Join Experience Mission on a trip to Africa in 2011, visit our website for more information.
Join Experience Mission on a trip to Africa in 2011, visit our website for more information.
Summer Mission Trips: Team Pearlington has truly been tasting Southern culture during Prep Week. During this week we have been prepping a home for inspection so that the first of our summer mission trips team is able to legally work on the house. It has been a ton of work! We have learned so much construction and worked ten hour days. The house is being built for the Bennett Family. The hospitality of Stacey, Eddie, and their thirteen year old daughter, Miranda, has truly stolen the hearts of the EM summer Staff. They constantly come to the work site to chat and offer help or a cold drink. We have truly gotten to know them and now consider them friends.
The Bennetts have lived in Pearlington their entire lives and survived Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, their home did not survive. Stacey, Eddie, and Miranda evacuated from their home and took refuge at NASA for about a week. After the storm the Bennetts realized that they had lost everything. The Bennetts lived in a FEMA trailer for a period of time, but the mold negatively affected Stacey and Miranda’s allergies and asthma. They currently live in a trailer that is too small and also affects Stacey’s allergies. Another local community partner, Glen, feels very strongly that this family is well deserving of this home. They do a lot for others in the community and truly have servant hearts. On Friday night, the Bennett family took us to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. What a great meal! Afterwards, we went to Miranda’s softball game with Stacey and Eddie. We had a great time watching the game and talking. It was a much needed break from all the construction. Team Pearlington is already amazed at how much we have been served and blessed in the short time we have been here.
We look forward to see our relationships with the Bennetts continue to grow as God reveals his plans for us in Pearlington this summer.
Note: Experience Mission will begin the third year working in Pearlington to help families rebuild their homes and lives after the devastation of hurricane Katrina. Summer volunteers from youth mission trips and adult mission trips will provide over 500 energetic workers. If you’d like to join a mission trip with EM for 2010, visit us at our website www.experiencemission.org
The cancellation of a major bridge-building project in Costa Rica seemed at first devastating, but quickly proved fortuitous for a team of EM volunteers who discovered an even more pressing need for a bridge at another site in the jungle-covered mountains of the Bribri indigenous reservation.
The new bridge site is in the village of Alto Cuen, an isolated community of about 130 people. Getting to the village requires an hour-long trip in a riverboat, an hour-long trip in a banana truck, and a grueling, five-hour hike through the jungle that includes several river crossings.
“They are totally isolated,” said Benjamin Briton-Mora, Emergency Commission Coordinator for the area’s indigenous reservations. “There is no communication.”
The Cuen River is the main obstacle residents face in getting to civilization - it is that river they hope to span with the new bridge. Briton-Mora said that during the eight-month rainy season there, it is utterly impassable.
If there is a medical emergency, the only way to get the sick or injured down to safety is to haul them down the steep, jungle-covered hillside in a hammock, a perilous enough prospect even setting aside the need to cross the Cuen, which is chest deep at its most shallow point during the year. Briton-Mora said the dangerous hammock extractions have lead to several deaths, including a woman in labor and her unborn child.
Desperate for a bridge, Alto Cuen residents have worked almost non-stop since December to dig holes big enough to house the massive amount of concrete necessary to anchor one. While the U.S. Embassy has already donated nearly all of the materials necessary - including more than 300 sacks of concrete, each weighing 110 pounds - the community hasn’t had the funds necessary to contract a helicopter to get the supplies to the site, nor have they had the technical expertise on hand to build the bridge, Briton-Mora said. He said carrying the supplies in by hand would be impossible.
The region’s rainy season is just weeks away. If it comes before the concrete is poured, Briton-Mora said untold amounts of effort could be for naught as water fills the holes and turns their walls into unstable muck.
Change in plans a blessing
EM staff members may never have learned of the need there had it not been for the cancellation of a 163-meter suspension bridge project - one 15 students from Indiana Wesleyan University were to begin work on as part of a cross-cultural leadership training course last month.
Upon arriving a few days ahead of the students, staff members learned from a local government representative that the government organization Japdeva (whose initials in Spanish stand for “The Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Slope”) had offered to fund construction of the bridge in Soke just after an EM setup trip to the site in December 2007.
“He said that, and it’s like, ‘Oh, OK,’” said John Barry, a volunteer contractor who oversaw the construction of a 53-meter suspension bridge in a Bribri village last summer. “We had to erase that whole plan in our minds. You just kind of hit the erase button.”
The Soke bridge had been frequently mentioned as a pressing community need - a 9-year-old girl was killed last year crossing the makeshift bridge there now - and EM staff members had hoped building it would provide inroads toward more solid, lasting relationships with Bribri community leaders.
As it turned out, there was no shortage of similar opportunities.
Bribri leaders asked the team to build a cement bridge over a washed out portion of the road to allow ambulances and banana trucks to pass. Residents, tired of the lack of vehicle access - and of soaking themselves every time they had to cross the washout - turned out in droves to help the team, volunteers said. At one point, Barry said, local contractors temporarily redirected a backhoe to help the team.
Additionally, students traveled to the village of Coroma, where a suspension bridge EM built last summer has led to the planning of a larger high school - something volunteer teams will work on this summer.
While the majority of the group worked on the automobile bridge and in Coroma, a small team of volunteers and EM staff members, including Executive Director Chris Clum, made the long trek to Alto Cuen, led by Bribri guides. They were the first Americans seen there since 2004, when residents said they saw two backpackers hike past the village.
After spending several hours in awkward silence - many of the residents there do not even speak Spanish, only Bribri - the team was able to break the ice and begin discussing the project with residents there.
Clum said the entire party was sympathetic to the urgent need for help there.
“You find yourself in an opportunity where someone is looking and praying for someone to help, and you happen to wander in and you’re the people who can meet that need,” he said.
Clum said he hoped that funds raised specifically for the Soke bridge could instead be used to fund the Alto Cuen bridge.
“They’re pretty stressed, and I can understand. They worked a third of a year to dig these holes, and there’s nothing more they can do,” Clum said. “I almost feel like we have to help them. The fact that we end up there and we’re they’re only hope - it seems kind of crazy. Why wouldn’t we?”
IWU leadership professor Dr. Bill Millard, who led the students to Costa Rica, experienced firsthand how dangerous the river can be when, crossing on an alternate route, he was swept away and pinned under a rock. Millard said he was nearly killed and would have taken his last breath underwater were it not for thoughts of his family.
“I thought it was over. To me, the only thing that saved me was God giving me energy,” Millard said. “This isn’t just a joke about these bridges being built. These are life-threatening situations.”
Barry plans to return to Alto Cuen in the coming weeks to spearhead the project there. He said he was struck by the resilience of village residents, who dug the 10-foot deep, 10-foot wide holes without a guaranteed method of getting concrete there.
“Suddenly right then I realized, holy cow, I have no faith at all compared to these guys who have put forth all this time and effort,” he said. “It’s nothing short of a miracle we were able to get up there and see it and be made aware of the situation.”
The most critical thing at this stage, he said, is getting the 10,000-pound concrete bases poured, as well as the pillars to support cables for the 110-meter span.
Barry said if they didn’t get it done, the setback would be devastating.
“Who knows if they’ll ever be able to get that much done again?”
For information on how to support construction of the bridge in Alto Cuen, contact Experience Mission at (360) 554-8060 or e-mail email@example.com.