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Volunteer excursion a forever memory

A Central Alberta family will forever remember their volunteer trip deep in the tropical forests of northern Nicaragua.

Joyce Hurl and brother Denis Smith, along with other family members, took part in a dental brigade from Jan. 19 to Feb. 2 and facilitated by Alberta-based organizations Change for Children and Kindness in Action.

In addition to helping dentists in makeshift clinics, Hurl taught hand-weaving to children while Smith shared his skills as a handyman to keep generator-powered equipment running smoothly in the clinics.

They and other family members participated in the inauguration of a school for which they raise $12,000 towards.

Their money was used to construct one classroom in honour of Hurl’s and Smith’s late sister Olive Chatenay and her daughter Tammy McFadden, 42, both of whom died of cancer.

The entire school cost $58,000 in materials and as Hurl notes, the villagers built the school themselves.

They just wanted to be fed rice and beans for doing the work.

Smith, a farmer who lives west of Penhold, had been to the area in 2011 as well. He remembers how his late sister Olive had travelled in 2009 to the region of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a hilly tropical forest designated in 1997 as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

The volunteer trip was a highlight of her life before she passed away of cancer about a year later. McFadden died about a year after.

The family created a memorial fund in the name of both women, with money going towards a school.

“When I went down there two years ago, we told (the village) they were getting the school,” said Smith, 59.

The school has about 250 students. It’s been open for a while.

Smith can’t wait to go back with the dental brigade, which usually goes down every couple of years.

Hurl, a retired nurse, helped sterilize equipment and do other supports for the dentists. Her daughter and several other relatives also came along.

There were so many highlights it’s hard to choose one, she added.

“We were doing dentistry with the indigenous peoples in the villages,” said Hurl, 67.

“So we were seven hours by four-wheel-drive truck and 11 hours by dugout canoe from Managua, Nicaragua...and I worked my butt off because everything is on a cliff.”

The Bosawás is all volcanic mountain and travel is by river, she said. The villages are built up in the cliffs because otherwise in the rainy season, they would all flood, Hurl said.

“So you climb the cliffs, the mud paths —they climb them like goats or deer,” said Hurl. “They run up them with a five-gallon bucket on their head or whatever they had. And we struggled up, but it was awesome.”

In this remote region, the people generally live the same way they have in the last 400 years or so. The people are so wonderful and live such a wonderful life, she said.

Without the high school, the students would have to travel the same way back to go to school in Managua, the capital. A plaque of donors, including the Chatenay and Smith families, is now on the school.

“Now pretty much anyone that wants to go to high school can,” said Hurl.



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