan’s Hope Project, ECO, Education, Community Development and Healthcare projects.

Her work continues today. As the Executive Director of Mission of Hope, she leads the group of forty-three to Chiquilistagua, Nicaragua.

Twenty-eight members have gone to Nicaragua with Mission of Hope before. For the remaining fifteen, this is their first trip.

Chris Mazzella, a Peru, NY Junior/Senior High School principal and his daughter, Meghan, are among those who signed on to make the trip for the first time.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity,” Mazzella said on Monday.

Though she wasn’t nervous about the trip itself, Meghan had a bit of anxiety about some of the sights she might see in Nicaragua.

“It’s going to be hard to see all the poverty,” Meghan said.

Still, she noted, she looked forward to being able to help in some way.

“I’m more excited than nervous,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity,” said Chris Mazzella, a Junior/Senior High School principal who is currently on his first Mission of Hope trip.

Although the trip to Nicaragua is familiar for many participants, the travel was not without some last-minute hitches. Even before the customs hold-up, the Press Republicanreported that the group was forced to take a bus for the first leg of their trip after their flight from Burlington to Newark, which had been set for early Tuesday, had been canceled.

After subsequent delayed flights and nearly-missed connections, all Mission of Hope members finally arrived safely in Nicaragua on Tuesday night. They are now installing a playground in the remote mountain community of Solano, installing water filters for 118 families, and constructing ten home shelters to replace crude shacks for destitute families.

They are tweeting their trip on Twitter with the hashtag #MOH59; the Press Republican is aggregating the team’s best tweets on its live blog.

Sister Debbie Blow holds a baby in Nicaragua

So far, the group’s spirit seems to be untouched by the minor glitches they’ve faced along the way. They’re safe and embarking on good work. They are also happy to report that, out of 135 suitcases, only one of their backpacks was lost by the airline.