PUBLISHED: 4:54 PM on Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Juneau residents help reconstruct Nicaraguan village
When devastation hits, Alaskans offer help
On the North Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, the monstrous Hurricane Felix swept through in Sept., 2007. In a region known as the Mosquito Coast just south of Honduras, many of the people still had not fully recovered from Hurricane Mitch nine years earlier. The ferocious level five Hurricane Felix snapped many of the trees in half, and most of their harvest has been lost. But Alaskans are always ready to lend a hand.

Five Juneau residents from Auke Bay Bible Church and six Dutch Harbor residents met up in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, to fly into Puerto Cabezas on the Mosquito Coast. The Alaskans stayed for two weeks with Earl Bowie, who runs a mission with Verbo Christian Ministries. Auke Bay Bible Church has been going down to Puerto Cabezas for about years, according to Teri Heuscher, who was the only woman on the trip to help with the reconstruction of village homes.

photo courtesy of Terry Heuscher
  Five juneau residents and six from Dutch Harbor help rebuild a Nigaraguan village savaged by Hurricane Felix in 2007.
The group was brought to a village where Bowie hired around 20 Nicaraguan men in their 20s and 30s and there also were villagers who helped.

"I was placed in a group with two guys from Dutch Harbor and four Nicaraguan guys and basically we just went from each little hut that had been devastated from the hurricane and helped them build new 16 x 20 huts - all built on stilts," Heuscher said. All of these huts have one door and two windows. This was bigger than what most of them had to begin with."

Many of the old huts have aged U.S. Aid tarps draped over what remains of their ruined huts.

"It was pretty sad," Heuscher said. "One of these ladies, her husband had gone out during the hurricane and got blown away, and another family had gone under the church to hide and the church collapsed on them. Their lifestyle out there consists of the women cooking outdoors, and the men walk an hour to an agricultural area or river, it's a subsistence lifestyle and has been made very difficult for them."

The unemployment rate there is considered to be between 70 and 85 percent.

The people who live on the Mosquito Coast speak a unique language called Moskito. There are only about 160,000 Moskito speakers in the world, most of which live along the Mosquito Coast. About 200 people died in Puerto Cabezas and many are still missing.

photo courtesy of Terri Heuscher
  A couple children carry a board during the reconstruction of Puerto Cabezas, a village stricken by two hurricanes in the past decade.
"It was a neat experience to be able to interact with them because the people speak Moskito except for one who spoke a small amount of Spanish," Heuscher said. Moskito doesn't sound like any other language, not even Spanish. It's very unique. I only learned a few words that I really wont have any use for again, like, 'that is a pig' or 'that is a dog,' but it was fun."

The volunteers from Auke Bay Bible Church stayed at a mission in Puerto Cabasaz. Bowie's residence is about three acres and has an orphanage on site, which according to Heuscher, normally has a capacity of 60 but held 84 kids while she was there. She is heading back for the entire month of July this year to spend time with the children at the orphanage. "They are just desperate even for somebody to hold their hand. There was this three year old who went straight into my heart like an arrow. They are just neat little kids," she said.

At the mission resided three missionaries; one was a medical missions woman and the other two were working at the school. In the couple of weeks the Juneau locals stayed, they met many people coming through to aid the natives, including several NGO's (non-governmental organizations). One group tested water and the other was a medical team.

"It's a pretty busy place. And it was a village with horses and pigs and starving dogs and chickens, things just running around everywhere; so that's how things were and your shower was one faucet, one temperature - cold," Heuscher laughed.

Villagers are upset in areas sometimes just 15 miles away that have not yet received aid.

"It is still pretty wrecked down there; we drove just ten minutes down to another village and the people were very frustrated, one village was even angry because they are still waiting for help. I don't think the government there is really good about helping and the country relies on a lot of mission teams and NGO's to come in and help in general," Heuscher said. "When we went out, half of a house would be blown away and a USA tarp would be draped over, and it was like that on most of them.

"Further down the road there were places in even worse condition, and in one village they blocked the main road from Managua to Puerto Cabazas, which is about a 12-hour drive across and there were tons of cars backed up. They were just so angry that nobody had come to help them, especially when they hear there's a team 15 miles up the road helping to rebuild a village."

The villagers who were able seemed eager to help in the village where Juneau residents volunteered. Kids as young as four and five could be seen carrying boards in groups of three from the lumber area to their hut. Women would carry boards and men would help out the volunteer builders.

"The best part was when you finished the home and you see the looks on their faces, even though there was that communication barrier," Heuscher said.

"None of us wanted to think of it as we were 'white knights' coming in to save them, but what was really neat was the villagers were participating in the building of their own hut. Ten year old kids would pick up a hammer and help, and people helped carry materials, so we all worked together even with the language barriers, it was just fantastic," Heuscher said.

The hard part, Heuscher said, was when the time came to leave.

"You could see them wondering when someone else would be there to come and help them. It's definitely more blessed to give than receive, its very rewarding work," said Heuscher, who will be bringing back the two films created by Juneau teens on snowboarding/skiing and scooters to share with some of the teens at the orphanage in July. "It will be so neat for them to see kids from somewhere else and what they do."