Operation Esteli is a joint effort between BOTL.org and MPI designed to provide education enrichment, food security, nutrition, as well as safe housing and shelter to disadvantaged children in Esteli, Nicaragua. This is the second year for Operation Esteli. In 2014, more than $12,000 was raised, which resulted in the provision of teacher training, school supplies and learning materials, and nutritious school lunches to support more than 700 students, as well providing the funding required to construct a new home for a family in need.
When I was invited to go along with Operation Esteli this summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit the place that makes so many of the cigars I love, tour some factories, and maybe do some good for the people down there that need it. This, it was, but so much more. I had no idea the profound impact it would have on me, and how much of a difference we can actually make for the people of Esteli, and how much they need it. The people of Nicaragua are so great, especially the kids and to see the smile on their faces we get, just for coming to see them, it’s enough to melt your heart.
This trip, Operation Esteli wanted to focus on oral hygiene for school kids, so we visited the Centro Maria Elementary School, which is a school open to the public, but funded by Fabreto, Techo and other various United States charities. Health and hygiene are the biggest challenges that the kids of Esteli face every day, and we wanted to see what we could do to make some impact. This is where Mike the dentist comes in. He is camera shy, so you won’t see him in many pictures, but his heart is a big as the dentist’s office he comes from. The first order of business was to give a short lecture to each classroom on oral hygiene. Mike brought along oversized dental models, toothbrushes and a 3 minute sand timer for each child to time how long they are brushing their teeth. This may seem common sense to us, but down there, this sort of thing is just passed over sometimes because they have so many other things to worry about, like putting food on the table and there is often just a lack of education with the parents to pass this knowledge along. Along with a proper demonstration on proper brushing, Mike brought along illustrations of scary looking germs with angry faces that stay in your teeth after you each and munch on them. This seemed to resonate more with the younger classes.
After each lecture, Mike individually inspected each child’s teeth and gums for any problems and provided them, their teacher, and parents a chart showing any problem areas and gave them a scale of severity. There were an unfortunate amount of kids that had problems that needed immediate attention like infected cavities or teeth that needed to be pulled. We encouraged the kids and teachers to urge the parents of these to take their kids to a local dentist office immediately, of which we saw a total of 3 in Esteli. We hope that a good number of them will be able to get these problems fixed, but for the ones that can’t afford dental care we are planning a return trip with Mike the dentist to set up an actual free clinic for the kids to get these problems taken care of. We are working with Drew Estate charities and other charity organizations to get together and set up the proper equipment for some real dental treatment on our next trip down, which will be early next year. I am confident that the information we gave them will help prevent further and new damage in a good number of the kids.
After the dental checkups were complete, we wanted to visit the homes of families that Operation Esteli built for them back in April and see how they were working out. They could not have been happier to see us. They greeted everyone in the group with huge hugs, even to those of us that weren’t there for the build. The pictures don’t really do the house justice, because the family has covered the house with painted driftwood and barbed wire, both to keep out intruders and avert jealousy from neighbors. The houses themselves are basically a prefabricated box with 4 walls, a window, and a door. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s more than most have in the poorer neighborhoods, and the families with which they have been provided could not be any more grateful. After that we visited some other areas of town just to get a better feel for it and how they live.
The last order of business for the trip was to go back to the school, take a tour of the facilities and the kids wanted to put on a dance performance for us. If my heart hadn’t melted for these kids before, this sealed it. Each grade dressed up in costume and put on a full number for us with a song and a dance. I have no idea what it was about, but it was fabulous.
I don’t know if my pictures can do this trip or this organization justice, but if you are moved by them half as much as I was being able to be a part of it, please find a way to help out Operation Esteli. They do fundraisers off and on throughout the year and you can keep an eye on them by joining the thread on BOTL.org, or following the Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. I want to extend my personal thanks to BOTL, Operation Esteli, and Drew Estate for making me a part of this great project and putting us up in the Cigar Safari Facilities during our stay. I plan to go along with any trips I can in the future and get my hands dirty building houses, or whatever they need.