MACHIAS, Maine — More than a dozen Washington County residents recently returned from Central America and the Caribbean where, in two separate efforts, they built houses and provided medical supplies to local families and Haitian refugees.
In one effort, six friends from Washington County went to Guatemala, where they spent a week building a new cinder block home for a Mayan family.
The home replaced one made with cornstalks and wire that served as a residence for a family of five that included three small girls.
Gail Peters of Roque Bluffs, Sue and Greg Campbell of Jonesport, Dale Miller of Machias and Larry Finnegan of Jonesport built a 13-foot-by-19-foot home with the help of three local men.
“None of us speaks Spanish,” Peters said, “but we managed very well.”
“This was our opportunity to not just send some money, but to actually do something,” Sue Campbell said.
At around the same time, a mission group from the First Baptist Church in Harrington flew to the Dominican Republic to assist medical teams and provide spiritual support.
The Harrington church group’s original mission became more serious when less than 48 hours before they were to leave, Haiti experienced a horrific earthquake.
Haiti borders the Dominican Republic, and the doctors the mission group had planned to help now were performing emergency surgery on evacuated earthquake victims.
Leaving less important things behind, the church group loaded up their suitcases with all the medical supplies they could carry.
Team members included Timothy and Joanna DeSchiffart, their two daughters Carolyn and Abi, and David and Gail Denbow, all of Cherryfield.
Once in the Dominican Republic, the team joined David and Judy Kennedy of Buffalo, N.Y., who coordinated the mission.
With little time to make adjustments, according to Gail Denbow, the group began calling for assistance. Donations of medical supplies were received from Down East Community Hospital, the Pleasant River Ambulance Corp., Hancock County Medical Mission and Miller Drug of Bangor.
Denbow said “hundreds of thousands” of dollars’ worth of supplies were donated.
The church group was able to assist the doctors in the Dominican Republic as well as set up free clinics around the countryside.
“The language of love is universal and knows no language barrier,” Denbow said. “In giving, we received the greater blessings.”
The group that went to Guatemala said their experience was life-changing. They were in a very primitive area, with no running water, no bathrooms or refrigeration.
Sue Campbell said the trip was planned last November, well before the Haitian emergency. “We saw this as an opportunity to do some preventive care, because Guatemala is also an earthquake zone,” Peters said. “We wish that some of these stronger homes had been built in Haiti. These little changes can make such a differ-ence.”
The group, who first heard about the housing project at a Machias Rotary presentation by Finnegan, said they gained a real sense of how significant their project was at a closing ceremony where the house was given to the family.
They admit they have sort of adopted the family and are sending them money, food and school supplies.
“People up here in Washington County, from the U.S. point of view, are poor,” Greg Campbell said. “But we don’t know what poor is until we saw it for ourselves down there.”