May 20, 2003 - Georgia Tech: Paraguay RPCV John Bland combats poverty in Nicaraguan city

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nicaragua: Peace Corps Nicaragua: The Peace Corps in Nicaragua: May 20, 2003 - Georgia Tech: Paraguay RPCV John Bland combats poverty in Nicaraguan city

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Paraguay RPCV John Bland combats poverty in Nicaraguan city

Paraguay RPCV John Bland combats poverty in Nicaraguan city

Compassionate Calling
John Bland combats poverty in Nicaraguan city

Everything changed for John Bland when he witnessed children scavenging in mounds of rotting garbage for scraps of food to eat. His journey to help the starving people of Chinandega, Nicaragua, would lead him away from the software company he co-founded to serve as the executive director of Amigos for Christ.

"I just followed what God was calling me to do," says Bland, MgtSci 83.

In 1998, while a partner at Effective Technologies and volunteering as a youth leader at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Buford, Ga., Bland spearheaded a fund-raiser to help feed the children of Chinandega.

"We were looking for a service project for the high school kids. Through an international organization, we found a project to raise money to build a cafeteria for kids who were eating at a garbage dump in Chinandega," Bland says.

"I decided to go down to Nicaragua with a friend of mine to check out the place and see the reality of what we were doing. I was in the Peace Corps for two years in Paraguay after I graduated from Tech. I had a pretty good feel for what it was going to be like," he says. "This was a lot worse. The poverty level was extreme."

A missionary took Bland, armed with a video camera, to the Chinandega dump. "It was unbelievable, watching kids sifting through the dump, eating food they found. It was terrible. When we came back, I showed the video to the kids at youth group. The motivation to do something more was there," he says.

In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged Nicaragua. A mudslide killed 3,000 people in Chinandega. An already desperate situation was made almost incomprehensibly bleak.

In April 1999, Bland led a youth mission trip to Chinandega, where 20 teens and 18 adults spent spring break working on three houses. He says that on the plane trip back to Atlanta, he felt God calling him to form a nonprofit organization. He shared the idea with other Prince of Peace youth group members and leaders. One suggested the name, Amigos for Christ.

Moving the people of Chinandega from dwellings often made of cardboard and plastic into structurally sound houses was a top priority.

"The government put the survivors of the mudslide on land right next to the dump. One of the big projects was to get some 300 families out of there. We worked with a couple of other organizations and built 300 houses in two years."

Materials for each house cost about $2,000. Made of concrete slabs, a house consists of four rooms. There is no indoor plumbing or electricity.

When completed, a deed is handed to a grateful Nicaraguan family. Amigos for Christ didn?t stop with the houses, Bland says. "Once the homes were built, we built the school. We pay the teachers? salaries. We pay for food. You?ve got to provide a lunch, because if you don?t do that as the motivation to come, they won?t show up.

"We also have a free clinic. We employ a doctor, a nurse and a dentist. We bought a SUV and we employ another doctor who goes out into the rural areas and does family practice every day."

An offshoot, PCs for Christ, is working to put computers in the vocational and secondary schools, the only ones that have electricity. A 70-acre ranch is being equipped with an irrigation system to help the Nicaraguans raise their own crops.

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Story Source: Georgia Tech

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nicaragua; COS - Paraguay



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